No catechism handy? They are an excellent resource. Here is just one response to such questions.
I would stress 1 Corinthians 3:10-15, as they may not pay much attention to anyone other than Saint Paul.
Ask them to explain just how:
- After death,
- On the day of judgment
- Before the seat of Christ,
- One’s work (NOT faith!) is tested.
- During that test, one’s work may burn up, not being of gold or even silver.
- Yet, even if it does burn up, that person is still saved!
- But saved only as though passing through fire.
Ask them to explain just what Paul was speaking of.
It is not the fires of hell, from which there is no escape. It is the refiner’s fire and the fuller’s soap (Malachi 3:2), the fire of purification (1 Peter 1:7). We are invited to the banquet in the Father’s house (Matthew 8:11, Luke 13:29). Yet, nothing impure will enter that house (2 Chronicles 23:19, Revelation 21:27). Purgatory is God’s mud room, where we are cleaned up and made spiritually perfect and presentable to Him.
I would also stress that purgatory is not a place, but a state of our soul on our way to heaven.