What is Purgatory? (with pictures)

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
It is believed by some Roman Catholics that prayer and penance will reduce the amount of time that an individual spends in purgatory.
It is believed by some Roman Catholics that prayer and penance will reduce the amount of time that an individual spends in purgatory.

Purgatory is a concept in Roman Catholic doctrine. It is a place where the soul is purified or purged of venial sin. According to Catholic scripture and catechism, souls spend time in purgatory after they die before being able to enter Heaven. Roman Catholic dogma is not specific on the amount of time spent there or if it has a physical location as well as a spiritual one.

Purgatory is mentioned in both the Old and New Testaments of the Bible.
Purgatory is mentioned in both the Old and New Testaments of the Bible.

The idea of Purgatory is rooted in Catholic doctrine that no individual is free of sin. Even the soul of a righteous individual cannot be considered entirely clean to the commission of small, or venial, sins over his or her lifetime. Catholics believe that it is not possible to go before God if an individual is unclean. Therefore, Catholics who need remaining purification before coming before God must spend time in Purgatory.

According to Catholic scripture and catechism, souls spend time in purgatory after they die before being able to enter Heaven.
According to Catholic scripture and catechism, souls spend time in purgatory after they die before being able to enter Heaven.

Venial sins are not as severe as mortal sins, although repeated venial sinning can lead to mortal sins. A venial sin is defined as a slight break with God's law. Usually venial sins are thoughtless, rather than deliberately malicious. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that God is capable of forgiving venial sinners. This means that those who have committed venial sins can still find grace.

Purgatory is mentioned in both the Old and New Testaments of the Bible, which dictate a period of reflection for the soul which is necessary after death. Even the Elect, which are individuals chosen to go to Heaven, must go through this purification process. It is suggested that doing penance and prayer while on Earth may reduce the amount of time spent there.

Many religions believe that prayers for the dead help souls transition more quickly through temporary locations such as Purgatory. In the Catholic church, a period of mourning and prayer for the dead is an important part of the funeral process. It is believed that people in Purgatory are helped by the prayers of the people they knew and loved in life.

Although not specifically mentioned in the Bible, some think that it is implied that Purgatory contains a cleansing fire which is designed to burn away impurities of the soul. It should not be confused with Hell, which is eternal and has a myriad of punishments for sinners. This fire encourages the separation of the soul from the demands of the body. According to Thomas Aquinas, the pain felt during cleansing will be a “punishment by corporal fire” which will test the limits of the soul.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


I would love to ask a few questions here, if I may. Firstly, let me explain that by no means am I being sarcastic. I am asking for my own good.

1. Why are people trying to mimic Jesus when they are point blank told that they will not ever be perfect?

2. Why are so many persons with the Christian religion so quick to bash other people's way to get them to follow an alternate path?

3. At what point do African Americans have to understand that we weren't even allowed to read this book (by the Christians) who taught it to us, and enslaved us at the same time?

I'm not angry or trying to beat anyone down. I just need some answers for the things I'm struggling with. Any help or educated responses would be greatly appreciated.


The Catholic Encyclopedia 1967, Volume 11, page acknowledges the Catholic doctrine on purgatory is tradition, not sacred scripture.


@kimberley406: Jesus judges the heart and the mind of Christians, not their knowledge of the Bible.

Idolatry can be of material possessions (a house, a car, money, valuable treasures or even your own flesh or your lover).

God's Holy Spirit showed me some Catholic priests and Catholic saints are holy (some of them never had sex with women nor anyone, were very highly disciplined with their flesh; they loved God more than themselves and they also worked hard for humanity as well).

Maybe they are wrong with theology, but the fruit of the Spirit is shown with their holiness and their love.


Could you point out the pages in the Bible stating that purgatory exists. Seems to me it is a contradiction to say Christ paid the sin debt "in full" then say one must go to purgatory to be cleansed.


what if we all truly knew the truth? what if there was no question? Our world has become a place of division and not love.

We have turned our backs on God by pushing away a brother or sister.

Listen, would God judge as harshly as we do?

The Bible says "Love one another" but how can we do that if we are constantly judging others for their flaws?

"None is righteous,no not one..." but God loved us so much he helped us realize that we can all go to Heaven no matter how deep in sin we are.

I'm not saying "Once saved always saved," but God is merciful and He doesn't wait for us to screw up so He can strike us down with lightning.

God wants a love relationship with us and we need to show God our love for Him by obeying Him. God is the only way.


I was once a catholic, but have since found out there is only one way to heaven and no stops in between. Believe that Jesus Christ fulfilled the scriptures of the old testament by being rejected by His own people. That covenant ended. Jesus said the only way to the father is through him.


