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Purgatory, the process of purification

Catechesis by Pope John Paul II on the History of Salvation
General Audience, Wednesday 4 August 1999 - in English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese & Spanish

"1. As we have seen in the previous two catecheses, on the basis of the definitive option for or against God, the human being finds he faces one of these alternatives: either to live with the Lord in eternal beatitude, or to remain far from his presence.

For those who find themselves in a condition of being open to God, but still imperfectly, the journey towards full beatitude requires a purification, which the faith of the Church illustrates in the doctrine of 'Purgatory' (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 1030-1032).

2. In Sacred Scripture, we can grasp certain elements that help us to understand the meaning of this doctrine, even if it is not formally described. They express the belief that we cannot approach God without undergoing some kind of purification.

According to Old Testament religious law, what is destined for God must be perfect. As a result, physical integrity is also specifically required for the realities which come into contact with God at the sacrificial level such as, for example, sacrificial animals (cf. Lv 22:22) or at the institutional level, as in the case of priests or ministers of worship (cf. Lv 21:17-23). Total dedication to the God of the Covenant, along the lines of the great teachings found in Deuteronomy (cf. 6:5), and which must correspond to this physical integrity, is required of individuals and society as a whole (cf. 1 Kgs 8:61). It is a matter of loving God with all one's being, with purity of heart and the witness of deeds (cf. ibid., 10:12f.)

The need for integrity obviously becomes necessary after death, for entering into perfect and complete communion with God. Those who do not possess this integrity must undergo purification. This is suggested by a text of St Paul. The Apostle speaks of the value of each person's work which will be revealed on the day of judgement and says: 'If the work which any man has built on the foundation [which is Christ] survives, he will receive a reward. If any man's work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire' (1 Cor 3:14-15).

3. At times, to reach a state of perfect integrity a person's intercession or mediation is needed. For example, Moses obtains pardon for the people with a prayer in which he recalls the saving work done by God in the past, and prays for God's fidelity to the oath made to his ancestors (cf. Ex 32:30, 11-13). The figure of the Servant of the Lord, outlined in the Book of Isaiah, is also portrayed by his role of intercession and expiation for many; at the end of his suffering he 'will see the light' and 'will justify many', bearing their iniquities (cf. Is 52:13-53, 12, especially vv. 53:11).

Psalm 51 can be considered, according to the perspective of the Old Testament, as a synthesis of the process of reintegration: the sinner confesses and recognizes his guilt (v. 3), asking insistently to be purified or 'cleansed' (vv. 2, 9, 10, 17) so as to proclaim the divine praise (v. 15).

4. In the New Testament Christ is presented as the intercessor who assumes the functions of high priest on the day of expiation (cf. Heb 5:7; 7:25). But in him the priesthood is presented in a new and definitive form. He enters the heavenly shrine once and for all, to intercede with God on our behalf (cf. Heb 9:23-26, especially, v. 24). He is both priest and 'victim of expiation' for the sins of the whole world (cf. 1 Jn 2:2).

Jesus, as the great intercessor who atones for us, will fully reveal himself at the end of our life when he will express himself with the offer of mercy, but also with the inevitable judgement for those who refuse the Father's love and forgiveness.

This offer of mercy does not exclude the duty to present ourselves to God, pure and whole, rich in that love which Paul calls a '[bond] of perfect harmony' (Col 3:14).

5. In following the Gospel exhortation to be perfect like the heavenly Father (cf. Mt 5:48) during our earthly life, we are called to grow in love, to be sound and flawless before God the Father 'at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints' (1 Thes 3:12f.). Moreover, we are invited to 'cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit' (2 Cor 7:1; cf. 1 Jn 3:3), because the encounter with God requires absolute purity.

Every trace of attachment to evil must be eliminated, every imperfection of the soul corrected. Purification must be complete, and indeed this is precisely what is meant by the Church's teaching on purgatory. The term does not indicate a place, but a condition of existence. Those who, after death, exist in a state of purification, are already in the love of Christ who removes from them the remnants of imperfection (cf. Ecumenical Council of Florence, Decretum pro Graecis: DS 1304; Ecumenical Council of Trent, Decretum de iustificatione: DS 1580; Decretum de purgatorio: DS 1820).

