Purgatory is a Catholic doctrine that the Eastern Orthodox, the Evangelical and the other Christian subgroups reject. According to the Catholic Church, “purgatory” is the name given to the final purification of all who die in God’s grace and friendship without having been perfectly purified.
While it is not uncommon for purgatory to be pictured, in popular imagination, as a place rather than a process of purification, the idea of purgatory being a physical place is not in accordance with the Church’s doctrine. Fire, also present in the description of purgatory in secular works of fiction, is not part of the Catholic Church’s doctrine.
The purgatory of Catholic doctrine
At the Second Council of Lyon in 1274, the Catholic Church defined, for the first time, its teaching on purgatory, in two points:
- some souls are purified after death;
- such souls benefit from the prayers and pious duties that the living do for them.
The Council declared:
[I]f they die truly repentant in charity before they have made satisfaction by worthy fruits of penance for (sins) committed and omitted, their souls are cleansed after death by purgatorical or purifying punishments, as Brother John has explained to us. And to relieve punishments of this kind, the offerings of the living faithful are of advantage to these, namely, the sacrifices of Masses, prayers, alms, and other duties of piety, which have customarily been performed by the faithful for the other faithful according to the regulations of the Church.https://www.catholicfidelity.com/apologetics-topics/suorces-of-catholic-dogma/sources-of-catholic-dogma-400-500/
A century and a half later, the Council of Florence rephrased the two points, again rejecting certain elements of the purgatory of popular imagination, in particular fire and place, against which representatives of th Orthodox Church spoke at the council:
[The Council] has likewise defined, that, if those truly penitent have departed in the love of God, before they have made satisfaction by the worthy fruits of penance for sins of commission and omission, the souls of these are cleansed after death by purgatorial punishments; and so that they may be released from punishments of this kind, the suffrages of the living faithful are of advantage to them, namely, the sacrifices of Masses, prayers, and almsgiving, and other works of piety, which are customarily performed by the faithful for other faithful according to the institutions of the Church.http://www.catholicessentials.net/purgatory.htm
The avoidance of speculations and non-essential questions was highly recommended at the Council of Trent, on the 4th of December 1563, when the same two points were repeated:
Since the Catholic Church, instructed by the Holy Spirit, in conformity with the sacred writings and the ancient tradition of the Fathers in sacred councils, and very recently in this ecumenical Synod, has taught that there is a purgatory, and that the souls detained there are assisted by the suffrages of the faithful, and especially by the acceptable sacrifice of the altar, the holy Synod commands the bishops that they insist that the sound doctrine of purgatory, which has been transmitted by the holy Fathers and holy Councils, be believed by the faithful of Christ, be maintained, taught, and everywhere preached.https://www.catholicfidelity.com/apologetics-topics/suorces-of-catholic-dogma/sources-of-catholic-dogma-900-1000/
Let the more difficult and subtle “questions”, however, and those which do not make for “edification” (cf. 1Tm 1,4), and from which there is very often no increase in piety, be excluded from popular discourses to uneducated people. Likewise, let them not permit uncertain matters, or those that have the appearance of falsehood, to be brought out and discussed publicly. Those matters on the contrary, which tend to a certain curiosity or superstition, or that savor of filthy lucre, let them prohibit as scandals and stumbling blocks to the faithful.
Mother Angelica’s advice on how to avoid purgatory
In an episode of her famous TV shows on EWTN, aired on the 1st of August 2000, Mother Angelica replied to one of her callers, who asked her if she could provide some advice on how to avoid purgatory.
I have found her answer to be remarkably beautiful and inspiring and I would like to share it with you, and to ask you to watch the video in question (embedded below) and meditate on her words for a bit. Pray to God for discernment and guidance, so that you may always do His Will and, subsequently, follow the narrow path and enter through the narrow gate.
In Mother Angelica’s opinion, skipping purgatory and going straight to Heaven should be easy as long as we do the Will of God in the present moment. The past is dead (it does not exist anymore) and the future – unborn. But we are now, and we should strive to do our duties in this life every single moment according to God’s Will.
How can we know God’s Will? Well, that’s an issue for another article. 🙂 Feel free to share your opinions about the video and about Purgatory in the comments section below or in the comments section of the YouTube video. God bless you!