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Do we know what happens in Purgatory? Is there really a fire?

The Catechism clearly affirms the Church’s belief in Purgatory and the purification of the soul after death: “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.  The Church gives the name Purgatory to this final purification of the elect, which is entirely different from the punishment of the damned.” (Cf. #1030-32).  From this basic teaching, we must always remember that (1) a person’s stay in Purgatory is temporary, (2) purgatory is different from Hell, and (3) a person in Purgatory undergoes purification for venial sin and the hurts caused by sins.

What does this purification entail?  Like Hell, there is the pain of loss and the pain of sense: however, the severity of these pains between Hell and Purgatory is vastly different.  The pain of loss for those in Purgatory is the temporary deprivation of the Beatific Vision.  Each of us longs to be with God, see Him, and be enwrapped in His love.  The Apostolic Constitution Benedictus Deus (1336) promulgated by Pope Benedict XII, defined that the souls of the just “…see the divine essence with an intuitive vision and even face to face, without the mediation of any creature by way of object of vision; rather, the divine essence immediately manifests itself to them, plainly, clearly, and openly, and in this vision they enjoy the divine essence.”  Therefore, the souls in Purgatory long for this vision, and that longing and deprivation is what torments their soul.

The pain of sense involves some sensible suffering.  While not defined, traditionally this pain of sense has involved some purifying fire, which causes torment.  In the Book of the Prophet Zechariah, the Lord spoke, “I will bring the one third through fire, and I will refine them as silver is refined, and I will test them as gold is tested” (13:9); the School of Rabbi Shammai interpreted this passage as a purification of the soul through God’s mercy and goodness, preparing it for eternal life.  A similar passage is found in the Book of Wisdom (3:1-9): “The souls of the just are in the hand of God, and no torment shall touch them. …Chastised a little, they shall be greatly blessed, because God tried them and found them worthy of Himself.  As gold in the furnace, He proved them, and as sacrificial offerings He took them to Himself.”

Think of this image of “fire tried” gold or silver.  When these precious metals are mined from the earth, other minerals or rocks accompany them.  By fire, these impurities are separated, and the pure gold or silver remains.  In the same sense, a soul containing the impurities of venial sin or hurts caused by sin will first be purified, i.e. “fire tried.”  Perhaps a more modern version would be the idea of radiation therapy “burning” out the cancer cells; while such therapy is very painful, one has the hope of returning to good health.

In a more positive light, St. Francis de Sales wrote of the sufferings of Purgatory, but as they are mitigated by the consolations which accompany them: “We may draw from the thought of Purgatory more consolation than apprehension.  The greater part of those who dread Purgatory so much think more of their own interests than of the interests of God’s glory; this proceeds from the fact that they think only of the sufferings without considering the peace and happiness which are there enjoyed by the holy souls.  It is true that the torments are so great that the most acute sufferings of this life bear no comparison to them; but the interior satisfaction which is there enjoyed is such that no prosperity nor contentment upon earth can equal it.  The souls are in a continual union with God.  They are perfectly resigned to His will, or rather their will is so transformed into that of God that they cannot will but what God wills; so that if Paradise were to be opened to them, they would precipitate themselves into Hell rather than appear before God with the stains with which they see themselves disfigured.  They purify themselves willingly and lovingly, because such is the Divine good pleasure.  They wish to be there in the state wherein God pleases, and as long as it shall please Him.  They cannot sin, nor can they experience the least movement of impatience, nor commit the slightest imperfection.  They love God more than they love themselves, and more than all things else; they love Him with a perfect, pure, and disinterested love.  They are consoled by angels.  They are assured of their eternal salvation, and filled with a hope that can never be disappointed in its expectations.  Their bitterest anguish is soothed by a certain profound peace.  It is a species of Hell as regards the suffering; it is a Paradise as regards the delight infused into their hearts by charity– Charity, stronger than death and more powerful than Hell; Charity, whose lamps are all fire and flame.  Happy state, more desirable than appalling, since its flames are flames of love and charity.” (Espirit de St. Francois de Sales, IX, p. 16, quoted in Purgatory by Rev. F. X. Shouppe, S.J.)

