Question: Why does the Catholic Church claim that the dead must go to Purgatory? The minister at a non-Catholic funeral said that Purgatory is not in the Bible, and is a doctrine created by the Pope in order to sell Masses and make the priests wealthy.
Answer: The Church didn't invent Purgatory. It is, rather, the sign of God's infinite mercy and goodness that He allows those who die in the state of venial sin, or with unremitted punishment for mortal sin, to pay the price of their transgressions in a place other than Hell. A person dying in the state of grace, and with no punishment to be paid for sin, would go directly to Heaven.
Your minister is correct in saying that Purgatory is not in the Bible -- but then, neither is the notion that all revealed truths must printed within the Bible's pages. The contents of the Bible were determined by the Catholic Church -- it is the Church that has determined which writings will make up the Bible -- the Bible alone does not determine what God's Church is to teach.
However, the concept of Purgatory is contained in the Bible, even if the name is not. According to Juda Machabeus, who "sent 12,000 drachmas of silver to Jerusalem for sacrifice to be offered for the sins of the dead . . . it is a holy and a wholesome thought to pray for the dead, that they may be loosed from sins."
Your minister may feel that the Books of Machabees do not belong in the Bible, as Martin Luther wanted to exclude them, along with the Epistle of St. James and the Apocalypse -- because they do not (or did not) agree with his theology. Yet, such a "pick and choose" approach only serves to reduce the authority of the Bible, not to enhance it.
Another Old Testament source, Ecclesiasticus, speaks of "restrain[ing] not grace from the dead." St. Paul clearly describes Purgatory when he says that a sinful "man's work will be burned up, yet he himself shall be saved, but only by passing through fire.
Our Lord, Himself, implies the existence of Purgatory when He speaks of sins "against the Holy Ghost, which shall not be forgiven neither in this world, nor in the world to come."
The Church, therefore, offers Mass in the colors of mourning, in order to move the participants to pray for the dead -- to ask God's mercy for them -- and, to remind us of our own mortality -- "one day I will lie face up in a similar coffin." We are reminded, at the funeral Mass, not only of our obligation to pray for this particular person, but to pray for all of our friends, relatives, and benefactors -- to pray for those who have no one to pray for them, the most abandoned souls in Purgatory; the soul next to be released to Heaven; for those who will dwell in Purgatory until the end of time.
Masses are not sold. The custom of offering a stipend to the priest who celebrates Mass for our intentions comes from simple justice. The tithes of the faithful provide the church building and the material necessities for Mass, yet, at least in theory, the priest himself is supported by the work he does for his people at the altar. "The laborer is," as our Lord tells us, "worthy of his hire."
"Curates," pastors and their assistants who receive a salary from the Church, are obliged to offer Mass for their people on all Sundays, Holy Days, and other major feasts -- about 88 days a year. They may not receive a stipend for more than one Mass offered on each of the remaining days of the year.
In the United States, as this is being written in 1992, a priest will customarily receive between $5 and $25 as a Mass stipend. Even if each stipend were twice that, say $50, the remaining 277 days could hardly make the priest rich. (At Our Lady of the Rosary the parish priest does not accept personal stipends, but turns over all such donations to the church's general fund in order to pay for the current needs of the Parish.)
Priests are strongly admonished to see to it that none of the faithful are deprived of the graces of the Mass and Sacraments due to the inability to offer a stipend. And, of course, on some days, priests will want to offer Mass for their own intentions.
One last word: If at all possible, attend the Masses you have offered by the priest. It is wrong to think that one's obligations to pray are discharged by "hiring" someone else to pray. It is much more pleasing to God when he sees us present at Mass, uniting our intentions with those of the priest.