Indulgences. The very word stirs up more misconceptions than perhaps any other teaching in Catholic theology. Those who attack the Church for its use of indulgences rely upon—and take advantage of—the ignorance of both Catholics and non-Catholics.
Those who claim that indulgences are no longer part of Church teaching have the admirable desire to distance themselves from abuses that occurred around the time of the Protestant Reformation. They also want to remove stumbling blocks that prevent non-Catholics from taking a positive view of the Church. As admirable as these motives are, the claim that indulgences are not part of Church teaching today is false.
All Christians agree that we won’t be sinning in heaven. Sin and final glorification are utterly incompatible. Therefore, between the sinfulness of this life and the glories of heaven, we must be made pure. Between death and glory there is a purification.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines purgatory as a "purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven," which is experienced by those "who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified" (CCC 1030). It notes that "this final purification of the elect . . . is entirely different from the punishment of the damned" (CCC 1031).