My Lord and my God,

When we cross the threshold of death we submit ourselves to Your divine mercy, Lord. We remember Your message to Sts. Peter and Paul that You are not willing that any should perish but that all should come to everlasting life [1 Timothy 2:3; 2 Peter 3:9].  In Your love for us, You have given us the gift of free will which allows us to hold our destiny in our own hands.  Give us the wisdom and the will to submit to Your holy law and to live lives of righteousness, justice, and love that we may face Your divine judgment unafraid.  We pray in the name of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.


As it is he has made his appearance once and for all, at the end of the last age, to do away with sin by sacrificing himself.   Since human beings die only once, after which comes judgment...Hebrews 9:26b-27


All of us will have to stand in front of the judgment seat of God: as Scripture says: "By my own life", says the Lord, "every knee shall bow before me, every tongue shall give glory to God." It is to God, then, that each of us will have to give an account of himself. Romans 14:10b-12


For at the judgment seat of Christ we are all to be seen for what we are, so that each of us may receive what he has deserved in the body, matched to whatever he has done, good or bad.  2 Corinthians 5:10


At the evening of life, we shall be judged on our love.  St. John of the Cross, Dichos 64


From the time of the fall of Adam mankind was under the dominion of death.  St. Paul wrote: Well then; it was through one man that sin came into the world, and through sin death, and thus death has spread through the whole human race because everyone has sinned.  [..].  Nonetheless death reigned over all from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sin was not the breaking of a commandment, as Adam's was. Romans 5:12, 14.

Question: In the Old Testament ages what was there for man to look forward to after death? 


Answer: Prior to the advent of Christ, at the end of one's life man's only option was the grave, which in Hebrew is Sheol and in Greek Hades.  From the time of the fall of our original parents the gates of heaven were closed to man.  They remained closed until God opened the gates of heaven for the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove, to descend above God the Son in His baptism by St. John the Baptist: At his baptism "the heavens were opened"'the heavens that Adam's sin had closed...[CCC# 633 quoting Matthew 3:16].  Heaven was fully opened to man upon the death and Resurrection of the Lord [see CCC# 1026].


The "prison" of the dead, known as Sheol in Hebrew was also called "Abraham's Bosom" in the first century AD.  Jesus used this designation when He told the story of Lazarus and the Rich man [see Luke 16:22-26].  All the dead, both righteous and unrighteous were consigned to Sheol/Hades prior to the saving work of Jesus Christ, although they did not share the same fate.  The unrighteous suffered punishment for their sins while the righteous were comforted; and yet because they had not been forgiven original sin, nor had they received complete cleansing of actual sins because of the imperfection of animal sacrifice, they were deprived of the vision of God [ Philippians 2:10; Acts 2:24; Revelation 1:18; Ephesians 4:9; Psalms 6:6; 88:11-13].  However, when Jesus was laid in the grave, He descended to Sheol to preach the Gospel of salvation to those who had awaited His promised salvation.  Jesus said in His last discourse during the Last Supper: In all truth I tell you, whoever listens to my words, and believes in the one who sent me, has eternal life; without being brought to judgment such a person has passed from death to life.  In all truth (amen, amen), I tell you; the hour is coming, indeed it is already here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and all who hear it will live.  John 5:24-25 [also see Matthew 12:40; Acts 2:24, 31; Romans 10:7; Ephesians 4:9; Hebrews 13:20]. 


This is the event St. Peter referred to when he taught that even those unrighteous who perished in the Great Flood had the opportunity to come to receive the gift of salvation:  Christ himself died once and for all for sins, the upright for the sake of the guilty, to lead us to God.  In the body he was put to death, in the spirit he was raised to life, and, in the spirit, he went to preach to the spirits in prison.  They refused to believe long ago, while God patiently waited to receive them, in Noah's time when the ark was being built... [..].  And this was why the Gospel was brought to the dead as well, so that, though in their bodies they had undergone the judgment that faces all humanity, in their spirit they might enjoy the life of God.1 Peter 3:18-20; 4:6


Also see John 5:25; Matthew 12:40; Romans 10:7; Ephesians 4:9; Hebrews 2:14-15; Acts 3:15 Revelation 1:18; Philippians 2:10.