Can you tell me where the Catholics believe Purgatory is located. Up/Above or Down/Under?


The Catholic church still teaches purgatory. It seems to talk about it much less. There is still prayer for the dead. The works doctrine is still very much a part of the Catholic faith.

Eph. 2:8-9 "For by grace we have been saved through faith and not of ourselves, it is a gift of God, not of works, least anyone should boast." Without and only without Jesus, you will be judged and punished by the law.

Look at the ten commandments. If you've ever broken one or more (everyone has) repent from your sin, turn to Jesus. Ask Him to be the Lord and Savior of your life. Trust in Him. Believe (cling to) Him. Give your life to Him. Have the desire to live for Him.

Guess what folks? After this, you are a new creation. Rom. 12. God has cast your sins as far as the east is to the west. You are made righteous in the sight of God. Sinless! He no longer sees your sin because Jesus paid your price. One jheeck of an e-ticket ride straight o Heaven!

Sorry, no works or special repetitive prayers, just a beautiful relationship with Jesus! Saved and sanctified for all eternity! Praise God!


Dear anon67404: Where in the Bible is that mentioned?


Purgatory is still a widely held Roman Catholic belief and Catholics are urged to pray for the souls in purgatory. The word purgatory is not used in the bible, however punishment that is temporary after death is mentioned.

Jesus refers to people who refuse to forgive not being released until they have paid the last penny. The sin against the Holy Spirit is describes as a sin that cannot be forgiven in this life or in the life to come. Thus, both readings suggest that there is punishment after death that ends and is not eternal while at the same time there is eternal punishment for others, being hell, and of course joy in heaven.

Also, Roman Catholics who have had visions from God have said prayers have been requested for the dead. These visions were to people such as St. Gertrude and St. Faustina.


purgatory is never mentioned in the bible.

there are only two places to go after death, either heaven or hell. God already showed his mercy upon us when He saved us from our sins. It's our own decision where to go.

Our life here on Earth is already the chance for us to have the eternal life so why do we still have the purgatory? Grab every opportunity that comes in your life, because death always comes in unexpected ways.


Purgatory is never mentioned in the Bible. The basis of this was probably formed in the Middle Ages. Once you are saved by Jesus your sins are covered. Yes, you still need to confess them to God, but there won't be a place of punishment for it.

The Bible says "to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord". Supposing there is Purgatory, how could the Lord be there? And, if our sins are forgiven, why would we need to be punished. The blood of Jesus covers our sins.


anon135. You are incorrect. Purgatory is still very much Catholic teaching.


Who are we as a people to say what exists and what doesn't. I have also read excerpts from the bible, and also i went to a catholic private school when i was little. I belong to no religion but i believe in God just as much as the next person, i believe all religions could teach us something. Also, God himself didn't write the bible so who as we as a people to tell other what he thinks or says. the bible says it is a sin to be gay. i don't believe that. i believe that god accepts us for who, we are, and furthermore God knows we're flawed as soon as we are old enough to think and make rational decisions we are flawed. as we can do is ask forgiveness. because believe it or not we are all sinners. so who know heaven and hell exist. purgatory exist as well we don't know only god knows.


Why are people so hateful? Why can't they each just go to whatever church they choose and not worry about what someone else's church's beliefs are. Nobody knows for sure that their church is right and that others are wrong.

I'm sorry for all Catholics who are persecuted for their religion, told that they are wrong... I can think of someone else who was persecuted for his beliefs, and was nailed to a cross because of his beliefs. Keep believing what you believe. Its not for those others on earth to decide whether you are right or wrong.

Its sad that a discussion on purgatory turned into a chance for people to bash Catholicism. Very sad that we have to deal with this in today's world.


tf515... Many Christians say that we are not to judge, but the Bible doesn't support this. Malachi 3:18 (KJV) says "Then shall ye return, and discern [judge] between the righteous and wicked, between him that serves God and him that serves him not." Jesus says in John 7:24 (KJV) "Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment." The scripture you referenced to in Matthew 7 about judging has to do with unrighteous judgment. Also, I noticed in your response to kimberly406 that you have read your Bible several times front and back. I have had many people who boast to me how many times they have read the entire Bible, however, I find their understanding of God's word lacking. I have yet to read in God's word a command to "read the Bible". The Bible uses much deeper words such as "study" and "meditate". Anybody can read the Bible, but to accurately study and comprehend the Bible you must have a relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ.


kimberly406...I would like to remind you of a couple of verses you should obviously be quite familiar with: Matthew 7:1,2 "Do not judge others, so that God will not judge you, for God will judge you in the same way you judge others, and he will apply to you the same rules you apply to others." I would strongly recommend you re-reading these verses throughout your Catholic bashing campaign.


