Every soul who has died in the love of God will enter heaven, either immediately after death or following a purification in purgatory. All souls will be perfectly happy in heaven, but some souls will enjoy a higher degree of happiness than others.
We were made for happiness. God formed our being to naturally pursue His truth and goodness in this life until He brings it to perfect fulfillment in the next. He made us for Himself, and in heaven He will give Himself to us completely.
“God in His infinite goodness has ordained man for a supernatural end, to participation, namely, in the divine goods which altogether surpass the understanding of the human mind, since ‘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’ (1 Corinthians 2:9).” - Die Filius, Dogmatic Constitution on the Catholic Church.
In heaven we, as supernatural creatures, will finally be home. Our souls will enjoy peace, rest, and the satisfaction of every good desire.
HEAVEN IS AN ETERNAL COMMUNION OF SOULS
What is heaven? The Church teaches us that heaven is the perfect union of each individual soul with its Creator, the Holy Trinity, in communion with all the other souls who have been redeemed by Jesus Christ.
This perfect life with the Most Holy Trinity – this communion of life and love with the Trinity, with the Virgin Mary, the angels and all the blessed – is called “heaven.” Heaven is the ultimate end and fulfillment of the deepest human longings, the state of supreme, definitive happiness…
By his death and Resurrection, Jesus Christ has “opened” heaven to us. The life of the blessed consists, in the full and perfect possession of the fruits of the redemption accomplished by Christ.
He makes us partners in his heavenly glorification those who have believed in him and remained faithful to his will. Heaven is the blessed community of all who are perfectly incorporated into Christ.
This mystery of blessed communion with God and all who are in Christ is beyond all understanding and description. Scripture speaks of it in images: life, light, peace, wedding feast, wine of the kingdom, the Father’s house, the heavenly Jerusalem, paradise…” (Catechism of the Catholic Church).
IN HEAVEN WE WILL SEE GOD
The supreme joy of heaven will be to “see” God, “face to face,” without any impediment. God the Father and the God the Holy Spirit do not have bodies (only the Son does), and we will not have our bodies in heaven until the final resurrection. But we won’t need a body to know and see the Blessed Trinity. God will make us capable of beholding Him and contemplating His essence with a pure intellectual vision, the highest faculty of our soul, through which we bear His image.
This perfect contemplation of God by the souls in heaven is called the “beatific vision.”
How great will your glory and happiness be, to be allowed to see God, to be honored with sharing the joy of salvation and eternal light with Christ your Lord and God, … to delight in the joy of immorality in the Kingdom of heaven with the righteous and God’s friends. (Catechism of the Catholic Church).
The Church has declared with certainty that the souls in heaven are presently enjoying the beatific vision as their heavenly reward, which will continue unabated forever.
Since the passion and death of the Lord Jesus Christ, these souls have seen and see the divine essence with an intuitive vision and even face to face, without the mediation of any creature … the divine essence immediately manifests itself to them, plainly, clearly and openly, and in this vision they enjoy the divine essence.
Moreover, by this vision and enjoyment the souls of those who have already died are truly blessed and have eternal life and rest. Also the souls of those who will die in the future will see the same divine essence and will enjoy it before the general judgment. … the same vision and enjoyment has continued and will continue without any interruption and without end until the last Judgment and from then on forever. (Pope Benedict XII, Benedictus Deus)
HAPPINESS IN HEAVEN COMES IN DEGREES
All souls in heaven will receive the beatific vision, yet not all will receive it in the same degree. The souls in heaven “clearly behold the triune God as he is, yet one person more perfectly than another according to the difference of their merits” (Council of Florence). There are different degrees of excellence of perfection among the saints in heaven that correspond to how perfectly they cooperated with God’s grace during their earthly life. This means that some souls in heaven will be happier than others.
Let’s use an analogy about cups (or vessels) to explain this. Imagine each soul in heaven holding a vessel that will be filled by God. Everyone’s vessel will be filled to overflowing, but not everyone’s vessel will be the same size. In this life we determine whether our vessels in heaven will be large or small. Those who are more generous with God will make their vessels larger. The larger the vessel, the greater the capacity for happiness in heaven. The “vessels” that we will have in heaven are our souls.
All the souls in heaven are saints, and all are perfectly happy. Yet some saints, because they loved God more during their earthly life, will have a greater capacity to receive His love into their souls through the beatific vision; thus they will enjoy a higher degree of happiness that others.
THE SPECIAL GLORY OF SOME SAINTS
In addition to the beatific vision, there will also be particular rewards given to each soul for their acts of charity for God and neighbor while they lived in the world.
Christ taught us to “store up for yourselves treasures in heaven” (Matthew 6:20), and St. Paul taught us that these treasures will be given to us as a “crown of glory that never fades away” (1 Peter 5:4).
