the Bishop is, there let the multitude of believers be;
even as where Jesus is, there is the Catholic Church'' Ignatius of
Antioch, 1st c. A.D
Death, Judgment, Heaven, and Hell
Each of us is
born only to one day die. And when we die, we will face judgment and
then either Hell or Heaven, perhaps with a stop in Purgatory en
route to the latter.
Death, Judgment, Heaven, and Hell: these are "The Four Last Things" --
the Novissima in Latin -- and
the study of them is called "eschatology."
Traditional Christian eschatology is divided into two parts: the
individual, which focuses on what we, as individual persons, will
experience at the end of our own individual lives, and the universal,
which pertains to what the world as a whole will experience at the end
The schema of each:
The end times
of the body
consummation of all things
Let's look at them one at a time.
"No one here gets out alive," as The Doors's Jim Morrison sang in "Five
But that each of us will die -- that our souls
will separate from our
bodies, and our bodies will decay into dust -- is something most in the
modern world do their best to
ignore. They focus on surface matters -- looking good, especially on
social media, with Photoshopping and filters in place. They diet, not
for health reasons, but to look "hot." They mentally compartmentalize,
and use euphemisms to not think
about things like death. With religious fervor, they fight against
aging. They hide
away their old people, and pay others to deal with the pus,
vomit, blood, and decay of sickness, senescence, and death. They have
very sterile funerals in places
separate from where they live, with the corpses embalmed, made-up, and
perfumed. They speak of their dead as "angels" or
as -- without a doubt, don't give it a second thought, don't bother to
pray for them -- in Heaven.
This is not the Catholic way. Catholics are not only matter-of-fact
death, we focus on it. We meditate on it. A snapshot: On the island of
Ischia, Italy, in the Tyrrhenian Sea, across from Naples, there's a
castle -- the Aragonese Castle -- which came to be populated by a group
of Poor Clare nuns in the 17th century. When one of their sisters would
die, the nuns, it is said, would place her body on a stone chair in the
castle graveyard. The stone chairs each had a hole in the middle of
their seats, and as the body would mummify, the liquids from the corpse
would drip down into the hole. The nuns would visit the bodies daily,
observing the postmortem bodily changes, and spend time meditating on
the fact that, as these decaying bodies were, theirs would soon enough
It sounds gruesome, and it is. But so is death, and such a practice is
one of the many ways to be radically honest about the fact of it,
something moderns very much need to do.
Some might be blithe about it all and convince themselves that they
have considered their deaths and can face their earthly end with
equanimity, but a much more
difficult thing to do is to face squarely the fact of the impending
deaths of all those you love. The little boy whose grin makes you
happer than you could ever have imagined will one day become dust
bodily. The little girl who can't pronounce "spaghetti" and whose tiny
star-shaped hands are too beautiful for words -- she, too, will
become dust. So will your mother and father, your sisters and brothers,
your husband or wife, your best friends. Your children. St. Alphonus de
it like this in his "Preparation for Death," available in this site's Catholic Library:
yourself a person, whose soul has just departed. Behold that pale
corpse, which is still upon the bed, the head fallen upon the
breast; the hair dishevelled and bathed in the sweat of death; the eyes
sunken; the cheeks hollow; the face of ashy palenes ; the tongue and
the lips of a leaden hue; the body cold and heavy. Those who see it
grow pale and tremble. How many there are who, upon seeing a relation
or friend in this condition, have changed their life, and have left the
But still more dreadful is it when the body begins to decay.
A few hours or days will hardly have passed ere it will become offensive. The
windows will have to be opened; incense wifl. have to be burned nay, it
must be sent in haste to the church to be buried,
that the whole house be not infected. Behold to what that proud, that
voluptuous man is reduced? In life he was the favourite,
the one who was sought after in society; now he makes all those who
look upon him shudder. His relations hasten to have him removed from
the house, and men are hired to bear him, shut up in a coffin, to his
grave. He was once famous for his great talent for his great politeness
for his courteous behaviour, and for his facetiousness; but now that he
is dead, his
memory will soon pass away," their memorial is perished with them."
