Much has been said over the centuries of a "third" place that people go to after death. In the Second Book of Maccabees 12:43-46, it says, "He then took up a collection among all his soldiers, amounting to two thousand silver drachmas, which he sent to
Since Martin Luther threw both books of Maccabees out of his Protestant Bible during the sixteenth century Reformation, most Protestants today don’t recognize Maccabees as scripture. However, both 1 and 2 Maccabees are in the Gutenberg Bible, published a century before Luther was born, which proves that the Catholic Church didn't add them at the Council of Trent after the Reformation; they were taken out by Luther during the Reformation.
Why a need for purgation after one's sin has already been forgiven? The premier example from the Bible comes from David, in the book of 2 Samuel 12:13-14:
"David said to Nathan, "I have sinned against the LORD." And Nathan said to David, "The LORD also has put away your sin; you shall not die. Nevertheless, because by this deed you have utterly scorned the LORD, the child that is born to you shall die."
Here we see God punishing David by taking the life of his son, even after God forgave David for killing Bathsheeba's husband, Uriah the Hittite, by putting him on the battlefront (So David could take Bathsheeba for his wife). This verse also tells us that our children can suffer mightily, even death, because of our own sins.
God Himself appeared to Moses as a non-consuming fire, which didn’t burn the bush (Exodus 3:2). The book of Daniel says that the very throne of God is fire:
“As I looked, thrones were placed and one that was ancient of days took his seat; his raiment was white as snow, and the hair of his head like pure wool; his throne was fiery flames, its wheels were burning fire.” (Daniel 7:9).
And when God speaks, fire issues forth from His mouth:
“A stream of fire issued and came forth from before him; a thousand thousands served him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him; the court sat in judgment, and the books were opened. (Daniel 7:10).
In the New Testament, at Pentecost, God the Holy Spirit appeared as non-consuming tongues of fire to the apostles (Acts 2:3). So we see that God and fire can be seen as one and the same.
In the First Book of Samuel 31:13, the survivors fasted for the dead, which makes no sense if the deceased were not in a place where that penance (fasting) could do some good for them. In Matthew 12:31, Jesus told the parable about blaspheming the Holy Spirit (not believing that the Holy Spirit can save you, no matter what – the sin of despair), and said that anyone who does blaspheme the Holy Spirit
"will not be forgiven in this age or the age to come" (Matthew 12:32).
Since sins aren't forgiven in Hell, and those in Heaven are already forgiven for their sins, then this one statement indicates another place after death where sins can indeed be forgiven. When Jesus told the parable of the man beating up others who owed him money, after he himself had been forgiven his debts (Matthew 18:23-34), He said
“And in anger his lord delivered him to the jailers, till he should pay all his debt. So will my heavenly Father do to you, unless each of you forgives his brother from his heart" (Matthew 18:34-35).
Since there is no release program in Hell, and no one wants to ever leave Heaven, this also indicates that there is another temporary place of torment where saved sinners go who have been forgiven their sins, but who have not paid all of their debt, down to the last penny, for their sins. In fact, in Matthew 5: 25-26, Jesus says
“Make friends quickly with your accuser, while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison; truly, I say to you, you will never get out till you have paid the last penny.”
The only possible prison that there could be that one gets out of eventually is purgatory.
In Hebrews 12:22-24,
“But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the first-born who are enrolled in heaven, and to a judge who is God of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks more graciously than the blood of Abel. "
We know who the angels are, as well as the first born (those who go directly to heaven upon death), & the judge (Jesus), but the spirits of just men made perfect is another category of heavenly residents. Those would be the just men and women who were not ready for heaven upon death, but who were cleansed in the fires of purgatory and MADE PERFECT.
In 2 Timothy 1:16-18, Paul prays for the soul of the departed Onesiphorus:
May the Lord grant mercy to the household of Onesiphorus, for he often refreshed me; he was not ashamed of my chains, but when he arrived in Rome he searched for me eagerly and found me; may the Lord grant him to find mercy from the Lord on that Day -- and you well know all the service he rendered at Ephesus.
