Exploring purgatory

Question: I have Catholic family members and friends who say purgatory does not exist and that the Church no longer teaches it. Several of them insist that their priest told them this. What is the truth here?

Gregory Rolla, Oak Lawn, Illinois

Answer: That any Catholic today, especially a priest, would say that purgatory does not exist is lamentable.

Purgatory is a dogma of the Faith, consistently taught and believed through every age of the Church. It is set forth clearly in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (Nos. 1030-1032).

Scripture sets forth the need and fact of some sort of purifying process for most. Jesus promises that when his work is complete, we will be perfect as the heavenly Father is perfect (Mt 5:48). Scripture attests that nothing imperfect or impure shall enter heaven (Rv 21:27).

Yet most of us will admit that godlike perfection is rarely observed in those who die, even the very pious. Though I can reasonably conclude I love God and am not aware of mortal sin on my soul, I am far from godly perfection (ask anyone who knows me).

For this reason, the Catechism states: “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 tradition of the Church, by reference to certain texts of Scripture, speaks of a cleansing fire” (CCC, Nos. 1030-1031).

Thus, St. Paul teaches that our works will all be revealed and tested by fire. And some of our works, though built on the foundation of Christ (i.e., not conceived in mortal sin), are ignoble, they will be burned away, but the pure works will bring reward. And though the builder will suffer loss, he yet will be saved — though only as one escaping through the flames (1 Cor 3:15).

Thus, some sort of purgation after death is taught by Scripture, which also lays the foundation of the need for it. Further, instinct of the faithful to pray for the dead and solemn teaching authority of the Church also testify to the truth that purgation (and, thus, purgatory) is a needed gift of the Lord to us.

A time for blessings?

Question: During a funeral Mass recently, the celebrant invited those who were properly disposed Catholics to come forward for Communion. He asked all others to stay in their pews. This struck me as cruel and unnecessary. Could he not have invited them to come forward with arms crossed to receive a blessing?

Dianne Spotts, via email

Answer: The most certain answer is no. Holy Communion is a time for those who are going to receive communion to come forward, that is its purpose. It is not really a time to confer blessings.

There is a practice that has developed in many parishes where people do go forward for blessings, and while not sinfully wrong, the honest answer is such a practice is at variance from the norms of the Church.

At funerals, something does need to be said, given the large numbers of non-Catholics usually present.

Perhaps the priest could simply and clearly invite practicing Catholics to come forward and omit telling others to “stay in their pews.”

Msgr. Charles Pope is the pastor of Holy Comforter-St. Cyprian in Washington, D.C., and writes for the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., blog at blog.adw.org. Send questions to Pastoral Answers, Our Sunday Visitor, 200 Noll Plaza, Huntington, IN 46750 or to msgrpope@osv.com. Letters must be signed, but anonymity may be requested.