(Ps. ix. 6.)...
...In order more clearly to see what indeed thou art, my Christian
soul, S. John Chrysostom observes, "Go to a sepulchre, contemplate
dust, ashes, worms, and sigh." See how that corpse becomes at first
yellow, and then black. Afterwards there is seen upon the body a white
and unpleasant mould. Then there issues forth a foul and corrupt
matter, which sinks into the ground. In that corruption many worms are
generated, which feed upon the flesh. The rats then come to feast upon
the body, some on the outside, others entering into the mouth and
bowels. The cheeks, the lips, and the hair fall in pieces; the ribs are
the first to become bare of flesh, then the arms and the legs. The
worms after having consumed the flesh eat each other, and, in the end,
nothing remains of that body but a fetid skeleton, which, in course of
time, is divided, the bones being separated, and the head falling from
the body: they "become like the chaff of the summer threshing-floors,
and the wind carried them away" (Dan. ii. 35.) Behold, then, what man
is a little dust upon a threshing-floor, which is carried away by the
The body of your most beautiful beloved will first become an object of
repugnance, and then dust. Ponder this. Meditate on it until you not
just know it intellectually, but feel
it in the depths of your being.
Truly consider the lyrics to a song the soldiers used to sing during
World War I: The Hearse Song:
The Hearse Song Sung by Harley Poe
Don't ever laugh as a Hearse goes by
For you may be the next to die
They wrap you up in a big white sheet
From your head down to your feet
They put you in a big black box
And cover you up with dirt and rocks
And all goes well for about a week
And then your coffin begins to leak
And the worms crawl in, the worms crawl out
The worms play pinochle on your snout
They eat your eyes, they eat your nose
They eat jelly between your toes
A big green worm with rolling eyes
Crawls in your stomach and out your eyes
Your stomach turns a slimy green
And pus comes out like whipping cream
You spread it on a slice of bread
And that's what you eat when your dead
And the worms crawl out and the worms crawl in
The worms that crawl in are lean and thin
The ones that crawl out
Are fat and stout
Your eyes fall in and your hair falls out
Your brain comes tumbling down your snout
And the worms crawl in, the worms crawl out
They crawl all over your dirty snout
Your chest caves in and your eyes pop out
And your brain turns to sauerkraut
They invite their friends, and their friends too
They all come down to chew on you
And this is what it is to die
I hope you had a nice goodbye
Did you ever think as a Hearse goes by
That you may be the next to die
And your eyes fall out and your teeth decay
And that is the end of a perfect... day
You don't know when death will come. You don't know how it
You can fear it and try to ignore it, or you can do all you can to try
to escape it. But either way, you will eventually fail.1 It
could come years from now, when
you are old and lie sleeping, or it could come a moment from now and
bring anguish with it. You might die a martyr for Christ, or you could
die a "senseless" death, seemingly "randomly" -- by a falling tree, an
icicle unanchored from the eaves, or a car driven by someone bothered
bee or distracted while texting on his phone. Perhaps you and those you
love will die in
a natural cataclysm, or at the hands of a murderer. Maybe there will be
political upheaval, and you and your beloved will all die in death
However and whenever it comes, come it will, so a Catholic tries to live his
life so he can be ready to die at any
moment, able to face judgment without undue fear. Sincere Catholics try
to always live
in a state of grace, receiving the Sacraments of Confession
and the Eucharist regularly. And on
our deathbeds -- if we're blessed to have time on a deathbed instead of
being taken suddenly, without preparation -- we make ourselves
ready for our particular judgment by receiving the Sacrament of Unction
if we're able (if we're sick for a long while before we die but
aren't in imminent danger of death, we ask our priests to make sick calls so we can receive the Eucharist
and make confessions as needed). We pray, especially to St. Joseph, to have a happy death when
our time comes.2 (On another
level, it is wise, too, to make temporal
preparations for death so that your loved ones will be better able
to get on after you die. Do this even if you are young.)
