By Tom Quiner
Catholics and Protestants differ on Purgatory.
Purgatory is the final process of purification that some of the saved must go through before entering Heaven. It is a period, or state, of suffering we go through to atone for our earthly sins.
‘Purgatory’ is an Anglicized term based on the word purge. There is Biblical basis for the state of Purgatory.
For example, the Jews prayed for the dead whom they believe, like Catholics, existed in a state where they could be helped, or purged, as you can see in this verse from II Macabbees 12:46:
“Thus he made atonement for the dead that they might be freed from sin.”
Actually, Protestants practice their own form of “purgatory” since they purged the books of Macabbees and other deuterocanonical books from the traditional Bible.
Nonetheless, scripture supports Purgatory in other ways, as related in Isaiah 6:5-7:
“Then I said, “Woe is me, I am doomed! For I am a man of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” Then one of the seraphim flew to me, holding an ember which he had taken with tongs from the altar. He touched my mouth with it. “See,” he said, “now that this has touched your lips, your wickedness is removed, your sin is purged.”
Isaiah was purged by a burning ember.
Isn’t that the way it always is in the Bible? Fire is often used as a method of purification. I like the way Catholic speaker, author, and radio host, Jon Leonetti says it in his book, “Your Good is too Boring:”
“God is like a refiner’s fire, (Malachi 3:2) burning up all the impurities and leaving the pure gold behind. When gold (or pretty much any other metal) comes out of the ground, it comes as ore, fused with other minerals. In other words, it’s all mixed up with useless junk. It’s imprisoned in worthlessness.
What the refiner has to do is set the gold free. And fire is what does it. It takes away the things that keep gold from being golden. It sets the gold free to sparkle and shine.”
What a great way to characterize the fire of the Spirit we experience in Purgatory.
This state reminds me of a mudroom in a house where you wipe your feet off and shake off your dirty clothes before entering. It is a place where we are separated from our last remaining sins that have prevented us from fully becoming who we truly are, beloved children of God prepared to once again “sparkle and shine” before our Creator.
Purgatory is necessary because of the way Heaven is described in Revelations 21:27:
“but nothing unclean will enter it, nor any[one] who does abominable things or tells lies, only those will enter whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.”
Everyone who goes to Purgatory is saved. They are written in the ‘Lamb’s book of life.’ Heaven is their ultimate destination. We need Purgatory to purge us of our final uncleanness.
Do some of the saved forego Purgatory? Yes, those who have confessed their sins before death to a Catholic priest, as the risen Jesus told His disciples in John 20: 22-23:
“Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, their sins have been forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they have been retained.”
I’m certainly no theologian. But as a convert who holds my Protestant brothers and sisters in high esteem, I hope these thoughts make sense in helping you understand the Biblical basis for Catholic belief in Purgatory.