It is necessary to explain that the state of purification is not a prolungation of the earthly condition, almost as if after death one were given another possibility to change one's destiny. The Church's teaching in this regard is unequivocal and was reaffirmed by the Second Vatican Council which teaches: 'Since we know neither the day nor the hour, we should follow the advice of the Lord and watch constantly so that, when the single course of our earthly life is completed (cf. Heb 9:27), we may merit to enter with him into the marriage feast and be numbered among the blessed, and not, like the wicked and slothful servants, be ordered to depart into the eternal fire, into the outer darkness where "men will weep and gnash their teeth' (Mt 22:13 and 25:30)" (Lumen gentium, n. 48).

6. One last important aspect which the Church's tradition has always pointed out should be reproposed today: the dimension of 'communio'. Those, in fact, who find themselves in the state of purification are united both with the blessed who already enjoy the fullness of eternal life, and with us on this earth on our way towards the Father's house (cf. CCC, n. 1032).

Just as in their earthly life believers are united in the one Mystical Body, so after death those who live in a state of purification experience the same ecclesial solidarity which works through prayer, prayers for suffrage and love for their other brothers and sisters in the faith. Purification is lived in the essential bond created between those who live in this world and those who enjoy eternal beatitude.

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Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Following our catechesis on the reality of heaven and hell, today we consider "Purgatory", the process of purification for those who die in the love of God but who are not completely imbued with that love.
Sacred Scripture teaches us that we must be purified if we are to enter into perfect and complete union with God. Jesus Christ, who became the perfect expiation for our sins and took upon himself the punishment that was our due, brings us God's mercy and love. But before we enter into God's Kingdom every trace of sin within us must be eliminated, every imperfection in our soul must be corrected. This is exactly what takes place in Purgatory. Those who live in this state of purification after death are not separated from God but are immersed in the love of Christ. Neither are they separated from the saints in heaven - who already enjoy the fullness of eternal life - nor from us on earth - who continue on our pilgrim journey to the Father's house. We all remain united in the Mystical Body of Christ, and we can therefore offer up prayers and good works on behalf of our brothers and sisters in Purgatory."

After the Catechesis, Papa Giovanni Paolo II greeted the pilgrims in various languages:

Je salue les pèlerins francophones présents à cette audience. Que Jésus vous garde dans son amour! J’accorde à tous de grand cœur la Bénédiction apostolique.

I am pleased to greet the English-speaking visitors and pilgrims present at today’s Audience, especially those from England, Ireland, Indonesia, Hong Kong, Japan and the United States. Upon all of you I invoke the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ. Happy summer holidays to you all.

Einen herzlichen Gruß richte ich an die Pilger und Besucher aus den Ländern deutscher Sprache, die sich in diesen Sommertagen in Rom aufhalten. Mögt Ihr mit Erfahrungen beschenkt werden, die Euch in Eurer Entscheidung für Gott bestärken. Dazu erteile ich Euch, Euren Angehörigen daheim sowie allen, die mit uns über Radio Vatikan und das Fernsehen verbunden sind, gern den Apostolischen Segen.

Saludo con afecto a los peregrinos de lengua española venidos de España, Colombia y otros países latinoamericanos. Os deseo una feliz estancia en Roma, aprovechando vuestra peregrinación a la tumba de Pedro para robustecer vuestra fe y proclamarla con gozo en vuestras comunidades. Llevad también con vosotros a vuestras familia y seres queridos el saludo y el afecto del Papa. Muchas gracias.

Saúdo os peregrinos de língua portuguesa, desejando-lhes todo o bem. Seja bem-vindos os visitantes do Brasil, bem como os que provêm de Portugal: os grupos paroquiais de Nossa Senhora de Fátima de Viana do Castelo e alguns peregrinos de Coimbra. E que, da visita a Roma, leveis avivada a própria fé e consciência de serdes Igreja missionária, a fim de contribuir para a unidade de todos os homens, na verdade e no amor! Com a minha bênção, extensiva aos vossos familiares.

Witam pielgrzymów z Polski! Pozdrawiam grupy paralialne: z Bełchatowa, Gorzyc, Lublina, Płońska, Poznania, Jarosławia, Sabinowa, Świebodzina i Warszawy - duszpasterstwo księży pallotynów; grupy młodzieżowe: z Sieradza, Szczecina, Świętej Anny - młodzież franciszkańska; Zespół Pieśni i Tańca « Iskry » z Winnipegu (Kanada) oraz Zespół Pieśni i Tańca « Lubenka » z województwa podkarpackiego.