Similarly, in Crossing the Threshold of Hope, Pope John Paul II related God’s “living flame of Love” spoken of by St. John of the Cross with the doctrine of Purgatory:  “The ‘living flame of love,’ of which St. John speaks, is above all a purifying fire.  The mystical nights described by this great Doctor of the Church on the basis of his own experience corresponds, in a certain sense, to Purgatory.  God makes man pass through such an interior purgatory of his sensual and spiritual nature in order to bring him into union with Himself.  Here we do not find ourselves before a mere tribunal.  We present ourselves before the power of love itself.  Before all else, it is Love that judges.  God, who is Love, judges through love.  It is love that demands purification, before man can be made ready for that union with God which is his ultimate vocation and destiny.”

Therefore, once again, we are left with a very positive image of Purgatory.  Nevertheless, the old pictures of the suffering souls in the fires of Purgatory should motivate us now to regularly examine our conscience, go to confession, and do penance.  We need the graces that come forth through prayer and especially the Holy Eucharist.  We must strive for holiness now and keep a strong and close union to the Lord.  Such an attitude and such practices will be the best preparation for when we leave this world and have to account for our lives before our Lord.



  1. Father Honesty Reply

    There is no Scriptural basis for purgatory…NONE. This is an invention of the catholic cult to extort money from people. They are called indulgences and fools pay the church money to get poor old uncle George out of purgatory. All hogwash and just one of hundreds of deceptions. That is why the cult is NOT Christian

    1. M. Brown Reply

      Before you post next time, please get your “facts” straight will you? You are completely off-base & wrong here. You do not know what you claim to know. There is no such thing as paying “to get poor old Uncle George out of purgatory.” Did you read a book on fiction about this or the real facts about the Church? The Catholic Christian church was the FIRST Christian church founded by Jesus Christ Himself. The Protestant churches came about about “protesting” by Martin Luther during the period of the Reformation. The first Protestant church was founded by an ordinary MAN – not Jesus Christ Himself! Cults are usually started by men of the world – not Jesus Christ – so please do NOT insult Catholic Christians with you falsehoods & lack of knowledge about what a cult truly is!!

    2. M. Brown Reply

      Did you also know, “Father Honesty,” that the Catholic Bible has approximately 7 books of Scripture which are NOT included in the KJV. They were left out years ago when versions of the KJ Bible was printed!! Research the REAL FACTS before you attempt to slander another church which you apparently do not know much about!!

    3. Pauline Reply

      you know if you don’t agree with something, that’s one thing. but Christ never went around yelling and being nasty to people .. even the pharisees, he simply taught what he taught. then the apostles “shook the dust from their sandals ” and moved on. no one sat around, stalking out pages of beliefs they clearly don’t agree with and write nasty things on them.

      if you dont believe it, why do you care?
      i don’t believe in baptist, protestant, muslim, or buddhism, but i certainly don’t go around, find their teachings and bash them. i would rather talk about things i like, then bash things i don’t.

      take a seat.

  2. Baraniko Reply

    I’m still misunderstanding.if this a invention by the church an why they try to prove it to the people?that means a liar.anyone from the catholic can help me in order that i can understand an prove myself that there is a Purgatory.

    1. M. Brown Reply

      Baraniko–Read my other comments to other bloggers. Perhaps it will give you a clear understanding of WHY the Catholic Church believes in purgatory. And, YES, contrary to what some have disputed here, there are Scriptures to back up those beliefs!!

  3. Liz Cornish Reply

    We are Christian. We belong to the Church Jesus started. There is purgatory as nothing unclean can enter Heaven. If you don’t believe that’s your choice. And I would never pay for an indulgence. I agree that has been abused in the past. There is nothing wrong with praying for yourself and possibly obtain an indulgence. Finally, I’m pretty sure I’ll be making a pit stop here along the way and I know it’s for my own good.