It is a Catholic myth that the Catholic church canonized the Bible. It has been set since the first century. The books of the Catholic Bible are not inspired. Even the Hebrews do not accept Catholic Apocrypha to be a part of the Old Testament. The notion of purgatory goes completely against the fact that Jesus died in the place of humanity so that they would not have to suffer for it. Catholicism is a false religion, no matter that it's 'universal.' I once knew a woman named Joy that was anything but a joy. The name means nothing when it completely contradicts the teachings of Jesus. And, yes, it is a recurring theme in God's Word that we live by nothing other than His Word alone. Anything beyond that is a tradition of man, as such are all of the meaningless rituals found in Catholicism today.


People are prejudiced against the Catholic church because it is a false church. Did you know that last Spring, the Pope decided that there was no reason to think that an unbaptized infant would go to limbo and not Heaven? How many times is the Catholic church going to change Jesus's mind for Him? The idea of purgatory goes against the entire Old Testament, which was not compiled by the Catholic church, in which Jesus was nailed to a tree for our sins. Why would He have to pay the price for us if we were supposed to do it ourselves in purgatory? And then, we can reduce our time in "purgatory" if we go confess our sins to a priest, a religious position that was nailed to the cross?! The temple veil was torn in two at Jesus's death because the wall of separation between us and God was removed. We can go to Him ourselves and ask forgiveness! In Timothy, we are told that two characteristics of false teachers are those who forbid marriage (Catholic church) and those who forbid foods that were sanctified by God (Catholic church again). The Catholic church chained the Bible to the pulpit in the Dark Ages and brutally murdered anyone in opposition to it. I'm sorry that you have been brainwashed into thinking that the Catholic church is Jesus's church. The only thing written in the Bible about the Catholic church is in Revelation. It is the beast that gets its power from Satan. Read it. If the shoe fits . . . What does Jesus Himself say about those who have taken the mark of the beast? "Come out of her, my people." I am not a hateful person at all . . . I just hate liars. As far as praying to saint . . . what makes a saint? The Catholic church grants "sainthood." In the Bible, the saints are the church members. There is no one in Heaven until the Resurrection. Those "saints" don't even hear you. Jesus is very clear that when He returns, all will hear His voice from the grave and wake to either everlasting destruction or everlasting life.


It is sad to see by some of the comments that so many people are still so ignorant and prejudiced against the Catholic Church. So much misinformation passed on one to another. I am a Catholic and read my bible every day. I can assure you I can quote chapter and verse with almost anyone.

I am also very proud to be in a woman’s bible study which meets weekly in my neighborhood. There three Catholic, to Baptist, two Lutheran one Pentecostal and several who seem to wander from one protestant church to another. All wonderful women of faith. We do not judge each other and I am happy to say that through this bible study I have been able to disabuse these women of their prejudice belief about what Catholics think. It is a beautiful faith based community that we all love. In fact I am taking the whole bunch of them to our local Grotto to walk the 'Stations of the Cross' in two weeks. I can’t tell you how touched I was when they suggested we go.

If you really want to know what Catholics believe try watching a show on the Catholic TV channel called “A Crash Course in Catholicism?” It’s wonderful and you can find out what Catholics really think from an actual Catholic pastor and not from someone who only thinks he knows what we think…. By the way did you know that the word Catholic means ‘Universal Church’? Can’t get more inclusive than that!

Just a final comment on the churches teachings. Remember the Catholic Church was in existence before the writings of the bible were put together in its current format. For 300 years the church followed the teachings of Jesus mostly from the oral tradition. Jesus never wrote anything down. As far as we know he never asked anyone else to write his teachings down. He gave the gift of tongues to the apostles so they could go and teach to all nations. He could have given them all the gift of being able to write but he did not seem to think it was important. So I think we are justified in thinking that not all of his teachings were written down and ended up in letters that made it into the bible. Jesus himself set this precedence by not insisting that everything he said be recorded. Catholics and all Christians are the recipients of this oral and written tradition. Catholics believe the bible (New Testament) is the inspired word of Christ, but no place in the bible does it say; “ and this is everything Jesus ever said on every subject.” If people would open their eyes and see what a beautiful gift they have in the teachings handed down through all the generations going all the way back to Christ; maybe, just maybe we could all get along without verbally stoning each other…. May the peace that is in Christ Jesus live in all your hearts. J

P.S. Sorry this is so long; I have never posted a response before. Guess I just had to get this off my chest:}


kimberly406, I feel sorry for you--so much hatred in your undertone. A few facts for you to mull over.

