Purgatory and the questions asked and answered.
Since we do not know when a soul is released from purgatory, when should we stop having Masses and prayers said for a deceased person?
Unless God were to give us a special revelation, which He generally never does, or a person is canonized by the Church, we do not know if the soul of a particular person is in heaven, hell or purgatory. We know that it is very useful and even important to pray for the souls in purgatory. It is considered the general consensus of saints and theologians that if we are praying for a soul already in heaven or one that has been damned to hell, our prayers will be of value to ourselves and our own salvation, even though prayers for souls in heaven and hell have no value to them. God will give us personally the benefit of our prayers for them. No prayer is ever "wasted." Therefore, there is really no time limit for our prayers and Masses for the deceased.
Why did Jesus take the good thief immediately to paradise without his going to purgatory? My Protestant friends use this example of the good thief to deny the existence of purgatory. This is not true... For one thing, Christ did not go to Heaven for three days! When the theif died, he went "to sleep". This is what we are told happens in the Word of Christ, and I tend to believe them over a doctrine of a church. The reason the thief was told "today" is because, to the thief, it will be "today". When we are sleeping we have no concept for time. When we awake, we use our surroundings to determin the time. (Is it daytime, a clock, etc,) but think of the times you took a nap, and woke to wonder if it was morning or night? In the winter, take a nap at three in the afternoon, and wake three hours later! I have done this more times than I care to remember, thinking it was now 6AM! My point is, sleeping freezes time. And to the thief, 10,000 years will appear as "today"! No where in the Bible does it say we have a place to go, to get a "do over". The thief accepted Christ as The Son of God BEFORE he died, and Christ forgave him, before he died.
The beautiful recounting of the words of Jesus to the good thief (Luke 23:43), to whom legend gives the name St. Dismas, tells us nothing about purgatory, either for the thief or for us. It is possible the suffering of the thief on the cross and his intense contrition and love were sufficient to expiate all the temporal punishment that was due to his sins. Also, we have no idea about he duration of purgatory in temporal terms. Jesus said "Amen I say to you, this day you will be with me in paradise". But the Bible says, "… one day with the Lord is as a thousand years and a thousand years as one day." (2 Peter 3:8) How long in our kind of measurement was "this day" of which Christ spoke? Jesus Himself ascended into heaven only forty days after His resurrection (Acts of the Apostles 1:3). Your Protestant friends are off the mark in their efforts to disprove what Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture clearly affirm, the existence of purgatory.
When did the practice of praying for the dead begin?
The Catholic Church, from the time Christ founded her, always prayed for the dead. This practice, since its importance was already revealed by God in the Old Testament, however, was also present in ancient Judaism. The earliest Christian liturgies (worship services) contains prayers for the deceased. Tomb inscriptions and all the evidence from the catacombs indicate that the earliest Christians prayed for their dead and had Masses offered for the repose of their soul. Writing in the year 211 A.D. Tertullian said, "We offer sacrifices for the dead on their birthdays and anniversaries". Rejection of the doctrine of purgatory only came about when Martin Luther abandoned the Catholic Church and invented the Protestant Religion. There are indications of prayers for the dead in the New Testament (2 Timothy 1:16-18 and 1 Corinthians 15:29-30)
Do any other Christians besides Catholics believe in the existence of purgatory?
Yes. The Eastern Orthodox, although separated from the See of Peter, pray and offer the Sacred Liturgy for the deceased. If you add the number of Catholics to the Eastern Orthodox, it is apparent that three quarters of Christianity accepts the doctrine of purgatory. Protestants, in all their various and contradictory sects, churches, and denominations, constitute less than one quarter of those who profess to be Christians in the world.
How do we know that purgatory exists? It is never mentioned in the Bible, so where did the Catholic tradition about Purgatory come from?
Although the word "purgatory" is not mentioned in the Bible, the reality of purgatory is clearly mentioned there. The words "Trinity" and "incarnation" and "Bible" are not mentioned in the Bible, but these realities are revealed there. Jesus speaks of sins to be forgiven in the life to come (Matthew 12:23). I have looked up this passage, and even read those before it and after it. I do not see where they get their oppinion that this is proof of forgivness can be obtained after you die! Here is the scripture THEY say they base their belief on: Matthew 12: 22Then they brought him a demon-possessed man who was blind and mute, and Jesus healed him, so that he could both talk and see. 23All the people were astonished and said, "Could this be the Son of David?" 24But when the Pharisees heard this, they said, "It is only by Beelzebub, the prince of demons, that this fellow drives out demons." 25Jesus knew their thoughts and said to them, "Every kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and every city or household divided against itself will not stand. 26If Satan drives out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then can his kingdom stand? 27And if I drive out demons by Beelzebub, by whom do your people drive them out? So then, they will be your judges. 28But if I drive out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.
