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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
* * * * *
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!