Whatever happened to Purgatory and other past practices of Catholics?
I was born and raised Catholic and am proud to say I am still Catholic and a firm believer.I must admit though, I don’t understand whatever happened to purgatory? What is purgatory? Growing up in Catholic school we were taught that purgatory was a place where souls were held until they were pure enough to see God.For example if you died with some minor sins you hadn’t confessed or repented you weren’t worthy to go right to heaven but of course you weren’t set to go to hell either so you would spend time in purgatory to cleanse your soul and prepare it so you could go to heaven and see God.If you are not Catholic or you are younger than say 45 you may not have heard of purgatory, but in the Catholic religion there are indicators that it or a “state of purgatory” must exist.If there is no purgatory why do we pray for the dead?If they are in heaven they surely don’t need our prayers and if they’re in hell certainly our prayers can’t help them!We often “pray for the poor souls in purgatory.”In 1999 Pope John Paul II said the best way for us to understand purgatory is to say it is a “state” of being. Of course you could always read about Dante's purgatory - the second part of Dante's Inferno! We often heard about purgatory in Sunday sermons as well as in school.I don’t seem to hear about it anymore, has it gone away or are we keeping it under wraps?
I know Saints are getting a bad rap nowadays especially since so many were ‘de-sainted.’When I was growing up you had to pick a Saint’s name for your son or daughter in order for them to be baptized in the Catholic Church.The best part of that was you had a ‘namesake’ you could look up to and ask for help.I mean after all you knew they were in heaven, they were saints!We studied their lives and learned how and why they became saints.Sure we got made fun of sometimes.The school I went to was St. Pancras.Right, what is a St. Pancras?Actually he was a 14 year old who was beheaded for refusing to offer a sacrifice to pagan gods.He is known as the patron saint of children – which means he is considered to be a defender and special friend to children.I know some believe saints are fairy tales and hocus pocus but to a true believer they are not.They are holy people who inspire us and show us how others have made sacrifices for their faith.We learn from their example and hope they will help us.Of course there is historic proof that they lived and died as we’ve been taught.Actually the Christian practice of honoring saints started back with the Jewish practice of honoring prophets.It seems some time in 1969 the Church decided to review its saints and make sure there was documentation of their lives and their holiness.Unfortunately many were lacking in that documentation.“These saints probably existed but there is too little information to verify the story of their lives. They have been removed from the Calendar of Saints but their cults are still allowed but not celebrated by the Universal Church:St. Christopher, St. Valentine of Rome, St. Ursula”
When I was young all Masses were said in Latin, worldwide.We were taught this was a sign of the Catholic Church’s universality.No matter where you went in the world to attend Mass it was in Latin so everyone knew what was being said and what was going on.However, nothing lasts forever.The Second Vatican Council (or Vatican II, was the largest gathering of curia and commission members in the Church’s history was formed to redefine the Church, to renew the Church, and to start a dialog with the modern world) gave all churches the option to say Mass in the vernacular.Like children, give us the opportunity and we take it!So, though the Catholic Church is still universal, the Mass is now said in all different languages everywhere.There are still traditional Latin Masses celebrated all around the world; as tradition, to remember the ‘old way’, as a sign of holiness, and many more reasons too numerous to mention.Our creed still remains making us “one, holy, catholic, and apostolic.”
Whether you’re Catholic or not you are most likely familiar with Mary, the Mother of God.As Catholics we believe that Mary was born without original sin and was the Mother of Jesus – therefore the Mother of God.We have venerated Mary from at least 500 AD .Though many Churches branched away from the Catholic church, they continued to acknowledge Mary as a saint or holy woman.“Most Reformers rejected the Immaculate Conception, and the Assumption of Mary, but some affirmed the perpetual virginity of Mary and all accepted the Virgin Birth.”
When I was young, May was the month of Mary and we celebrated Mary with May processions where we carried a statue of Mary and at the end of the procession we crowned the statue as a symbolic gesture to commemorate the crowning of Mary as Queen of Heaven and Earth.It was a lovely ceremony and one we all looked forward to.I must admit it got a little embarrassing in high school when we processed around the block in Queens, New York, and other teenagers laughed and made fun of us.This is another Catholic practice that has fallen by the wayside.While songs about Mary are still sung during the month of May, processions and May crownings are a thing of the past.
Another practice that has disappeared is women covering their head in Church.It was never a “law” of the Church or a written rule but something you were expected to do.It most likely began with the Jewish practice of women wearing veils during worship.At first women wore hats to Church but as hats went out of fashion, mantillas, chapel veils and caps became the norm. Young girls especially liked the mantillas because they were long and flowing! You would quickly slip on your chapel veil as you entered Church for Mass or any devotion.But, like all traditions, this one declined when fashion and culture changed.There are still other religions that require women to wear head coverings such as Amish, Mennonites, and Hutterites.While I don’t see a woman’s head covering as a form of submission I do see it as a form of respect and kind of miss the habit.
My greatest fear is the disappearance of the parish church.For centuries churches were built in neighborhoods so that family, friends and neighbors could attend Mass together.They could share their lives and their religion, to truly be one in the church.We believe priests are direct descendants of the apostles and continue to teach and lead us. Today there is a sharp decline in the number of parish priests as the number of young men going into seminaries declines.In addition to the declining number of priests it seems more and more Catholics are not attending Mass.They still consider themselves Catholic but do not go to Mass or Church.Of course the scandal of priest pedophiles hasn’t helped.It has been a good excuse for many to leave the Church siting this scandal, but the Church has had scandal before and survived, the Inquisition being the most prominent and horrible of those scandals.It’s goal was to fight heresy but it got out of control.How could a Christ-loving Church persecute, exile and condemn people to death?Imagine the burning of heretics?Then there was the political aspect as rulers used the condemnation of heresy to get rid of their enemies.This was a scandal of major proportions and yet the Church survived.The church was not responsible, but the prelates, bishops, priests, people involved in the Inquisition and meting out of punishment were responsible.
In the 9th Century many convents were actually brothels.A Pope Sergius III’s bastard son become Pope twenty years after him.Pope John XII was also the son of a Pope.In the 10th Century Bishops were more notably rich nobles than holy Catholic priests and paid to become Bishops. A more detailed study of the history of the Catholic Church will more detail these scandals (and show how celibacy came about.)The bottom line is, these “people” are not the Church!The Church is the entire Christian Body, all of the people and at the center is the belief in the Trinity – The Father, The Son, and The Holy Spirit. The Catholic Church lives on in Christ and will continue to do so.