The current series of morceaux are dealing with the subject of death. While not something we often eagerly think about, given its finality it’s important that we spend some time reflecting on it once in a while. First come a few generalities, before looking at the way the Church reflects these truths in her funeral liturgies.
Our belief in the “resurrection of the body” (see the Catechism of the Catholic Church, nos. 997ff.), which we mentioned in the last morceau, and which takes place on the last day, at the consummation of the universe, is a “final encounter with Christ.” This is our ultimate Last Judgment, when we resume some kind of bodily existence either in God’s presence or apart from Him forever.
Yet this leads into a consideration of what else happens after death. In fact, although the timelessness of eternity makes it difficult to understand, we’re especially curious as to what happens first, before the Last Judgment!
In fact the Church understands – principally from many passages in the New Testament – that “each person will be rewarded immediately after death in accordance with his or her works and faith” (CCC, arts. 1021-1022, based on such Biblical passages as Mt 16:26; Lk 16:22; Lk 23:43; 2 Cor 5:8; Phil 1:23; Heb 9:27 and 12:23.). Each soul has a final destiny, and one’s eternal retribution is received at the very moment of death, in a “particular judgment.” Its outcome is either entrance into the blessedness of heaven – directly, or perhaps through some course of necessary purification – or an immediate and everlasting loss of happiness due to our choice of hell.
It’s important to stress already that God does not condemn the innocent. Only those who choose to reject Him – consciously and deliberately – and therefore by their own volition wish to be separated from Him are justly granted what they deserve. Just as heaven is a reward for a life of faith well-lived, a life of faith refused has a just consequence too. In the next morceaux we will look more closely at heaven and hell, the alternative destinies that lie before us. But I cannot emphasize enough that the alternatives are not accidental or capricious, but in the last analysis will always be what we have chosen.