There is a common Protestant misunderstanding of purgatory. At least one protestant minister, John Wesley, spoke of perfectionism in this life, possible but rare. He is one of the few to proclaim that one can be sanctified in this life and he left the Moravian Church over this issue after a rebuke by Count Zinzendorf for this teaching.
People in purgatory are already justified by receiving the supernatural eternal life into our souls through Baptism making us a part of the Body of Christ. Those in purgatory have accepted Christ by faith and have not rejected Him by unrepentant mortal sin. It is a place where one is purified by fire (Mal 3:2). Imagine the joy of being in purgatory and knowing that you are there because you have passed judgment and are assured of being in the presence of God in heaven. Purgatory is not an eternal destination, there are only two, heaven or hell.
We should not think of purgatory as some kind of legal punishment for past sins as it would be under the old law. Those in purgatory are already new creatures changed by Christ’s grace, they are the adopted children and part of God’s family in purgatory one receives final discipline and cleansing preparing one for the perfection of heaven. Catholics believe that sanctification is a process and is not completed when one comes to belief. So purgatory is not a suggestion that Christ’s atonement is insufficient but that we have not yet completed our sanctification through the grace of Christ.
Cleansing or sanctification is a gradual process and we must endure to the end to be saved.
(Mat 10:22 DRB) And you shall be hated by all men for my name's sake: but he that shall persevere unto the end, he shall be saved.
(Mat 24:13 DRB) But he that shall persevere to the end, he shall be saved.
(Mar 13:13 DRB) And you shall be hated by all men for my name's sake. But he that shall endure unto the end, he shall be saved.
Catholic soteriology recognizes that for some of us the process was not completed at death or that we died with unrepentant sin.
(Heb 9:27 DRB) And as it is appointed unto men once to die, and after this the judgment:
The judgment is our eternal destiny and for those whose name is in the Lamb’s Book of Life, heaven is assured. But we know that one must be free of sin to be in God’s presence.
(1Ti 6:14 DRB) That thou keep the commandment without spot, blameless, unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ,
It may be that one is not prepared to be in our Lord’s presence as we may still be with spiritual shortcomings or temporal effects of forgiven sins on our soul making it necessary for some form of purification to enter heaven in God’s presence. Since this is a process of purgation it is called purgatory and it is in keeping with prophecy of the prophet Habakkuk who said that only that which is holy may enter heaven.
(Hab 1:13 DRB) Thy eyes are too pure to behold evil, and thou canst not look on iniquity. Why lookest thou upon them that do unjust things, and holdest thy peace when the wicked devoureth the man that is more just than himself?
St. Paul also taught of a process of purgation which may involve suffering on the soul of Christians and in his first letter to the Corinthian Church he describes the process of purgation after death.
(1Co 3:10 DRB) According to the grace of God that is given to me, as a wise architect, I have laid the foundation: and another buildeth thereon. But let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon.
(1Co 3:11 DRB) For other foundation no man can lay, but that which is laid: which is Christ Jesus.
(1Co 3:12 DRB) Now, if any man build upon this foundation, gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble:
(1Co 3:13 DRB) Every man's work shall be manifest. For the day of the Lord shall declare it, because it shall be revealed in fire. And the fire shall try every man's work, of what sort it is.
(1Co 3:14 DRB) If any man's work abide, which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward.
(1Co 3:15 DRB) If any mans work burn, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved, yet so as by fire.
St. Paul speaks metaphorically that the results of sin that remain on one’s soul is like “wood, hay and straw” and are burned away in the process of final purification to be received in the presence of the Lord. St. Paul also speaks of one’s works as “gold, silver and precious stones” which are refined and retained.
This passage reminds me of what Christ said in the following indicating that some sins may be forgiven after death.
(Mat 12:32 DRB) And whosoever shall speak a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him: but he that shall speak against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him neither in this world, nor in the world to come.
Purgatory is also related to the parable of the unforgiving servant which is as follows…
(Mat 18:32 DRB) Then his lord called him: and said to him: Thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all the debt, because thou besoughtest me:
(Mat 18:33 DRB) Shouldst not thou then have had compassion also on thy fellow servant, even as I had compassion on thee?
(Mat 18:34 DRB) And his lord being angry, delivered him to the torturers until he paid all the debt.
After telling the parable Christ emphasizes His message lest it be misunderstood with this warning……..
(Mat 18:35 DRB) So also shall my heavenly Father do to you, if you forgive not every one his brother from your hearts.
Christ was warning us of the danger of a hard heart or anger making us unwilling to forgive others. We should acknowledge that these are the signs and example of a defective soul in need of purgation so that he that is imperfect may be in the presence of God and dwell in glory. (See CCC 1030-1032)