Skip to content
By: Dr. John Ankerberg, Dr. John Weldon; ©2003
What roles do Mary, the Rosary and Purgatory play in the Catholic understanding of salvation?

Since the Roman Catholic church teaches that the true merit of man, achieved through sacraments, Mass and other means, is in some sense responsible for salvation, Catholi­cism cannot logically deny that it teaches a form of salvation by works.

Last time we discussed the role of Priestly Confession and the Mass in a Catholic’s understanding of salvation. We now continue with:

C) The Role of Mary

Catholicism officially denies that Mary’s role in salvation in any way detracts from that of Christ’s. However, the Catholic Church does argue that Mary played a vital part in the forgiveness of sins and in the salvation of the world. In The Christ of Vatican II we are told that both the Scriptures and Tradition “show the role of the Mother of the Savior in the economy of salvation,” that she freely cooperated “in the work of human salvation through her faith and obedience” and that therefore, “The union of the Mother with the Son in the work salvation is made manifest from the time of Christ’s virginal conception up to his death.”[1]

As The Catholic Encyclopedia observes, “Mary was not subject to the law of suffering and death, which are penalties of the sin of human nature, even though she knew these, experienced them, and endured them for our salvation.”[2]

D) The Rosary

The importance of the Rosary is difficult to overestimate.[3] According to Tradition, it allegedly supplies a Catholic with spiritual power and, some believe, forgiveness of sins— as well as many blessings and graces from God. Pope Paul VI stated in his apostolic exhortation Marialis Cultus (February 2, 1974) that the Rosary was the pious practice which, correctly, has been called “the compendium of the entire gospel.”[4] Thus, he empha­sized “the Rosary should be considered as one of the best and most efficacious prayers… that the Christian family is invited to recite.”[5]

The Rosary is comprised of both mental prayer and vocal prayer. In mental prayer the participant meditates on the major “mysteries” (particular events) of the life, death, and glories of both Jesus and Mary. The vocal aspect involves the recitation of fifteen “decades” (portions) of the “Hail Mary” which involves contemplating fifteen principal virtues that were practiced by Jesus and Mary. One Catholic author writes, “So the Rosary is a blessed blending of mental and vocal prayer by which we honor and learn to imitate the mysteries and the virtues of the life, death, passion and glory of Jesus and Mary.”[6]

Consider the following blessings pronounced upon recitation of the Rosary (the first is by Mary):

“When you say your Rosary the angels rejoice, the Blessed Trinity delights in it, my Son finds joy in it too and I myself am happier than you can possibly guess. After the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, there is nothing in the Church that I love as much as the Rosary…. I shall see to their salvation if only they will sing the Rosary, for I love this type of chanting.”[7]
“…the Rosary recited with meditation on the mysteries brings about the following marvelous results: it gradually gives us a perfect knowledge of Jesus Christ; it purifies our souls, washing away sin; it gives us victory over all our enemies;….it supplies us with what is needed to pay all our debts to God and to our fellow men, and finally, it obtains all kinds of graces for us from almighty God.”[8]

In one alleged supernatural encounter between a Catholic saint named Dominic, the Virgin Mary, and a group of demons, Mary commands the demons to answer her servant Dominic immediately. We are told that Mary, by her divine power, has just forced them to proclaim “the whole truth and nothing but the truth” about the importance of the Rosary and how to say it properly. Listen carefully to the following encounter. The demons reply to Mary,

O you who are our enemy, our downfall and our destruction, why have you come from heaven just to torture us so grievously? O Advocate of sinners, you who snatch them from the very jaws of hell, you who are the very sure path to heaven, must we, in spite of ourselves, tell the whole truth and confess before everyone who it is who is the cause of our shame and our ruin’? Then listen well, you Christians: the Mother of Jesus Christ is all-powerful and she can save her servants from falling into hell. She is the Sun which destroys the darkness of our wiles and subtlety…. We have to say, however reluctantly, that not a single soul who has really persevered in her service has ever been damned with us: one single sigh that she offers to the Blessed Trinity is worth far more than all the prayers, desires and aspirations of all the saints. We fear her more than all the other saints in heaven together and we have no success with her faithful servants…. Now that we are forced to speak we must also tell you this: nobody who perseveres in saying the Rosary will be damned, because she obtains for her servants the grace of true contrition for their sins and by means of this they obtain God’s forgiveness and mercy.”[9]