We keep death in mind throughout the year by making use of
various memento mori
(reminders of our
death), like vanitas paintings and skull bead rosaries. We take heed of
those things the Brothers Grimm called "Death's Messengers." We
out chunks of liturgical time to center our
attention on death: Lent begins with
the ashes of Ash Wednesday to remind
us of our earthly fate, and the month of November is dedicated to the
souls of the departed, with All
Souls celebrated on November 2. Throughout the year, we pray
for our dead, both privately, including by seeking indulgences for them, and liturgically, by
having Masses said for
them. We live knowing that, "soon enough," we'll have to walk
through those "darksome doors." 3
The traditional Bona Mors
litany for a happy death (download
it in pdf format here) is one that, if prayed properly, forces one
to confront the realities of death and judgment:
O Lord Jesus,
God of goodness, and Father of mercies, I draw nigh to Thee with a
contrite and humble heart; to Thee I recommend the last hour of my
life, and that judgment which awaits me thereafter.
When my feet, benumbed with death, shall admonish me, that my course in
this life is drawing to an end, merciful
Jesus, have mercy on me.
When my hands, cold and trembling, shall no longer be able to clasp the
crucifix, and shall let it fall against my will on my bed of suffering,
have mercy on me.
When my eyes, dim with trouble at the approach of death, shall fix
themselves on Thee, my last and only support, merciful Jesus, have
mercy on me.
When my lips, cold and trembling, pronounce for the last time Thy
adorable Name, merciful Jesus, have
mercy on me.
When my face, pale and livid, shall inspire the beholders with pity and
dismay; when my hair, bathed in the sweat of death, and stiffening on
my head, shall forebode my approaching end, merciful Jesus, have mercy
When my ears, soon to be for ever shut to the discourse of men, shall
be opened to hear that irrevocable decree which is to fix my sentence
eternity, merciful Jesus, have mercy
When my imagination, agitated by dreadful spectres, shall be steeped in
abyss of anginsuish; when my soul, affrighted with the sight of my
iniquities and the terrors of Thy judgments, shall wrestle with the angel of
darkness, who will endeavour to conceal Thy
mercies from my eyes, and plunge me into despair, merciful Jesus, have
mercy on me.
When my poor heart, oppressed with suffering and exhausted by its
continual struggles with the enemies of its salvation, shall feel the
pangs of death, merciful Jesus, have
mercy on me.
When the last tear, the forerunner of my dissolution, shall drop from
my eyes, receive it as a sacrifice of expiation for my sins; grant that
I may expire the victim of penance; and then, in that dreadful moment, merciful Jesus,
have mercy on me.
When those present, encircling my bed, shall be moved with
compassion for me, and invoke Thy clemency in my behalf, merciful
Jesus, have mercy on me.
When I shall have lost the use of my senses, when the world shall have
vanished from my sight, when I shall groan with anguish in my last
agony and the pangs of death, merciful
Jesus, have mercy on me.
When my last sighs shall force my soul to issue from my body, accept
them as born of a loving impatience to come to Thee; merciful Jesus,
have mercy on me.
When my soul, trembling on my lips, shall bid adieu to the world, and
leave my body lifeless, pale and cold, receive this separation as a
homage which I willingly pay to Thy Divine Majesty, and in that last
moment of my mortal life, merciful
Jesus, have mercy on me.
