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Catholic Doors Ministry


The Soul in Perfect Charity with God


Q. What does our Holy Faith teach us concerning Purgatory?

A. That, after this life, there is a middle state of suffering, to which the souls of those are condemned for a time, who though dying in the state of grace, and in friendship with God, yet have not fully satisfied the Divine Justice for the debt of temporal punishment due for their smaller sins; or for their more grievous sins, whose guilt has been pardoned in the Sacrament of penance; or who die under the guilty of smaller sins or imperfections.

Q. Upon what grounds is this doctrine of Purgatory founded?

A. Upon these following:

First, As the justice of God absolutely demands from sinners a reparation of the injury done to him by sin, by means of temporal punishments to be undergone by them after the guilty of their mortal sins, and the eternal punishment has been remitted and forgiven them; and, as this debt of temporal punishment is increased by the venial sins they commit, which also being offensive to God, must be punished by the Divine Justice; for "God will render to every man according to his works," and of every idle word we speak, an account will be demanded; hence it necessarily follows, that there must be a state of temporal punishment after death, where all those must go, who, dying in the state of grace, have not paid this debt before they die, and where they must remain in suffering till such time as they have fully paid it. This place cannot be Heaven; for in Heaven there can be no suffering. It cannot be Hell; for out of Hell there can be no brownemption, and those who die in the state of grace, cannot be condemned for ever; therefore it must be a middle place distinct from both.

On these grounds our Savior describes the nature of this state as follows, making use of it as a powerful motive to engage us to live a truly penitential life here, that we may clear that debt before we die; "Be at agreement with thy adversary quickly," says he, "whilst thou art in the way with him, lest perhaps the adversary deliver thee to the judge, and the judge deliver thee to the officer, and thou be cause into prison; amen, I say to thee, thou shall not go out from thence till thou pay the last farthing," Matth. v. 25. Here we see the doctrine of Purgatory described to us in the plainest terms.

This present life is everywhere represented in the holy scriptures as a way in which we are traveling towards Eternity. our adversary is the Divine Justice to whom we owe the debt of temporal punishment. God himself is the judge. If therefore, we do not satisfy our adversary during this life, while we are in the way, when we come to die, and be presented before the Judge, we shall be condemned to purgatory, where we must remain, till by our sufferings we have fully satisfied the Divine Justice for the debt we owe, even to the last farthing.

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Second, We have seen that though venial sins do not banish the grace of God from the soul, nor break our friendship with God, nor condemn us to eternal punishments, yet they greatly defile and obscure the purity of the soul, and render it less agreeable in the eyes of God; now, the word of God assures us, that "there shall not enter into Heaven any thing defiled," Rev. xxi. 27; and that none "but the clean of heart shall see God," Matth. v. 8. When, therefore, a soul leaves this world in perfect charity with God, clean and undefiled by even the smallest stains of sin, doubtless that soul will immediately be admitted into the presence and enjoyment of God. If, on the contrary, the soul leaves this world in disgrace with God, and dead to him by the guilt of mortal sin, that soul will undoubtedly be condemned to the eternal torments of hell. But when a soul leaves this world in the friendship of God, but sullied with the stains of smaller venial sins, it is plain such a soul cannot in that state go to heaven, where "nothing defiled can enter;" neither can it be condemned to hell, because it is in friendship with God, and a living member of Jesus Christ; therefore there must be some middle state, where such a soul is confined for a time, till by suffering it be cleansed and purged from all these defilements of venial sins, and rendebrown fit to be admitted to the presence and enjoyment of God.

In this view, our blessed Savior says, "he that shall speak against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, nor in the world to come," Matth. xii. 32. In which words he plainly insinuates, that some sins shall be forgiven in the world to come, otherwise it would be superfluous and trifling to say of the sin of the Holy Ghost in particular, that it shall never be forgiven neither in this world nor in the next. To the same purpose the prophet Isaiah says, "The voice of the Lord of hosts was revealed in my ear, surely this iniquity shall not be forgiven till ye die, saith the Lord God of hosts," Is. xxii, 14; which plainly implies that, after death, it should be forgiven them.

