Dear Father Phil,
We've been watching a movie on Martin Luther (I'm pastor of Holy Spirit Lutheran, Lancaster, PA), and I had a thought on purgatory and indulgences.
In the middle ages, purgatory was understood in terms of punishments for sin, and indulgences "worked" by the application of "merits" taken from the "treasury of the saints" in order to reduce one's "sentence."
As I understand it, the current thinking on purgatory is more with an emphasis on purgation - cleansing. Fr. Benedict Groeschel calls it "the last rinse cycle." The question that has bothered me is how the "treasury of the saints" would "work" to reduce your time in purgatory, since it's not as simple as a reduction in sentence.
Here's how it looks to me. What benefits could the "merits" from the "treasury of the saints" (applied via an indulgence) provide in the process of purgation? How would their merits "work" for "my" further sanctification?
A possible answer: The "merits" of the saints could help me in purgatory if those "merits" meant their personal presence and influence on me. In the same way that my life on earth has been improved by the personal presence and influence of saintly persons, conceivably my purgation could be aided in a similar way.
If an "indulgence" were to be thought of as a promise of "quality time" with saints who would be a good influence on me, I think Luther's objections would no longer apply.
What do you think? Many of us have had life-transforming contact with people in this life. Why not the next?
Are the saints in glory permitted to have personal contact with saints in purgatory? Does the communion of saints include the saints-to-be in one fellowship with the saints in glory?
If not, then my speculation falls to pieces, and I'm back to wondering.
Peace, Jonathan Jenkins **********
I appreciate your reflections very much. As I experience the death the my parents and others close to me, I have tended to do more thinking about purgatory. I think of the five years my mom mourned after my dad died and that even tho she missed him and longed to be reunited with him, there were still some unresolved hurts and resentments. Some purification seems necessary for them to be eternally in each others presence, not to mention God's. You make an important point that it would involve in some way an ongoing relationship with those already fully in God's presence.
I thank you for your reflection, Jonathan, and pray that we Christians may continue to grow closer together, especially as we celebrate the great mysteries these days. Blessed Easter.
Purgatory (Catholic Answers Tract)
Purgatory? Where's That in the Bible? by Mark Shea