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Yes, Purgatory does exist

What is Ecclesiastical Authority?

Invalid marriages and excommunication


Not too long ago, I was reading a question and answer column in a Catholic newspaper and I was rather startled to read that someone had asked: "Does the Church still teach that Purgatory exists?" Of course, the priest answered: "Yes, Purgatory still exists. Purgatory is a doctrine of our faith. Such doctrines are never discarded." My first reaction to the question and answer: "I thought everyone knew that." However with so much confusion among Catholics today regarding doctrine and teachings, I guess that some people do question such doctrines as Purgatory. Why?

Well for one reason, many people cannot or will not accept the doctrine of Purgatory they say that God is "too good" or "too merciful" to send anyone to that "horrible place." However, what these people fail to understand is that God does not send anyone to Purgatory; people go there because they want to? They desire with their whole hearts and souls to pay their debt to God. They are thankful that Purgatory does exist. Without Purgatory, people who die still owing Cod a debt for their sins would not be able to enter Heaven.

How does one incur a debt which is owed to God? When a sin is committed, two things happen: 1. There is a guilt which must be forgiven. This forgiveness is received by means of a valid confession. 2. There is a debt due to God. What is such a debt? This is the damage done to God's honor and glory, to the sinner himself because he rejected and cast aside the graces which God sent him to fight temptation, and also the damage done to his fellowman because all sins in some way affect others in much the same way that a weak link affects the whole chain, no matter how strong the other links may be. This debt is removed by means of penance on earth (the reason Father tells you to say five "Hail Mary's" or "Our Fathers for your penance) or if enough penance had not been done, the debt is removed in Purgatory. In other words, when a sin is committed, there is not only guilt which has to be forgiven, but also something which was stolen which has to be repaid.

For example: Supposing you had $2000 in your home and your best friend stole it. Later, this friend came back and told you he was so sorry, and asked for your forgiveness. You did forgive him; however, you would say: "If you really are sorry for what you did, return my $2000." The friend agreed that just saying he was sorry was not enough, the money had to be returned. Even after he had received forgiveness for his crime, he still owed a debt which had to be paid.

In exactly the same way, a person goes to confession to ask God for forgiveness, but even after the sins are forgiven, there remains a debt owed to God.

When the person dies and realizes that he has not paid all his debts to God through penance on earth, this person wants to go to Purgatory to pay what he owes God.

Remember that Purgatory is only for those who thought that sin was "nothing," who did not try to fight temptations, who willingly broke God's and the Church's laws and commandments and who never bothered to do any penance after the sins were forgiven in Confession other than the small penance the priest told the person to do. In order to pay the debt due for sins committed a person must do penance every day and do this willingly. What are some penances? They are prayers said or sufferings accepted as penance, doing something you don't like as a penance, helping others as a penance, voluntary acts or deeds done for the sole purpose of doing penance such as drinking warm water when a nice cold glass of water would be so refreshing, and of course fasting. If you do not do enough penance on earth, you will be thankful to discover that after death, you can pay the debt due to God for your sins in Purgatory.


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 It is not too difficult to find a fallenaway Catholic who will Loudly proclaim: "The Ten Commandments are all anyone needs! I don't need The Church or priests! As long as I follow the Ten Commandments, I am doing

all right and I don't have to worry!"  Such a Catholic is not only sadly mistaken, but he isn't even using plain common sense. It must be noted again that common sense and religion are closely related, as can be seen when the person fully understands the common sense of religion. The Church's teachings are never in conflict with common sense. The fact is, when common sense is separated from religion, then the conflicts caused by poor human reasoning come into the picture. So, common sense should tell the badly informed Catholic, who insists that the whole of religion is merely the Ten Commandments, that he is wrong; because, common sense tells a person that the whole vast, complex structure of the Church is there for a very good reason; and that such a structure would not exist if it were not a necessity. Common sense also should tell the fallenaway Catholic that there is far more to worshipping and pleasing God than not to steal, lie or commit adultery. By saying that the Ten Commandments  are all that is necessary for the spiritual life, the person has done away with prayer, penance, the Mass, the Sacraments and God's grace. However, it is obvious that any Catholic who says that the Ten Commandments are the whole of religion does not know what prayer, penance, the Sacraments or God's graces are. So to handle such a problem, a person cannot say: "Go to Church! You need the Sacraments!" The person, who attempts to answer such a fallenaway has to start right where the fallen-away has placed himself: right in the middle of the Ten Commandments.

