Article 86 – Catechism of the Catholic Church Series
Paragraphs 1020-1037 Sammy at Best Buy recently helped me identify a problem with my iPad, which saved me in excess of $200 to purchase a new computer part. The young millennium knew more about computers in his short life than I knew in a lifetime!
The same can be said regarding matters of eschatology. What is eschatology? In short, it concerns the “last things,” such as death, judgment, and the final destiny of the soul. Most people do not understand the various components of eschatology, only bits and pieces, which is akin to what I know about computers.
This section of the Catechism examines one of these components called “particular judgement,” which happens immediately after death. The Catechism explains that each of us receives “eternal retribution” in our “immortal soul” at the very moment of death “in a particular judgment.” This refers to “either entrance into the blessedness of heaven — through a purification or immediately, or immediate and everlasting damnation” (ccc 1022). To say it another way, each of our souls appears before the judgment seat of Christ to account for ourselves and our stewardship or, as Sacred Scripture puts it, “so that each one may receive recompense, according to what he did in the body, whether good or evil” ( 2 Cor 5:10). This means giving an account of our entire life to Christ, our Savior.
The Church calls this “particular judgment” because, unlike the general judgment at the Second Coming of Christ, every person is judged separately, individually or alone in this meeting. The New Testament Book of Hebrews explains: “human beings die once, and after this the judgment” ( Heb 9:27). In the Old Testament, we read: “For it is easy for the Lord on the day of death to repay mortals according to their conduct … at the end of life one’s deeds are revealed” ( Sir 11:26-27).
At the very moment when the individual soul enters into eternity it receives the reward or the punishment for good or evil in this life, and will be judged alone and unattended. The soul will be separated from the body, the companion with whom that soul has lived for many years; the body which led the soul into sin, but hopefully cooperated as well with God’s many grace-filled opportunities to choose good. Christ will be our judge. From Him nothing can be concealed. He is God. He knows everything. “Nor does the Father judge anyone, but he has given all judgment to his Son” ( Jn 5:22). We will appear not in the bodily presence of Our Lord, as at the last judgment. The “particularjudgment” will be a sort of illumination of thesoul, a supernatural way of knowing our fate. He who suffered and died to save us, will decide our fate for all eternity. How terrible, if we have spurned His love and His help. “We cannot be united with God unless we freelychoose to love him. But we cannot love God ifwe sin gravely against
him, against our neighbor or against ourselves” (ccc 1033). Heaven is assured immediately for “those who die in God’s grace and friendship and are perfectly purified” (ccc 1023). They will live forever with Christ and will “see God as he is” ( 1 Jn 3:2). Think of it. Don’t we all want to hear that invitation when we take our last breath: “Come, blessed of my Father, take possession of the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (Mt 25:34). What joy to hear these words! What reward for a life of service and love!
The Church gives the name Purgatory to the “final purification of the elect, which is entirely different from the punishment of the damned” (ccc 1031). Those who “die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven” (ccc 1030). In other words, there may be venial or less-grave sins or satisfaction for sin not fully made which consigns a soul to purgatory until all the stains of sin have been purged. Purgatory is a bittersweet thought; bitter in the sense that the soul must be away from God for a time; sweet in the assurance that eventually the soul will finally be with God forever.
Hell is the destiny of those who “die in mortal sin without repenting and accepting God’s merciful love…remaining separated from him forever by our own free choice. This (is the) state of definitive self-exclusion from communion with God and the blessed” (ccc 1032). This teaching is clear throughout Sacred Scripture. In the Gospel of Saint Matthew, Christ clearly teaches about the importance of basic charity or good works: “Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or ill or in prison, and not minister to your needs? He will answer, ‘Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me. And these will go off to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life” ( Mt 25:44-46).
Those who are familiar with the various gospel passages recall Jesus speaking of hell as “Gehenna” or the “unquenchable fire.” “The chief punishment of hell is eternal separation from God in whom alone we can possess the life and happiness for which we were created and for which we long” (ccc 1035).
The Church’s constant teaching is that “God predestines no one to go to hell” (ccc 1037). In Her daily Eucharistic Liturgy, the Church implores the mercy of God, who does not want “any to perish, but all to come to repentance” ( 2 Pt 3:9).
Father Hillier serves as Director of the Office of the Pontifical Mission Societies, Censor Librorum and oversees the Office for Persons with Disabilities