Why is There Purgatory?

Why is there purgatory?

Image by Hans (2013) via Pixabay, CCO Public Domain

There are a lot of misconceptions and misunderstandings about the doctrine of Purgatory. Even worse, there are so many people, including Catholics who dismiss Purgatory and don’t even believe it exists. This is unfortunate because the doctrine of Purgatory is an important and even comforting tenet of our faith.

What is Purgatory?

In the Catechism of the Catholic Church, it states,

“1030 All who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven.

1031 The Church gives the name Purgatory to this final purification of the elect, which is entirely different from the punishment of the damned.606 The Church formulated her doctrine of faith on Purgatory especially at the Councils of Florence and Trent. The tradition of the Church, by reference to certain texts of Scripture, speaks of a cleansing fire:607

As for certain lesser faults, we must believe that, before the Final Judgment, there is a purifying fire. He who is truth says that whoever utters blasphemy against the Holy Spirit will be pardoned neither in this age nor in the age to come. From this sentence we understand that certain offenses can be forgiven in this age, but certain others in the age to come.608

1032 This teaching is also based on the practice of prayer for the dead, already mentioned in Sacred Scripture: “Therefore [Judas Maccabeus] made atonement for the dead, that they might be delivered from their sin.”609 From the beginning the Church has honored the memory of the dead and offered prayers in suffrage for them, above all the Eucharistic sacrifice, so that, thus purified, they may attain the beatific vision of God.610 The Church also commends almsgiving, indulgences, and works of penance undertaken on behalf of the dead:

Let us help and commemorate them. If Job’s sons were purified by their father’s sacrifice, why would we doubt that our offerings for the dead bring them some consolation? Let us not hesitate to help those who have died and to offer our prayers for them.611″

As this quote indicates, the doctrine of Purgatory is based on scripture and was officially formulated by two councils, the Council of Florence and the Council of Trent.

Why does Purgatory exist?

The Catechism explains it beautifully. Basically, if a person dies in the state of grace, but is not completely purified, he or she “goes to  Purgatory” to be completely “cleansed” before going to Heaven. Of course, Purgatory, Heaven, and Hell, are not “places” but states of being.

Here is the thing. God is utterly perfect, loving, and beauty itself. Nothing that is impure can be in His presence. Humans, even those of us who live faithful lives dedicated to Christ, have souls that are easily blemished my sin. Purgatory is the state of being that cleanses the soul from those blemishes of sin.

Our Pastor at church explained it this way (paraphrased): “Suppose a person hammers a nail into a piece of wood. Then he regrets that decision and takes the nail out. Well, the nail may be gone but there is still a hole where the nail was. Thus, when a person sins and then goes to confession, the guilt of the sin is taken away; however, the effect of the sin is still there and needs to be cleansed. So, purgatory, in a way, is like sanding down and getting rid of the whole left by the nail.”

And that is why Purgatory exists. It gives us the opportunity to be truly ready to be in the presence of God.


Yes, Jesus has suffered, died and rose for our sins. One drop of His blood is enough to save the world. Purgatory does not take away or lessen the value of Jesus’ work of salvation. It is because of Jesus that we have the gift of Purgatory.

Every person on earth whether they call themselves born-again Christians or not must make the daily decision to choose Jesus and to live according to His ways. Sadly, although our hearts may be in the right place, all of us fail. Many times we choose anger, judgement, impurity, and all other sins above God. Through confession we receive forgiveness and absolution. Through penance we make reparation and make the effort to change our hearts and be rid of the effects of our sins. If we do not do so during our life we have the opportunity to do so “in” Purgatory.*

I hope my feeble attempts at explaining Purgatory helps. I also hope it spurs you on to pray for the souls in purgatory and offer sacrifice for them. They cannot help themselves but we can help them! The month of November is a great time to pray for the souls in purgatory because the Church designates November for them. And know, when we help them and they get to heaven, they will pray for us.


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*Of course, God prefers we purify our hearts and souls during our life so that we can go straight to heaven and I will write about that in a future post!

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