Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Does the Church have authority to release souls from purgatory?

Question Does the Church have authority to release souls from purgatory? How far does this authority extend?Doesn't the idea of indulgences and the Church being capable of just "sending souls to Heaven" contradict the idea of being made just rather than declared just?

Answer This is like the question of forgiving sins. When Jesus forgave someones' sins, the scribes asked how he could be doing that, since only God has authority to forgive sins. (Mark 2:6-12). Yet later he gives this authority to his apostles! (John 20:23). So something that only God could do properly, he has given authority to the Church to do.

This is also what is meant by the keys of the kingdom in Matt 16. When the king went away, he would give the keys to someone else (prime minister) in order to indicate that they were responsible and had the kings authority to make decisions. Jesus gave the keys to Peter, the first pope. So the Church only has that authority because Christ has given it to them.

But to be clear, the Church cannot arbitrarily declare that someone is in Heaven. For all we know, they may have gone to Hell. What the Church can do is offer the means to pay the debts we have incurred through our sins. (Though we are forguiven our sins, we still have to make up for the damage caused. If I sleep with someone other than my wife, and she and God forgive me, it will still take a long time to rebuild the relationship with Catherine, get rid of the images of the other girl, etc. And she may get pregnant, or I could get an std. So being forgiven does not remove the consequences of sin.)

Suppose you stole a Ferrari from some rich person, went on a joy ride, and smashed it. Afterwards you go back, and ask forgiveness- the person forgives you, but you still owe them the Ferrari! You will never be able to afford to pay it... so the rich person says "I tell you what. For the next 2 months, you come hear every day and work for me from 9-5, and we'll call it even." The wages you would have earned are not nearly equal to what you owe- but the rich person gives you the means of paying the debt.

So God gives us the means of paying the debt through indulgences, that would otherwise have taken a very long time. basically what it means is that we can use our suffering, work, prayer, donations, etc, and get way more value out of them then we actually deserve! We are still being transformed- it is still a process- but God is helping with the process.

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