  4. Bert Reply

    We can’t read the word purgatory in the bible like the word bible, we can’t read from the book of Genesis to the book of Revelation but the bible we read it everyday. Etymologically, the name Purgatory comes from the Latin word purgare, which means “to cleanse.”The proof of the existence of Purgatory is in the books of Maccabees… 2 Maccabees 12:42-46. We can read also in 1 John 5:16; 1 Cor. 3:15; Mark 9:49; 1 Peter 5:10; Isaias 4:4; Revelation 21:27 but nothing unclean will enter it, not anyone who does abominable things or tells lies. And in Romans 3:4 though every human being is a liar. Therefore, every human being who tells lies will go to hell? No my friend. That’s why there’s what we called purgatory or cleaning of the souls before they can enter in heaven.

    1. JB Stokes Reply

      Jesus established the Church. Not the
      other way He makes us clean. We can add nothing to what He finished on the cross. Purgatory is a perversion of later church leaders to control the masses. No Bible basis at all.

  5. Sabrina Reply

    What can wash a way your sin nothing but the blood of jesus

    1. M. Brown Reply

      Sabrina–That’s right about the blood of Jesus & who do you thing created Heaven, Hell and Purgatory – God!!

    2. John Sickel Reply

      Spot on….Jesus took sin. Not us….. The notion of purgatory takes away the wonderful miracle of Grace.

  6. Wes Reply

    There is no purgatory, there is no need for purification after death. Jesus paid the price for those that accept him. There is no purgatory mentioned in the Bible anywhere, it is an invention of the Catholic church and al lie of the devil.

    1. M. Brown Reply

      Wes–Hate to disillusion you but purgatory DOES exist. You don’t believe in it because the KJV of the Bible does not have all the original books of the Bible which precluded the KJV. There were I & II Maccabees & others which were left out of the KJV. Did you know that or has your pastor ever mentioned that? Probably not. Protestant pastors either do not know this – or choose not to share that important information with their congregations. If you go to the library or buy a copy of the Catholic Bible, you can compare side-by-side to the KJV which books are missing from the KJV. It is NOT an INVENTION of the Catholic Church or a LIE of the devil. Get real and be careful about judging another church because the Lord said, “Judge not, lest ye be judged.” The Protestant churches sprang up AFTER the Catholic Church as a result of Martin Luther “protesting” the Christian Catholic Church and some of her teachings. Did you also know that Martin Luther was a fallen-away priest? Bet you didn’t know that either. There is no reference in history that the Catholic Church was founded by any man other than Jesus Christ Himself. We have over 3,000 different denominations in the U.S. today and I’m quite sure they do not all teach truth from Jesus Christ. Do your research on a reputable website (not the ones who continually slander the Catholic Church) & you will find out more about Church history & FACTS. Wisdom is liberating.

  7. NormaJean Nelson Reply

    I do not believe in Purgatory. I believe in Paradise, a place where souls are taught the truth of our Savior.

    1. M. Brown Reply

      NormaJean Nelson: Even if you don’t believe that does not mean that purgatory does not exist. That’s like an atheist saying there’s no God. But God does exist. Pray that someday you will take time to fact-find yourself. A blogger has shared many Scripture references for a Catholic Christian’s belief in purgatory. Take the time to read yourself before you dispute it. And by the way, Paradise is just another way of saying Heaven. We have to be totally purified like fine gold before we enter the kingdom of Heaven spotless & without sin.

  8. Mariant Reply

    See its a matter of choice. Am a Catholic and a proud one for that matter. I beleave my doctrine. If you don’t believe dont discourage those who believe. Please believe in what your doctrine teaches you. If it tells you no purgatory fine ,stick with it and spare us does who believe in it.

