Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington
Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302
The Question Box
by Father I.J. Mikulski
(From the July 21, 2011 edition of the Inland Register)
Q. A convert and I were discussing purgatory. We read Sections 1030-1032 in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Seems there is not much certain knowledge of what or where purgatory is. Can you boil down the basic facts and theories about it?
A. First a few lines about the word. To purge is to clean thoroughly, to remove all stained residue, to purify, to make like new. Purgatory is the noun describing that process.
In the Bible, the Hebrew Sacred Writings (Old Testament) and the Christian section (New T.) make strong statements that nothing unclean will enter the presence of God. That’s a sensible “given.” What about that vast majority of faithful, loving, kindly people who have preserved their innocence from any and all major sins but, with human weakness, have accumulated a variety of minor sins? God must have something in mind for them.
What’s the option? Surely not eternal hellfire. Surely not the instant Beatific Vision of God. There must be a middle ground.
“It is a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead that they may be loosed from their sins” (2 Macc. 12:45). Commenting on this thought, St. John Chrysostom (“Golden Mouth” bishop of Constantinople; d. 407) wrote, “Let us not hesitate to help those who have died and to offer our prayers for them.”
Purgatory is a practical application of that line we profess in our Apostles’ Creed that we believe in “the Communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body and life everlasting. Amen.” What good is it to belong to this “community” of shared faith if we can’t help each other? Of course we can.
One final comment. The Bible does not mention a designated space or measured time in eternity, so we shouldn’t get bogged down with spatial or temporal calculations. It may be over in a flash or a flash might be too long. Where is it written that we must know all the details?
Q. Come to think of it there’s no specific reason why the Catholic Church’s headquarters has been stationed at the Vatican is there? How did that get started?
Long before there was a front office at Vatican Hill popes had taken residence at eight other cities, off and on. There was an extended exile of about 70 years when they settled in Avignon, France, and soon, out of 133 cardinals, all but 10 were French. Call it The French Connection.
That exile came to an end at the insistence of two determined ladies, St. Brigid of Sweden and St. Catherine of Siena. When good women get annoyed things begin to happen. They pounded enough desks until they convinced Pope Gregory to return to Rome where he belonged. He did. Popes have stayed there ever since.
Q. What does that inscription, INRI, at the top of the cross mean?
A. Those are the first letters of the Latin inscription: I-esus N-azarenus R-ex I-udaeorum. Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews. Public executions often carried notices to identify the victims.
Q. Our refinished church sanctuary is not very nice. It’s just not me. A lot of us don’t like it. It was come by a committee with such poor taste. Is there somewhere we can go with this?
A. Your pastor can give you the phone number and address of your local diocesan liturgy office. Do not call the Question Box, please.
Q. I have heard that if someone gives up his faith by neglecting Mass and Communion for seven consecutive years, that person is considered out of the Church. Does that also mean Catholic funeral rites?
A. That was true in the very old days but not anymore. The Easter duty, as it was called, whereby Catholics were expected to receive Eucharist at least once during the Easter season, is still in effect. It’s the absolute minimum for a Catholic to remain in good standing.
This leads to some puzzlement. Why should it be mandatory to maintain this minimum standard that compels a peson to step forward to share the Eucharist, the centerpiece of our faith, if they make no effort to live by that faith?
We cannot legislate love.