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What Purgatory Is . . . and Isn’t

2 Nov

Does purgatory offer a second chance to those who rejected Christ in this life?

This question and others like it reflect a widespread Protestant belief that purgatory is one of those “unbiblical” Church teachings that Catholics manufactured. I’m sure most of our Catholic readers have encountered such question about Purgatory at some time in their life.

And today, of course, the Church celebrates All Souls Day, which in a sense gives purgatory center stage.

Three ecumenical councils affirm the Church’s teaching on purgatory, two of which preceded the Protestant Reformation: Lyons II (1274), Florence (1439), and Trent (1563). These councils did not “create” this teaching, but explicated the faith of the Church, found in Scripture and Tradition, and attested by Church leaders throughout the first Christian millennium.

Check out Catechism, nos. 1030-32 and the resources below for more information.

In answer to the question posed at the beginning of this post, purgatory is not a “second chance.” Christ judges each one of us upon our death, and at that time our eternal destination—heaven or hell—is determined. Purgatory does not offer a third way or some sort of end run, as though we could earn our way to heaven after death despite rejecting Christ during our life. It doesn’t work that way. If we reject Christ, we will not be saved (see Jn. 3:18).

Thus, the spiritual purification of purgatory is possible only for those who are reconciled to God through the saving death of Christ.

But what about that? Isn’t Christ’s saving death sufficient? If we died in friendship with Christ, why then do we need this “purification”? Continue reading