Q. What is the Catholic Church’s current teaching on purgatory? Has this changed since the Second Vatican Council?
A. The Catholic Church’s teaching in regard to purgatory has never changed. The Catechism of the Catholic Church 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” (CCC 1030).
As the Catechism notes, the souls in purgatory have passed from this world in the state of sanctifying grace. This means that they died in union with God, and they will one day enter into eternal glory. This is to be the goal of all our lives, and this is no small thing, for it is the victory of salvation won by the merits of Jesus Christ. St. Thomas Aquinas goes so far as to say that “the justification of the ungodly, which terminates at the eternal good of a share in the Godhead, is greater than the creation of heaven and earth” (ST I-II, Q. 113, a.9).
Even though the souls in purgatory will enter into eternal glory, they require further purification of their souls. The Book of the Revelation says that nothing unholy can enter the presence of God (Rev 21: 27). In the Gospels, our Lord himself tells his disciples to “be perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt 5:48).
The tradition of praying for the dead goes back to our ancestors in the faith, the Jewish people. The 2nd Book of Maccabees tells us, “It is a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead, that they may be loosed from sins” (2 Maccabees 12:46).
When we become a member of the Body of Christ at Baptism, we are part of the Communion of Saints. The Communion of Saints consists of three states: the pilgrim Church on earth, the souls in purgatory, and the saints in heaven.
The saints in heaven offer the Church the witness of their lives. Their lives demonstrate that holiness is indeed possible, and all, with the grace of God, can be sanctified.
And again, the souls in purgatory have passed from this world in the state of grace, but require further purification of their souls. When we the pilgrim Church on earth pray and offer sacrifices for these souls that await the full glory in the Lord, they most certainly will never forget us.
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