Revelation 21:27 says that
"nothing unclean shall enter heaven; "
so it can be assumed that if we are still unclean when we die, thanks to God's amazing grace, we shall still be able to enter heaven thanks to the cleansing fires of purgatory.
Purgatory is NOT another chance to be saved…Once death occurs, you are either saved or not saved. If you have suffered greatly in this life, or during your death, that pain and suffering alleviates your purgatory time, if it was done for Christ, and not wasted in anger at God. All purgatory does is to detach you from your love of sin, and to pay your debt to God for all of the sins that you have committed while alive on earth. This is directly analogous to someone who robs a bank and then asks for forgiveness. While the bank president will probably forgive him, the thief still has to give back the money and pay his debt to society through prison time. After all, nothing unclean or defiled shall enter Heaven (Revelation 21:27). Even Isaiah, as good a prophet as there ever was, when he was caught up into Heaven (Isaiah 6:1), he proclaimed himself unclean (Isaiah 6:5). A seraphim angel (seraphim means "burning one") then took a burning ember and stuck it to his tongue to cleanse him (Isaiah 6:6-7). Similarly, we will be cleansed in the fire of purgatory before we see God.
" The work of each will come to light, for the Day will disclose it. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire (itself) will test the quality of each one's work. If the work stands that someone built upon the foundation, that person will receive a wage. But if someone's work is burned up, that one will suffer loss; the person will be saved, but only as through fire. "
And then there are these 2 verses of scripture that talk about God and fire and us:
Mark 9:49: For every one will be salted with fire.
Hebrews 12:29: "For our God is a consuming fire."
1 Peter 1:7: "The genuineness of your faith, more precious than gold that is perishable even though tested by fire, may prove to be for praise, glory, and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ."
In the First Book of Peter 3:19 and 4:6, Peter says that after the crucifixion and death of Jesus, that Jesus
"went to speak to the spirits in prison"
to bring them the good news of His saving power. This prison was basically a holding tank for Old Testament people who followed the teachings of God, and looked forward to the coming of the Messiah, who would once again open the doors of heaven to man, which had been shut since the sin of Adam. This scripture also indicates that there is a place mentioned in the bible besides Heaven and hell for dead people to go to before they can enter into Heaven.
We, as the Church Militant (still alive), can help our relatives and friends (and ENEMIES, by the way), who are in Purgatory (The Church Suffering) by praying for them, saying rosaries for them, offering up our sufferings here on earth for them, and most powerfully of all, having Holy Masses said for them. No need to wait for All Souls Day, although that is a GREAT time to have Masses said for them. See your parish secretary and have masses scheduled in remembrance of your loved ones as soon as possible. Once they make it to heaven, they will remember your kindness, and become powerful intercessors with Jesus for your salvation. Definitely a win-win effort!! No sacrifice for the dead is ever wasted. For example, if your loved one is already in heaven, then God, in his infinite mercy, will apply the sacrifice you make to someone else who most needs it.
There are some who think that it is sacrilegious to pray for the dead, in spite of what the second Book of Maccabees says.. Well, think about this…There is no time in Heaven. God exists only in eternity, and knows the future. God, in his infinite wisdom, thus knows when a person dies that a loved one will be saying prayers for him/her years down the road. He then applies those yet-to-come prayers to the dead person's sentence in purgatory at the time of death. Of course the worst thing in Purgatory, besides the cleansing fire, is the knowledge that you are separated from God, because of your sins on earth. That intense longing to see God is both painful and comforting at the same time, because you know that you have made it, but must still wait to be cleansed.
To sum up, the Church, under the direction of the Holy Spirit has always taught that Purgatory does exist. It is not a second chance to be saved, but rather, a place of cleansing for the already saved before entering into heaven. People who die with unexpiated sins or the attachment to sin on their souls go there, and are cleansed in the purifying fire of Purgatory for a period of time. Once they are purified, they go to heaven and enjoy the Beatific Vision forever. These people remember who prayed for them while they were in Purgatory, and then start offering prayers to Jesus for them. St. Therese, the Little Flower, and the 33rd Doctor of the Church, tells us that it offends God greatly when people say that they will surely have to spend time in purgatory after death. She says that Jesus would rather not send anybody there, and he would prefer that one has TOTAL TRUST in HIM now so that they won't have to spend one second in purgatory later. It seems that believing in one's own sinfulness rather than in the infinite mercy of God to forgive them becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy to spend time in the fires of purgatory instead of going straight to heaven.