 CCC #633 speaks of the condition of souls in Sheol before the death of Christ: Scripture calls the abode of the dead, to which the dead Christ went down, "hell"(Sheol in Hebrew or Hades in Greek) because those who are there are deprived of the vision of God.  Such is the case for all the dead, whether evil or righteous, while they await the redeemer: which does not mean that their lot is identical, as Jesus shows through the parable of the poor man Lazarus who was received into "Abraham's bosom": "It is precisely these holy souls, who awaited their Savior in Abraham's bosom, whom Christ the Lord delivered when he descended into hell (Hades)." Jesus did not descend into hell to deliver the damned, nor to destroy the hell of damnation, but to free the just who had gone before him.


CCC#634, quoting 1 Peter 4:6, affirms the creedal affirmation of the Apostle's Creed that "He descended into Hell (Hades): on the third day He rose again!": "The Gospel was preached even to the dead." The descent into hell (Hades/Sheol) brings the Gospel message of salvation to complete fulfillment.  This is the last phase of Jesus' messianic mission, a phase which is condensed in time but vast in its real significance: the spread of Christ's redemptive work to all men of all times and all places, for all who are saved have been made sharers in the redemption.


Quoting John 5:25; Acts 3:15; Hebrews 2:14-15; Revelation 1:18, and Philippians 2:10,  CCC#635 speaks of the keys of power over life and death which Jesus entrusted to Peter as Vicar of His Kingdom of heaven on earth: Christ went down into the depths of death so that "the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live."  Jesus, "the Author of life," by dying destroyed "him who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and [delivered] all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong bondage."  Henceforth the risen Christ holds "the keys of death and Hades," so that "at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth."


This is why the Church teaches on Holy Saturday: Today a great silence reigns on earth, a great silence and a great stillness.  A great silence because the King is asleep.  The earth trembled and is still because God has fallen asleep in the flesh and be has raised up all who have slept ever since the world began. He has gone to search for Adam, our first father, as for a lost sheep.  Greatly desiring to visit those who live in darkness and in the shadow of death, he has gone to free from sorrow Adam in his bonds and Eve, captive with him, He who is both their God and the son of Eve...  "I am your God, who for your sake have become your son...I order you, O sleeper to awake.  I did not create you to be a prisoner in hell (Hades).  Rise from the dead, for I am the life of the dead."  Ancient Homily for Holy Saturday, Catechism of the Catholic Church, page 165.  Also see CCC# 636-37


For humanity before the first Advent of Christ after death there was only judgment and the grave, it is for this reason that Old Testament Scripture references to death are so somber. 

Question: What does the inspired writer of Wisdom say was the foolish attitude toward death of the unrighteous?  See Wisdom 1:16-2:9

Answer: To enjoy the good things of life with no thought of tomorrow.


However, for humanity prior to the Advent of Christ there was a future hope, as David wrote:


Question: What judgment could the righteous expect prior to the Advent of Christ?   See Wisdom 3:1-9; 4:7-15; 5:15-16.

Answer: Some of the promises the godly can expect from Wisdom 3:1-9


Question: What judgment could the unrighteous expect?  See Wisdom 3:10-12; 4:16-5:14

Answer: Those abused by the unrighteous will judge their tormentors.  The godless will be punished for having neglected the upright which is equated with deserting the Lord. 


Read Jesus' description of the rich man who neglected the needs of the poor in Luke 16:19-31.  Both the rich man and Lazarus are consigned to the grave or Hades, which Jesus refers to as "Abraham's Bosom.  They are in the same place but the grave/Sheol/Hades is divided into two sections: a place of comfort and a place of punishment with Father Abraham guarding the border between the two sides.  The poor righteous man is comforted but the rich man is punished by purifying fire for his lack of love and concern for the condition and suffering of Lazarus.  The rich man is not in Hell/Gehenna because no soul was consigned to eternal separation from God before having the opportunity to hear the Gospel of salvation.  The rich man felt love for his own brothers and petitions Abraham to send Lazarus back to warn them not to follow in his path. See CCC#633


Please read Jesus' parable of the Ungrateful Servant in Matthew 18:23-35.  In this parable the Master is God.  He judges the ungrateful servant and sends him to prison, which is a metaphor for "the grave". 

Question: How do we know that the unrighteous servant has been judged and condemned to the purifying side of Sheol?  See verse 34.

Answer:  The wicked servant is to be punished "until his debt is paid."  When his debt is paid, the text implies that he will be "released" from "prison."  There is no release from hell/Gehenna, the place of the damned.  There was "hope" of a final release from the grave.


