Wait a minute: did not the General Convention of the Episcopal Church in 1801 declare rather strongly that "the Romish Doctrine concerning Purgatory...is a fond thing, vainly invented, and grounded upon no warranty of Scripture, but rather repugnant to the Word of God"?!? Indeed.And, over time, the Church, whom we believe to be led somehow by the Holy Spirit, deepens Her understanding of our life with God.We do believe that insights emerge in Tradition.
The 1979 Catechism in the Book of Common Prayer asks the question "Why do we pray for the dead?" The answer? "Because we still hold them in our love, and because we trust that in God's presence those who have chosen to serve him will grow in his love, untilthey see him as he is". Prayer for the dead presupposes the possibility of growth in love, after death, until God is fully seen as He is.Such growth is Purgatory. And this growth is indeed encouraged by the prayer of other members of the Body of Christ.
This Sunday's gospel (Luke 16:19-31) presents us with a parable about a rich man who enjoyed the fineries of life to the point of grave insensitivity to a poor man, Lazarus, who lay at his gate in want. As a result, he finds himself in Hades, the abode of the dead. From there, interestingly, he expresses care and concern for his family. His expressions are expressions of love-which Hell precludes. Moreover, the chasm is fixed but not declared definitive.
For those who are so inclined, it is helpful to look to Tradition to understand Purgatory. Amongst others, Saints Cyril of Jerusalem (+386), Gregory of Nyssa (+386) and Augustine (+430) speak of prayers for the dead (a waste of time should there be no growth in love after death). St. Catherine of Genoa (+1510) later wrote a full treatise on Purgatory in which she says surprising things.
The rich man in the parable cries, "I am in agony in these flames".The flames, however, are those of a cleansing fire not of active divine punishment. Far from being a mini-Hell, the torment is linked to love. As St. Catherine says, the soul "sees by the divine light that God does not cease from drawing it...lovingly and with much care and unfailing foresight, to its full perfection, doing this of His pure love". And, in the light of this, regarding these souls whose transformation in love is incomplete, she goes on to say, "The love of the souls, finding itself hindered, causes them pain". It is the pain of realizing that there is still distance from the Beloved and of longing for perfect union. Indeed, St. Catherine declares that this pain is experienced in the midst of happiness and, quite amazingly, that "no happiness can be found worthy to be compared with that of a soul in Purgatory except that of the saints in Paradise; and day by day this happiness grows as God flows into these souls more and more as the hindrance is consumed".
I rest my case.
Yours in the love that purifies our hearts,
From the desk of the Rector