Summary of Catechism paragraphs 1030-32:

  • Perfect union with God in heaven requires perfect holiness: “nothing unclean will enter it” (Rev. 21:27).
  • Those who die in God’s grace, but are still imperfect, are not yet ready for heaven; these souls must undergo purification, or Purgatory.
  • Purgatory is not a second chance after death; rather, such souls are already assured of their eternal salvation, and need only to be cleansed of any lingering imperfections.
  • Although this doctrine was formally expressed in such Councils as Lyons II (1274), Florence (1439-45), and Trent (1545-63), its antecedents date back many centuries earlier, as evidenced by Church Fathers’ reflections on Scripture.
  • Jesus implied that some sins are forgiven in the “age to come” (Mt 12:32); He also said in a parable that “you will not be released until you have paid the last penny” (Mt 5:26).
  • The Church has always believed that it was good and helpful to pray for the dead (see 2 Macc 12:46), especially by offering the Eucharistic sacrifice of the Mass.
  • St. Paul refers to being saved “as through fire” (1 Cor 3:15), and a similar passage in 1 Peter uses the imagery of being “tested by fire” (1:7).
  • A number of early Church Fathers wrote of souls experiencing a purging fire (such as St. Cyprian of Carthage in the 250s, Lactantius in the early 300s, St. Gregory of Nyssa in the late 300s, and St. Augustine in the early 400s.)
  • Others mentioned souls paying penalties in a state of detention, such as Tertullian (early 200s) and St. Cyril of Jerusalem (ca. 350), while St. Basil (ca. 370) described souls being detained because of stains or effects of sin.
  • Church teaching on Purgatory thus explains and clarifies why we pray for the dead; our prayers and sacrifices help them during their purification.

Live Your Faith

Some erroneously imagine that Vatican II did away with the doctrine of Purgatory, but in fact, the Council reaffirmed it (e.g., Lumen Gentium 49 & 51).

We owe a debt of charity, especially to our deceased family members and friends, to pray for the repose of their souls.

Aside from the consolation we can afford them, we please God by performing this spiritual work of mercy, and we in turn benefit from their prayers for us.