The Sources of Catholic Dogma, Henry Denzinger, (13th Edition) 2004.
(XIVa) The souls of those who die in the state of grace, but with venial faults or temporal penalties not yet satisfied are detained in Purgatory, concerning the existence of which it is certain from scripture; which does not consist in only the fears of one about to die; but in satisfactory penalties which the souls suffer while they are tormented by fire, secure nevertheless, concerning their state of salvation, but are outside the state of merit, they do not sin by seeking rest or by abhorring the penalties; they are helped by the prayers, satisfactory acts, and almsgiving of the living, by indulgences, especially by the sacrifice of the Mass.
References – Denzinger numbers:
(456) Council of Lyons I, 1245, (Reaffirmed the name Purgatory, the nature of the punishment, and that suffrage by the living may be beneficially applied to the souls there.)
(570s) Re: Purgatory – “Tortured by fire for a time” Pope Clement VI, Letter, Sept. 20, 1351.
Re: Purgatorial fire
At the Council of Florence, Bessarion argued against the existence of real purgatorial fire, and the Greeks were assured that the Roman Church had never issued any dogmatic decree on this subject. In the West the belief in the existence of real fire is common. Augustine (Enarration on Psalm 37, no. 3) speaks of the pain which purgatorial fire causes as more severe than anything a man can suffer in this life, “gravior erit ignis
quam quidquid potest homo pati in hac vita” (P.L., col. 397). Gregory the Great speaks of those who after this life “will expiate their faults by purgatorial flames,” and he adds “that the pain be more intolerable than any one can suffer in this life” (Ps. 3 poenit., n. 1). Following in the footsteps of Gregory, St. Thomas teaches (IV, dist. xxi, q. i, a.1) that besides the separation of the soul from the sight of God, there is the other punishment
from fire. “Una poena damni, in quantum scilicet retardantur a divina visione; alia sensus secundum quod ab igne punientur”, and St. Bonaventure not only agrees with St. Thomas but adds (IV, dist. xx, p.1, a.1, q. ii) that this punishment by fire is more severe than any punishment which comes to men in this life; “Gravior est omni temporali poena. quam modo sustinet anima carni conjuncta”. How this fire affects the souls of the departed the Doctors do not know, and in such matters it is well to heed the warning of the Council of Trent when it commands the bishops “to exclude from their preaching difficult and subtle questions which tend not to edification’, and from the discussion of which there is no increase either in piety or devotion” (Sess. XXV, “De Purgatorio”).
(693) Council of Florence, 1438, (The truly penitent who have departed in the love of God, before they have made satisfaction are cleansed after death in purgatorial punishment, etc., etc.)
(778) Lateran Council V, 1512 – Refuting the errors of Martin Luther: Souls in Purgatory are indeed assured of salvation, and are indeed beyond the state of meriting and/or increasing in charity. Here is no sin in their abhorring punishment or seeking rest.
Adendum Re: Merit
In the Bull “Exurge Domine” Leo X condemns the proposition (n. 38) “Nec probatum est ullis aut rationibus aut scripturis ipsas esse extra statum merendi aut augendae caritatis” (There is no proof from reason or Scripture that they [the souls in purgatory] cannot merit or increase in charity). For them “the night has come in which no man can labour”, and Christian tradition has always considered that only in this life can man work unto the profit of his own soul. The Doctors of the Middle Ages while agreeing that this life is the time for merit and increase of grace, still some with St. Thomas seemed to question whether or not there might be some non-essential reward which the souls in purgatory might merit (IV, dist. xxi, q. i, a. 3). Bellarmine believes that in this matter St. Thomas changed his opinion and refers to a statement of St. Thomas (“De Malo”, q. vii, a. 11). Whatever may be the mind of the Angelic Doctor, theologians agree that no merit is possible in purgatory, and if objection be urged that the souls there merit by their prayers, Bellarmine says that such prayers avail with God because of merit already acquired “Solum impetrant ex meritis praeteritis quomodo nunc sancti orando) pro nobis impetrant licet non merendo” (They avail only in virtue of past merits as those who are now saints intercede for us not by merit but by prayer). (loc. cit. II, cap. iii).
(840) Council of Trent, 1545, Canon 30 (Temporal punishment for sin may remain, even after justification by grace.) See also the Decree Concerning Purgatory, Session XXV, December 3, and 4, 1563.