 First the fallenaway Catholic is asked if he firmly believes in the Ten Commandments. The answer should of course be yes. Then the fallenaway Catholic is asked: "Do you believe that God gave us the Ten Commandments to guide our actions?" The answer still should be yes. Then we move to the heart of the problem by asking this question: "How do you know that God gave us the Ten Commandments to guide our actions?" The fallenaway could easily answer: "The Bible tells us so." Next question: "How do you know the Bible tells us about the Ten Commandments?" There may be a pause before this possible answer: "Well, we just know that the Bible tells us about the Ten Commandments!" Finally: "But how do you know? On whose authority is it declared that the Bible tells us that the Ten Commandments tell us what God wants us to do and what He does not want us to do?"

Yes! On whose authority? The Church, as I already stated teaches us the truths of God; the Church makes laws and rules which we must follow; but does the Church have authority to do that? Now we come to the term: ecclesiastical authority. Just what is ecclesiastical authority and how does it fit into the picture of the fallen away Catholic who insists that the Ten Commandments are the whole of religion?

First, what is authority? It is the right or power of someone not only to decide things, but to command as well. Those who are in authority have the right to make judgments which are not only decisive, but which have to be accepted by anyone subject to that authority. Authority is seen very clearly in everyone's daily life. There is the husband who has authority in his home. There is the executive who has authority in the factory or in the office. There is the authority of the policeman or of a fireman. There is the authority of the mayor, of the president, of the judge, of the army officer; all of whom make rules, laws and judgments which must be followed, obeyed and accepted by those who are subject to such authority.

However, as important as material authority is, spiritual authority is far more necessary and vital! Without the proper leadership of a country, lives could be lost; but without proper spiritual leadership and authority, souls could be lost forever Christ knew such a fact. That was why He left us, not only His truths, but His Church to whom He gave the authority to protect and to teach the truths of God.

Any Catholic, who states that the Ten Commandments are all that is needed, that he does not need priests or the Church, quickly forgets that Christ placed His teachings and the truths of the Bible (which include the Ten Commandments), under the safe protection of the authority of the Catholic Church. Even Martin Luther had to admit: "We are compelled to concede to the Papists (Catholic Church) that they have the Word of God (The Bible), that we received it from them, and that without them we should have no knowledge of it at all. (Ten Good Reasons Why You Should Be A Catholic Short Page 23). In other words, a Catholic knows that the Ten Commandments are the laws of God because the Church has the authority to tell him that the Ten Commandments are the laws of God. As long as a Catholic believes in the Ten Commandments, that Catholic indirectly, if not directly, believes in the authority and the power of the Church to tell him what God wants him to do and what God does not want him to do. No one can separate the Ten Commandments or any other teaching of the Catholic Church from the authority* of the Catholic Church which protects the truths of God So, the Catholic who says he doesn't need the Church, only the Ten Commandments, is indirectly stating his need for the Church, because he at least needs the Church to tell him that the Ten Commandments are God's laws. He could not come to such a conclusion himself without the aid of the teaching authority of Holy Mother Church. Now, if such a fallen away Catholic were to honestly admit that he does need the Church to at least tell him that the Ten Commandments are the laws of God, he would quickly see that if the authority of the Church can tell him about the divine moral laws of God, then the authority of the Church can tell him about all the truths of God because all the truths of God are not contained in the Ten Commandments.

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In May 1977 the United States Bishops, at a meeting in Chicago, Ill., announced that the excommunication penalty was lifted for Catholics who are involved in an invalid second marriage. Right away, many such Catholics began to think they could receive the sacraments of Penance and the Holy Eucharist. This was not true. Catholics who made this mistake of thinking that divorced and remarried Catholics, who are in an invalid marriage, can now receive the sacraments, show their lack of knowledge about the teachings of our Church.