1. Tell me where, exactly, in the Bible it says to live by the authority of the Bible alone. it doesn't. Nowhere in there will you find it. I have read it several times front to back--it's not in there.

2. It was the Catholic Church who compiled the Bible. Until the Protestant Reformation in the 1500's everyone was taught about Purgatory and used the same bible. There was only one religion and it was Catholic.

3. During the Protestant Reformation it was the Protestants who "changed" the Bible by removing the "extra" books at the end of the Old Testament (Deuterocanonicals/Apocrypha) which talk about Purgatory. (i beg you, don't take my word for it--research it. it's a historical fact).

4. The only difference between a Catholic Bible and a Protestant Bible is the few extra books and the end of the Old Testament in the Catholic Bible. Other than those books, they are, word for word, the same Bible.

5. As far as Catholics praying to saints and Mary--we don't. We honor Mary and honor the saints. If you were faced with cancer, would you ask your close friends or family to pray for you? I would assume so. Does that make you an idolater? Does that mean you worship your family or friends because you value the power of their prayer? Of course not. We, as Catholics, are merely honoring Mary and the saints by asking them to join in our prayers. That does not make us idolaters anymore than you would be by asking a friend to pray for you. Do you know someone who you feel is especially close to the Lord? Would you feel, possibly, that they might have a better relationship with the Lord than you do? We all know people like that and that is how Catholics feel about asking those closer to the Lord than maybe we are (Mary and the saints) to join in our prayers. We are not worshipping them or praying to them.

I truly wish all this religion bashing would stop and people would learn to respect one's right for freedom of religion. Who are we to judge one another anyway? Isn't that God's job?


Another thing I would like to add, Anonymous, is that the Greek work for "baptize" is "baptizo" and "baptizma." The word "baptism" in English is NOT translation, but a transliteration, in which the Greek letters are given their English equivalents to produce a new word. The definition of the Greek word in its original language is "to submerge, plunge, or dip." The Greek word for "pour" is "cheno" and "sprinking" is "raino." Baptism is being fully submerged in water, as was Jesus. If one was sprinkled as an infant or had water poured over their head as an infant, that person is not baptized.


I agree with you, Anonymous, that I also hope everyone would go to Heaven. That is certainly God's hope, but even he tells us in the Bible that some of even those who cry "Lord" will not enter. Part of my comments were edited out last time. Maybe they will be posted this time. The Bible does mention households being baptized. It never specifically names an infant, and not a one was sprinkled. The Bible tells us one must believe before he can be baptized, and an infant certainly does not. The Bible also does not allow us to pray to saints and in Jeremiah talks about the law being written on our hearts and thereby removing the necessity for priests, which my former Catholic friends say must practically look over your shoulder if a Catholic wants to read the Bible. I will say, though, that I live in a largely Catholic town, have lots of Catholic friends, and I would be generous to say that 1 in 50 had ever read the Bible at all. The Bible mentions nothing about Limbo, Purgatory, penances, venial sins, Peter being the first Pope. They are all traditions of man, and therefore, lies. Have you ever prayed to anyone other than God? Have you ever given homage to a relic or kissed the statue of St. Peter's toe? That makes you an idolater. Catholicism is a religion of meaningless rituals, which are forbidden over and over under the New Covenant. He who works has fallen from grace and will be judged by his works. In short, your works will never get you anywhere. They do not make you righteous. Unless you ask the blood of the Lamb to wash away your sins, you will die in them. If you are Catholic, I urge you to get out your Bible, and read it front to back without asking anyone what they think about what it says. You will be held accountable for what you do and will not be able to blame anyone else in the day of judgment. The best way to find out what to do is to read the instruction manual. From your post, I think it would be beneficial to you to find out how the Bible was canonized. God bless you.

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    • It is believed by some Roman Catholics that prayer and penance will reduce the amount of time that an individual spends in purgatory.
      It is believed by some Roman Catholics that prayer and penance will reduce the amount of time that an individual spends in purgatory.
    • Purgatory is mentioned in both the Old and New Testaments of the Bible.
      Purgatory is mentioned in both the Old and New Testaments of the Bible.
    • According to Catholic scripture and catechism, souls spend time in purgatory after they die before being able to enter Heaven.
      According to Catholic scripture and catechism, souls spend time in purgatory after they die before being able to enter Heaven.