When at length my soul, admitted to Thy presence, shall first behold
the immortal splendour of Thy Majesty, reject it not, but receive me
into the loving embrace of Thy mercy, where I may for ever sing Thy
praises; merciful Jesus, have mercy
Let us pray. O God, who hast doomed all men to die, but hast concealed
from all the hour of their death, grant that I may pass my days in the
practice of holiness and justice, and that I may be made worthy to quit
this world in the embrace of Thy love, through the merits of our Lord
Jesus Christ, Who liveth and reigneth with Thee in the unity of the
Holy Ghost, God, for ever and ever. Amen.
of this site's page "Becoming Virtuous: How to Acquire the Virtue of
Fortitude" for a method of overcoming inordinate fear of death] 4
The purpose of this focus on death is to keep wordly things in proper
perspective and to strive to be in a state of grace always because
when it comes. But death isn't the end; it's one step of a journey that
either to Heaven or to Hell. When we die, we will be immediately judged
by Christ, Who
will judge us as to whether or not we died a state of grace. We will
know full well why we've been judged as we've been judged; our
intellects will be illumined such that we see God's wisdom, justice,
and mercy perfectly as they relate to us.
haven't died in a state of grace -- if we die with the stain of
mortal sins on our souls -- we will
be sent to Hell; if we have, we will be sent to Heaven, often -- likely
usually -- with a stop in Purgatory beforehand, where we will be
purified of the temporal effects of our sins so that we can go on and
the purity of Heaven.
No one knows how long time in Purgatory lasts. No one knows for sure
the nature of the punishments endured there either, but purification
fire" is a common belief, one held by many of our great Saints, from
Gregory the Great to SS. Bonaventure and Thomas Aquinas. The nature of
this "fire," whether it's metaphorical or more literal, no one knows.
But if we are blessed enough to make it to Purgatory, we will be
cleansed, and then, at some time known only to God, will be let into
Those in Purgatory are saved and remain part of the Communion of
Saints. We on earth pray for their souls, especially on All Souls Day
(November 2), and it's piously believed
that they pray for ours.
Some of the saved will go directly to Heaven when they die. Others of
the saved will end up there
after some time spent in Purgatory. But Heaven -- the holy place, the
house of the Father, the Kingdom of Christ -- is the destination -- a
real, finite place -- of
all those who die in a state of grace. There, the purpose for which we
made -- to be happy with God -- will be utterly
fulfilled. Here, in this vale of tears, we clamor to know Our Creator,
long for Him. We feel an existential emptiness that so many futiley try
to fill up with worldly things -- sex, drugs, human respect, "success,"
distractions. We get glimpses of Him, such as what we see when we open the Book of Nature, or when otherwise
moved by the True, Good, and Beautiful. But our glimpses are fleeting
and murky, like things seen under the waters of a dirty lake. In
Heaven, though, we will see
Him with crystal clarity, with nothing between us. I
Corinthians 13:12 tells us, "We see now through a glass in a dark
then face to face. Now I know in part; but then I shall know even as I
am known." Our intellects will be supernaturally illumined by the light
of His glory, and, so, we will be able to share in His Divine Nature,
as I John 3:2 reveals: "we shall be like to Him: because we shall see
Him as He is."
We will have this vision of Him -- "the Beatific vision" -- as human
though. Our natures will be perfected, but they will remain human; our
vision of Him will be clear, but limited; we will know what He wills us
to know. We will also know and recognize each other -- our loves ones
who've died in a state of grace, our ancestors, the Saints, the angels.
There will be no pain or sadness, and our happiness will be eternal.
After the Last Judgment (see below), our bodies will be resurrected and
glorified, and we will enjoy the renewed Heaven and earth. I
Corinthians 2:9 tells us that "eye hath not seen, nor ear heard,
neither hath it entered into the heart of man, what things God hath
prepared for them that love Him."
Some in Heaven will receive a greater reward than others. Those who die
with a high degree of sanctity will receive more than those who die
with less: see The Parable of the Sower
and consider I Corinthians 15:41-42:
One is the glory
of the sun, another the glory of the moon, and another the glory of the
stars. For star differeth from star in glory. So also is the
resurrection of the dead.
