Hey, Father! Will people not be in heaven until judgement day?
In the part of the Mass where we recite the Nicene Creed, one line says, “He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead.” If that be the case, then no one is in Heaven yet because no one will be risen until judgement day?
– Ray in Staunton
We cannot earn heaven – it is by total grace. However, we will be judged by God based on how we have used our free will in this earthly life (cf. Matthew 25:40,45 … “whatever you did or did not do…,” among many other citations in Scripture). Catholics believe that there will be two judgements by God at different moments: a particular judgement on an individual basis, which happens immediately after death, and a last or final judgement on a public or all-encompassing basis.
When you die, you will receive what is called a “particular judgement.” The Catechism of the Catholic Church states it this way: “[E]ach will be rewarded immediately after death in accordance with his works and faith.” This means that those who have already gone before us have received their particular judgement from God. Upon death, one’s soul is either sent to hell immediately or rewarded with heavenly paradise (either immediately or eventually through purification in purgatory). Therefore, many souls are already enjoying heaven right now. Eternal life exists without bodily resurrection. The “perfection” of eternal life is the union of body and soul in heaven (the only two people who have achieved this already is Jesus and Mary).
Put another way, righteous souls who have passed away and that are currently in heaven are not yet “complete,” however, as they do not have their bodies. We also profess in the Nicene Creed the “resurrection of the dead,” in which our souls will be reunited with our glorified bodies. This is where the Last Judgement comes into place, in which the good we did or did not do in our life will be seen by all (CCC 1038, 1039 and Matt 25:31, 32, 46).
This all may sound rather frightening, but if taken in the right way, it should call us to conversion while there is still time. It should also make us desire heaven over all earthly things! God desires everyone to be in heaven, yet some reject His grace. The Church encourages us to hope, pray, believe, and to “stay awake, for you know neither the day nor the hour” (Matthew 25:13).
Father Michael Berndt is parochial vicar at St. Anthony of Padua Parish in Effingham