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What Is Purgatory? Inside the Spiritual Realm That's Neither Heaven Nor Hell


"The fire is a purifier."

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The vast majority of Americans believe in the existence of heaven and hell (67 percent and 61 percent, respectively), but there's a third afterlife option that typically gets far less attention: purgatory.

Purgatory is a spiritual realm where souls go when they have not been condemned to hell, yet are still not cleansed of sin enough to enter heaven — a realm in which spirits "endure severe punishment and in the process become cleansed of sin and its ill effects," according to Patheos.

But Fr. Dwight Longenecker, a Catholic priest, recently wrote that, despite the hardships endured by the faithful as they climb their way through purgatory toward heaven, it is actually a joyful place.

After all, the souls sent there know that they have escaped the pain and suffering of hell, as purgatory isn't a place where human beings spend eternity. In fact, anyone who passes through will at some point end up in heaven. That said, the journey isn't an easy one, according to Catholic doctrine.

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"The pains in hell are punitive, but purgatory is purgative," Longenecker wrote. "In other words, the pain is for gain; the struggle is for sanctity. The fire is a purifier."

He added that All Souls' Day — which was celebrated this past Sunday — is the time during which Catholic faithful pray for the souls of loved ones who are currently in purgatory.

"When we pray for the 'repose of the souls' of our departed loved ones, it sounds like a passive activity. It sounds like we are merely putting them to bed and praying for them to rest in peace," Longenecker wrote. "However, our prayers for the departed should be understood in a more active way. They are not sleeping. If they are in purgatory, they are still on their journeys."

Of course, it's impossible to know exactly what's inside purgatory and what souls go through as they pass along, though the general idea is that they are being spiritually cleansed and prepared for heaven.

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Protestants generally shun purgatory as unbiblical, sweepingly rejecting it during the Reformation 497 years ago and continuing to do so today, as Religion News Service reported.

When it comes to purgatory, the central battle is over whether human beings can truly be holy enough to enter heaven directly after death or whether most souls need to be further refined, spiritually speaking, before joining God for eternity. It's a fascinating debate with two very different theological sides.

Read more about purgatory from a Catholic perspective here and what some Protestant critics have to say about the theological construct here.

(H/T: Deseret News)


Front page image via Shutterstock

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