Little understood fact: Even after sins are forgiven, a debt is still owed and a price must still be paid.

Of course … Jesus Christ personally paid the price that we never could … but Jesus also deliberately left some things up to us, that are within our power (and responsibility) as Christians.

For example: You carelessly wreck your neighbors car. There’s no police. No other property damage. No loss of life. No court case. No insurance.

You apologize to your neighbor for the wreck, and he forgives you.

But somebody still has to pay for a new car!

What is fair and just? Who pays? Who is actually responsible for the damage? Who has the ability to pay? How should any respective payments be apportioned?

What is the morally correct way to handle something like this, in order for justice to be served, and for the rights of all parties to be respected and preserved?

Would it be morally just for the person who wrecked the car to get away without making a good faith effort at paying at least some small amount of reparations?

And then there’s the very important, related concept of learning to avoid car wrecks, in the future!

All this leads us to the biblical and very Catholic concept of Purgatory, which is closely linked to the concept of paying a form of temporal punishment for our sins, even though they have been forgiven, and even though Jesus has already picked up the lion’s share of the “bill”.

A Short Catechesis On Purgatory

Purgatory IS Biblical. Also included is what some of the great minds of the Catholic world had to say about it, and when. Purgatory is not new. It goes back to the very beginning of the Judeo-Christian Faith Tradition.

This citation shows that EVEN after sins are forgiven, a price must be paid:

2Sam 12:13-18 – David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the LORD.” And Nathan said to David, “The LORD also has put away your sin; you shall not die. 14 Nevertheless, because by this deed you have utterly scorned the LORD, the child that is born to you shall die.” 15 Then Nathan went to his house. And the LORD struck the child that Uriah’s wife bore to David, and it became sick. 16 David therefore besought God for the child; and David fasted, and went in and lay all night upon the ground. 17 And the elders of his house stood beside him, to raise him from the ground; but he would not, nor did he eat food with them. 18 On the seventh day the child died. And the servants of David feared to tell him that the child was dead; for they said, “Behold, while the child was yet alive, we spoke to him, and he did not listen to us; how then can we say to him the child is dead? He may do himself some harm.”

There are 5 principles for the belief in Purgatory:

1 – As seen from the above verses, there is punishment for sin even after forgiveness.

2- Nothing unclean can enter Heaven:

Matt 5:48- You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Hebrews 12:22-23 – But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, 23 and to the assembly of the first-born who are enrolled in heaven, and to a judge who is God of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect.

3 – There is a way that one is made perfect:

1Cor 3:15 – each man’s work will become manifest; for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. 14 If the work which any man has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. 15 If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.

Sounds like Purgatory to me!

4 – There is a place other the Heaven and Hell:

Matt 12:32 – And whoever says a word against the Son of man will be forgiven; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.

In hell there is no further forgiveness. In Heaven there is no need for it. So what is this third place where a sin cannot be forgiven?

5 – Some passages make no sense in a Heaven/Hell only theology:

Matt 18:32-35 – Then his lord summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you besought me; 33 and should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ 34 And in anger his lord delivered him to the jailers, till he should pay all his debt. 35 So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”

Debt to be paid? When? Where?

Is there a penalty even after forgiveness? – See the above passages about David.

Some more citations:

2Macc 12:44-46 – For if he were not expecting that those who had fallen would rise again, it would have been superfluous and foolish to pray for the dead. 45 But if he was looking to the splendid reward that is laid up for those who fall asleep in Godliness, it was a holy and pious thought. Therefore he made atonement for the dead, that they might be delivered from their sin.

Mt 5:26 – truly, I say to you, you will never get out till you have paid the last penny

1Cor 15:29- Otherwise, what do people mean by being baptized on behalf of the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized on their behalf?

Paul never condemned Baptism for the dead.

1Pet 3:18-20; 4:6 – Jesus preached to spirits in prison 18 For Christ also died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit; 19 in which he went and preached to the spirits in prison, 20 who formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water.

Where is this prison?

1Pet 4:6 – For this is why the gospel was preached even to the dead, that though judged in the flesh like men, they might live in the spirit like God.

2Tim 1:16-18 – Paul prays for dead friend Onesiphorus 16 May the Lord grant mercy to the household of Onesiphorus, for he often refreshed me; he was not ashamed of my chains, 17 but when he arrived in Rome he searched for me eagerly and found me– 18 may the Lord grant him to find mercy from the Lord on that Day, & you well know all the service he rendered at Ephesus.

Why would Paul pay for a dead person if his fate was supposedly already decided?