First of all, Holy Mother Church has great sympathy for and concern about Catholics who are involved in an invalid marriage. That was why the excommunication penalty was removed. However, does this mean that the Church approves divorce and remarriage (when the first marriage is valid)? The answer is, no. Does this mean that such divorced/remarried Catholics can receive the sacraments? The answer again is, no. Why?

The reason for the Church's teachings regarding the problem of divorced/remarried Catholics is very clear and can be clearly understood when Christ's teachings are known concerning marriage. In other words, the Church did not invent the law concerning divorce; Christ gave us this law. Matthew very clearly stated: "Some Pharisees came up to Him and said, to test Him, "May a man divorce his wife for any reason whatever?" He replied: "for this cause a man shall leave his father and mother and cling to his wife, and the two shall become as one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together let no man separate. And I say to you, that whoever puts away his wife and divorces her and marries another woman commits adultery; and the man who marries a divorced woman commits adultery" (Matt. 19:39).

So, the teaching that Catholics, who enter into an invalid marriage, cannot receive the sacraments or become fully practicing Catholics is what Christ tells us through His teaching Church. In the book called: "The Teaching of Christ" published by "Our Sunday Visitor" Huntington, Ind., there are these words on page 514: "A Catholic who is knowingly a partner in an invalid marriage is in reality and before God not married to his or her apparent spouse. Hence performance of the marriage act within that union is not a sacred and holy seal of the marriage act within that union, but really a wrongful use of sex. Those who have seriously disobeyed divine or ecclesiastical law by entering into an invalid marriage, have a duty to return to the state of grace as quickly as possible, and certainly to abstain from Holy Communion until they do so."

Then why the removal of the penalty of excommunication? That can be understood only when a person fully understands what excommunication means; and also, when excommunication is given.

First of all, there are other reasons why a person may be excommunicated, in addition to being divorced and remarried. Certain sins are so serious that people are excommunicated because of them Such a sin is cooperation in an abortion.

The main 'mistake made about the penalty of excommunication is the word itself. People just assumed that it only means that a person cannot receive Holy Communion. That is not true. The word means that a person who is excommunicated is deprived of communion with the faithful or being part of the Church Community. In other words, the penalty of excommunication excommunicates whoever receives it from the Church community. Not only can they not receive the sacraments; they also cannot share in the public prayers of the Church.  They cannot hold Church offices. They cannot even go to Mass. Some people have received excommunication for other reasons than a remarriage into an invalid marriage. In their case, when this penalty is lifted, they can return to full  participation in Church life, including the sacraments of Confession and the Eucharist.

However, that is not the case when a divorced person remarries into an invalid marriage. Why? Because these people not only were excommunicated, they also are in an invalid marriage. Being excommunicated meant that they could not receive the sacraments, as part of the excommunication; however, being in an invalid marriage also means they cannot receive the sacraments. So they have upon themselves two penalties  not one. Both penalties mean they cannot receive the sacraments.

Look at it this way. If two Catholic young adults were never married before but do marry by a Justice of Peace, they enter an invalid marriage; but are not excommunicated. They also suffer the penalty of not being able to receive the sacraments; even though they had never been excommunicated.

So, when the excommunication penalty is lifted, by right a person could return to the sacraments if the person had not received another penalty for another cause. Inasmuch as the divorcedremarried couple also received a penalty for an invalid marriage, they still cannot return to the sacraments until the invalid marriage is straightened out.

When the Bishops lifted the excommunication penalty, that was merely a symbolic gesture, stating that such Catholics can now go to Mass and be reunited in the Church's prayers. However, it also meant that such Catholics in an invalid marriage "must take the next step by approaching parish priests and diocesan tribunals to see whether their return to full Eucharistic communion (going to Confession and receiving Holy Communion) is possible." The Bishops also said: "The lifting of the excommunication does not of itself permit those who have remarried after divorce to receive the sacraments of Penance and the Holy Eucharistic. This last and most difficult question return to full Eucharistic Communion can be resolved only in a limited number of instances, depending on the particular circumstances."

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