But consider how a small vial may only be able to hold a few
teaspoonsful of water while a large pitcher might be able to hold many
cups' worth: though one is greater than the other in terms of capacity,
each can only be so full. So it is with souls: each soul in Heaven will
be filled and want for nothing though one soul might receive more than
Hell is the place of punishment after death. Theologically, it has four
Hell in the
The abode of
those who are damned forever, and of Satan and the other bad angels
(demons). It is known
as "Infernus" in Latin, as "Hades" in Greek, and as "Gehenna" in
Hebrew. When the word "Hell" is used without qualification, it's almost
always the place of the damned that is being referred to.
The Limbo of the Fathers
the place where
the just were sent who died before
the time of Christ. The Limbo of the Fathers was emptied by Christ
during the "Harrowing of Hell" after His Crucifixion, an event we
remember on Holy Saturday, the day
The Limbo of the
of natural happiness, but without the beatific vision (i.e., without
seeing the Face of God). Limbo is the destination of those who die with
the stain of original sin, but
grievous personal sins, whether they're infants or adults. The Limbo of
Infants isn't theologically certain and not a matter of Catholic dogma,
but it is piously believed by many, including by some of our greatest
Saints, and logically follows from Catholic dogma. Those who die
without receiving the
Baptism are left to the mercy and justice of God, Who is All Good, and
Who is not limited by His own Sacraments. Note that when the word
"Limbo" is used without qualification, it's almost always the Limbo of
the Infants that's being referred to.
Purgatory is an aspect of "Hell" in that it is a place of punishment.
But Purgatory is temporary, and all who go there to be cleansed before
entering Heaven are saved.
It's Hell in the first sense that is the focus here.
No one knows the location of Hell, or the precise nature of its
punishments. But that it is a definite place, and that it is, well,
hellish -- and for ever -- is
without doubt. Some words used
by Sacred Scripture to describe Hell and the state of those who are
sent to it:
Those who choose Hell -- and any soul that is sent there does choose it
and is fully deserving of it -- are damned. They are cut off, cut out,
ever. We don't pray for them, and they have no power or desire to
pray for us. They are confirmed in their evil, incapable of repenting. And they suffer
the "pain of loss" (poena damni)
-- that is, they will never
receive the Beatific Vision. They will never have that immediate
knowledge of God that comes from seeing
Him face to Face -- and they will always know what they've lost. They
will also suffer pain in their senses (poena
sensus), such as from fire, which is spoken of repeatedly in
Sacred Scripture as being a hallmark of Satan's abode.
Just as in Heaven different souls are rewarded differently, so it is in
Hell. Though obviously not a matter of dogma, Dante, in the first part
of his "Divine Comedy," describes nine "circles of Hell," with the
circles sitting on top of each other, getting smaller, and marking
greater and greater punishments as they go down. The top, first circle
is that of Limbo, a place of natural happiness for those who die with
no great personal sins, but without having removed the stain of
original sin from their souls.
The second circle is for those given to
lust, who are buffeted by howling winds and storm.
The third is for
gluttons, who are forced to endure a a great storm of putrefaction.
fourth is for those possessed by greed, who fight each other while
weighed down by great weights.
The fifth is filled by the wrathful,
where those actively given to ire fight each other on the slimy surface
of the River Styx, while those who are passively wrathful -- who are
sullen -- lie beneath the surface.
The sixth is for heretics, who are
punished by being held in flaming tombs.
