Question: Why do Catholics believe in purgatory? Where is it in the Bible? Doesn’t purgatory deny the finished work of Christ?
It is indeed true that the word “purgatory” is not found in the Bible.
(Here we can revisit a previous apologetics discussion in which we addressed the issue of Mary’s Assumption, which is also not explicitly in the Bible. That is, the question is often asked of Catholics: “where is _______ in the Bible?” (fill in the blank with “assumption” “purgatory” “the pope” etc.) This question can always be answered with, “Where does it say in the Bible that all we believe about God is contained in the Bible?” (Answer: nowhere.) In fact, the Bible explicitly says 2 things in regard to this:
-it states that it does NOT contain all that Jesus said and did: Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of (his) disciples that are not written in this book. (John 20:30)
-that it is NOT the norm nor foundation by which Christians know the teachings of Christ; the Scriptures say the sure norm is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of truth. 1Tim: 3:15
Thus, we must look to the teachings handed on from the Apostles, either by Tradition or by Scripture, in order to know the entire deposit of faith that has been left to us by God.)
So as for purgatory, here are some things it is not:
-It is not another chance to be saved. Once you die you are either destined for heaven or hell. (it’s your choice, reminiscent of a previous apologetic discussion. God doesn’t send you to hell; it is we who reject Him and His Eternal Embrace.) If you die choosing God but with the need for purification, then you go to Purgatory. That is, everyone who is in Purgatory is assured that their final destination is heaven.
-It is not a place where we “earn” back God’s love and forgiveness. That is, Purgatory does not deny that Christ paid the debt for our sin, as some fundamentalist Christians often claim. Stated in the affirmative, Catholics proclaim that Christ accomplished all of our salvation for us on Calvary. “Purgatory is the final stage of sanctification that some of us need to undergo before we enter heaven. Purgatory is the final phase of Christ’s applying to us the purifying redemption that he accomplished for us by his death on the cross.” source
And I think that all non-Catholic Christians would agree that anyone who dies and will be experiencing the Beatific Vision–seeing God face to face–must have a soul that’s cleansed of every imperfection and attachment to sin. Revelation says, “Nothing unclean shall enter heaven”. -Rev 21:27 Non-Catholics just don’t have a name for this state of purification that occurs after death but before the Beatific Vision. Catholics do–Purgatory. But, I think all Christians understand that we must get “cleaned up” before we can share in the Divine Life of heaven.
Pope JPII had this to say about Purgatory: Before we enter into full communion with God, every trace of sin within us must be eliminated and every imperfection in our soul must be corrected.
Purgatory is a process of purgation (i.e. purification) before entering into perfect and complete communion with God. Makes sense to me to have, as Toni Welker analogizes, “a mud room before we enter the palace”.