Clement of Alexandria
The believer through discipline divests himself of his passions and passes to the mansion which is better than the former one, passes to the greatest torment, taking with him the characteristic of repentance for the faults he may have committed after baptism. He is tortured then still more, not yet attaining what he sees others have acquired. The greatest torments are assigned to the believer, for God's righteousness is good, and His goodness righteous, and though these punishments cease in the course of the expiation and purification of each one, "yet" etc. (Patres Groeci. IX, col. 332 [A.D. 150-215]).
If a man departs this life with lighter faults, he is condemned to fire which burns away the lighter materials, and prepares the soul for the kingdom of God, where nothing defiled may enter. For if on the foundation of Christ you have built not only gold and silver and precious stones (I Cor., 3); but also wood and hay and stubble, what do you expect when the soul shall be separated from the body? Would you enter into heaven with your wood and hay and stubble and thus defile the kingdom of God; or on account of these hindrances would you remain without and receive no reward for your gold and silver and precious stones? Neither is this just. It remains then that you be committed to the fire which will burn the light materials; for our God to those who can comprehend heavenly things is called a cleansing fire. But this fire consumes not the creature, but what the creature has himself built, wood, and hay and stubble. It is manifest that the fire destroys the wood of our transgressions and then returns to us the reward of our great works. (Patres Groeci. XIII, col. 445, 448 [A.D. 185-232]).
The citizen of a prominent city, I erected this while I lived, that I might have a resting place for my body. Abercius is my name, a disciple of the chaste shepherd who feeds his sheep on the mountains and in the fields, who has great eyes surveying everywhere, who taught me the faithful writings of life. Standing by, I, Abercius, ordered this to be inscribed; truly I was in my seventy-second year. May everyone who is in accord with this and who understands it pray for Abercius (Epitaph of Abercius [A.D. 190]).
That allegory of the Lord [Matt. 5:25-26] . . . is extremely clear and simple in its meaning . . . [beware lest as] a transgressor of your agreement, before God the judge . . . and lest this judge deliver you over to the angel who is to execute the sentence, and he commit you to the prison of hell, out of which there will be no dismissal until the smallest even of your delinquencies be paid off in the period before the resurrection. What can be a more fitting sense than this? What a truer interpretation? (The Soul 35 [A.D. 210]).
The faithful widow prays for the soul of her husband, and begs for him in the interim repose, and participation in the first resurrection, and offers prayers on the anniversary of his death (Monogamy 10 [A.D. 213]).
It is one thing to stand for pardon, another thing to attain to glory; it is one thing, when cast into prison, not to go out thence until one has paid the uttermost farthing; another thing at once to receive the wages of faith and courage. It is one thing, tortured by long suffering for sins, to be cleansed and long purged by fire; another to have purged all sins by suffering. It is one thing, in fine, to be in suspense till the sentence of God at the Day of Judgment; another to be at once crowned by the Lord (Letters 51:20 [A.D. 253]).
Cyril of Jerusalem
Then we make mention also of those who have already fallen asleep: first, the patriarchs, prophets, apostles, and martyrs, that through their prayers and supplications God would receive our petition, next, we make mention also of the holy fathers and bishops who have already fallen asleep, and, to put it simply, of all among us who have already fallen asleep. For we believe that it will be of very great benefit to the souls of those for whom the petition is carried up, while this holy and most solemn sacrifice is laid out (Catechetical Lectures 23:5:9 [A.D. 350]).
Let us help and commemorate them. If Job's sons were purified by their father's sacrifice [Job l:5), why would we doubt that our offerings for the dead bring them some consolation? Let us not hesitate to help those who have died and to offer our prayers for them (Homilies on First Corinthians 41:5 (A.D. 392)).
