Thursday, January 8, 2009


There was a really interesting discussion of purgatory on Catholic radio (XM 117) the other day.  They were talking about how we really don't know anything about what purgatory is like, just that it exists from what we read in Sacred Scripture.  Thus, sometimes we think of purgatory as some kind of cleansing fire (which some people draw out from St. Paul's writings), but that isn't necessarily the way it is, the Church is actually silent on the true nature, just saying that we need to be pure in order to stand before God, and luckily God has provided an avenue for us to become that way so we don't have to worry about becoming perfect before we die - which may also involve temporal punishment for sins already eternally forgiven.

I got to thinking that Purgatory could be  something like the RCIA process (can't imagine what the Deacon who taught it would say about that!).  I remember learning so much, preparing me for Confirmation and First Communion, but at the same time it was a period of suffering and purification that helped me prepare spiritually for those great events.  Maybe purgatory is something akin to that, but hopefully they don't make you sing "I'm a Child of God" (inside joke).  


Maggie said...

One of my friends likes to describe Purgatory with the "bathtub analogy" which I believe she lifted from Lewis' Great Divorce. Essentially, the idea is this:
God's holiness is absolute. Nothing even the least bit stained with unholiness can enter the Kingdom. This kind of sucks for us, because our free will allows us to make poor choices all the time. Even though the sin is paid for by the Cross, the temporal effects due to it are our responsibility. Going to heaven right away after death would be uncomfortable for most people, because God's utter holiness is as hot and pure and refining as a searing hot tub. Hot tubs are awesome, but you don't want to cannonball into one all at once; you slowly ease yourself in and let your body get used to the temperature. This is why Purgatory is awesome. It lets us dip ourselves slowly into the hot tub, a toe at a time, which is all we can handle until the temporal effects of sin have been cleansed. It's not a place of suffering either, because the only people in Purgatory are ones who are on their way to heaven. So the "poor souls" aren't worried about going to Hell, but rather are prepping for their final destination- heaven, or full emergence in the hot tub.

I love being Catholic--- Purgatory makes so much sense (aside from the Scripture backing it up) that I had no problem with that particular belief when I was studying my way home. Wee!

Greg said...

Good stuff. Might want to provide just a bit of clarification of what Purgatory is "not" for your Protestant readers (lots and lots of misunderstandings floating around out there, primarily due to the Church's own abuses in Luther's day).

Purgatory is NOT a place where the unsaved can go after death to get saved. You are either saved when you die, or you are not saved. Either going to heaven, or going to hell.

Purgatory is the "state" (not a place) where the saved Christians are purified before entering heaven (those who need it that is). Here is a very good, solid, simple explanation:

Thanks again Joseph! I liked the RCIA analogy, as I'm sure the fine Deacon would too!

~Joseph the Worker said...

Thanks for the comments Maggie and Greg.

mel said...

Thanks, Greg, for the clarification -- and for the link.

Blessings on the Lord's Day for you all.

Here's a question I hadn't considered before, re: abuses in Luther's day. If during the years since then, so many "reforms" have occured, then was that church or today's church any less than the original? (hope that doesn't ramble too much) Is the essence of the church the same but some immoral behaviors or other abuses that made some reforms necessary? Is anyone trackin' with this line of thinking?

Many thanks.

mel said...

Matt Maher sings two beautiful versions of "Litany" and "Lamb of God" -- I could always look it up online, but do you know what the Latin phrases mean in those songs/prayers?

~Joseph the Worker said...

Mel, I'm going to answer your first question in a separate blog post. Your second one, I am not familiar with the version you are talking of specifically, but the words to the Lamb of God (Agnus Dei) are what we say before we take the Eucharist:

Lamb of God, You take away the sins of the world, have mercy on us.

Lamb of God, You take away the sins of the world, have mercy on us.

Lamb of God, You take away the sins of the world, grant us peace.

Maggie said...

Mel, in Maher's Litany he repeats the phrase "Ora pro nobis" which is Latin for "pray for us." Often people invoke a Saint and ask him or her to pray for us. If you're asking for the intercession of multiple Saints the phrase is "orate pro nobis," the plural form.

I love Matt Maher's Litany of the Saints... it's absolutely beautiful.

mel said...

Thank you, Maggie. That makes sense. I appreciate all of your kind and thought-provoking comments.

God Fanboy said...

Here's a description of purgatory by saint faustina:
"I was in a misty place full of fire in which there was a great crowd of suffering souls. They were praying fervently, for themselves, but to no avail,; for only we can come to their aid. The flames which were burning them did not touch me at all. I asked these souls what their greatest suffering was. They answered me in one voice that their greatest torment was longing for God."

Jesus refers to purgatory as a prison:
Matt. 5:26,18:34; Luke 12:58-59 – Jesus teaches us, “Come to terms with your opponent or you will be handed over to the judge and thrown into prison. You will not get out until you have paid the last penny.”
Prisons in Christ's time weren't fun places to be in.

I once read somewhere that if you take all the pain and suffering in the world, multiply it a certain amount of times and put that burden onto yourself, that is what purgatory feels like.
"Open your hearts and have pity upon us. If you believe not that we need your help, alas, what lack of faith! If you believe our need and care not for us, alas, what lack of pity. For whoever pity not us, who can you pity? If you pity the blind, there is none so blind as we which are here in the dark till some comfort come. If you pity the crippled, there is none so crippled as we, that can neither put one foot out of the fire or have one hand at liberty to defend our face from the flame. If you have been sick and longed for day, while every hour seemed longer than five, think what a long night we souls endure that lie sleepless, restless, burning and broiling in the dark fire one long night of many days, of many weeks, and some of many years."
One final comment b4 lol, i know i'm babbling. Purgatory could last til the end of time. Someone once said that what seems like an eternity in purgatory might only be a matter of minutes in the world.
I think Purgatory is utter pain and loneliness. But what keeps you going is that you know that one day you will go to heaven.

Remember to pray for the souls in purgatory.