Even Catholics might wonder at such an alleged spectacle. Should the words of demons be accepted merely because the omnipotent Mary is forcing them to tell the truth? Regard­less, in a great deal of Catholic literature we are told that the Rosary is so powerful that it will certainly help to forgive sins and save a soul from hell. Whether or not a person is on the brink of damnation and has one foot in hell, “even if you have sold your soul to the devil as sorcerers do who practice black magic,” nevertheless, “If you say the Rosary faithfully until death, I do assure you that, in spite of the gravity of your sins ‘ye shall receive a never fading crown of glory. ’”[10]

But, the Bible says not a word about recitation of the Rosary. This is another illustration of how Catholic Tradition has undercut the authority of the Bible and, for those who trust the Rosary to forgive sin, the atonement itself.

E) Purgatorial Suffering

Catholicism believes that penance may be performed by good works in this life or through hellish suffering endured in purgatory after death. Those in purgatory are labeled as “the Church Suffering… who have died in grace and whose souls are being purged in purgatory.”[11] Thus, “The temporal punishments for sins are atoned for in the purifying fire [of purgatory]… by the willing bearing of the expiatory punishments imposed by God.”[12]

Purgatorial suffering is justified on the following basis: Because no one can enter heaven with any stain of sin whatsoever, “therefore anyone less than perfect must first be purified before he can be admitted to [heaven].”[13] Although technically the souls in purgatory cannot make true satisfaction for their sins,[14] the fact of being in purgatory and endur­ing punishment for them is believed to both cleanse individuals of the remnants of sin and permit such persons entrance into heaven as newly perfected people.[15]

Thus, in purgatory the person pays for the penalty of venial or mortal sin, even if the guilt of those sins has already been or given by the sacrament of penance.[16] Biblically, however, if God has declared a person righteous, by justification, then he/she is already perfect in

His sight and thus in order to enter heaven, purgatorial suffering cannot be necessary.

Nevertheless The Catholic Encyclopedia teaches,

The souls of those who have died in the state of grace suffer for a time a purging that prepares them to enter heaven…. The purpose of purgatory is to cleanse one of imperfections, venial sins, and faults, and to remit or do away with the temporal punishment due to mortal sins that have been forgiven in the Sacrament of Penance. It is an intermediate state in which the departed souls can atone for unforgiven sins before receiving their final reward…. such “purgatorial punishments” may be relieved by the offerings of the living faithful, such as Masses, prayers, alms, and other acts of piety and devotion.[17]

(to be continued)


  1. The Daughters of St. Paul, The Christ of Vatican II (Boston, MA: Daughters of St. Paul, 1968), 12, 15-16, emphasis added.
  2. Broderick, ed., 285, emphasis added.
  3. S. T. Louis De Montfort, The Secret of the Rosary, Mary Barbour translator (Bay Shore, NY: Montfort Publications, 1976), 18.
  4. Pope Paul VI, Devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary [Marialis Cultus](Washington, DC: United States Catholic Conference, 1974), 31.
  5. Ibid., 37.
  6. De Montfort, 17.
  7. Ibid., 120, 123.
  8. Ibid., 65, emphasis added.
  9. Ibid., 78-79, emphasis added.
  10. Ibid., 12.
  11. Broderick, ed., 117.
  12. Ott, 485.
  13. Hardon, 273.
  14. Ibid., 274.
  15. Ibid., 263-274.
  16. Ibid., 274.
  17. Broderick, ed., 502, emphasis added.


Read Part 5

1 Comment

Leave a Comment