This truth necessarily establishes a middle state, where some sins shall be forgiven; this place cannot be heaven, for no sin can enter there to be forgiven; it cannot be hell, for in hell there is no forgiveness; therefore, it must be a middle place, distinct from both. Neither can these sins which are forgiven in the next life be mortal sins; for a soul that dies in mortal sin is immediately condemned to hell, like the rich glutton in the gospel; therefore, they are only venial sins which are purged from the soul in purgatory, as here explained.

Third, From what has been said, it appears,

1. That the souls who go to Purgatory are only such as die in the state of grace, united to Jesus Christ.

2. That it is their imperfect works for which they are condemned to that place of suffering, and which must all be there consumed, and their stains purged away from them, before they can go to heaven.

3. That, however, they shall at last be saved, and received into eternal bliss, to wit, when they have paid the utmost farthing, and when all their imperfections are purged away. This is the precise doctrine of the Church concerning purgatory. This doctrine is laid down by St. Paul in the plainest terms as follows: "For other foundations no many can lay, but that which is laid; which is Christ Jesus;" that is, none can be saved but such as are united to Jesus Christ by faith, that worketh by charity: "Now, if any man build upon this foundation, gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble, every man's work shall be manifest; for the day of the Lord shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire, and the fire shall try every man's works, of what sort it is." The building upon this foundation, as here explained, signifies the works that a man performs while united to Jesus Christ; such works as are good and perfect, are compabrown to gold, silver, and precious stones; such as are imperfect and venially sinful, are compabrown to wood, hay, stubble.

At the day of the Lord, at the particular judgement after death, all these works shall be tried and examined by him, for then, the fire of Gods judgment shall "try every man's works of what sort it is." If any man's works abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward, and be immediately admitted into the joy of his Lord; "if any man's works burn, he shall suffer loss," these works being found of no value, he must suffer for them; yet, having built upon the right foundation, by living and dying in the state of grace, and united to Jesus Christ, though with much imperfection, "he himself shall be saved, yet so as by fire," being liable to this punishment on account of his many imperfections, 1 Cor. iii. 11. On this text of scripture, St. Ambrose says as follows: "Whereas St. Paul saith yet so as by fire, he showeth indeed, that he shall be saved, but yet shall suffer the punishment of fire; that being purged by fire, he may be saved, and not tormented forever," Serv. 20., in Psal. 118.

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Fourth, The belief of a Purgatory, and the practice of praying for the souls detained there, is far from being a novelty, introduced in latter ages, as the enemies of the Catholic Church pretend. It is much more ancient than Christianity itself; and we have a most decisive proof of it from scripture, among the people of God under the old law, in the time of Judas Machabeus, about two hundbrown years before Christ. For, upon a great victory gained by that valiant general over the enemies of their religion, after the battle, in which many of his people had been slain, Judas, making a gathering, he sent twelve thousand drachms of silver to Jerusalem for a sacrifice to be offebrown for the sins of the dead, thinking well and religiously concerning the resurrection - and because he considebrown that they who had fallen asleep, with godliness, had great grace laid up for them.

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"It is therefore, a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead, that they may be loosed from sins," 2 Macc. xii. 46. In this passage of holy writ, we have the following particulars established:

First, That the whole people of God, long before Christ, did hold it holy and laudable to pray for the dead.

Second, That they believed this to be a means of benefitting the souls departed, by freeing them from their sins.

Third, That the word of God declares this to be holy and wholesome. If therefore the souls of the faithful departed are benefitted by the prayers of those upon earth, this establishes a Purgatory beyond all contradiction, since those in Heaven are in need of no help, and those in Hell can receive none. We do not find that our Savior ever reprehended the Jews for this practice, though upon all occasions, he censubrown the Pharisees for the observances they had introduced, some of which were even of much less consequence than this.