With the coming of the Messiah and His work of redemption by offering Himself as a perfect sacrifice on the altar of the Cross, death was transformed.  Human death now has meaning.  In Christian baptism, we die to sin and are raised to new life in Christ Jesus.  Our baptism prefigures our death at the end of our earthly journey and when we die physically, we complete our baptismal death by following Jesus to the grave.

Question: What did St. Paul express about his hope of dying in Christ?  See

2 Corinthians 5:2-9; Philippians 1:21-23 and 2 Timothy 2:11-13. What did Jesus express about His future as He drew His last breath on the cross in Luke 23:46?

Answer:   St. Paul sees death as a "positive gain" because he has the hope that death will unite him to Christ: "If we have died with him, then we shall live with him" [2 Timothy 2:11].  Jesus knew that His death began the last stage of His journey back to the presence of the Father.  In offering Himself as a willing sacrifice for the sins of mankind, Jesus knew that He would defeat sin and death in His resurrection from the dead [Matthew 16:21] and in His Ascension to the Father He would take His seat at the right hand of the Father, holding open the gates of heaven for all who follow Him in their journey to salvation [Luke 23:42-43].


This teaching is affirmed in the Catechism:



Before the coming of the Christ God's blessings to His covenant people were temporal-health, fertility, good crops and the absence of war.  But punishments were also temporal: famine, infertility, and war [see Leviticus chapter 26; Deuteronomy chapter 28].  The Book of Wisdom promised that there was hope that someday there would be life beyond the grave.  The inspired writer of Hebrews also spoke of Old Testament heroes and heroines hope of life beyond the grave: All these died in faith, before receiving any of the things that had been promised, but they saw them in the far distance and welcomed them...Hebrews 11:13]. That hope was born with the Advent of the Messiah and the new and eternal covenant which offered mankind promised blessings that are eternal—eternal blessings but also eternal punishments [Matthew 25:46].  In this last age of man when the soul departs the body, the human soul immediately enters the heavenly court and stands before the throne of God: after death judgment!


Question: Does Sacred Scripture give any indication what we will see when we stand before the throne of God in the heavenly Sanctuary? See Isaiah 6:1-5; Revelation 4:1-11.

Answer: In St. John's vision he saw: One who was sitting on the throne, and the One sitting there looked like a diamond and a ruby.  There was a rainbow encircling the throne, and this looked like an emerald.  Round the throne in a circle were 24 thrones, and on them 24 elders sitting, dressed in white robes with golden crowns on their heads. 


Question: Are there places appointed to receive souls after death?

Answer: According to Sts. Augustine and Aquinas the answer is "yes".  Aquinas writes: The empyrean heaven is a corporeal place, and yet as soon as it was made it was filled with the holy angels, as Bede says.  Since then angels even as separated souls are incorporeal, it would seem that some place should also be assigned to receive separated souls.  [..]. Hence it is that there is a certain fittingness by way of congruity of spiritual substances to corporeal substances, in that the more mobile bodies are adapted to the more noble substances....And though after death souls have no bodies assigned to them whereof they be the forms of determinate motors, nevertheless certain corporeal places are appointed to them by way of congruity in reference to their degree of nobility (wherein they are as though in a place, after the manner in which incorporeal things can be in a place), according as they more or less approach to the first substance (to which the highest place it fittingly assigned), namely God, whose throne the Scriptures proclaim heaven to be (Ps. 102:19, Isaiah 66:1).  Wherefore we hold that those souls that have a perfect share of the Godhead are in heaven, and that those souls that are deprived of that share are assigned to a contrary place. Aquinas, Q. 69 Art, 1


When we face our individual judgments we know that:

  1. There is no reincarnation: see CCC# 1013
  2. There is no repentance after death: see CCC# 393


Destiny of the soul: CCC# 366

Destiny of the just: CCC#s 989; 1027-29

Destiny of judgment: Matthew 5:21; Hebrews 6:2


Question: What does Scripture teach concerning Jesus as Judge, His role in the Particular or Individual Judgment, and General or Final Judgment?  See Matthew 25:31 [Final judgment]; Luke 23:43; John 3:17; 5:21-22, 26-27; Romans 8:33-39; 14:10b-12; Acts 10:42-43; 17:30-31; 1 Corinthians 4:4-5; 2 Corinthians 5:10; 2 Timothy 4:1; Hebrews 9:27; 12:23 2 John 2:1-2










Question: When we face judgment in the heavenly courtroom Christ will stand before us as our advocate; who is our accuser?  See Revelation 12:10-12.

