Q. I heard a priest who gave an orthodox description of purgatory say, as he concluded, “Purgatory will end when the world ends.” I have not read this before. Can you clarify?
— J.F., via email
A. Here’s a reply from Msgr. Charles Pope:
Part of the answer is wrapped up in the mystery of time. We cannot be sure that time in purgatory, and certainly in heaven, is experienced the way it is here. Likely it is not. And if there is time in purgatory, how does it relate to time here? And what the “end” of the world means in temporal relation to heaven and purgatory is unclear.
What we do know is that some sort of purgation is necessary for anyone who dies in sanctifying grace, but is not yet perfected with the holiness necessary to see God (Heb 12:14).
Even if the world ends today, it does not seem reasonable that no purgation would be necessary for those still on earth. So some means to accomplish this would seem necessary. In this sense purgatory (as a process) would exist even if the world ends. But we need not assume that such a purgation will go on for “years” in time as we know it now. The biblical data implies a finished quality to all things on Judgment Day, and this is probably what the priest meant. Yet, God will surely accomplish any needed purifications in a way known to him.