Fr. Kenneht Doyle
Fr. Kenneht Doyle
Q — Some 50 years ago, I converted to the Catholic Church. But one question has always bothered me: Where will I find the word “purgatory” in the Bible? (Elmer City, Washington)

A — This is a question I am often asked. The answer is that you won't find the specific word “purgatory” in the Bible. But the concept is surely there — the notion of a period of purification after death before one is worthy to enter heaven.

In fact, even before Christ the Jewish people recognized that there could be such a need and believed that the prayers of those still living could aid in that cleansing. In the Second Book of Maccabees (12:39-46), Judas Maccabeus prays for his fallen comrades who had died in battle while wearing amulets dedicated to pagan idols.

That Old Testament passage tells us that Judas turned to prayer as an expiatory sacrifice and “thus he made atonement for the dead that they might be absolved from their sin” — showing his belief that the deceased could still be helped by the intercession of the living.

In the New Testament, arguably the clearest reference to purgatory comes in Matthew’s Gospel (12:32), where Jesus states that “whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come” — implying that there are at least some sins that can be forgiven in the next life.

Such scriptural references lead to the church’s belief, stated in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, that “all who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven” (No. 1030).

Q — After a series of work-related moves, I find myself in my fourth Catholic parish in the last 10 years. At the first one, after receiving Communion, people returned to their pews and knelt until the Communion vessels were cleaned and the priest and deacon had returned to their chairs. Then there followed a few moments of quiet reflection.

At the second church, everyone remained standing until the priest returned to his seat. At the third, the celebrant told everyone to “please be seated after the last person is served Communion. There’s nothing to be gained either by kneeling or standing.” My most recent parish is a mix of all of the above; the priest gives no signal at all as to the preferred posture after receiving. Could you comment? (southern Indiana)

A — The common practice in the United States is that the faithful remain standing during the distribution and reception of Holy Communion. What happens next is that people have options. Typical is the guideline provided on its website by the Diocese of Cleveland:

“The period of sacred silence should begin as soon as the distribution of Holy Communion has been completed. At this point the faithful may sit or kneel. The faithful should not be required to stand during the purification of the vessels, or until the reposition of the Blessed Sacrament.”

I believe that parishes should, within reasonable limits, allow for individual choice. In 2003, in response to a query from the U.S. bishops’ conference regarding the posture of the congregation following Communion, the Vatican’s Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments said that it was not its intention to “"regulate posture rigidly in such a way that those who wish to kneel or sit would no longer be free.”

Perhaps the wisest approach, then, is simply to let congregants choose their posture while they make their individual thanksgiving for the gift of the Eucharist.