(983) Decree Concerning Purgatory
Since the Catholic Church, instructed by the Holy Ghost, has, following the sacred writings and the ancient tradition of the Fathers, taught in sacred councils and very recently in this ecumenical council that there is a purgatory, and that the souls there detained are aided by the suffrages of the faithful and chiefly by the acceptable sacrifice of the altar, the holy council commands the bishops that they strive diligently to the end that the sound doctrine of purgatory, transmitted by the Fathers and sacred councils, be believed and maintained by the faithful of Christ, and be everywhere taught and preached. The more difficult and subtle questions, however, and those that do not make for edification and from which there is for the most part no increase in piety, are to be excluded from popular instructions to uneducated people. Likewise, things that are uncertain or that have the appearance of falsehood they shall not permit to be made known publicly and discussed.
But those things that tend to a certain kind of curiosity or superstition, or that savor of filthy lucre, they shall prohibit as scandals and stumbling-blocks to the faithful. The bishops shall see to it that the suffrages of the living, that is, the sacrifice of the mass, prayers, alms and other works of piety which they have been accustomed to perform for the faithful departed, be piously and devoutly discharged in accordance with the laws of the Church, and that whatever is due on their behalf from testamentary bequests or other ways, be discharged by the priests and ministers of the Church and others who are bound to render this service not in a perfunctory manner, but diligently and accurately.
(998) Council of Trent – Reaffirms the existence of Purgatory and that souls detained there are aided by the prayers of the faithful. The use of indulgences is affirmed and especially salutary.
(2147a) Pope Pius X, Letter: “Ex Quo” December 26, 1910 – No doubt that the sacred dogmas on Purgatory and the Blessed Virgin Mary were acknowledged by the holy men of earlier years.
See also, Denzinger 427, 464, 530, 535, 723a, 729, 780, 998, 1542
Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, Ludwig Ott, 4th Edition, May 1960
Supporting texts: 314, 321, 443, 482-85
From the Roman Catechism, published following the Council of Trent
… the fire of purgatory, in which the souls of just men are cleansed by a temporary punishment, in order to be admitted into their eternal country, into which nothing defiled entereth (cf. Rev. 21:27). The truth of this doctrine, founded, as holy Councils declare, on Scripture, and confirmed by Apostolic tradition, demands exposition from the pastor, all the more diligent and frequent, because we live in times when men endure not sound doctrine. Prayers for the dead, that they may be liberated from the fire of purgatory, are derived from Apostolic teaching. We also beg of God … that we be not sentenced to endure the fire of purgatory, from which we piously and devoutly implore that others may be liberated.
Catechism of Council of Trent, The Lord’s Prayer, Seventh Petition
“We also beg of God that we be not cut off by a sudden death; that we provoke not His anger against us; that we be not condemned to suffer the punishments reserved for the wicked; that we be not sentenced to endure the fire of purgatory, from which we piously and devoutly implore that others may be liberated.”
Encyclical of Pope Benedict XIV in Preparation for the Holy Year, 1749
“The faithful must be fully aware that sin and its eternal punishment are remitted by the Sacrament of Penance if one makes proper use of it; however the entire temporal punishment is very seldom taken away. This must be removed either by satisfactory works in this life or by the fire of Purgatory after death.”
Encyclical On Proclaiming a Universal Jubilee by Pope Leo XII, 1824
“You must also discuss carefully how much efficacy there is in indulgences; how great is the fruit of remission, not only of the canonical but also of the temporal punishment due for sins; and finally, how much aid from the treasure of merits from Christ and the saints may be applied to those who died truly penitent before they had made adequate satisfaction for their sins. Their souls must be purified in the fires of purgatory so that entry into the eternal fatherland may open to them.”
Baltimore Catechism No. 3
LESSON 37 – ON THE LAST JUDGMENT & RESURRECTION, HELL
PURGATORY & HEAVEN
Q. 1381. What is Purgatory?
A. Purgatory is the state in which those suffer for a time who die guilty of venial sins, or without having satisfied for the punishment due to their sins.
Q. 1382. Why is this state called Purgatory?
A. This state is called Purgatory because in it the souls are purged or purified from all their stains; and it is not, therefore, a permanent or lasting state for the soul.
Q. 1383. Are the souls in Purgatory sure of their salvation?
A. The souls in Purgatory are sure of their salvation, and they will enter heaven as soon as they are completely purified and made worthy to enjoy that presence of God which is called the Beatific Vision.
Q. 1384. Do we know what souls are in Purgatory, and how long they have to remain there?
A. We do not know what souls are in Purgatory nor how long they have to remain there; hence we continue to pray for all persons who have died apparently in the true faith and free from mortal sin. They are called the faithful departed.
