“And now, let us say our customary prayers for the repose of their soul,” my priest gestured to us, and took a position of prayer.
Kneelers unfolded and out came the Hail Marys.
Wait. I thought Mass was over? What’s going on here?
I knelt, but didn’t understand what was happening. I’ll be straight up honest with you all, the only time I’d ever heard about the ‘dearly departed’ was in the movie The Departed. The people in my church continued to offer up prayers for the soul of someone who was no longer with us, and all the while I was seeing visions of Leonardo DiCaprio and Jack Nicholson.
I was jolted back to the present moment when my priest said, “Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him. May the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.”
“Amen,” I echoed. I guess?
I hadn’t been received into the church yet, I hadn’t even memorized that Hail Mary or the other customary prayers, and this was maybe my fifth or sixth Sunday at Mass so this whole idea of poor souls in purgatory was a huge, WHAT, in my mind.
So now that I’m a confirmed Catholic, have I made peace with this place called purgatory? Do I believe I’m going to go there after I die?
Short Answer: Yes and Yes.
Now, I want to make it clear that this is not an in defense of purgatory post. This is merely a reflection, and hopefully a time for conversation about it in the comments. I’m still learning and wondering about this idea, this place.
For a moment, let’s pretend that there is absolutely no biblical evidence to support purgatory, and let’s also pretend that historical traditions don’t matter. I’m asking you to use only your imagination.
What if there is a purgatory?
What if there is place before heaven in which we are a cleansed and healed from the chaos of every physical, mental, and emotional pain that we lived with while on earth. What if there is one last place where we can be refined completely from any and all sin, so that we can indeed be truly holy when we see God face to face?
I don’t know about you, but I’m more than willing to make a stop there. In fact, I want to go there. It doesn’t scare me, but I know that for many people it is a scary idea, even for a lot of Catholics.
As far as scriptural evidence for purgatory, an entirely different post might be warranted to pick through the few chapters and verses which point to it. However, in consideration of brevity, the book of Revelation (27) makes mention that nothing unclean will enter heaven. St. Paul makes a reference of those who will be saved through fire in First Corinthians 3:15, and while I don’t feel this brief verse substantiates purgatory nor is even necessarily a reference to its existence, it is one of many references to God refining His people throughout scripture.
Catholic novelist, Flannery O’ Connor, explored the idea of purgatory in her short story, “Revelation”. In short, she illustrates that at the time of death, we are still imperfect, and we must be purged of all imperfection before we are ushered into the presence of the Holy.
Something to consider, yes?
If I die, with anything in me that is offensive or contrary to the nature of God, then I want it to be burned away.
It should also be noted that Catholicism is not the only religious tradition that prays for the dead. Judaism has long practiced offering prayers after a family member’s death, and the El Male Rachamim demonstrates concern for the souls of the deceased.
Yet, somewhere, sometime after the Protestant Reformation, many Christians began to balk at the idea of offering prayers for the dead, and with Luther’s assertion of sola scriptura, the idea of purgatory, among other long standing church teachings, began to disappear.
So friends, what do you think? Do you recoil at the thought of purgatory? Do you embrace the idea? Are you indifferent? Let’s chat it up in the comments!