We will receive our reward for all the trials that we endured, the good that we did for others, and the various virtues that we exemplified, in the form of heavenly crowns. These crowns will be unique to each soul, and will be the cause of it particular heavenly glory.
… a crown is due to the fight which is followed by victory: “He … is not crowned except he strive lawfully’ (2 Timothy 2:5). Hence where there is a special kind of conflict, there should be a special crown. (St. Thomas Aquinas)
These crowns will cause souls to radiate with different kinds and degrees of brightness. The souls who are happiest will also be the most radiant.
In addition, certain saints will receive an “exceptional reward corresponding to an exceptional victory,” according to Aquinas. He says that they will possess a spectacular brightness. These are the martyrs, the virgins, and the teachers and preachers of the faith.
In this way, the saints have different ranks in heaven depending on their reward, that is their degree of happiness. This rank will be visible to all other souls. However, the fact that some saints will shine with a greater glory than others will not be a source of envy or rivalry; rather, the souls in heaven will rejoice in one another’s glory.
In fact, part of the enjoyment of heaven will be to behold the particular glory of those whom we knew in this life, as well as those whom we never knew.
“ … a more wonderful grace is bestowed upon the Saints in heaven: for they know not only them with whom they were acquainted in this world, but also those whom before they never saw, and converse with them in such familiar sort as though in times past they had seen and known one another …” Pope St. Gregory the Great
All souls redeemed by Christ will, after death, join the heavenly hierarchy according to the merits they gained while they lived on earth. In heaven we will see clearly that every suffering, sacrifice, and trial endured by every soul was used by God not only to save them from hell, but to also give them a specific place in the choirs of heaven.
“In the case of some, the Lord was pleased that I behold the degrees of glory they possess, and he showed me the places assigned to them. Great is the difference that lies between the glory of some and that of others” (St. Teresa of Avila).
The saints have taught us that humans will receive the positions in heaven that were forfeited by the fallen angels – which means that some souls in heaven will possess an even higher glory than some of the angels.
Furthermore, we will not be alone in the possession of our own heavenly glory. Our Guardian Angels, who helped us to get to heaven, will have a share in our glory.
“… an angel guardian is assigned to each man as long as he is a wayfarer. When, however, he arrives … in the kingdom he will have an angel to reign with him …” (St. Thomas Aquinas).
THE SAINTS IN HEAVEN REIGN IN CHRIST’S KINGDOM
Heaven is not only a spiritual communion of souls; it is also a real place. Heaven is a kingdom where Christ reigns – at this very moment – in His resurrected body. The souls in heaven, as spiritual members of the Body of Christ, reign with Jesus in the Kingdom of Heaven according to their rank.
In the glory of heaven the blessed continue joyfully to fulfill God’s will in relation to other men and to all creation. Already they reign with Christ; with him “they shall reign forever and ever” (Catechism of the Catholic Church).
St. John the Evangelist beheld a vision of heaven in which he saw “Christ seated on His throne.” He saw all the angels and saints joining together to praise Jesus for saving fallen man and filling heaven with redeemed souls.
They sang a new song: You are worthy … by your blood you ransomed for God saints from every tribe and language and people and nation; you have made them to be a kingdom and priests serving our God, and they will reign on earth.
Then I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels surrounding the throne and the living creatures and the elders; they numbered myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, singing with full voice.
“Worthy is the Lamb that was slaughtered to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing! (Revelation 5:9-13).
What the Church Teaches about Heaven: The Necessity of Heaven (by Fr. Reid)
Although I’ve been speaking about the reality of hell for the past few days, as Christians we are called to live not in fear of hell, but in a state of undying and unwavering hope in God’s mercy. We are called to look forward to heaven, and to desire heaven for ourselves and our loved ones, with confidence and hope in His mercy. While some presume their loved ones who died went straight to heaven, which is something we should never do, we should nonetheless have hope for their eternal rest.
Even if our loved ones haven’t lived the most virtuous of lives, and died without receiving the sacraments, we mustn’t fret that they are now in hell. On the contrary, we should pray earnestly for their salvation by offering prayers, Masses, and penances on their behalf, so that if by God’s grace they are in purgatory, we might help make satisfaction for their sins.
Please remember this. God’s mercy is so great and so powerful that it can pierce even the hardest and most deadened of hearts. Most especially at the last moment of life. What’s more, the second epistle of St. Peter reminds us of God’s patience towards us, of how He does not wish any of us to perish, but that we might come to repentance. God wants to give us His mercy! He is the Good Shepherd who goes after His lost sheep. He wants us all to be in heaven with Him. And even if we have committed many grievous sins throughout the course of our lives, if we earnestly repent of them, then we have every right to trust in God’s mercy on the day of our judgment.
Original Source: Good Catholic - The Four Last Things: Journey of a Soul