Q. 1385. Can the faithful on earth help the souls in Purgatory?
A. The faithful on earth can help the souls in Purgatory by their prayers, fasts, alms, deeds; by indulgences, and by having Masses said for them.
Q. 1386. Since God loves the souls in Purgatory, why does He punish them?
A. Though God loves the souls in Purgatory, He punishes them because His holiness requires that nothing defiled may enter heaven and His justice requires that everyone be punished or rewarded according to what he deserves.
Most recently, the Second Vatican Council in its Constitution on the Church renewed the teaching of previous councils on eschatology, including the doctrine of purgatory. “This sacred Council,” it declared, “accepts with great devotion this venerable faith of our ancestors regarding this vital fellowship with our brethren who are in heavenly glory or who, having died, are still being purified….At the same time, in conformity with our own pastoral interests, we urge all concerned, if any abuses, excesses or defects have crept in here or there, to do what is in their power to remove or correct them, and to restore all things to a fuller praise of Christ and of God” (Chapter VII, No. 51).
Pope Paul VI – From the Apostolic Constitution of Pope Paul VI INDULGENTIARUM DOCTRINA whereby the revision of Sacred Indulgences is promulgated. January 1, 1967:
“It is a divinely revealed truth that sins bring punishments inflicted by God’s sanctity and justice. These must be expiated either on this earth through the sorrows, miseries and calamities of this life and above all through death, or else in the life beyond through fire and torments or “purifying” punishments.
Therefore it has always been the conviction of the faithful that the paths of evil are fraught with many stumbling blocks and bring adversities, bitterness and harm to those who follow them.”
Current Edition: The Catechism of the Catholic Church
III. THE FINAL PURIFICATION, OR PURGATORY
1030 All who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven.
1031 The Church gives the name Purgatory to this final purification of the elect, which is entirely different from the punishment of the damned.606 The Church formulated her doctrine of faith on Purgatory especially at the Councils of Florence and Trent. The tradition of the Church, by reference to certain texts of Scripture, speaks of a cleansing fire:607
As for certain lesser faults, we must believe that, before the Final Judgment, there is a purifying fire. He who is truth says that whoever utters blasphemy against the Holy Spirit will be pardoned neither in this age nor in the age to come. From this sentence we understand that certain offenses can be forgiven in this age, but certain others in the age to come.608
1032 This teaching is also based on the practice of prayer for the dead, already mentioned in Sacred Scripture: “Therefore [Judas Maccabeus] made atonement for the dead, that they might be delivered from their sin.”609 From the beginning the Church has honored the memory of the dead and offered prayers in suffrage for them, above all the Eucharistic sacrifice, so that, thus purified, they may attain the beatific vision of God.610 The Church also commends almsgiving, indulgences, and works of penance undertaken on behalf of the dead:
Let us help and commemorate them. If Job’s sons were purified by their father’s sacrifice, why would we doubt that our offerings for the dead bring them some consolation? Let us not hesitate to help those who have died and to offer our prayers for them.611
1472 To understand this doctrine and practice of the Church, it is necessary to understand that sin has a double consequence. Grave sin deprives us of communion with God and therefore makes us incapable of eternal life, the privation of which is called the “eternal punishment” of sin. On the other hand every sin, even venial, entails an unhealthy attachment to creatures, which must be purified either here on earth, or after death in the state called Purgatory. This purification frees one from what is called the “temporal punishment” of sin. These two punishments must not be conceived of as a kind of vengeance inflicted by God from without, but as following from the very nature of sin. A conversion which proceeds from a fervent charity can attain the complete purification of the sinner in such a way that no punishment would remain.
1473 The forgiveness of sin and restoration of communion with God entail the remission of the eternal punishment of sin, but temporal punishment of sin remains. While patiently bearing sufferings and trials of all kinds and, when the day comes, serenely facing death, the Christian must strive to accept this temporal punishment of sin as a grace. He should strive by works of mercy and charity, as well as by prayer and the various practices of penance, to put off completely the “old man” and to put on the “new man.”
1475 In the communion of saints, “a perennial link of charity exists between the faithful who have already reached their heavenly home, those who are expiating their sins in purgatory and those who are still pilgrims on earth. between them there is, too, an abundant exchange of all good things.” In this wonderful exchange, the holiness of one profits others, well beyond the harm that the sin of one could cause others. Thus recourse to the communion of saints lets the contrite sinner be more promptly and efficaciously purified of the punishments for sin.
Editor’s note: It will be interesting to see what Pope Francis has to say about all this.