Share a lesson the Church’s teaching on Purgatory. The following information is from Jesus Christ: Source of Our Salvation (2nd Edition). A short lesson follows the background information.
Purgatory is name the Church gives to the final purification of those who die in God’s grace and friendship, but who need purification or cleansing to achieve the holiness necessary to enter heaven. From her beginnings, the Church has honored the memory of the dead and offered prayers in solidarity with those who have died, especially during the celebration of the Eucharist. Other acts, such as helping the poor and works of penance, can be offered up for someone who is in Purgatory as well.
Catholic belief in the existence of Purgatory is based on biblical passages such as 2 Maccabees 12:39–46, which encourages those who are living to pray for the dead so that they may be released from their sins. In addition, Church Tradition has interpreted certain passages (see 1 Cor 3:15; 1 Pt 1:7) as referring to a place of a “cleansing fire” after death.
The doctrine of Purgatory and the process of purification make sense. To embrace an all-loving God, you must be free of any imperfection in your own capacity to love. Only a person who, before death, has been cleansed of sin or any punishment due for sins is pure enough to embrace an all-loving God completely and is thus ready for heaven. Sometimes, this cleansing can only be completed after death. It is both a joyful and a painful process. Those in Purgatory are happy that heaven awaits them, but the process of purgation might entail burning with sorrow and shame over sin and of great difficulty in giving up selfish attachments. However, when their purgation is complete, their suffering will end as they enter the bliss of heaven.
Provide some art material (paper and drawing supplies). Have the students draw an image from your description that follows:
Imagine a ship or boat sailing in choppy waters. Jesus is at the helm, setting its course. Above the boat, cloudlike figures representing the faithful who have died and are present with God in heaven fill the boat’s sails with zephyrs of their prayers. The deck of the boat is crowded with sturdy folk working the oars. These are the living members of the Church whose shared efforts and prayer power the craft. Below deck are sleeping figures, representing the souls of those who have died (and who are in Purgatory) and are being supported and transported by the efforts and prayers of those on deck and those above the clouds. This image reminds us that all of us in the Church—living and dead—are in the same boat.
Go on to emphasize that Purgatory is a transitional state of purification in which the imperfect person encounters the perfection of God. Emphasize that all people in Purgatory will eventually be in heaven. Invite the students to share in a class discussion some earthly experiences that might be considered purgatorial. Ask:
- What are some experiences that, though painful, bring us closer to God or open our eyes to see God’s action in the world?
- How might the popular slogan “No pain, no gain” be applied to Purgatory?
Suggest that the imperfect person would find a face-to-face encounter with the perfect God necessarily purging and therefore painful. In this purgatorial encounter, we quickly come to the realization that we have not chosen consistently for God and neighbor, a realization that is not only agonizing but purifying as well.