I had one of my Confirmation students ask what purgatory was. I really don't have a clear picture of what is to give him an answer. Everyone I ask seems to give me a different meaning and every time I try to look it up in the Catechism it just confuses me. I have been told that I can find some reference to it in the Bible (the old testament) that is of the Catholic bible. Can you explain to me what purgatory in terms that me and my Confirmation students can understand or at least tell where in the Bible I can find it. It may be more easy for me to understand than the Catechism. Thank you
You asked what Purgatory is. Let me start somewhere else that may help.
At the time of our death we are confronted with the Ultimate Question. "Do you except God's love and forgiveness?" If we answer 'Yes.' then we go to purgatory. If we say 'No,' then we go to the place few choose to go... and that is hell. Yes, the church does hold that Hell exists, and that some people choose to go there.
If a person does not understand the Ultimate Question, it will be explained to them so that they can make an informed decision.
Since everyone sins, no one is ready to meet God face to face at the time of their death (well, maybe some, but few people). Purgatory is a place of purging, of purifying oneself of our sins, so that we can understand God fully.
The Church teaches that there are fires in Purgatory, but these fires are vastly different than the fires and pains of Hell, because the fires of Purgatory are purifying us, and the person knows that they are getting ready for Heaven. These fires are purifying, just like the sacrament of reconciliation. There is a lot of tension before and during the sacrament, but pure joy afterwards, if the sacrament was taken seriously.
I hope this helps.