Answer: Satan, his name means "adversary" in Hebrew.


Question: What does the universal Catechism teach concerning the Individual or Particular Judgment? See CCC# 393; 679; 1021-1022.






The Baltimore Catechism teaches:




Review of Scripture and Catechism teachings concerning Particular (Individual) Judgment:

  1. Our final destiny is in the hands of Christ.
  2. Only He is qualified to judge hearts and souls.
  3. Judgment will be individual for each soul.
  4. Individuals will receive judgment on faith and works.
  5. Satan will be our accuser and Christ our advocate.
  6. Believers' sins will be judged in the light of Christ who will make up what we lack, He has paid the price for forgiveness of our sins in full atonement.
  7. Individual judgment decides the final destiny of the soul.


Evidence from Sacred Scripture that Satan will be our accuser is found in the Book of Job where Satan enters the heavenly throne room to accuse Job in chapters 1-2, and in Zechariah 3:1-2 where Satan stands beside "the angel of Yahweh" to accuse the high priest Joshua.  Satan is also identified as man's accuser in Revelation 12:10...now that the accuser, who accused our brothers day and night before our God, has been brought down.


Question: What is the difference between the Particular or Individual Judgment and the Final or General Judgment?

Answer: The particular judgment concerns each human being individually immediately after death.  In this judgment each baptized believer who confesses Christ as Savior and Lord will be judged in the light of Christ as his or her Advocate.   In this judgment Christ will make up for the believer's deficiencies and God will irrevocably determine a person's disposition for eternity depending on his or her co-operation living the law of love with the human family while on earth.  In the Final or General Judgment, which occurs after the Second Advent of Christ and the Resurrection of the dead, both righteous and unrighteous [as affirmed in all the Creeds], God will judge all of mankind, unified as body and soul, revealing to the world God's justice in condemning sinners and his mercy to those who are saved.  It is a judgment which will reveal moral conduct in the form of all the accumulated blessings or injuries which were the result of each person's good or evil deeds.  The Books of Works will be opened and revealed for all to see [Revelation 20:11-12].


Question: What will be the soul's 3 possible destinations at judgment?


1. to go to heaven immediately

2. to go to heaven after period of purification

3. to be separated from God for all eternity


In the end, it is the sinner who condemns himself, unable to bear the presence of a holy and righteous God.  But the righteous soul soars with joy in the presence of the Savior and rushes into the embrace of the Most Holy Trinity.


Go forth, Christian soul, from this world in the name of God the almighty Father, who created you, in the name of Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God, who suffered for you, in the name of the Holy Spirit, who was poured out upon you. Go forth, faithful Christians!  May you live in peace this day, may your home be with God in Zion, with Mary, the virgin Mother of God, and with Joseph, and all the angels and saints....  May you return to [your Creator] who formed you from the dust of the earth.  May holy Mary, the angels, and all the saints come to meet you as you go forth from this life...  May you see your Redeemer face to face....  Prayer of Commendation


Catechism References:

Particular Judgment

393: no opportunity for repentance after death

679: judgment belong to God the Son

1021: a different destiny for the righteous as opposed to the unrighteous

1022: judgment immediately after death

1470: Sacrament of Reconciliation anticipates in a way the judgment to which we all will be subject.

The destiny of the just after death: 265; 366; 989; 1027-29


Resources used in this lesson:

  1. Catechism of the Catholic Church
  2. New Jerusalem Bible
  3. The Sixteen Documents of Vatican II, Pauline Books and Media, Boston, 1999.
  4. Dogmatic Theology: Eschatology: Death and Eternal Life, Johann Auer, Joseph Ratzinger, Catholic University of America Press, 1988.
  5. Our Sunday Visitor's Encyclopedia of Catholic Doctrine, edited by Russell Shaw, Our Sunday Visitor Publishing Division, Huntington, Indiana, 1997.
  6. The Summa Theologica of St. Thomas Aquinas, volume 5, Christian Classics, Benziger Bros., New York, 1948
  7. Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series, volume 2:  Augustine:  City of God, Hendrickson Publishers, 1995.
  8. Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series, volume 3: Augustine: On the Trinity, Hendrickson Publishers, 1995.
  9. The Baltimore Catechism volume 4, Rev. Thomas Kinkeade, Tan Books Publishers, 1978.
  10. The Roman Missal

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