Every day we present a short point that helps bring into focus the treasures of the Roman Catholic Church that comprise the great Deposit of Faith.
It is no secret that over the past thirty years fewer and fewer know their Faith and it shows with the declining number of vocations, parish participation and attendance at Holy Mass. We have the new Catechism of the Catholic Church but for the common man, the one brought up on sound bites and instant gratification, it is more of a text book and that in itself prompts them to shy away from such a tome. So what's a loyal Catholic to do in evangelizing to fellow Catholics and understand their Faith? Our answer: go back to basics - to the great Deposit of Faith. We have the Baltimore Catechism which, for unknown and ridiculous reasons, was shelved after Vatican II. We have the Holy Bible but there are so many newer versions that the Douay-Rheims and Confraternity Latin Vulgate in English versions, the ones used for so long as the official Scriptural text authorized by the Church, seem lost in a maze of new interpretations that water down the Word. This is further complicated by the fact there are so few Douay-Rheims editions in circulation though it is available on the net at
DOUAY-RHEIMS BIBLE. We have so many Vatican documents available at the Vatican web site and other excellent Catholic resource sites that detail Doctrine, Dogma and Canon Law. We have the traditions, and the means of grace but how do we consolidate all these sources into one where it is succinct and easy to understand? We have the perfect vehicle. It is called "My Catholic Faith", now out of print, that was compiled by Bishop Louis Laravoire Morrow and published by My Mission House. This work ties in Scriptural references, the Sacraments, Dogmas, Doctrines, Traditions, Church documents, Encyclical and Papal decrees to clearly illustrate the Faith in simple, solid and concise terms that all can understand and put into practice. We will quote from this work while adding in more recent events and persons when applicable since the book was written in the late forties during the pontificate of Pope Pius XII. We also quote from the Catholic Almanac published by Our Sunday Visitor for the Roman Curial offices.
Nothing in Holy Mother Church's teaching has changed and therefore we feel confident that these daily "points of enlightenment" will help more Catholics better understand their faith, especially those who were not blessed with early formation of the faith in the home and their parish school. Regardless of where any Catholic is in his or her journey toward salvation, he or she has to recognize that the Faith they were initiated into at the Sacrament of Baptism is the most precious gift they have been given in life.
THE EXISTENCE OF PURGATORY
The doctrine of Purgatory is eminently consoling to the human heart. It consoles us when our loved ones die. Purgatory is a bond of union making us realize that death is not an eternal separation for the just, but only a loss of their bodily presence.
Purgatory gives us an assurance that we are still in touch with our beloved dead. We are consoled by the knowledge that we can still help them with prayer, as in life we so helped them.
The doctrine of the existence of Purgatory is not only reasonable, but its negation is eminently contrary to reason; it is taught in Holy Scripture, and has been taught by the Church from the very beginning.
The doctrine of a middle state of purgation is taught in the Old Testament, and was firmly believed in by the Hebrews. After a battle, Judas Machabeus ordered prayers and sacrifices offered up for his slain comrades. "And making a gathering, he sent twelve drachms of silver to Jerusalem for sacrifice to be offered for the sins of the dead, thinking well and religiously concerning the resurrection. For, if he had not hoped that they that were slain should rise again, it would have seemed superfluous and vain to pray for the dead. And because he considered that they who had fallen asleep with godliness had great grace laid for them It is therefore a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead, that they may be loosed from sins" (2 Maccabees 12: 43-46).
When Our Lord came on earth, He purified the Jewish Church of all those human changes that with the years had crept into its usages and beliefs. But He never reproved anyone for belief in a middle state of purgation, or prayers for the dead. On the contrary, Christ more than once implied the existence of purgatory. He said: "And whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man, it shall be forgiven him; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit, it will not be forgiven him, either in this world, or in the world to come" (Matthew 12:32). When Our Lord said that a sin will not be forgiven in the next life, He left us to conclude that some sins will be thus forgiven. But in the next life, sins cannot be forgiven in Heaven: "There shall not enter into it anything defiled" (Apocalypse/Revelation 21:27). Neither can sins be forgiven in hell, for out of hell there is no redemption. They must therefore be forgiven in a middle state, Purgatory.
Belief in the existence of Purgatory is a continuous and solemn teaching of the Church. From Saint Paul, the early Fathers, the Doctors of the Church, on through the ages, the Church has taught the existence of Purgatory, and the correlated doctrine of the usefulness of praying for the dead.
From the beginning Christians prayed for the dead at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. The oldest books used at Mass contain prayers for the dead. The doctrine of Purgatory was given solemn definition by the Council of Trent as follows: "There is a Purgatory, and the souls there detained are assisted by the suffrages of the faithful, but especially by the most acceptable sacrifice of the altar."
This dogmatic definition contains three points of faith that all Catholics are compelled to believe;
- (a) that there is a Purgatory;
- (b) that after death souls suffer there for their sins;
- (c) that the living can extend assistance to such souls.
Reason demands belief in the existence of Purgatory. If a man dies with some slight sin on his soul, a sin of impatience, or an idle word, is he fit to enter Heaven? God's sanctity forbids it: "There shall not enter into it anything defileld" (Apocalypse/Revelation 21:27). But must such a soul be consigned to hell? God's mercy and justice forbid it.
Therefore reason concludes the existence of a middle and temporary state of expiation, where the soul is cleansed from all stain of sin before it can be admitted into the perfect holiness and bliss of Heaven. "Amen, I say to thee, thou wilt not come out from it until thou hast paid the last penny" (Matthew 5:26).
Among nearly all peoples there has persisted a belief that souls must undergo some sort of purification after death. This would point to the doctrine of Purgatory. Not only is this what Catholics believe, but the Greek story of Prometheus implies a place of purgation. The Egyptians and others believed in the transmigration of souls. Legends and myths of all nations, as well as burial customs, indicate belief in the possibility of helping the dead.
Tomorrow: The Souls in Purgatory part three