Not in vain was it decreed by the apostles that in the awesome mysteries remembrance should be made of the departed. They knew that here there was much gain for them, much benefit. When the entire people stands with hands uplifted, a priestly assembly, and that awesome sacrificial victim is laid out, how, when we are calling upon God, should we not succeed in their defense? But this is done for those who have departed in the faith, while even the catechumens are not reckoned .is worthy of this consolation, but are deprived of every means of assistance except one. And what is that? We may give alms to the poor on their behalf (Homilies on Philippians 3:9-10 [A.D. 402]).
Ambrose of Milan
Give perfect rest to thy servant Theodosius, that rest which thou hast prepared for thy saints… I have loved him, and therefore will I follow him into the land of the living; nor will I leave him until by tears and prayers I shall lead him wither his merits summon him, unto the holy mountain of the Lord (Funeral Sermon of Theodosius 36-37 [A.D. 395]).
There is an ecclesiastical discipline, as the faithful know, when the names of the martyrs are read aloud in that place at the altar of God, where prayer is not offered for them. Prayer, however, is offered for other dead who are remembered. It is wrong to pray for a martyr, to whose prayers we ought ourselves be commended (Sermons 159:1 [A.D. 411]).
Temporal punishments are suffered by some in this life only, by some after death, by some both here and hereafter, but all of them before that last and strictest judgment. But not all who suffer temporal punishments after death will come to eternal punishments, which are to follow after that judgment (The City of God 21:13 [A.D. 419]).
That there should be some fire even after this life is not incredible, and it can be inquired into and either be discovered or left hidden whether some of the faithful may be saved, some more slowly and some more quickly in the greater or lesser degree in which they loved the good things that perish, through a certain purgatorial fire (Handbook on Faith, Hope, and Charity l8:69 [A.D. 421]).
The Purgatory Prayer of St. Gertrude for 1000 souls
"Eternal Father, I offer You the Most Precious Blood of Thy Divine Son, Jesus Christ, in union with the Masses said throughout the world today, for all the Holy Souls in Purgatory, for sinners everywhere, those in the Universal Church, in my home, and in my family."
A short prayer to save a soul from hell
"Jesus and Mary, I love you, save souls."
St. Catherine of Genoa experienced the pain and suffering of Purgatory, and actually wrote about it. To read her treatise, click here.
Another booklet worth reading about Purgatory is READ ME OR RUE IT .
Saint Therese of Liseux on Purgatory
The last recommended reading is HOW TO AVOID PURGATORY.
You will never regret having formed the habit of prayer for the suffering souls. In helping them you are actually being your own best friend in some very important ways:
1. Your spiritual life is enriched, your progress in perfection hastened. You gradually realize the wisdom of avoiding sin, which makes it necessary for some souls to accept a lonely exile from the heavenly abode of their desire.
2. You grow in faith, hope, and love. You strengthen your faith in the great supernatural realities which God has revealed. You buoy up your hope in His magnificent promises of resurrection and everlasting happiness. By loving those the Lord loves, you increase in those virtues which are so excellent.
3. Your appreciation of time increases. You no longer kill time, but prize its preciousness more. Time is like a currency with which to purchase eternal joy. The time God places at our disposal to know, love, and serve Him passes all too swiftly. Don't we all complain that the years get shorter as we grow older?
4. You gain helpers in life. The holy souls are "very powerful over the heart of our Lord and you will receive many favors by their intercession. It looks as if God wishes to indemnify them in this way for retaining them by His justice in that place of expiation." (St.Peter Julian Eymard)
5. You gain helpers in death. You have earned the holy souls' everlasting gratitude, and they will never forget you. As you pleaded for them, so will they for you, especially when the hour comes to close your eyes to the things of earth. In that hour, can anyone have too many intercessors?
All these are weighty reasons for remembering the holy souls in your Masses, Communions, Rosaries, Stations of the Cross, and other prayers and charitable works.
Here is a pictorial image that shows the relationship of Purgatory in the grand scheme of things. It is only a stopover on the way to heaven, to cleanse the soul from the effects of sin already forgiven (1 Corinthians 3:15). It is NOT a second chance at salvation. The poor souls in purgatory are already saved. More from David MacDonald at Catholic Bridge .