Thursday, 13 November 2014

2. Special Character News Term 4, Week 5


Father Wayne has invited everyone to attend the second rite of Reconciliation after mass on Sunday 30th November.  It would be great to see a good turnout for this as we prepare for the season of Advent.

Purgatory – what is it?

As we are teaching and learning about the Community of Saints, some concepts come up which can be difficult.  One of these is purgatory.  I want to say a few words about this, hopefully without the going getting to heavy:

The concept of purgatory is one that has been part of Church teaching since the time of Jesus and has its roots in Biblical Judaism.

At its very beginning, Church teaching could be described as the disciples’ response to the teaching of Jesus.  Jesus told the apostles to go and, “Preach the Gospel to all creation,” (Mark 16:15).  At that time of course there was no written Gospel to preach – they were preaching the Good News which Jesus had taught them directly.  In the telling of any story, there is interpretation – decisions had to be made about which bits were the important bits – the parts they should choose to focus on.  So there has always been an active interpretation of the Good News by the disciples.  

How does the Church make decisions?  Through Pentecost, the Holy Spirit came to the Church and we believe that throughout the ages the Church has been guided in its teaching by the Holy Spirit.   The interpretation is not one made by individuals and never has been, it is one made by the Church in communion.

Jesus also told the disciples, “Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven,” (Matthew 18:18).  So the authority of the Church was given by Jesus.  It is not something the Church takes lightly.  No Church teachings suddenly come into being, there is a long tradition, stemming back to those first apostolic interpretations guided continuously by the Spirit.   By the same token, no Church teachings suddenly change or disappear.

There’s evidence that the idea of purgatory, a purification period where souls are prepared for heaven (and can be prayed for) stems from Jewish teaching prior to Christianity and continued as a belief into Christianity.  Biblical references which support the teaching on purgatory are: 2 Maccabees 12: 41-46, 2 Timothy 1:18, Matthew 12:32, Luke 16:19-26, Luke 23:43, 1 Corinthians 3:11-15, and Hebrews 12:29.  The exact nature of what purgatory might be like has been subject to change over time but the belief in purification for souls who are in God’s grace but have some conditions of sin, has been constant over time, as has the idea that our prayers can help them.

The New Testament was compiled by the church at the Synod of Carthage in AD397 – nearly 400 years after the events.  The books chosen to be in the New Testament at that time were chosen from a variety of possible books.  So the church, inspired and led by the Holy Spirit, could be said to have defined the New Testament.  That is why Catholics believe that Church teaching and biblical sources have equal authority.

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