Memories of my minor seminary days would often overwhelm me. During those days, late coming to any activity was (and is still) a great offence. Once the prayer commences in the chapel for instance, those outside were considered late and would be punished adequately. One day, as I was just stepping onto the threshold of the Chapel alongside other junior seminarians, when the signal for the commencement of the prayer was given. We were stopped just at the threshold where there was an inscription “Domus dei et porta caeli” which means “House of God and gate of heaven”. We were asked to move to one side and behind us were others who had not reached the threshold at all and they were asked to move to another side. After a while, one of the auxiliaries to the Rector argued and also pleaded with his colleague to allow us to enter since we were not as late as the lot behind us and that we had reached the threshold. With this, we went through the traditional knelling down as was obtainable at the time. Thereafter, those of us who had reached the threshold were asked to cross over and join the rest inside the chapel while those behind us were not only denied access but were also severely punished.
Yesterday we were in a blissful mood as we celebrated the joy of our innumerable brothers and sisters who have gained entrance into the Kingdom of heaven. Today on the other hand we contemplate the fate and pray for those who like in my story have reached but not crossed the threshold. We pray for those who might be undergoing some forms of probation. Such people have been asked to stand aside. They are not with those inside neither are they pushed outside and denied access like those who were gravely late. They are like in a betwixt position though with much hope. Their hope is actually based on our prayers: their brothers and sisters in the militant Church.
Attentive to the above, we are called to bend our kneels in utter supplication to God on their behalf. We are encouraged to continuously call on God to have mercy on them and admit them into his Kingdom. Hence like those of us who were held at the threshold of the Chapel and who were mildly punished and allowed to cross based on the pleading of one of the prefects, these our brothers and sisters cannot help themselves. They can only be liberated on account of our ardent prayers and supplications since they still stand a chance to enter into bliss.
We are convinced about a place of temporary punishment based on the confirmation of the word of God. Purgatory as a word is not mentioned in the bible as it is but we have references pointing to its reality just like the word bible is not strictly mentioned in any of the books in the bible. If we read from the second book of Maccabees (12:46) we will discover that it is a worthwhile thing to pray for the dead so that their souls will be released. Of course even in our secular parlance we observe minutes of silence for the dead and afterwards we say: “Rest In Peace” (RIP). We cannot do these if we do not have hope for a better future for them.
In the gospel of Matthew (12:32) our Lord Jesus said that anyone who sins against the Son of man will be forgiven, but anyone who sins against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven neither in this world nor in the world to come. By this statement our Lord made us understand that there is forgiveness after our life in this world. He did not mention what the world to come looks like but that definitely cannot be heaven and it cannot be hell because there is no forgiveness the two locations. So we are left with purgatory as the most probable place that could stand for it.
The most outstanding biblical reference can be found in the first letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians (3:15) It will be very pertinent if we quote this passage and I wish to do so using the King James Version for the benefit of my protestant readers. It says:
If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he
Himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.
St. Paul was saying that a man’s work will be judged and he will suffer loss on that account. But he himself will only be saved through fire. Now the Greek description of “suffer loss” is “zemiothesetai” and this comes from the root “Zemioo” which means punishment. (The same word we can see in Exodus 21:22; Proverbs 17:26 and Proverbs 19:19.) From the passage we understand that a man’s work will be examined as with fire and on account of that he will be punished and his salvation will still come but through that same burning by fire. It is like raw gold that can be refined by passing it through fire. Furthermore in Revelation (21:27) we are told that nothing unclean can enter into the Kingdom of God; it could be said that nothing raw, unrefined imperfect can enter. So purgation will be required for those who cannot be granted direct entrance.
Even in our human valuation side there are various levels of offences for instance in the civil society. A person who commits murder has committed an offence and someone who contravenes traffic also committed an offence. Judging the two offences the same punishment cannot be given to them. St. John (1John 5:16) tells us about sins that lead to death and others that do not lead to death. It is from here that we talk about mortal sins and venial sins.
We are greatly encouraged today to pray for our departed brethren as our prayers will assist as many as possible to be liberated from purgatory and be admitted into the Kingdom of God. Yes they may be delayed but not denied or defeated.
May the Souls of the Faithful departed through the mercy of God rest in peace!