Ask A Franciscan

Purgatory and Praying for the Dead

May 12, 2020
Stone pathway through a cemetery | Photo by Echo Grid on Unsplash

A Christian friend says that the Bible contains no references to purgatory. What is the basis for the Church’s teaching about this? Why do Catholics pray for the dead?


In 2 Maccabees 12:38-46, Judas Maccabee orders that sacrifices be offered in the Temple in Jerusalem for slain Jewish soldiers who had worn pagan amulets (good-luck charms).

Some people have seen this story as biblical justification for the teaching on purgatory. That certainly overstates the author’s intention. If, however, those Jewish soldiers did something wrong by wearing pagan amulets, why offer sacrifices on their behalf?

The two Books of Maccabees are probably not in your friend’s Bible because they were originally written in Greek. During Jesus’ lifetime, some Jewish people regarded these books as inspired by God.

About 60 years after Jesus’ death, however, rabbis at Jamnia in Palestine drew up the list (canon) of the Scriptures used by Jewish people to this day. That shorter list includes only works composed in Hebrew, excluding the two Books of Maccabees, five other books and parts of the Books of Daniel and Esther.

For centuries, Eastern and Western Christians accepted as inspired the longer list. When Martin Luther translated the Bible, he used the shorter list. Sometimes, these seven books are printed in Protestant Bibles as “Deutero-canonical” or “Apocrypha.”

The New Testament and early Christian writings offer some evidence for purgatory. In 2 Timothy 1:18, St. Paul prays for Onesiphorus, who has died. The earliest mention of prayers for the dead in public Christian worship is by the writer Tertullian in 211 A.D.

The question of purgatory and praying for the dead was a major issue between Catholics and Protestants in the 16th century. The Council of Trent’s 1563 decree about purgatory reaffirmed its existence and the usefulness of prayers for the deceased, yet it cautioned against “a certain kind of curiosity or superstition…” about it.

The Roman Catholic teaching on purgatory reflects its understanding of the communion of saints. We are connected to the saints in heaven, the saints-in-waiting in purgatory and other believers here on earth. Prayers for the deceased are not a means of buying their way out of purgatory.

The Catholic Church’s teaching about purgatory (Catechism of the Catholic Church, #1030-32) says that all sin, unfortunately, has a life of its own and may have bad effects even after the sinner repents. Sincere repentance includes a desire to repair the damage done by one’s sins. That may or may not be complete before the person dies.

When the world ends at the Final Judgment, there will be only two possibilities: heaven and hell. We who celebrate Jesus’ Resurrection over sin and death look forward to sharing in that victory, and we pray that our beloved dead may do the same.


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Comments

wew wew
Sun, 07/25/2021 - 02:30 PM
wew wew
(2 Timothy 1:18) The Lord grant unto him that he may find mercy of the Lord "IN THAT DAY": and in how many things he ministered unto me at Ephesus, thou knowest very well. you got it wrong fella..St. Paul was praying to the Lord that may Lord unto him mercy "IN THAT DAY"..take note "IN THAT DAY"..St. Paul is clearly referring to the day of "Judgment Day"..it is the day or the time when the Lord will revive all the dead and judge all men simultaneously..the living and the dead..and obviously Onesiphorus is one of the dead that God will revive in the future Judgment Day..that's why St.Paul was hoping for God's mercy for Onesiphorus..not because Onesiphorus soul was in Purgatory!!! Catholics keep on defending this kind of false doctrine..only because this was what their bible ignorant past popes and fathers had started teaching, even though they admitted nowhere in the bible you can find the word "purgatory"..that's why they just keep on giving another meaning on some of the text in the bible to corelate it to purgatory..poor catholics y'all in bondage with those false doctrines
Ari Charity
Mon, 08/02/2021 - 11:36 PM
Ari Charity
You know what other word is not found in the Bible? Trinity. Yet most of us Christians believe this doctrine not just because of biblical witness/“proof texts” but also because of other epistemological sources (i.e. the history and tradition and theological wrestling of the Saints that came before us). Let’s practice generosity of heart, and hospitality of mind for the Lord’s beloveds. One glorious day we may very well have the honour of meeting the martyred saints like Felicitas and Perpetua… and we may well be HUMBLED by what we learn. So let’s extend some grace, yeah? Faith, Hope, & Love.
Mike O
Wed, 10/13/2021 - 10:52 PM
Mike O
What is St Peter referring to here? “For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit: by which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison;” ‭‭1 Peter‬ ‭3:18-19‬ ‭KJVAE‬‬
Gilbert Gonzales
Fri, 07/30/2021 - 06:19 PM
Gilbert Gonzales
It doesn't make l biblical sense for someone to die in sin. and then for someone to pray for that soul to go to heaven ! The book of Romans tells us " for the wages of sin is death "
Leonard Amulu
Sun, 08/08/2021 - 07:24 PM
Leonard Amulu
The word purgatory was coined from the word purge, meaning purification. Of actually purgatory or a place of purification exist Christ needed not to have come
Kim M
Thu, 10/07/2021 - 07:49 PM
Kim M
So mind boggling to me that ... people believe they have within themselves some gift of interpretation to repeat what the bible means... who's interpretation is right...who's is wrong... God fearing people...stop putting God in a box...he's bigger than the bible...that's a small place for him for a short while to dwell...can we learn from it...of course...he will teach you...but I bet if you ask any person who has read the Bible many times over their life...it changes...the text as you grow spiritually takes on a depth you did not understand before...if you argue for a time a certain point( this time purgatory) later it may come you discovered a new deeper understanding about it...ones that makes sense finally...we must not be so closed minded but open in the love of God...pray without ceasing...stop judging
Virginia Aguirre
Tue, 11/02/2021 - 01:02 PM
Virginia Aguirre
Kim, thank you for your comments. I am Catholic and there are many things my Church has commented on and taken for doctrine. As we grow in faith we hear differently. Christianity latches on to beliefs and doctrine that is very concrete. If we stop there, with the law and doctrine, we miss out on listening and growing in the spirit.
Jacinta Jufauri
Thu, 11/11/2021 - 09:56 PM
Jacinta Jufauri
To have faith is to be sure of the things we hope for, to be certain of the things we cannot see. (Hebrew 11: 1-2) it is by faith that we believe God created the universe when scientist say otherwise. with that in mind, it is by faith that i believe God will purge me clean even when I die because I'm not so holy, I try. For only the Holy of the holiest will meet God face to face. You have to go through refiners fire for God is a blazing furnace. Who on earth is holier? To purge is to refine. Purgatory is not a place, but a state where the soul (conscious mind), that has left the physical body goes through some form of torment to purge it clean before it meets its maker. Read Hebrew 11: 39- 12: 1-2. ' Those who have died and gone, only in company with us would they be made perfect. (Hebrew 11:40), and we who are living have this large crowd of witnesses. That's the communion of Saints.

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