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Church Teaching on Death: Death & the Particular Judgment

Death is the end of man’s earthly life and the gateway to the next. The state of our soul at the time of death is what determines whether this gateway leads to heaven, hell or purgatory. For the Christian, death ought to be a moment of great joy rather than a moment of fear.

This is from The Four Last Things: Good Catholic Digital Content Series

It is an excellent series!

The skeletons of thousands of Capuchin friars adorn the walls of the crypt of Our Lady of the Conception Church in Rome. Among them, an inscription reads:

“What you are now, we once were; what we are now, you shall be.”

The Church constantly reminds us that death might come when we least expect it, so we must always be prepared for its arrival.

THE MYSTERY OF DEATH

Death is a reality that many of us dread and fear for our loved ones. Our Christian faith teaches us why: it’s because we were not made to die. We know this instinctively. Death feels strange; it is not the kind of thing that we get used to. It seems that we and our loved ones should be able to live forever. And our instinct is correct. Only the Church can explain this mystery to us:

Even though man’s nature is mortal, God had destined him not to die. Death was therefore contrary to the plans of God the Creator and entered the world as a consequence of sin. “Bodily death, from which man would have been immune had he not sinned” is this “last enemy” of man to be conquered (Catechism of the Catholic Church).

Although Christ has restored our spiritual life through the sacraments, He has not yet restored our physical life. “All men alike,” says St. Thomas Aquinas, “both guilty and innocent, die the death of nature.”

WHAT IS MEANS TO DIE

Death is the separation of the soul from the body. When our soul departs from it, our body will die. But our immortal soul will continue to exist and we will live apart from our bodies as “separated souls.” Even after death we will continue to have the full use of our intellect and will.

However, God will not allow us to remain in this bodiless state forever. Such a separation us unnatural for us because He created us as a unity of body and soul. He has promised us that one day, at the end of time, our souls and bodies will be reunited.

THE AGONY OF DEATH

Because the soul and body were not meant to be separated, the soul experiences extraordinary pain when it departs from the body. Scripture tells us that Jesus cried out with a loud voice at the moment He took His final breath (Matthew 27:50). In Catholic tradition, death has been called the “final agony.”

The saints tell us that it is God’s will for us to b experience agony at the moment of our death, so that we will understand the suffering Jesus endured for us on the Cross:

“Christ’s conflict with death represented our last conflict, teaching us that the agony of death is the keenest agony that man has ever felt or will ever feel.

It is the will of God that man should suffer so intensely at the close of his life, in order that we may recognize and appreciate the magnitude of Christ’s love for us, the inestimable benefit He has conferred on us by enduring death for our sakes.

For it would have been impossible for man fully to know the infinite love of God, unless he too had drunk to some extent of the bitter chalice which Christ drank.” – Pope St. Gregory the Great

THE CHRISTIAN MEANING OF DEATH

Death takes on a completely new meaning for those who have united themselves to Christ through the sacraments. A Christian’s death – although sorrowful, like Our Lord’s death – is ultimately a cause for joy. Death is the moment when we will meet our Savior face to face.

Because of Christ, Christian death has a positive meaning:

“For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21).

“The saying is sure: If we have died with him, we will also live with him” (2 Timothy 2:11).

…through Baptism, the Christian has already “died with Christ” sacramentally, in order to live a new life; and it we die in Christ’s grace, physical death completes this “dying with Christ” and so completes our incorporation into him in his redeeming act.

In death, God calls man to himself. Therefore, the Christian can experience a desire for death like St. Paul’s:

“My desire is to depart and be with Christ” (Philippians 1:23).