You will look in vain for the word Purgatory in the bible. But there are plenty of instances of the words purge, purged, purgeth and purging! These all have the same root which relates to purification, cleansing, emptying.
One of the most helpful definitions of purgatory comes in a A New Catechism of Christian Doctrine’ (by Herbert McCabe O.P.):
Q. What do we call the detachment from things of this world that remains for us in death?
A. The final detachment from the things of this world that happens to us when we die in Christ is called purgatory.
Even if the word purgatory is not to be found in the bible, the notion of a final stage or state of cleansing or purgation underlies the action of Judas Maccabees in offering sacrifice for those who had died in their sins, for if he were not expecting that those who had falled would rise again, it would have been superfluous and foolish to pray for the dead (2 Maccabees 12;44).
Jesus himself talked about forgiveness in this age or in the age to come (Mt 21:32).
Its obvious that many of us die with unfinished business, sometimes unprepared to be in the presence of the Holy God. Surely the very process of dying is itself a purification, indeed the most radical purification of all: we are set free from everything. We leave all this in the hands of God and pray peaceably for those who have gone before us, marked with the sign of faith.
Our November Book of the Dead and our Mortuary List throughout the year are among the ways we help those who have died; and they too in their turn can pray for us and help us. this is an attractive aspect of the Communion of Saints: each asks for each what each most wants to find.
Eternal rest grant unto them O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them; may they rest in peace.
Fr Sean Wales, C.Ss.R.