What’s the biblical basis for belief in purgatory?

| Father Kenneth Doyle | February 25, 2015 | 0 Comments

Q. So far as I know, the other Christian religions do not provide for a purgatory — only the Catholic Church — and I’m wondering where purgatory is mentioned either in the Bible or in Christ’s teachings.

A. Speaking generically, Catholics believe in purgatory while Protestants do not. For Protestants, the atoning sacrifice of Jesus is absolute, perfect and final. It had a once-and-for-all quality and, because of it, believers are cleansed, forgiven and declared righteous. To think that any additional purification might be necessary after death would be, for a Protestant, to deny the sufficiency of Christ’s redemptive death and resurrection.

The Catholic belief, on the other hand, is summarized most succinctly in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (No. 1030): “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.”

This Catholic position builds on the belief of God’s chosen people shortly before the coming of Christ. In the Second Book of Maccabees (12:46), written toward the end of the second century B.C., we learn that Judas Maccabeus “made atonement for the dead that they might be absolved from their sin.” To have prayed for his fallen comrades (who had worn in battle forbidden sacred amulets) showed his belief that the deceased could still be helped by the intercession of the living.

In the New Testament, arguably the clearest reference to purgatory comes in Matthew’s Gospel (12:32), where Jesus declares that “whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven; but whoever speaks against the holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come” — a statement that implies there are at least some sins that can be forgiven in the next life.

Exactly what this transitional state of purgatory consists in, how long it lasts, whether it might even be instantaneous, are, of course, beyond our reckoning as long as we are on this side of eternity.

Father Doyle writes for Catholic News Service. A priest of the Diocese of Albany, N.Y., he previously served as director of media relations for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

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