The seventh consists of three
rings of its own: one for those who are violent against their
neighbors, who are punished by swimming in a hot river of blood and
fire; the next for those who are violent against themselves, and have
been turned into gnarly trees that get pecked at by Harpies --
woman-faced birds; and the last for those who are violent against God
(blasphemers), Art (userers) or Nature (sodomites), who are punished by
lying face up on a plain of burning sand while flames fall from the
The eighth circle consists of ten trenches, one each for various
types of fraudsters: panderers and seducers, who are whipped by horned
demons; flatterers, who fight each other while soaking in excrement;
those who engage in simony (the selling of spiritual goods), who are
placed head-down in holes while flames burn their feet; sorcerers,
whose heads are twisted around and who are forced to walk backwards
forever; corrupt politicians, who are immersed in a lake of boiling
tar; hypocrites, who are condmened to wear heavy, leaden robes and walk
endlessly on a narrow track; thieves, who are bitten and tortured by
nasty reptiles; those who encourage fraud, who are each wrapped up in
an individual flame; sowers of discord, who are hacked up by a
sword-carrying demon, and then drag their healing bodies around a ditch
only to be hacked up again as they complete their route; and
falsifiers, who are cursed with disease, endless screaming, stench, and
The ninth, last, and lowest circle of Hell is for
traitors, and consists of a frozen lake divided into four circles, with
one circle each for those who are traitors to their families; those who
are traitors to their country; those who are traitors to their guests;
and those who are traitors to their benefactors and lords (it is here
where Dante puts Judas. See the page on Spy
Wednesday for more information). As the four concentric circles of
the frozen lake are crossed, the punishments of the damned are their
being more frozen and
more immobilized in the lake's ice.
However accurate Dante's description of Hell, and however you envision
it, know that it is real, and it is torment. To
those who think the existence of Hell is unjust or somehow not
consistent with the idea of God as Good, please read the section on Possession
on the "Oppression, Obsession, and Possession" page of the "Spiritual Warfare: The
Preternatural World" part of this site.
The fact of
eternal damnation is recalled throughout the year in the traditional
liturgy, but folk customs on the Eve of All Saints
(All Hallows Eve, or "Hallowe'en") are
particularly focused on Hell.
End Times (the
utterance of one of the Church's four creeds,
we affirm that Christ will
come again to judge the living and the dead. We celebrate this event --
the "Parousia" or "Second Coming" -- liturgically on the Last Sunday of Pentecost
and also during Advent, as we
simultaneously anticipate reliving His first coming as a Baby born in
Bethlehem at Christmas.
Imagine it! Matthew 24:27-30:
as lightning cometh out of the east, and appeareth even into the west:
so shall the coming of the Son of man be. Wheresoever the body shall
be, there shall the eagles also be gathered together. And immediately
after the tribulation of those days, the sun shall be darkened and the
moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven,
and the powers of heaven shall be moved: And then shall appear the sign
[Cross] of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all tribes of the
earth mourn: and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of
heaven with much power and majesty.
When this will occur, no one knows for certain. The Parable of the Ten Virgins teaches us
that we won't know the hour of His return, but are to always be ready
for it. There will be signs, though, and the Catholic Encyclopedia
lists nine that theologians usually enumerate. They are:
general preaching of the Gospel: Matthew 24:14 "And this gospel of the
kingdom, shall be preached in the whole world, for a testimony to all
nations, and then shall the consummation come."
of the Jews: Romans 11:25-26 "For I would not have you ignorant,
brethren, of this mystery, (lest you should be wise in your own
conceits), that blindness in part has happened in Israel, until the
fulness of the Gentiles should come in. And so all Israel should
be saved, as it is written: There shall come out of Sion, he that shall
deliver, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob."
return of Henoch (Ecclesiasticus 44:16 "Henoch pleased God, and was
translated into paradise, that he may give repentance to the nations")
and Elias (Malachias
4:5 "Behold I will send you Elias the prophet, before the coming of the
great and dreadful day of the Lord"). These two men,
the "Two Witnesses," were taken up into Heaven without enduring bodily
death, and in the "end times," they will return to earth. The
Apocalypse of St. John 11:4-7 reads:
will give unto my two witnesses, and they shall prophesy a thousand
two hundred sixty days, clothed in sackcloth. These are the two olive
trees, and the two candlesticks, that stand before the Lord of the
earth. And if any man will hurt them, fire shall come out of their
mouths, and shall devour their enemies. And if any man will hurt them,
in this manner must he be slain. These have power to shut heaven, that
it rain not in the days of their prophecy: and they have power over
waters to turn them into blood, and to strike the earth with all
plagues as often as they will. And when they shall have finished their
testimony, the beast, that ascendeth out of the abyss, shall make war
against them, and shall overcome them, and kill them.