Rev 21:27 – But nothing unclean shall enter it (Heaven), nor any one who practices abomination or falsehood, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life.

Now, for what some of the greatest minds in Christian history:

Tertullian

“We offer sacrifices for the dead on their birthday anniversaries [the date of death—birth into eternal life]” (The Crown 3:3 [A.D. 211]).

“A woman, after the death of her husband . . . prays for his soul and asks that he may, while waiting, find rest; and that he may share in the first resurrection. And each year, on the anniversary of his death, she offers the sacrifice” (Monogamy 10:1–2 [A.D. 216]).

John Chrysostom

“Let us help and commemorate them. If Job’s sons were purified by their father’s sacrifice [Job 1:5], 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” (Homilies on First Corinthians 41:5 [A.D. 392]).

“But by the prayers of the holy Church, and by the salvific sacrifice, and by the alms which are given for their spirits, there is no doubt that the dead are aided, that the Lord might deal more mercifully with them than their sins would deserve. The whole Church observes this practice which was handed down by the Fathers: that it prays for those who have died in the communion of the Body and Blood of Christ, when they are commemorated in their own place in the sacrifice itself; and the sacrifice is offered also in memory of them, on their behalf. If, then, works of mercy are celebrated for the sake of those who are being remembered, who would hesitate to recommend them, on whose behalf prayers to God are not offered in vain? It is not at all to be doubted that such prayers are of profit to the dead; but for such of them as lived before their death in a way that makes it possible for these things to be useful to them after death” (ibid., 172:2). [AD 392]

Augustine

“Temporal punishments are suffered by some in this life only, by some after death, by some both here and hereafter, but all of them before that last and strictest judgment. But not all who suffer temporal punishments after death will come to eternal punishments, which are to follow after that judgment” (The City of God 21:13 [A.D. 419]).

“That there should be some fire even after this life is not incredible, and it can be inquired into and either be discovered or left hidden whether some of the faithful may be saved, some slowly & some more quickly in the greater/lesser degree in which they loved the good things that perish, through a certain purgatorial fire” (Handbook on Faith, Hope, & Charity 18:69 [A.D. 421]).

“But by the prayers of the holy Church, and by the salvific sacrifice, and by the alms which are given for their spirits, there is no doubt that the dead are aided, that the Lord might deal more mercifully with them than their sins would deserve. The whole Church observes this practice which was handed down by the Fathers: that it prays for those who have died in the communion of the Body and Blood of Christ, when they are commemorated in their own place in the sacrifice itself; and the sacrifice is offered also in memory of them, on their behalf. If, then, works of mercy are celebrated for the sake of those who are being remembered, who would hesitate to recommend them, on whose behalf prayers to God are not offered in vain? It is not at all to be doubted that such prayers are of profit to the dead; but for such of them as lived before their death in a way that makes it possible for these things to be useful to them after death” (ibid., 172:2). AD 419

Written and Submitted by AndyP/Doria2

The doctrine of purgatory was held by pre-Christian Jews, post-Christian Jews, Catholics, and Eastern Orthodox. It was not denied until the Protestant Reformation, and thus only Protestants deny it today.

Once we understand what purgatory is, then we can understand the comfort the knowledge of its existence brings. For purgatory is the ultimate “Bride’s Room”. It is the place set aside for me to prepare to meet my Bridegroom. My whole entire life I have prepared my mind and spirit for this day, why wouldn’t I want everything to be perfect? I can’t imagine standing before betrothed in the church and exchanging vows un-showered and in my t-shirt and jeans. Why would I think I could stand before the ultimate Bridegroom and not be cleansed and donned in my best. What a comfort to know that before I go to the wedding banquet of the Lamb (Rev. 19:9), I will undergo the eternal “What Not To Wear”, and I will be purified. I will stand before the beatific vision of God and eternally bask in the ever-flowing well-spring of happiness, peace, and mutual communion. Now that’s something worth cleaning up for!

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Indulgences

A number of popular devotions have indulgences attached to them. Indeed, the fact that a particular devotion has an indulgence attached to it is an indication that this devotional practice has proven itself within the Church to be helpful in bringing people closer to God. Because of the close association between popular devotions and indulgences, a clear understanding of the Church’s teaching on indulgences is necessary to appreciate the role of popular devotional practices in the life of the Church.

i. What are indulgences?

An indulgence does not confer grace. An indulgence is not a remission of the guilt due to sin. The guilt due to sin is ordinarily taken away by the Sacraments of Baptism and Penance (confession), in which we receive forgiveness for sins through Jesus Christ. Although guilt is taken away, and with it the eternal penalty that is due to sin—namely, damnation, the eternal loss of the presence of God—there remain consequences for sins that those who have committed them must bear. There is what is traditionally called the temporal punishment for sin.

