Ask Alice about Catholicism
Is Purgatory still “on the books”?

Yes. Church teaching about Purgatory was made official as early as the 15th-century Council of Florence and endorsed again at the Council of Trent (1545-1563). Here’s the gist of it: “Purgation” is not a punishment. It’s an option granted by God’s mercy for which we should be very grateful. Occurring after death and before heaven (not between heaven and hell—purgation’s only available to those guaranteed salvation), it’s a “condition” more than a “place” in which the soul is prepared for the perfection of God’s presence.

This teaching emerges from long tradition based on several scriptural ideas. First, Jesus named blasphemy against the Holy Spirit an unpardonable sin “both in this age and in the age to come.” That presupposes there is an age to come in which other sins might be forgiven. Second, the biblical practice of praying for the dead indicates that the fate of “those who go before us” can be influenced to their advantage. Other passages speak to the possibility of making reparation for the sins of others through good works. Taken together these ideas framed the church’s understanding of a time of purgation for those who need it due to their own lack of readiness for the total experience of perfect divine love.

The Council of Florence noted that the church is composed of three kinds of citizens: “wayfaring pilgrims” (the living); those who have died and are being purified; and those who are “in glory” with the Triune God. The glorified ones or saints intercede for the good of the pilgrim church on earth. In the same way we pilgrims can intercede for those in Purgatory for their good. It’s a sort of economy of grace that flows from one member to another.

Members of the pilgrim church are in a position to make choices about their fate; citizens of Purgatory, having passed beyond volition and not yet one with the will of God, can do nothing for themselves. Their passivity makes them vulnerable in their need, which is why God offers the remarkable gift of purgation to remove whatever obstacle remains to receiving the vision of eternal beauty ahead. The mystic Saint Catherine of Genoa (1447-1510), sensing herself united to the experience of souls in Purgatory for a time, wrote movingly of how the “joyful souls” would choose purgation 1,000 times over, knowing it will deliver them to God’s embrace. That our prayers might speed them to this joyful union is a tremendous idea.

2 Maccabees 12:46; Job 1:5; Matthew 12:31; 1 Corinthians 3:15; 1 Peter 1:7

Catechism of the Catholic Church, nos. 1030-1032
• The Second Vatican Council’s Dogmatic Constitution on the Church (Lumen Gentium), nos. 49-50

Fire of Love! Understanding Purgatory by Saint Catherine of Genoa (Sophia Institute Press, 1996)
Purgation and Purgatory: The Spiritual Dialogue by Saint Catherine of Genoa (Paulist Press, 1979)

Ask Alice a question.
Alice L. Camille
Alice Camille is a gem among contemporary writers on scripture and Catholic teaching. She has received numerous awards for her books, columns, and exegetical reflections. She received her Master of Divinity degree from the Franciscan School of Theology in Berkeley, where she also served as adjunct faculty in ministry formation, preaching and proclamation. Alice is an author, religious educator, and parish retreat leader. Learn more at

Before sending Alice a question, please check below to see if she has already responded to it. Also, please send only questions of general interest. Not all questions can be used. Thank you!
Got a question for Alice?

   Ask her now!

More questions...and responses

Where did Lent come from?

What’s so important about the Council of Trent?

What are the “Precepts of the Church”?

Do Catholics take the biblical creation story literally?

Why can’t a woman be ordained?

Why does the liturgy change?

Why is it important to participate regularly in the Mass?

Why pray the rosary?

Why can people go to Mass on Saturday evening instead of Sunday?

Did King David compose the psalms?

Who were Jesus' “brothers and sisters”?

Is there really a Catholic Index of Forbidden Books?

What are the corporal and spiritual works of mercy?

Is a long or short discernment process better for someone interested in becoming a priest, nun, or brother?

What’s the difference between celibacy and chastity?

Is it “Catholic” to be vegetarian? Do Catholics care about animal suffering?

What does the Bible say about Judgment Day?

Why do Christians believe Jesus is God incarnate?

What’s that picture of Jesus with rays flowing from him?

What is the Triduum?

Who chose the "Seven Deadly Sins"?

"What should I believe about hell?"

Is the Mass a “holy sacrifice” or a “celebration”—or both?

Pulpit, lectern, ambo: What’s the difference?

What was the Reformation?

What is “discernment of spirits”?

Is environmentalism “Catholic” or a political football?

Why do Catholics believe in the Immaculate Conception?

Why are there parishes?

Do Catholics believe in ghosts?

Who was Saint Augustine?

What is "sanctuary"?

What is the Liturgy of the Hours?

How does God “answer” prayers?

What does “salvation history” mean?

Why do Catholics believe in the Assumption of Mary?

Why do priests wear vestments?

Do miracles still happen?

What do deacons do?

How is the Mass “prayer”?

What is Catholic decision-making?

Who wrote the gospels?

What is “original sin”?

How does the Catholic Church view other religions?

The "Five C's" of Confession

What's the difference between chapels, churches, cathedrals, and basilicas?

Where do the Stations of the Cross come from?

What's the relationship between the Old Testament and the New Testament?

When and where is it appropriate to bow inside Catholic churches?

Can I come back to the church?

Why does the priest talk after the readings at Mass?

What's the difference between catechesis and evangelization?

Didn't Saint Paul write all the letters attributed to him?

Are we supposed to believe in angels and demons in the 21st century?

Who are the saints and why do we pray to them?

Why pray for the dead?

Who are the "Doctors of the Church"?

How were the books of the Bible chosen?

What's the difference between saying "set" prayers and prayers in my own words?

What do Catholics have to believe?

Who were the prophets? Does God still call people to prophecy?

What is the lectionary?

Why do Catholics bless themselves, genuflect, and so on?

Did Jesus establish a church? How did we get from following “the Way” of Jesus to this big institution?

What do we mean by the church’s “magisterium”?

Is there salvation outside the Catholic Church?

What do people in religious life do for fun?

Why is celibacy important to religious life?

Vocation: For all of life, or only "religious life"?

What is contemplation?

Is my vocation from God or just my imagination?

What does the Bible say about discipleship?

How do I know whether be an order priest or a diocesan priest?

What do Catholics believe about scripture and tradition?

"Sin" is such a negative word. Can't we just talk about “failure”?

Should I read the Bible?

How can I be happy?

How can I live a holy life?