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The Catholic Bible and the Doctrine of Purgatory

By Bishop Mark A. Pivarunas, CMRI

All Saints’ Day
November 1, 2000

Dearly beloved in Christ,

Throughout the month of November, our Holy Mother the Catholic Church, exhorts her children to fulfill in a unique manner one of the spiritual works of mercy, “to pray for the dead.” On November 2, the Church allows her priests the privilege of offering the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass three times and grants a special plenary indulgence applicable to the holy souls in Purgatory when the faithful visit a church and recite six Paters, Aves, and Glorias. Furthermore, throughout this month there are other pious exercises by which we may assist the suffering souls in Purgatory.

As much as we are accustomed to this spiritual work of mercy, to pray for the dead, our belief in the Catholic doctrine Purgatory is one that is strongly denied by the Protestants. They simply deny this doctrine and claim that there is no reference for it in the Sacred Scripture. How often do we hear them ask, “Where does it say ‘Purgatory’ in the Bible?!“ They think that it is useless for us to make supplications to God for the faithful departed.

How can a Catholic refute these false claims? Where in Sacred Scripture do we find our belief in Purgatory? Is there any reference in the Old and New Testaments? And are there other proofs to support our references in Sacred Scripture?

Before the coming of Christ, did God’s chosen people, the Israelites, make supplication for their departed? Did the early Christians pray for the faithful departed?

How important it is for Catholics to know the answers to these questions! Let us closely examine the doctrine of Purgatory, not only with the purpose of defending our Catholic Faith, but also with the intention of motivating ourselves to a greater devotion to the suffering souls in Purgatory.

In the Old Testament, we find reference in the second book of Machabees, (II Machabees 12:43-46) and in the New Testament we find reference for it in the Gospel of St. Matthew (Matt. 12:32).

Before we can quote our reference to the second book of Machabees, it is necessary to review the history of the Old Testament, for this biblical text is one of the seven books that is not found in Protestant Bibles today and so it is necessary to demonstrate its authenticity as a part of God’s revealed word.

Why does the Catholic Bible have seven more books in its Old Testament than the Protestant Bible? The answer lies in the fact that before the coming of Christ, the Israelites, God's Chosen People, possessed two Canons of Scripture: the Old Jewish Canon (written in Hebrew) and the Septuagint (written in Greek), which received its name from the Hebrew scholars who translated the Old Testament from the Hebrew language into the Greek language (centuries before the coming of Christ). The Septuagint was diligently used in Jewish synagogues and by Jewish writers (Philo and Josephus), and remained an unchallenged translation of Sacred Scripture until the beginning of the second century. The difference between the Septuagint and the Old Jewish Canon was not only in the language in which they were written, but also that the Septuagint contained seven extra books, namely, Tobias, Judith, Wisdom, Ecclesiasticus, Baruch, First and Second Machabees and parts of Esther and Daniel.

For Catholics, it is important to know the following facts about the Septuagint:

1. The Apostles and New Testament writers quoted principally the Septuagint. In fact, of the three hundred and fifty Old Testament quotations found in the New Testament, about three hundred are taken directly from the Septuagint.

2. The Jews, who had universally accepted the Greek Septuagint for centuries, became alienated from it after the Christian Church in her apologetical controversy with Jewish writers pointed out the Messianic passages, which were more clearly and forcibly presented in the Greek Septuagint than in the Hebrew version.

3. Some of the New Testament writers made use of the additional books contained in the Septuagint, particularly the Book of Wisdom, which seems to be a familiar theme in St. Paul’s Epistles. The Epistle of St. James — to take another example — shows an acquaintance with the Book of Ecclesiasticus. Thus, the Apostles and New Testament writers made reference to these additional books in their preaching and writing, and thereby gave them their approval.

4. The Greek Septuagint was the only Bible text of the Old Testament that was universally read in the primitive Church both in the East and in the West. The additional books were accepted in the early Christian Church from the very beginning. The Epistle of Pope Clement, written before the end of the first century, makes use of Ecclesiasticus and Wisdom, gives an analysis of the book of Judith, and quotes from the additional sections of the book of Esther. The same is true of other early Christian writers.

5. The oldest Christian Bibles in existence today (Codex Vaticanus, dating from the first half of the fourth century; Codex Sinaiticus, dating from the fourth century, Codex Alexandrinus, belonging to the fifth century, and the Codex Ephraemi, also belonging to the fifth century) contain all the books of the Old and New Testaments, just as we find them in our Catholic Bibles today.

And if we want to know the reason why our Catholic Bibles have the very same books as the oldest biblical manuscripts in existence, we must simply look at the history of the Church founded by Christ and understand that these books of the Old Testament and the New Testament were in the possession of the Church from the very beginning. Pope Damasus in the year 382 A.D. confirmed the authentic books of Sacred Scripture, and the Council of Carthage in 397 A.D. reiterated this Canon of Sacred Scripture.

In Christo Jesu et Maria Immaculata,
Most Rev. Mark A. Pivarunas, CMRI

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