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Faith/Spirituality Forum: Purgatory

by Catherine Frakas 02 Sep 2001

Purgatory QUESTION from Lucille on July 10, 2002 Where does the idea of purgatory come from, who goes there, and under what circumstances? Some Catholics I know think that purgatory and hell are avoided altogether with a good confession. I say that with a good confession, hell is avoided, but not purgatory, because all sins must be paid for on earth or in heaven, regardless of confession. Also, regarding this matter, how does a plenary indulgence work, and when is it available? Thanks and God bless.
ANSWER by John-Paul Ignatius, OLSM on July 22, 2002 Dear Dr. Lucille:
The idea of purgatory come from God and His great love for us. If purgatory did not exist, God's love would bring it into existence (and His love did do that).
Rev 21:27 tells us that nothing unclean shall enter heaven. Many Protestant fail to understand what this means. When our sins are forgiven we are made clean of the sin itself, but that does not mean we are made clean of the consequences resulting from the sin.
For example: If I throw a rock through your window in anger I have committed a sin. I may ask you to forgive me and you do. I may ask God to forgive me and He does. But that does not fix the window.
The window is STILL broken despite the fact that I have been forgiven of the sin of breaking the window.
God is a God of Justice as He is a God of Mercy. Justice tells us that I am responsible for the broken window and that I should owe up to that responsibility and pay for the repair of the window.
2 Sam 12:13-14 proves to us that although a sin is forgiven we may suffer the consequences that resulted from that sin.
Purgatory is where we must go when we have not repaired all the broken windows in our lives.
Jesus says that we will not be released until we have paid the last penny (the last penny of the repair bill) -- Matt 5:26.
We begin to see the idea of purgatory with the Jews in the Old Testament. 2 Macc 12:44-46 speaks of atoning for the dead to free them. The doctine is developed further in the New Testament:
Matt 5:48 we must be perfect as our Father is perfect
Heb 12:14 we must strive for holiness because without holiness we will not see God
Rev 21:27 nothing uncleans enters heaven
Matt 5:26 Jesus mentions not being released from purgatory until the last penny is paid.
Matt 12:32 Jesus again implies purgatory when he says that the sin against the Holy Spirit cannot be forgiven in this life or the next.
In fact this is more than an implication. It is an outright statement of affirmation of purgatory. This life or the next? If our next life is is hell, forgiveness is not possible and Jesus' statement makes no sense. If the next life means our immediate entrance into heaven, Jesus' statement also does not make sense as those in heaven need for forgiveness. He could have only been talking about an inbetween place -- which the Jews were already knowledgable about from Old Testament Scriptures.
The best one liner definition of purgatory is 1 Cor 3:15.
But another absolute clincher is St. Paul praying for his dead freidn Onesiphorus in 2 Tim 1:16-18. Again why is he praying for a dead friend if that friend could only be in hell or heaven. In hell Paul's prayer would have no effect; in heaven, Paul's prayers are not needed. Thus there must be an inbetween place.
You are right, that a good confession DOES NOT prevent our going to purgatory. FORGIVENESS OF SIN is not the same thing as paying the debt of the consequences of sin.
Our sin may be forgiven, but the window must still be repaired.
Doing good works, living the Christ-life, accepting the trial and tribulations of this life joyfully, having patience with other's foibles and such can all serve to pay the price for the broken window.
When all is said and done, at the end of our life, the accounts are added up. While our sins have been forgiven and thus we are heaven bound, have all the windows been repaired? If there are still some windows in need of repair, then we must spend time in purgatory to pay for their repair -- until the last penny is paid, Jesus says.
An indulgence is an offer to pay for the window in part or in full.
A partial indulgence pays part of the repair costs. For example, instead of giving you the cash to buy a new window I could offer to mow your lawn for one month. In exchange for this good work you agree to knock $50 off the repair cost of the window. You have given me an indulgence.
We we do a good work on behalf of a person in purgatory we are mowing the lawn FOR THEM, getting paid the $50 but applying it to the account of the person in purgatory.
A plenary indulgence is a 100% payment of ALL the windows. It is a get out of jail card, do not pass purgatory card -- a straight ticket to heaven. Why? because all the broken windows of our life have been repaired by the plenary indulgence and thus we can arrive directly in heaven instead of going through purgatory first (assuming no other broken windows occured between the plenary indulgence and our death).
Last Rites offers us a plenary indulgence at our death. This is nice if we can qualify since the plenary indulgence is at the moment of our death and we haven't the chance to sin again.
There are a variety of things one can do to receive a partial or plenary indulgence. You can find a listing of things one can do to receive an indulgence at: Enchiridion of Indulgences
The list for plenary indulgences are listed here
BUT, plenary indulgence is HARD to get.
To acquire a plenary indulgence it is necessary to perform the work to which the indulgence is attached and to fulfill the following four conditions:
1) sacramental confession, 2) Eucharistic Communion, and 3) prayer for the intention of the Sovereign Pontiff. 4) It is required that all attachment to sin, even venial sin, be absent.
It is requirement number 4 that is the hard one. We must be free of attachment to even venial sin. Wow. We we have an attachment, we still have a tendecny to not want to let go to even a venial sin then the plenary indulgence is not given but is reduced to a partial indulgence.
This is rather hard. Think of this example that is not necessarily a sin but is one that illustrates the attachment principle: You successfully avoid smoking but you still have a craving for the cigarette. You are STILL ATTACHED to the cigarette even though you avoid actually smoking them. That attachment fails the test for a plenary indulgence.
For the complete norms on indulgences see: Norms
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