With the recent commemoration of All Souls on November 2nd, I thought a reflection on purgatory seemed fitting. Often in discussion with Protestants, Catholics are asked why we believe in purgatory. And inevitably we take then to 2 Maccabees 12:39-46 or 1 Corinthians 3:11-15. And these scriptural texts are very important. But the question still remains: why do we need a purgatory?
Purgatory—or the final purification after death before heaven is rooted in the Good News of Jesus Christ. God has come to save us and to draw us into Trinitarian intimacy for all eternity. And through Baptism we participate now in the Communion of Saints. But to really participate in the eternal exchange of love between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, we must be purified and transformed by and for love, because God, who is Trinity, is Love. We all fall short because of sin. This transformation into love begins here on earth. But an often time there is still much in our hearts in need of healing. And if we are honest with ourselves we recognize that there are obstacles to real communion with God, with myself and with others. A good examination could be whether or not there is a person I resent or struggle forgiving or think to myself “I don’t way to be with him for all eternity.” But the reality is God desires to save us all. And he desires to bring all into communion with Himself and thus with one another. And such is the beauty of the Communio Sanctorum.
I’ll leave you with why Joseph Ratzinger in in Eschatology: Death and Eternal Life argues for the need for purgatory:
“The essential Christian understanding of Purgatory has now become clear. Purgatory is not, as Tertullian though, some kind of supra-worldly concentration camp where man is forced to undergo punishment in a more or less arbitrary fashion. Rather it is the inwardly necessary process of transformation in which a person becomes capable of Christ, capable of God and thus capable of unity with the whole communion of saints. Simply to look at people with any degree of realism at all is to grasp the necessity of such a process. It does not replace grace by works, but allows the former to achieve its full victory precisely as grace. What actually saves is the full assent of faith. But in most of u, that basic option is buried under a great deal of wood, hay and straw. Only with difficulty can it peer out from behind the latticework of an egoism we are powerless to pull down with our own hands. Man is the recipient of divine mercy, yet this does not exonerate him from the need to be transformed. Encounter with the Lord is this transformation. It is the fire that burns away our dross and reforms us to be vessels of eternal joy. Purgatory follows by an inner necessity from the idea of penance, the idea of constant readiness for reform which marks the forgiven sinner.”