Note that Henoch and Elias are also known as Enoch and Elijah.
great apostasy: There will be a great falling away from the Faith, and
a great reduction in the number of the faithful. Luke 18:8 "[T]he Son
of man, when He cometh, shall He find, think you, faith on earth?"
reign of Antichrist: There have been and are many Antichrists (I John
2:22 "Who is a liar, but he who denieth that Jesus is the Christ?
This is Antichrist, who denieth the Father, and the Son."). But
at the end of time, there will come the principal Antichrist. Paul
writes in 2 Thessalonians 2:3-4 "Let no man deceive you by any means,
for unless there come a revolt first, and the man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition, who opposeth, and
is lifted up above all that is called God, or that is worshipped, so
that he sitteth in the temple of God, shewing himself as if he were
God." The temple referred to here is a Jewish temple, according to
This Antichrist will not be an institution, government, society, or a
demon, but will be an individual man -- a man believed by many Church
Fathers to be associated with the Tribe of Dan (note, for ex., the
ommission of Dan in the seventh chapter of the Apocalypse). The
Antichrist will persecute Christ's Church, and we will suffer much.
For more information, see John Henry Cardinal Newman's "The Patristic
Idea of Antichrist" in this site's Catholic Library.
of the natural world: the Apocalypse speaks of earthquakes, lightning,
pestilence, hail, fire, a blackening of the Sun, the disappearance of
many stars, and other natural calamities. There will be no "rapture" to
spare Christ's Church the pains of these calamaties, the apostasy, or
the doings of the Antichrist. We will suffer as Christ suffered.
conflagration: 2 Peter 3:10 "But the day of the Lord shall come as a
thief, in which the heavens shall pass away with great violence, and
the elements shall be melted with heat, and the earth and the works
which are in it, shall be burnt up." This conflagration won't destroy
creation, but will change its form.
Trumpet of the Resurrection: I Corinthians 15:52 "In a moment, in the
twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet: for the trumpet shall sound,
and the dead shall rise again incorruptible: and we shall be changed."
sign of the Son of Man appearing in the heavens: The Cross of Christ
will be seen in the sky. Matthew 24:30 "And then shall appear the sign
of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all tribes of the earth
mourn: and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven
with much power and majesty."
The Resurrection of the Body
All of the dead
will bodily rise from their graves, their souls and bodies reunited.
John 5:28: "[T]he hour cometh, wherein all that are in the graves shall
voice of the Son of God." Our resurrected bodies will be our own bodies
-- the very bodies we inhabit now. They will be entire and immortal. If
we belong to God, our bodies will also be marked by impassibility (they
won't be subject to pain or struggle), glory, agility (we won't be
subject to slowness, gravity, etc.), and subtility (in perfect union
with our souls).
After the dead
rise from their graves, the angels will gather them together with the
living to witness the Last Judgment by Christ. Matthew 25:31-34:
the Son of man shall come in his majesty, and all the angels with him,
then shall He sit upon the seat of His majesty. And all nations shall
be gathered together before Him, and He shall separate them one from
another, as the shepherd separateth the sheep from the goats: And He
shall set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on His left.
Then shall the King say to them that shall be on His right hand: Come,
ye blessed of My Father, possess you the kingdom prepared for you from
the foundation of the world.
