Adapted from After Life:
There is the mercy of Purgatory.
For most of us that's the first eternal stop.
The Virgin once said, at an apparition site, that many go to Hell, a small number go directly to Heaven, and that the majority of people go to Purgatory. It's the huge area between Heaven and Hell. It's the place where everything from minor faults to serious sin are purged. It's a gray area just as there are gray areas in all aspects of existence.
But in the case of Purgatory it's gray literally. Although it too has fire, especially at its lowest depth (which borders Hell), for the most part Purgatory is described as a sort of dreary and foggy area. You could call it "the gray zone. "It has been a concept in the Church since the earliest days and has been formally accepted since the Middle Ages. The official recognition of Purgatory can be found in a letter by Pope Innocent IV in 1254 and at the Second Council of Lyon soon after (then later at the Council of Trent). Although Protestants have erased it, Purgatory was even accepted by their founder, Martin Luther. "All who die in God's grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation," says the Catechism. "But after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of Heaven."
When we comprehend that only perfect purity leads to God's Presence we realize that the vast majority of people, Christian or non-Christian, need purification--including those who, in their pride, believe they merit Heaven. Unless you're flawless, unless you have purged all your imperfections here on earth (often through suffering) and are in perfect union with God, you are headed for a stint, however brief, in Purgatory.
There God takes the souls He loves and breaks down all its pretenses.
You're purified like precious metal.
When the defects are gone, when the soul is broken down, when the selfishness is removed, the Lord then reforms the soul and gives it the pure apparel necessary to enter the wedding.
Such notions are not Catholic fantasy. Among other places you can find allusions to Purgatory in the Bible. In II Maccabees 12:42-46 it relates how a man named Judas and his army gathered up the dead, prayed for them, and even provided for sacrifice. Atonement was made "that they might be freed from this sin. "Another translation of this text clearly states that "it is a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead to be loosed from their sins."It says that what these ancients did for the slain was "pray for them in death."
If that's not clear enough, there's also 2 Timothy 1:16-18 where Paul speaks of his departed friend Onesiphorus and says, "When he stands before the Lord on the great Day, may the Lord grant him mercy" (which makes sense only if this deceased man can be helped by prayer), and 1 Samuel 31:13 where it's implied that the residents of Jabesh fasted for Saul and his sons after disposing of their remains--again indicating Purgatory. There is written evidence from as long ago as a.d. 211 that Christians prayed and sacrificed for the deceased (see the writings of Tertullian, who said such sacrifices were made on the birthdays and anniversaries of the dead), and there's no doubt ancient Jews prayed for those in the afterlife. It was an established part of synagogue ritual.
Unfortunately many Protestants have deleted Maccabees from the Bible but that doesn't change the truth. Purgatory exists and most of us face its purification. When we sin our souls are tainted. There's darkness. There's spiritual grit. That must be removed and the extent and duration of cleansing obviously depends on the depth and breadth of contamination.
"In Purgatory there are different levels," explained one seer. "The lowest is close to Hell and the highest gradually draws near Heaven."
This is in accord with St. Augustine, who said the same fire that tortures the damned "purifies the elect."
[Adapted from After Life]