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Friday, August 12, 2011

Ask Father...: Purgatory!

Recently I was asked by a parishioner why I wear black vestments at for Funeral Masses (more on that later).  Her thinking was that we should wear white because we are celebrating the person's entry into Heaven, and it's a joyful occasion.  I explained to her that we have no way of knowing that a person is in Heaven, except when the Church formally investigates the life of the individual and makes a formal proclamation declaring such to be the case, known as Canonization.  Our best bet is to presume that the person is in Purgatory, being purged of the temporal punishments accumulated through those sins they committed during their life.  So it's not inappropriate that we mourn for the deceased.  It is, however, rather inappropriate that we be overly joyful.  Then came the bombshell...
But Father, I didn't think the Church believed in Purgatory anymore!
Well, you could have knocked me over with a feather.  But, the truth is, there has been so much confusion about the Faith of the Church in the past 50 years, that it was no wonder that this elderly, lifelong Catholic could be mistaken about a rather fundamental (and de fide, by the way!!) teaching.
I explained--I thought, quite rationally--that if we believed people went straight to Heaven, why do we bother having Masses said for them?!  Right there...the belief is evident by our praxis!  

Rather than re-inventing the wheel, I quote for you from an excellent Catholic website,
First, a definition is in order: what is Purgatory?

Purgatory is not Hell minus a few torments and degrees Fahrenheit; it's not Heaven minus joy. It's not a "Third Final Destination" of souls. Purgatory is simply the place where already saved souls are cleansed of the temporal effects of sin before they are allowed to see the holy face of Almighty God. Revelation 21:27 tells us that "...nothing unclean will enter [Heaven]."

That there are temporal effects of sin is obvious when one considers that even those who have been baptized, who have a deep and intimate relationshp with Jesus, who are the "elect" or "the saved/being saved," or what have you, are subject to pain, work, death and sickness[...]

[...]Nota bene: Purgatory is His way of ensuring that Revelation 21:27 is true and that nothing unclean will see Heaven. It is only through Christ's sacrifice that we are shown this mercy! It is Christ and Christ alone Who allows us access to the Father.

OK, so where's the word "Purgatory" in the Bible? It's isn't in the Bible, but neither are the words "Trinity," "abortion," "lesbianism," and "cloning" (or "Rapture," for that matter), and it doesn't matter whether you call the process of purgation "purgatory" or the "Final Theosis": the concept of a "final cleansing" or "purgation" for those who require it is very evident in the Bible, in the writings of the early Church Fathers, and in the Old Testament religion whence Christianity sprang.

Daniel 12:2, Matthew 12:32, 1 Corinthians 3:13-15, 2 Timothy 1:16-18, Hebrews 12:14, Hebrews 12:22-23, 1 Peter 4:6 and Revelation 21:10, 27 all speak of Purgatory in their telling of the need for purification, prayers for the dead, Christ's preaching to the dead, or how nothing unclean will see God.

Tertullian comes right out and says in The Crown 3:3, dated A.D. 211, "We offer sacrifices for the dead on their birthday anniversaries". Cyprian of Carthage writes in A.D. 253:

It is one thing to stand for pardon, another thing to attain to glory; it is one thing, when cast into prison, not to go out thence until one has paid the uttermost farthing; another thing at once to receive the wages of faith and courage. It is one thing, tortured by long suffering for sins, to be cleansed and long purged by fire; another to have purged all sins by suffering. It is one thing, in fine, to be in suspense till the sentence of God at the day of judgment; another to be at once crowned by the Lord.
From St. John Chrysostom in his Homilies on 1 Corinthians 41:5, A.D. 392:
Let us not hesitate to help those who have died and to offer our prayers for them.
to St. Augustine's A.D. 419. City of God:
Temporal punishments are suffered by some in this life only, by some after death, by some both here and hereafter, but all of them before that last and strictest judgment. But not all who suffer temporal punishments after death will come to eternal punishments, which are to follow after that judgment"
the Church Fathers speak of purgation.

Archaeology also indicates the antiquity of the Christian belief in Purgatory/the Final Theosis: the tombs of the ancient Christians were inscribed with words of petition for peace and for rest, and at the anniversaries of deaths, the faithful gathered at the graves of the departed to make intercession for those who'd gone before.

Orthodox Jewish practices, which branched off from the Old Testament religion, to this day reflect belief in this "place" of final purification which they call Gehenom: when an Orthodox Jewish person dies, a ritual called the taharah is performed by the "Chevra kaddisha -- gmilat khessed shel emet," the "Holy Society" or "Burial Society" of Jews knowledgeable in these traditional duties. They cleanse and prepare the physical body and recite the required prayers (Chevra Kadisha) which ask God for forgiveness for any sins the departed may have committed, and beg Him to guard and grant eternal peace to the departed. For eleven months after the death of a loved one certain members of the family pray a prayer called the Mourner's Qaddish (or Kaddish) for their loved one's purification.

Even the The Talmud1 speaks of Purgatory:

Sabbath 33b:
"The judgment of the wicked in purgatory is twelve months."
Rosh HaShanah 16b-17a:
"It has been taught that the school of Shammai says: "There will be three groups on Judgment Day (yom haDin):
  (1) one that is completely righteous,
  (2) one that is completely wicked,
  (3) and one that is in between."

The completely righteous will be recorded and sealed at once for eternal life. The completely wicked will be recorded and doomed at once to Gehinnom, as it says: "And many who sleep in the dust of the earth shall rise up, some to eternal life and some to shame and eternal rejection" [Daniel 12:2]. Those in between will go down to Gehinnom and cry out and rise up, as it says: "And I will bring the third part through the fire and refine them as silver is refined and test them as gold is tested. They will call on my name and I will answer them" [Zechariah 13:9]
Rabbi Shammai (50 BC - AD 30), one of the two main teachers of early rabbinical Judaism, also is on record as having interpreted Zechariah 13:9 as referring to a state of purification after death. Isaiah 66:15-16 and Malachi 3:2-3 were also interpreted in rabbinic literature as referring to the purgatorial process, and the same theme is reflected in Wisdom 3:1-7 and II Maccabees 12:43-45, both contained in the Deuterocanonical books that Protestants refer to as "The Apocrypha."

Jews, Catholics, and Eastern Orthodox have always proclaimed the reality of the final purification for those who need it. It was not until the Protestant Reformers came in the 1500s that any Christians denied the idea of a final purgation before seeing the face of God.
The link to the particular page is here, where you can find supporting passages from Scripture, as well as a couple of other helpful links.  Check it out!

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