The risen dead will have already faced their particular judgments after
their deaths, but when Christ returns, all will be judged together so
that His Justice and Mercy will be made manifest to all. We will each
know our moral conditions, and we will know the moral conditions of
others. Our sins, thoughts, and secrets will be known to all. Ponder
the 4th, 5th, and 6th stanzas of the glorious Dies Irae (Day of Wrath) heard in
our Requiem Masses (Masses for the dead):
Death and nature
when the creature will rise again,
to respond to the Judge.
The written book will be brought forth,
in which all is contained,
from which the world shall be judged.
When therefore the Judge will sit,
whatever lies hidden, will appear:
nothing will remain unpunished.
Cum resurget creatura,
Liber scriptus proferetur,
In quo totum continetur,
Unde mundus iudicetur.
Iudex ergo cum sedebit,
Quidquid latet, apparebit:
Nil inultum remanebit.
The Final Consummation of All Things
After the Last Judgment, creation will be transformed into a glorious
dwelling place for the saved. Apocalypse 21:1-5:
And I saw a new
heaven and a new earth. For the first heaven and the first earth was
gone, and the sea is now no more. And I John saw the holy city,
the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a
bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a great voice from the
throne, saying: Behold the tabernacle of God with men, and he will
dwell with them. And they shall be his people; and God himself with
them shall be their God. And God shall wipe away all tears from their
eyes: and death shall be no more, nor mourning, nor crying, nor sorrow
shall be any more, for the former things are passed away. And he that
sat on the throne, said: Behold, I make all things new.
So little is
known about the precise nature of the "new Heaven and earth." Will animals be there? Will we miss those who
aren't saved? Would we get bored? Will we be doing things? Learning things? It's
a Mystery -- a Mystery about which we trust in God completely.
And so it is with all "end times" concerns. We don't know when Christ
will come back, and some people can get very caught up in these things,
worrying about missing signs of His Coming, obsessing over details.
Some people pore over newspapers, allowing their imaginations to run
wild looking for signs and "the man of sin" (and so easily publicly
accusing others of being that man). But we should keep in mind that
each individual will face his own personal "end time" at death. And that is what you should focus on!
You can be sure that your own
"end time" will come within a few decades! So emulate the five wise
virgins of Christ's parable, keep your lamps full, and be ready.
For further reading, see these books in pdf format in this site's Catholic Library:
Once upon a
time, many, many years ago, a rich merchant in Baghdad sent his servant
to the marketplace to buy provisions. And after a while the servant
came back, white-faced and trembling and said, "Master, when I was in
the marketplace, I was jostled by a woman in the crowd and I turned to
look and I saw it was Death that had jostled me. When she looked at me
she made a threatening gesture. Oh, master, please lend me your horse
and I will ride away from this city and escape my fate. I will ride to
Samarra; death will not find me there."
So, the merchant loaned him the horse and the servant mounted
it, dug his spurs into its flanks, and as fast as the horse could
gallop he rode towards Samarra.
Then the merchant went to the marketplace and he saw Death,
standing in the crowd. And he said, "Why did you make a threatening
gesture to my servant when you saw him this morning?" And Death said,
"I made no threatening gesture; that was only a start of surprise. I
was astonished to see him here in Baghdad, for I have an appointment
with him tonight. In Samarra."
2 A prayer to St. Joseph for a happy death:
Joseph, who yielded up thy last breath in the arms of Jesus and Mary,
obtain for me this grace, O holy Joseph, that I may breathe forth my
soul in praise, saying in spirit, if I am unable to do so in words:
“Jesus, Mary and Joseph, I give You my heart and my soul.” Amen.
3 It's good, too, to keep a sense of humor about
death (and pretty much everything else while you're at it). If you're
grown and aren't bothered by F-bombs, I recommend the first half hour
or so of Norm Macdonald's 2011 Comedy Central special "Me Doing
Stand-Up." Comedy gold. May Norm R.I.P.
4 For fun, if you'd like a "Magic Eye"
stereogram featuring a
skull as something to focus on while pondering death, see this image.