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What the Church Teaches about Heaven

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.

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