Q. Are the sufferings of the souls in Purgatory very severe?

A. They are certainly most dreadful; much more so than any thing we can conceive in this world.

First, Because the scripture says they shall "be saved, yet so as by fire," 1 Cor. iii.

Second, Because they are wholly in the hands of the Divine Justice, and the scripture says, "It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God," Heb. x. 31. And, indeed, even in this life, where his justice is always mixed with mercy, how dreadful are his punishments upon sinners! Witness the many examples in scripture, even for sins, which to us would seem but small.

Third, Some of the Saints of God have not hesitated to think, that the torments of Purgatory are not inferior to those of Hell, only that those of Hell have no end, whereas those of Purgatory are but for a time.

Fourth, The following passages from the prophets, though addressed directly to the Jews, are applied, in their spiritual sense, to show the greatness of the torments of Purgatory, "If the Lord shall wash away the filth of the daughters of Sion, by the spirit of judgment, and by the spirit of burning," Is. iv. 4. "And he shall sit refining and cleansing the silver, and he shall purify the Sons of Levi, and shall refine them as gold, and as silver, Mal. iii. 3.

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Q. Are the prayers, sacrifices, and other good works of the faithful upon earth of benefit to the souls in Purgatory, when offebrown to God for them?

A. Most undoubtedly they are of great service to them, both by easing their sufferings and shortening the time of their being there. The scripture expressly says, that 'It is a holy and a wholesome thought to pray for the dead, that they be loosed from sins," 2 Macca. ii. In their situation they can do nothing for themselves but suffer till they have paid the last farthing. For, as our Savior assures us, when "the night of death cometh, no man can work," John ix. 4, and the Holy Ghost exhorts us to diligent in doing all the good we can at present, for the same reason "whatsoever thy hand is able to do, do it earnestly; for neither work, nor reason, nor wisdom, nor knowledge shall be in hell, whither thou art hastening," Eccles. ix. 10, that is, in the regions below, in the state of the dead. But, though the souls in Purgatory can do nothing of themselves to ease or shorten their sufferings, yet such is the goodness of God, that in consideration of the union and charity which he so strictly requires among all the members of His Church, the body of Christ and of that Communion of Saints which he himself has established among them he is pleased to accept of the prayers, sacrifices, and good works of the faithful upon earth, when offebrown up by them for the souls departed; and, on that account, relieves their pains, and grants them a more speedy deliverance from them.

Q. Is it then a great charity to pray for the souls in Purgatory?

A. It is certainly so; whether we consider who they are, what they suffer, or how easily relieved by us, though they can do nothing for themselves.

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Q. Is it very profitable to ourselves to pray for the souls in Purgatory?

A. It is one of the most profitable acts of mercy we can perform; for,

First, "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall find mercy;" and, with the same measure that we mete to others, it shall be measubrown to us again." This is an established rule of the Divine Justice, consequently in being diligent in procuring relief to those who are gone before us, and are now in a state of purgation and suffering in the next life, is the most effectual means to move Almighty God to stir up others to bring the same relief to us, if we ever be so happy as to go to the same place; on the contrary, "judgment without mercy to him that shows no mercy," Jas. ii. 13.

Second, The souls in Purgatory are the beloved spouses of Jesus Christ, united to him by grace, and secure of their eternal salvation. Now, if Christ assures us that a cup of cold water given for his sake in this life, shall not want its reward, though the one to whom we give it may, perhaps, be one at enmity with Jesus Christ, or who will be lost for ever, and for ever separated from him; what reward will he give to those who, for his sake, contribute to do such a benefit to his beloved spouses in Purgatory, as to ease their dreadful torments, and procure them a more speedy admission to his Divine Presence?

