Purgatory and Prayers for the Departed by Deacon Gary Perrydore
The Church focuses on the souls in purgatory (the Church Suffering) during November. During Mass on All Souls day, we prayed for parish family members who passed away this past year. Praying for the dead is one of the 7 Spiritual Works of Mercy and aligns with the teaching of the Catholic Church regarding souls in purgatory and their need for our prayers. We most especially pray for the dead at each Mass, and it is good to have Masses said for our departed loved ones.
The Catholic Church teaches that by the mercy of God, some souls go through a time of purification after their death. You won’t see the word “purgatory” in scripture, but it is important to note this teaching originates in scripture. Prior to Christ, Jews believed in purification after death and Jesus Himself speaks to this in Matthew (see below). The point is this is not a teaching “created” by Catholics.
2nd Maccabees, Chapter 12, speaks of Judas Maccabeus making atonement for the dead. As the bodies of dead Jewish soldiers were gathered, they found them wearing amulets sacred to the idols of Jamnia. To atone for this sin, a collection for the dead was raised to offer as a sacrifice for them. Judas was a son of a priest and 2nd Maccabees says, “for if he were not expecting the fallen to rise again, it would have been superfluous and foolish to pray for the dead.” Jesus Himself says in Matthew 12: 31-39, that every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven but blasphemy against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the next. These scripture passages reveal the merit of praying for the dead.
The Catechism (1031) says. “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.” St Gregory the Great references the passage from Matthew as he affirms there is a purifying fire after death for some.
The doctrine of purgatory, based on scripture, was upheld by the Council of Florence and further by Trent which responded to the rejection of purgatory by Martin Luther and John Calvin. The Council of Trent affirmed that souls in purgatory are helped by the prayers of the living (the Church Militant) and most especially the prayers in the Mass.
Scripture teaches, and the Catholic Church affirms that nothing unclean can enter heaven. Though we may die with our mortal sins forgiven, it is still possible we need further cleansing of impurities and the temporal punishment due to sin. Prior to receiving communion, we say the words, “Lord I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.” These words point to our need for purification; how could we stand before God, see Him face to face if we have not been perfected? For many, that perfection has not been completed prior to death. But in God’s merciful love for us, He has a remedy – the cleansing fire of Purgatory.
Below is a web link to additional insight on purgatory. It is worth your time to read as it inspires us to be more diligent in our prayers for the dead and more diligent to grow in virtue and holiness as we embrace and respond to the grace of God desiring intimate union with Him in this life and the next.
God bless you and may He have mercy on the suffering, joyful souls in purgatory.