There is such a disconnect in this thread. When I read the responses back and forth, it's obvious that the people talking define words very differently.
Purgatory is for cleansing us prior to heaven, right? What need is there for cleansing? Doesn't the blood of Jesus cleanse us from ALL unrighteousness? Does the atonement of Jesus only cover our past sins up to the time of conversion?
You are right, there is a disconnect. For me, the concept of Purgatory is very easy to understand and actually makes sense considering the Catholic view of grace and justification. I think this is the reason for this disconnect. In order to understand the concept of Purgatory, one must first understand the Catholic view of justification. Remember, I was once a Protestant for most of my life. I can understand why this idea would make one stop and wonder. Let's start with your questions.
Purgatory is for cleansing us prior to heaven, right?
Absolutely. As stated in Scripture, "nothing unclean shall enter [heaven]" (Rev. 21:27)
What need is there for cleansing?
The purification is necessary because, as Scripture teaches, nothing unclean will enter the presence of God in heaven (Rev. 21:27). One must understand the Catholic view of grace. Mortal sin kills the grace within the soul. The soul becomes corrupt and unclean. While we may die with our mortal sins forgiven, there can still be many impurities in us, specifically venial sins and the temporal punishment due to sins already forgiven.
Furthermore, one just consider that two judgements occur. When we die, we undergo what is called the particular, or individual, judgment. Scripture says that "it is appointed for men to die once, and after that comes judgment" (Heb. 9:27). We are judged instantly and receive our reward, for good or ill. We know at once what our final destiny will be. At the end of time, when Jesus returns, there will come the general judgment to which the Bible refers, for example, in Matthew 25:31-32: "When the Son of man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate them one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats." In this general judgment all our sins will be publicly revealed (Luke 12:2–5).
Augustine said, in The City of God
, that "temporary punishments are suffered by some in this life only, by others after death, by others both now and then; but all of them before that last and strictest judgment" (21:13). It is between the particular and general judgments, then, that the soul is purified of the remaining consequences of sin: "I tell you, you will never get out till you have paid the very last copper" (Luke 12:59).
Doesn't the blood of Jesus cleanse us from ALL unrighteousness?
Absolutely. It is entirely correct to say that Christ accomplished all of our salvation for us on the cross. But that does not settle the question of how this redemption is applied to us. Scripture reveals that it is applied to us over the course of time through, among other things, the process of sanctification through which the Christian is made holy. Sanctification is an ongoing process. Sanctification involves suffering (Rom. 5:3–5), and purgatory is the final stage of sanctification that some of us need to undergo before we enter heaven. Purgatory is the final phase of Christ’s applying to us the purifying redemption that he accomplished for us by his death on the cross.
Does the atonement of Jesus only cover our past sins up to the time of conversion?
Ahhhh...this is where we run into a major problem. The word "cover" causes some problems. This is one of the main things that started to tug at me as a Protestant. Are we merely "covered?" Absolutely not. The Catholic notion of justification is much different from that of Protestants. Justification is not just merely a "legal declaration." It entails so much more. His righteousness does not just cover us as an imputation, it is directly infused within us. Of couse, this is a separate dicussion.
Purgatory makes sense because there is a requirement that a soul not just be declared to be clean, but actually be clean, before a man may enter into eternal life. After all, if a guilty soul is merely "covered," if its sinful state still exists but is officially ignored, then it is still a guilty soul. It is still unclean.
Catholic theology takes seriously the notion that "nothing unclean shall enter heaven." From this it is inferred that a less than cleansed soul, even if "covered," remains a dirty soul and isn’t fit for heaven. It needs to be cleansed or "purged" of its remaining imperfections. The cleansing occurs in purgatory. Indeed, the necessity of the purging is taught in other passages of Scripture, such as 2 Thessalonians 2:13, which declares that God chose us "to be saved through sanctification by the Spirit." Sanctification is thus not an option, something that may or may not happen before one gets into heaven. It is an absolute requirement, as Hebrews 12:14 states that we must strive "for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord."
Well, Wycliffes, I hope this sheds more light on the matter. Again, you cannot compartmentalize Catholic teachings or theology. You must look at each teaching within a broader context or theology. You cannot fully understand the concept of Purgatory without first understanding the Catholic view of justification and sanctification, which is for another thread.