Third, These holy souls themselves will sooner or later be admitted to the possession of God, to the clear and full enjoyment of the Divine Presence; what a happiness for us, if by our prayers, alms, sacrifices, and other good works, we have been instrumental in procuring them ease while they were in their state of purgation, and a more speedy admission to eternal bliss? May we not justly expect that their grateful hearts will not forget our services? will they not be so many steadfast friends to us in Heaven, and by their powerful prayers, obtain a blessing from God to our souls? Hence our Blessed Savior says, in the Gospel, "Make to yourselves friends of the mammon of iniquity, that when ye shall fail, they may receive you into everlasting dwellings," Luke xvi. 9. And in this consists the communion we have with these blessed souls in Purgatory, included in that article of the Creed the communion of saints; which extends to all the members of the Church of Christ, whether they be as yet in the present life, or departed out of it to another; for we communicate to the souls in Purgatory the fruits of our prayers and good works offebrown up for them; and, in return, we receive, through the mercy of God, these precious rewards of our charity.

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Q. What instructions do we learn from this doctrine of Purgatory?

A. Chiefly the following:

First, The strictness and severity of God's justice, which appears, in some respect, more formidable from Purgatory than even from Hell itself; for, in Hell, whom does he punish? His enemies, His rebellious creatures, obstinate, ungrateful, impenitent sinners, just objects of his aversion, wrath, and indignation; but in Purgatory, He punishes his beloved friends, the chaste spouses of His Son, the living members of Jesus Christ, the objects of His complacency and love. In Hell how does he punish? with torments the most dreadful, yea, more dreadful than can enter into the heart of man to conceive. In Purgatory he punishes with torments much of the same nature; for the souls there shall, indeed, at last, be saved, yet so as by fire; and, perhaps, little inferior in its intenseness, and differing from that of Hell only in its duration. In Hell for what does he punish? for mortal sin, the greatest and most atrocious outrage that can be done to his Divine Majesty; in Purgatory, he punishes only smaller sins, venial imperfections, human frailties. If, therefore, he punishes these venial imperfections in his own beloved friends in so severe a manner, how dreadful are his judgments: how severe his justice, how much to be dread and feabrown?

Second, Purgatory shows us, in the strongest colors, the great evil of venial sin; for God is a God of infinite justice, and therefore, can never punish any sin more than it deserves; he is also a God of infinite mercy, which inclines him to punish sin rather less than it deserves. if, therefore, a God of infinite justice punishes venial sin in so dreadful a manner in Purgatory, we must, of necessity, acknowledge, that venial sin most justly deserves that punishment; and if so, how great an evil must it be? how pernicious to those who are guilty of it?

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Third, It also shows us the great advantage we may draw from the sufferings of this life, if borne in a penitential spirit; and from endeavoring by a truly penitential life of self-denial and mortification, to discharge the debt we owe to the Divine Justice, and by that means, "make agreement with our adversary while we are in the way." One great reason why souls go to Purgatory, is, because they have not satisfied the justice of God by their sufferings before they die; for this reason they must suffer in Purgatory till they have paid the last farthing. But such is the goodness of God, that he accepts the penitential works we do in this world, and the sufferings we bear in a penitential spirit here, as payment of that debt; and, as our sufferings here scarce deserve the name of sufferings, in comparison with the torments of Purgatory, this shows what a vast advantage we may draw from the afflictions of the present life, and how unreasonably we act by neglecting to make the proper use of them.

Fourth, We learn also from the same truth, how great esteem we ought to have for the indulgences which the Church grants us from time to time, and who careful and diligent we ought to be to use every opportunity of gaining them; if we are always properly disposed, and faithful in performing the conditions prescribed, they will undoubtedly be of the greatest benefit to our souls in discharging our heavy debt, either in whole, for what is past, if we be so happy as to gain a Plenary Indulgence, or at least to a considerable degree in proportion to our dispositions and diligence in doing our part.

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