Saint Paul speaks of those saved in the next life "through fire" (1 Corinthians 3:15). Again, you can not take from text! If you read from verse 10-15 you will see that this speaks of those that were already saved and going to Heaven! They are those that know that Jesus died for their sins, but did not do all they should have done while they were here on Earth! In other words, if my children do not listen to everything I say, (and what child does) that child is STILL MY CHILD! I will not reward him as I would a child that DID do as I asked... Here is the scripture : 1 Cor. 3: 10-15 10By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as an expert builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should be careful how he builds. 11For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, 13his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man's work. 14If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. 15If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames. Saint Peter speaks of the "spirits in prison" (1 Peter 3:18-20) 1 Peter 3: 13-22 is talking about people that were sent to jail for spreading the Word of God! It speaks of the Holy Spirit that is within us, not our spirit after we are asleep! 13Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? 14But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. "Do not fear what they fear[b]; do not be frightened."[c] 15But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, 16keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. 17It is better, if it is God's will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil. 18For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit, 19through whom[d] also he went and preached to the spirits in prison 20who disobeyed long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water, 21and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge[e] of a good conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22who has gone into heaven and is at God's right hand—with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him.
A.1 Peter 3:12 Psalm 34:12-16
B.1 Peter 3:14 Or not fear their threats
C.1 Peter 3:14 Isaiah 8:12
D.1 Peter 3:19 Or alive in the spirit, 19 through which
E.1 Peter 3:21 Or response
And of the Gospel "preached to the dead" (1 Peter 4:6). Again, lets go to where this scripture starts, so we can see what it refers to we will start in verse 1 and go to verse 6. The Bible speaks of those that are not saved, as being dead in Christ, because they are not yet born again. They are also called "Dead in the Spirit", because The Adversary has claim to their soul, until a person accepts Christ as their Lord and Savior. 1Peter 4:1-6 1Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because he who has suffered in his body is done with sin. 2As a result, he does not live the rest of his earthly life for evil human desires, but rather for the will of God. 3For you have spent enough time in the past doing what pagans choose to do—living in debauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing and detestable idolatry. 4They think it strange that you do not plunge with them into the same flood of dissipation, and they heap abuse on you. 5But they will have to give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. 6For this is the reason the gospel was preached even to those who are now dead, so that they might be judged according to men in regard to the body, but live according to God in regard to the spirit. The Bible explicitly tells us to pray for the dead (2 Maccabees 12:44-46). Besides being found in Sacred Tradition, which explicitly affirms the existence of purgatory, it is clearly that the doctrine of It existence is also found in Sacred Scripture. This Book (2 Maccabees) is NOT found in The Holy Bible. Enough said...
When we pray for our deceased friends and relative, are they aware that we are praying for them or at least will they be aware someday of what we do for them?
While there is no defined Catholic doctrine about this matter, the Tradition of the Church, Christian custom throughout the ages, many private revelations, and the teaching and practice of the saints through the centuries all indicate that such awareness exists. Many saints have taught that the souls in purgatory, while unable to help themselves, are not only able to be helped by our prayers and Masses, but also are able to pray for us even before they enter heaven. It is a defined doctrine of our Catholic Faith (in the Council of Trent) that the saints in heaven can hear our prayers and can intercede for us before the throne of Almighty God.
If a person says a prayer or makes a novena to which a plenary indulgence is attached, but does not fulfill all the requirements for obtaining a plenary indulgence, does such a prayer or novena still count for something or are the prayers worthless?
No prayers are worthless. Even if one does not obtain a plenary indulgence, the prayers might merit a partial indulgence. Also, if there is not any indulgence attached to some prayers or devotions, they can still be of immense value for the person saying or doing them and for those for whom they are said and done.
Would it be a sin for a Catholic not to believe in the existence of purgatory?
Yes, it would be a mortal sin of heresy for such a Catholic. Read about purgatory in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (numbers 1030-1032). Read about heresy in the same book (number 2089)