  9. Cris Triggs Reply

    I understand that Jesus died for our sins, and catholics aren’t saying that it didn’t matter because it really did, it saved our souls, but even still, nothing unclean can enter the kingdom of heaven. No the word “Pergatory” isn’t in the Bible, but such a place is mentioned if you just pay attention to what the Bible is saying.

  10. M. Brown Reply

    Cris Triggs–Good point. I personally met an atheist medical doctor many years ago who had a dramatic conversion experience while in a long coma. He was personally shown a “holding place” according to him which was not Heaven. He also was shown the darkness & despair of hell where he was heading if he did not choose life in Christ. That man wrote a book & has traveled all over the world sharing the gospel message. Can’t get any more real than that–all you doubting Thomases out there. Don’t depend on your pastors to tell you about purgatory because many of them do not know, do not understand or do not care to understand or speak of a priest or reputable theologian about the truth of our beliefs. Many falsehoods, doubts or misrepresentations about the Catholic Church has been passed down through generations of families & only the individual can learn if he wants to by doing research & asking questions of legitimate church scholars.

  11. Constance Chapman Reply

    Just an anecdote. I had to scramble to pay my rent last month any way I could. One of the channels was my parish priest he gave me some money in a check written to the landlord.
    My March rent finally got paid up along with a couple other bills and I had extra so I think to myself why not. I went to the church and put down the same amount of money Father put toward my rent for some Masses. He wouldn’t have accepted it back otherwise, and I turned it into a spiritual act of Mercy.

    That very same day not even two hours later I get a letter in the mail. They are reversing their initial decision to cut off my social security. I’m getting checks again. Whatever doubt I had in my mind about the existence of purgatory is long gone.

    These people don’t cease to be just because you choose to ignore them. They cannot yet enter heaven because nothing unclean will enter heaven. They are temporarily separated and they are stricken by that separation. We can pray them out!!! And they can not pray for themselves but they can intercede for us. They don’t stop being part of the Body of Christ! It is the speediest I have ever had my prayers answered, and to this day I’m in absolute awe of it.

    Jesus Christ paid our way but we must still put on the wedding garments!

  12. John Sickel Reply

    Jesus blood cleans us from our sin. The Bible clearly states he makes our robes white as snow. Through faith alone in Jesus. He said to the thief on the cross, because of his faith, Today, you will be with me in Paradise.
    Our sin (because of Jesus ), in scripture, is remembered no more by our heavenly father. Removed as far as the East is from the West.
    As for his Church. It is his Children. All those who believe in His son…..” Confess with your mouth, and believe in your heart, and you will be saved”. Catholic, or not.

  13. Mike Schroeder Reply

    You know it is really sad to confuse Christians with purgatory, If Christ death did not fully deliver us from sin, then how can we work hear on earth to become better Christians. Sin is sin. You do DEMONIC DISSERVICE TO THINK WE CAN ADD MORE THAN WHAT Christ did for us. Is 2 venial sins enough to send you to purgatory or does it take five, this is a dangerous teaching that will leave many straw from the truth.

  14. John Burke Reply

    First of all, most Catholics do not believe in Purgatory. Ask them! Secondly, there are other Christians who believe in Purgatory including, I believe our Anglican friends, Third, if Consantine had not become Christian allowing for Christians to be protected, the Catholic Church would most likely not have survived and all Christian sects would never have existed in the first place. A very possible outcome would have been Europe conquered by the Germanic tribes or, if the Church hadn’t defended itself during the Crusades, the Ottoman Turks most likely would have prevailed.

  15. Henry Philip Reply

    Just a simple question. Do we think there is any human being apart from Jesus and his mother Marry who at his/her death dies very pure with no any kind of sin? If the answer is no, then how does that person go to heaven while in the Holly Bible it says, nothing will enter the heavens if not pure? ask yourselves and find a point to stand for what you believe.

  16. Elaine Perry Reply

    this is not true either

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