Is purgatory like hell?

Full Question

Is purgatory a punishment? Is it a hell-like existence?


Purgatory is a final purification to achieve the holiness necessary to enter heaven—this is entirely different from the punishment of hell. The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains:

To understand this doctrine and practice of the Church, it is necessary to understand that sin has a double consequence. Grave sin deprives us of communion with God and therefore makes us incapable of eternal life, the privation of which is called the "eternal punishment" of sin. On the other hand every sin, even venial, entails an unhealthy attachment to creatures, which must be purified either here on earth, or after death in the state called Purgatory. This purification frees one from what is called the "temporal punishment" of sin. These two punishments must not be conceived of as a kind of vengeance inflicted by God from without, but as following from the very nature of sin. A conversion which proceeds from a fervent charity can attain the complete purification of the sinner in such a way that no punishment would remain. (CCC 1472)

Unlike the damned, those in the state of purgatory have the joy of knowing that, upon purification, they will enter eternal life in heaven.

Categorized as Q&A

By Raphael Benedict

Raphael Benedict is a Catholic who wants nothing but to spread the catholic faith to reach the ends of the world. Make this possible by always sharing any article or prayers posted on your social media platforms. Remain blessed


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    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 Jerusalem to provide for an expiatory sacrifice. In doing this he acted in a very excellent and noble way, inasmuch as he had the resurrection of the dead in view; for if he were not expecting the fallen to rise again, it would have been useless and foolish to pray for them in death. But if he did this with a view to the splendid reward that awaits those who had gone to rest in godliness, it was a holy and pious thought. Thus he made atonement for the dead that they might be freed from this sin.”.
    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, St. Paul says the following:
    “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. St. Paul talks about this in 1 Corinthians 3:13 when he says,
    ” 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.

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