Despite What You Have Heard, Even at Funerals, Everyone Does Not Go Straight to Heaven

06-21-2020Weekly ReflectionSacred Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith

You may have heard at funerals that a deceased is in heaven. Does that reflect Catholic teaching? The answer is no. The deceased may be in heaven but funerals are not canonizations and hence no one can say with certainty any deceased is in heaven except baptized infants and canonized saints. In the confusion following the close of the Second Vatican Council many Catholic teachings were ignored or denied especially those on death and what happens after death. Sadly some of the biggest offenders in this regard were clergy and religious, who often enough, after denying those teachings, left the priesthood or religious life. However it is still common today to hear clergy place people in heaven in funeral homilies. This crisis prompted a restatement of Catholic teaching in 1979. This restatement recalls Catholic teaching:

To begin with, those who act as teachers must clearly discern what the Church considers to pertain to the essence of the faith; theological research cannot have any other aim in view than to investigate this more deeply and develop it.

The Sacred Congregation, whose task is to advance and protect the doctrine of the faith, here wishes to recall what the Church teaches in the name of Christ, especially concerning what happens between the death of the Christian and the general resurrection.

1) The Church believes (cf. the Creed) in the resurrection of the dead.

2) The Church understands this resurrection as referring to the whole person; for the elect it is nothing other than the extension to human beings of the Resurrection of Christ itself.

3) The Church affirms that a spiritual element survives and subsists after death, an element endowed with consciousness and will, so that the "human self" subsists. To designate this element, the Church uses the word "soul", the accepted term in the usage of Scripture and Tradition. Although not unaware that this term has various meanings in the Bible, the Church thinks that there is no valid reason for rejecting it; moreover, she considers that the use of some word as a vehicle is absolutely indispensable in order to support the faith of Christians.

4) The Church excludes every way of thinking or speaking that would render meaningless or unintelligible her prayers, her funeral rites and the religious acts offered for the dead. All these are, in their substance, loci theologici. (emphasis added)

(NOTE: The whole point of funeral rites is to pray for the repose of the soul of the deceased, especially if they are in a state of purification necessary to be able to see God. This is the doctrine of Purgatory or Purification of the soul after death because of remaining attachments to loves opposed to God’s love which must be shed. A so-called locus theologicus means a fundamental source for theology and reflection, in this case, the funeral liturgy of the Church both the current liturgy and the traditional liturgy.)

5) In accordance with the Scriptures, the Church looks for "the glorious manifestation of our Lord, Jesus Christ" (Dei Verbum, I, 4), believing it to be distinct and deferred with respect to the situation of people immediately after death.

NOTE: This refers to the Second Coming of the Lord at the end of time and the General Judgment. However the Church teaches us that upon death the person is immediately judged by Christ which is called the particular judgment. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states: Each man receives his eternal retribution in his immortal soul at the very moment of his death, in a particular judgment that refers his life to Christ: either entrance into the blessedness of heaven-through a purification or immediately, -- or immediate and everlasting damnation. #1022 The Catechism also quotes St. John of the Cross Dichos 64: At the evening of life, we shall be judged on our love. However this is not the whole quote which is important to note because St. John is not talking about any kind of love. Here’s what else he says. Strive to love God as He desires to be loved and abandon your present state. How does God desire to be loved? You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength and love your neighbor as God loves your neighbor.

6) In teaching her doctrine about man's destiny after death, the Church excludes any explanation that would deprive the Assumption of the Virgin Mary of its unique meaning, namely the fact that the bodily glorification of the Virgin is an anticipation of the glorification that is the destiny of all the other elect.

7) In fidelity to the New Testament and Tradition, the Church believes in the happiness of the just who will one day be with Christ. She believes that there will be eternal punishment for the sinner, who will be deprived of the sight of God, and that this punishment will have a repercussion on the whole being of the sinner. She believes in the possibility of a purification for the elect before they see God, a purification altogether different from the punishment of the damned. This is what the Church means when speaking of Hell and Purgatory…. (emphasis added)

(Note: Yes Hell exists for those who die unrepentant in a state of mortal or deadly sin. Such are left with the love they chose for themselves making it an idol in place of the love of God and are visited with the just punishment for their sin. In order to see God we must love Him with all our soul, all our mind, all our strength. If our love for God has not reached that state when we die, God provides for the purification of our love, even after death. This state of purification is called Purgatory. More on this in future bulletins.)

Neither Scripture nor theology provides sufficient light for a proper picture of life after death. Christians must firmly hold the two following essential points: on the one hand they must believe in the fundamental continuity, thanks to the power of the Holy Spirit, between our present life in Christ and the future life (charity is the law of the Kingdom of God and our charity on earth will be the measure of our sharing in God's glory in heaven); on the other hand they must be clearly aware of the radical break between the present life and the future one, due to the fact that the economy of faith will be replaced by the economy of fullness of life: we shall be with Christ and "we shall see God" (cf. 1 Jn 3:2), and it is in these promises and marvelous mysteries that our hope essentially consists. Our imagination may be incapable of reaching these heights, but our heart does so instinctively and completely

Letter on Certain Questions Concerning Eschatology (1979)