Catholic Teaching

Apologetics - Part Five, PURGATORY

The word Purgatory is not found in the Bible. The words Trinity and Incarnation are not mentioned in the Bible either, but this does not mean that these truths do not exist.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church, in #1030 teaches us that: “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.”

In #1031 we read: “The Church gives the name Purgatory to this final purification of the elect, which is entirely different from the punishment of the damned…” It is important that Catholics accept this fact; it is an article of our Faith. All practicing Catholics must accept it.

The early Church Fathers and Doctors have taught the existence of Purgatory since the second century. Such luminaries as Tertullian, Cyprian, Ambrose, Augustine, Basil, Gregory, John Chrysostom, Gregory the Great and others have maintained that Purgatory exists so that we can be purged of the temporal punishment due to our forgiven sins, and enter into Heaven unblemished by the stain of sin. The second Council of Lyons (1274) and the Council of Trent (1545) have also affirmed this article of faith.

When we confess our sins in Sacramental Confession, God, through His priest, absolves our sins, but the stain of the sin remains on our souls, and carries with it a temporal punishment. We cannot enter Heaven until we have atoned for these sins, and satisfied the temporal punishment due. This atonement is the purifying fire mentioned in 1 Cor. 3:15.

In Hebrews 12:6,10 we read: “For whom the Lord loves, He disciplines; He scourges every son He acknowledges…. but He does so for our benefit, in order that we may share His holiness.

In Matthew 12:32 we read: “Whoever speaks 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 the age to come.” By these words, the very words of Jesus, it is clearly declared that sins will be forgiven in the next age. What is meant by the next age? Obviously, after we have died, as long as we are not in a state of mortal or serious sin, God has ordained that we must go somewhere in order to be purified, and enter Heaven in an unblemished state. Councils of the Church have determined this place to be Purgatory. St. Paul, in 1 Corinthians 3:15 writes: “If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.”

In 2 Maccabees 12:45, Judas makes atonement for the dead, that they might be delivered from their sin. Protestant reformers did not accept 2 Maccabees as a divinely inspired book, eliminating it from many of their Bibles, along with the Letter of James, which taught confession of our sins. These articles of our faith are not accepted by those who teach: Once saved, always saved.

In a previous issue we discussed Martin Luther’s statement that after we accept Jesus, all of our sins are covered up. He referred to us as ‘dunghills covered with snow’! Since he adhered to this belief that all who accepted Jesus would be saved and get to Heaven, he could not possibly accept the teaching of the Catholic Church that further cleansing would be required before we were admitted to Heaven. This cleansing takes place in Purgatory, and he would not accept the possibility that Purgatory existed.

The souls in Purgatory will remain there until such time as they have satisfied the temporal punishment due to the sins for which they received sacramental absolution in Confession. However, Purgatory also contains souls that have not received sacramental absolution, such as non-Catholic Christians who have repented of their sins, but did not have Sacramental absolution available to them. Purgatory also contains non-Christians who have followed their consciences in obedience to the natural law engraved in the hearts of all humans.

As another sign of His immeasurable love for us, God has given His Church another way to satisfy this temporal punishment; it is called an ‘indulgence’. An ‘indulgence’ is the remission in the eyes of God of the temporal punishment due to sins whose culpable element has already been taken away. If we die with temporal punishment still due for our sins, we have to stay in Purgatory until we have satisfied that punishment.

Marten Luther devoted many of his 95 theses in denial of the Church’s practice of granting indulgences. As much as we want to decry him, we must accept the fact that he was correct in his condemnation of the ‘selling’ of indulgences for monetary gain known as the sin of simony. However, not all clerics were guilty of this sin. The Lateran Council V (1512-1517) reinforced the Catholic Church’s teaching on the validity of indulgences.

Pope Leo X in a Papal Bull (a very solemn and weighty letter from the Papal seat), Cum postquam, authorized a latae sententiae excommunication of anyone who denied the validity of indulgences (Nov.9, 1518).

Marten Luther proposed the following heretical teachings:

“Indulgences are pious frauds of the faithful, and remissions of good works; and they are among the number of those things which are allowed, and not of the number of those things which are advantageous. Indulgences are of no avail to those who truly gain them, for the remission of the penalty due to actual sin in the sight of divine justice. They are seduced who believe that indulgences are salutary and useful for the fruit of the spirit.”

Pope Leo X in the Bull Exsurge Domine condemned these on June 15, 1520:

The Council of Trent, (1545-1563) issued the following decree, approved by Pope Pius IV: “Since the power of granting indulgences was conferred by Christ on the Church, and she has made use of such power divinely given to her, (Matthew 18:18) even in the earliest times, the holy Synod teaches and commands that the use of indulgences, most salutary to a Christian people and approved by the sacred Councils, is to be retained in the Church, and it condemns those with anathema who assert that they are useless or deny that there is in the Church the power of granting them…”.

In the Catechism of the Catholic Church, promulgated by Pope John Paul II, in article 1471, we read: “The doctrine and practice of indulgences in the Church are closely related to the effects of the sacrament of Penance.”

We have two types of indulgences: ‘partial’ and ‘plenary’. Previously, a ‘partial’ indulgence indicated a certain number of days, but since we have no idea at all of the length of punishments due for certain sins, our Holy Mother Church decided to just identify them as either ‘partial’ or ‘plenary’ indulgences. A ‘plenary’, will remit all of the temporal punishment still due for our sins at the time of our deaths. We can gain the indulgence for ourselves, or for a person already dead, but indulgences cannot be gained for other living people.

Most of the prayers which we, as Catholics, recite such as the rosary, litanies, Our Father, Hail Mary, the Creed, etc., grant a ‘partial’ indulgence. These prayers, as well as some others, will impart either a partial or plenary indulgence depending upon circumstances such as when and where they are said.

The mere use of holy water grants a partial indulgence, as does genuflection before the Blessed Sacrament either reserved or in exposition.

Plenary indulgences can be gained by one who participates in certain Masses, such as a First Communion, a priest’s ordination or Anniversary Mass celebrating 25, 50 or 60 years of priesthood. Recitation of five decades of the Rosary, with meditation on each of the mysteries in a Church or oratory, will gain us a plenary indulgence.

A half-hour of Eucharistic Adoration gains a plenary indulgence. In addition to the performance of the work, we must also be in a state of grace, have received Communion, and confessed our sins within a few days, and say prayers for the intention of the Pope in order to receive the plenary indulgence.

I have only ‘scratched the surface’ of the many ways by which we can gain indulgences. If more information is desired, please contact your priest or the Handbook of Indulgences.

Fred Pascall



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