"I would go so far as to say that if there was no purgatory, then we would have to invent it, for who would dare say of himself that he was able to stand directly before God.”- Pope Benedict XVI
(Scripture text: Wisdom 3:1-9)
The souls of the just are in the hand of God,
and no torment shall touch them.
They seemed, in the view of the foolish, to be dead;
and their passing away was thought an affliction
and their going forth from us, utter destruction.
But they are in peace.
For if before men, indeed, they be punished,
yet is their hope full of immortality;
chastised a little, they shall be greatly blessed,
because God tried them
and found them worthy of himself.
As gold in the furnace, he proved them,
and as sacrificial offerings he took them to himself.
In the time of their visitation they shall shine,
and shall dart about as sparks through stubble;
they shall judge nations and rule over peoples,
and the LORD shall be their King forever.
Those who trust in him shall understand truth,
and the faithful shall abide with him in love:
because grace and mercy are with his holy ones,
and his care is with his elect.
Today the Church calls us to pray for the dead, since we believe death does not necessarily mean immediate entry into heaven or hell.
God is much more than "the Man upstairs" who is our friend. He is also our Judge, who "will test the quality of each man's" good works and holiness (see 1 Cor 3:13). Some of the dead who die in the Lord will not have lived a life as fruitful as God expected. God in His mercy will still grant them eternal life. Thus, these deceased folks "will suffer loss," yet "will be saved, but only as one fleeing through fire" (1 Cor 3:15).
There is a degree of "holiness without which no one can see the Lord" (Heb 12:14). What happens with the above folks who are granted eternal life yet are lacking in the enduring fruit and holiness God requires? Jesus has gone to "prepare a place" for us (Jn 14:2). As the above Scriptures indicate, He also has to prepare us for the place. If we have died in Christ, but aren't yet prepared for His place (see Heb 12:14), then Jesus has to finish the job before He can take us into the heavenly feast. The Catholic Church, guided by the Holy Spirit (Jn 16:13), has taught that the above Scriptures and other truths indicate the existence of a "place" of purification (see Mal 3:2-3) we call purgatory. In purgatory, the souls of those who have not prepared themselves sufficiently in their time on earth are purified for the awesome privilege of seeing God face to face. Since they are fellow members of the body of Christ (Lk 20:38), we need them and they need us (1 Cor 12:21ff).
Let us help them with our prayers.