By its very nature, every sin inevitably causes suffering for the one who has committed it. Every sinful act creates a disorder within the soul of the human person; it distorts our desires and affections, leaving us with “an unhealthy attachment to creatures, which must be purified either here on earth, or after death in the state called Purgatory.”57 Furthermore, sin disrupts one’s relationships with God, with the Church, with other people, and with the world as a whole. The communion intended by God is damaged or lost. Those who have received forgiveness for their sins still have an obligation to undergo a difficult and painful process (the temporal penalty for sin) to be purified of the consequences of their sins and to restore the disrupted relationships. “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.”58 The necessary and painful process that brings restoration and purification can take place either in this life or in Purgatory, as whatever part of the process remains unfinished at death must be completed in Purgatory.59

Through an indulgence, God grants the prayer of the Church that the temporal penalty for sin due to someone be reduced (or possibly eliminated). By God’s grace, participation in a prayer or action that has an indulgence attached to it brings about the necessary restoration and reparation without the suffering that would normally accompany it. The granting of an indulgence by the Church is “the expression of the Church”s full confidence of being heard by the Father when—in view of Christ’s merits and, by his gift, those of Our Lady and the saints—she asks him to mitigate or cancel the painful aspect of punishment by fostering its medicinal aspect through other channels of grace.”60

ii. How can indulgences remove some or all of the temporal punishment for sin?

It is because of the Communion of Saints that some or all of the temporal punishment for sin is removed. Although we always have to face the consequences of our sins in the form of the temporal punishment for sin—that is, the painful process of restoration and reparation—as members of the Body of Christ we are never simply on our own. We are linked with Christ and with the martyrs and saints and can benefit from their holiness in such a way as to be freed from at least a portion of the temporal punishment for sin. “In this wonderful exchange, the holiness of one profits others, well beyond the harm that the sin of one could cause others.”61

As a result of the communion that exists between Christ and all the members of the Church, the Church has a treasury of spiritual goods that is inexhaustible. The source of these spiritual goods is Christ. Pope Paul VI taught that this treasury of the Church

is not to be likened to a centuries-old accumulation of material wealth. It means rather the limitless and inexhaustible value that the expiations and merits offered by Christ have in the eyes of God for the liberation of all humanity from sin and for the creation of communion with the Father. The treasury of the Church is Christ the Redeemer himself: in him the atonement and merit of his redemption exist and are at work.62

Since the martyrs and saints have accomplished all that they have in union with Christ, this treasury also includes the value of all their prayers and good works. “As they followed Christ through the power of his grace, they became holy and they have accomplished a work pleasing to the Father. As a result, in working out their own salvation they have also contributed to the salvation of their co-members in Christ’s Mystical Body.”63

Through her union with Christ, the Church has the authority to dispense this treasury. When the Church does this, in order to spur people to acts of piety and charity, the Church requires those who seek an indulgence to perform some good work or act of devotion.64 Furthermore, for reception of a plenary indulgence, which grants the remission of all temporal punishment due to sin, in addition to this good work or act of devotion, the Church specifies four conditions: (1) sacramental confession, (2) reception of Holy Communion, (3) prayer for the intentions of the Holy Father, and (4) complete detachment from all sin, even venial sin.65 It must not be thought, however, that such acts of ours are somehow of themselves sufficient to earn the remission of the temporal punishment for sins. Our efforts, themselves the work of God’s grace, express our openness to receive God’s mercy. In the work of our salvation, it is always God’s grace that is primary, with a power that far exceeds all our efforts.

iii. How can we help the deceased through indulgences?

Just as it is because of the Communion of Saints within the Body of Christ that the Church can grant an indulgence to someone, it is likewise because of the Communion of Saints that one person can obtain an indulgence for someone who has died in order to reduce his or her temporal punishment in Purgatory. We the living are not separated from the faithful departed by death and can still do things for their benefit. As Pope John Paul II has pointed out, “the truth about the communion of saints which unites believers to Christ and to one another, reveals how much each of us can help others—living or dead—to become ever more intimately united with the Father in heaven.”66 At the same time, all of us in the Communion of Saints need to recognize that whatever help we can give each other ultimately comes not from ourselves but from Christ. “For when the faithful gain indulgences they realize that by their own powers they cannot atone for the evil that they have afflicted upon themselves and the entire community by sinning; they therefore are moved to a healthy humility.”67

More at the USCCB website (PDF)