« Dobry Jezu, a nasz Panie, daj im wieczne spoczywanie. Światłość wieczna niech im świeci, gdzie królują wszyscy święci, gdzie królują z Tobą, Panem, aż na wieki wieków. Amen! ». Tak się modlimy za zmarłych.

I tak w tym miesiącu sierpniu modlimy się za poległych w Powstaniu Warszawskim, w szczególności za Krzysztofa Kamila Baczyńskiego, obiecująçego poetę, który poległ mając 23 lata, 55 lat temu, 4 sierpnia 1944 r., i za wszystkich naszych zmarłych.

Niech ta modlitwa za zmarłych towarzyszy nam często. W niej się wyraża nasza wiara, zbawienie wieczne, do którego człowiek dochodzi także przez czyściec. Czyściec to znaczy stan oczyszczenia, stan, w którym dusze przygotowane do zbawienia, do szczęśscia wiecznego, oczyszczają się jeszcze, ażeby dojrzeć do ostatecznego spotkania z Bogiem. « Dobry Jezu, a nasz Panie, daj im wieczne spoczywanie. Światłość wieczna niech im świeci, gdzie królują, wszyscy święci, gdzie królują z Tobą, Panem, aż na wieki wieków. Amen! ».

Szczęść Boże wszystkim tutaj zgromadzonym.

Pochwalony Jezus Chrystus!

Traduzione italiana del saluto in lingua lituana

Saluto cordialmente il gruppo dei pellegrini giunti dalla Lituania. Carissimi, vi auguro un buon soggiorno a Roma e con affetto imparto a voi tutti, ai vostri cari ed all'intero popolo lituano la mia Benedizione Apostolica. Sia lodato Gesù Cristo.

Traduzione italiana del saluto in lingua ungherese

Vi saluto cordialmente, cari pellegrini ungheresi. Presso la tomba di San Pietro sperimentate anche l’universalità della Chiesa.
AugurandoVi l’approfondimento della Vostra fede imparto di cuore la Benedizione apostolica. Sia lodato Gesù Cristo!

* * *

Porgo ora un cordiale benvenuto ai pellegrini di lingua italiana. In particolare, ai seminaristi che a Frascati partecipano all'incontro estivo sul tema "Il sacerdote, segno e strumento della misericordia di Dio Padre" ed esprimo l'augurio che esso rinsaldi in loro la fedele adesione a Cristo.

Saluto il gruppo di ministranti provenienti da diverse diocesi d'Italia e da Malta, che in questi mesi sostituiscono gli alunni del Preseminario "San Pio X" nel servizio liturgico nella Basilica di San Pietro, ed auspico di cuore che questa singolare esperienza valga a rafforzare in ciascuno l'impegno di seguire generosamente Gesù.

Saluto, poi, i giovani della Famiglia Vincenziana che prendono parte a Roma al loro primo incontro nazionale e li invito a testimoniare con rinnovato slancio il Vangelo della carità secondo l'esempio di San Vincenzo de Paoli.

Saluto, inoltre, i partecipanti al corso di arte e di iconografia cristiana, promosso dall'Associazione "Il Baglio", ed il gruppo di ragazze bosniache ospiti delle Parrocchie San Michele in Rufoli e Sant'Angelo in Salerno, come pure quanti generosamente le hanno accolte.

Mi rivolgo, infine, agli altri giovani presenti, ai malati ed agli sposi novelli. Carissimi, la Liturgia ricorda oggi un sacerdote molto amato dai suoi contemporanei: San Giovanni Maria Vianney, il santo Curato d'Ars.

Il suo esempio e la sua intercessione aiutino voi, cari ammalati, a comprendere sempre meglio il valore della sofferenza accettata per amore del Signore; facciano apprezzare a voi, cari sposi novelli, la virtù dell'umiltà che è fondamento della fedeltà e dell'armonia familiare; siano di stimolo a voi, cari giovani, perché corrispondiate generosamente alla grazia divina e non trascuriate durante questo tempo di vacanze il raccoglimento e la preghiera, che più ci avvicinano a Dio.

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