Fish Eaters: The Whys and Hows of Traditional Catholicism

``Where the Bishop is, there let the multitude of believers be;
even as where Jesus is, there is the Catholic Church'' Ignatius of Antioch, 1st c. A.D

Last Things:
Death, Judgment, Heaven, and Hell


Each of us is born only to one day die. And when we die, we will face judgment and then either Hell or Heaven, perhaps with a stop in Purgatory en route to the latter.

Death, Judgment, Heaven, and Hell: these are "The Four Last Things" -- the Novissima in Latin -- and the study of them is called "eschatology."

Traditional Christian eschatology is divided into two parts: the individual, which focuses on what we, as individual persons, will experience at the end of our own individual lives, and the universal, which pertains to what the world as a whole will experience at the end of time. The schema of each:

Individual Universal
Death The end times (the "Eschaton")
Particular judgment The resurrection of the body
The general judgment
The final consummation of all things

Let's look at them one at a time.

Individual Eschatology


"No one here gets out alive," as The Doors's Jim Morrison sang in "Five to One." But that each of us will die -- that our souls will separate from our bodies, and our bodies will decay into dust -- is something most in the modern world do their best to ignore. They focus on surface matters -- looking good, especially on social media, with Photoshopping and filters in place. They diet, not for health reasons, but to look "hot." They mentally compartmentalize, and use euphemisms to not think about things like death. With religious fervor, they fight against aging. They hide away their old people, and pay others to deal with the pus, vomit, blood, and decay of sickness, senescence, and death. They have very sterile funerals in places separate from where they live, with the corpses embalmed, made-up, and perfumed. They speak of their dead as "angels" or as -- without a doubt, don't give it a second thought, don't bother to pray for them -- in Heaven.

This is not the Catholic way. Catholics are not only matter-of-fact about death, we focus on it. We meditate on it. A snapshot: On the island of Ischia, Italy, in the Tyrrhenian Sea, across from Naples, there's a castle -- the Aragonese Castle -- which came to be populated by a group of Poor Clare nuns in the 17th century. When one of their sisters would die, the nuns, it is said, would place her body on a stone chair in the castle graveyard. The stone chairs each had a hole in the middle of their seats, and as the body would mummify, the liquids from the corpse would drip down into the hole. The nuns would visit the bodies daily, observing the postmortem bodily changes, and spend time meditating on the fact that, as these decaying bodies were, theirs would soon enough be.

It sounds gruesome, and it is. But so is death, and such a practice is one of the many ways to be radically honest about the fact of it, something moderns very much need to do.

Some might be blithe about it all and convince themselves that they have considered their deaths and can face their earthly end with equanimity, but a much more difficult thing to do is to face squarely the fact of the impending deaths of all those you love. The little boy whose grin makes you happer than you could ever have imagined will one day become dust bodily. The little girl who can't pronounce "spaghetti" and whose tiny star-shaped hands are too beautiful for words -- she, too, will become dust. So will your mother and father, your sisters and brothers, your husband or wife, your best friends. Your children. St. Alphonus de Liguori puts it like this in his "Preparation for Death," available in this site's Catholic Library:

Imagine to yourself a person, whose soul has just departed. Behold that pale corpse, which is still upon the bed, the head fallen upon the breast; the hair dishevelled and bathed in the sweat of death; the eyes sunken; the cheeks hollow; the face of ashy palenes ; the tongue and the lips of a leaden hue; the body cold and heavy. Those who see it grow pale and tremble. How many there are who, upon seeing a relation or friend in this condition, have changed their life, and have left the world!

But still more dreadful is it when the body begins to decay. A few hours or days will hardly have passed ere it will become offensive. The windows will have to be opened; incense wifl. have to be burned nay, it must be sent in haste to the church to be buried, that the whole house be not infected. Behold to what that proud, that voluptuous man is reduced? In life he was the favourite, the one who was sought after in society; now he makes all those who look upon him shudder. His relations hasten to have him removed from the house, and men are hired to bear him, shut up in a coffin, to his grave. He was once famous for his great talent for his great politeness for his courteous behaviour, and for his facetiousness; but now that he is dead, his memory will soon pass away," their memorial is perished with them." (Ps. ix. 6.)...

...In order more clearly to see what indeed thou art, my Christian soul, S. John Chrysostom observes, "Go to a sepulchre, contemplate dust, ashes, worms, and sigh." See how that corpse becomes at first yellow, and then black. Afterwards there is seen upon the body a white and unpleasant mould. Then there issues forth a foul and corrupt matter, which sinks into the ground. In that corruption many worms are generated, which feed upon the flesh. The rats then come to feast upon the body, some on the outside, others entering into the mouth and bowels. The cheeks, the lips, and the hair fall in pieces; the ribs are the first to become bare of flesh, then the arms and the legs. The worms after having consumed the flesh eat each other, and, in the end, nothing remains of that body but a fetid skeleton, which, in course of time, is divided, the bones being separated, and the head falling from the body: they "become like the chaff of the summer threshing-floors, and the wind carried them away" (Dan. ii. 35.) Behold, then, what man is a little dust upon a threshing-floor, which is carried away by the wind.

The body of your most beautiful beloved will first become an object of repugnance, and then dust. Ponder this. Meditate on it until you not just know it intellectually, but feel it in the depths of your being.

Truly consider the lyrics to a song the soldiers used to sing during World War I: The Hearse Song:

The Hearse Song
Sung by Harley Poe

Don't ever laugh as a Hearse goes by
For you may be the next to die
They wrap you up in a big white sheet
From your head down to your feet

They put you in a big black box
And cover you up with dirt and rocks
And all goes well for about a week
And then your coffin begins to leak

And the worms crawl in, the worms crawl out
The worms play pinochle on your snout
They eat your eyes, they eat your nose
They eat jelly between your toes

A big green worm with rolling eyes
Crawls in your stomach and out your eyes
Your stomach turns a slimy green
And pus comes out like whipping cream

You spread it on a slice of bread
And that's what you eat when your dead
And the worms crawl out and the worms crawl in
The worms that crawl in are lean and thin

The ones that crawl out
Are fat and stout
Your eyes fall in and your hair falls out
Your brain comes tumbling down your snout

And the worms crawl in, the worms crawl out
They crawl all over your dirty snout
Your chest caves in and your eyes pop out
And your brain turns to sauerkraut

They invite their friends, and their friends too
They all come down to chew on you
And this is what it is to die
I hope you had a nice goodbye

Did you ever think as a Hearse goes by
That you may be the next to die
And your eyes fall out and your teeth decay
And that is the end of a perfect... day

You don't know when death will come. You don't know how it will come. You can fear it and try to ignore it, or you can do all you can to try to escape it. But either way, you will eventually fail.1 It could come years from now, when you are old and lie sleeping, or it could come a moment from now and bring anguish with it. You might die a martyr for Christ, or you could die a "senseless" death, seemingly "randomly" -- by a falling tree, an icicle unanchored from the eaves, or a car driven by someone bothered by a bee or distracted while texting on his phone. Perhaps you and those you love will die in a natural cataclysm, or at the hands of a murderer. Maybe there will be political upheaval, and you and your beloved will all die in death camps.

However and whenever it comes, come it will, so a Catholic tries
to live his life so he can be ready to die at any moment, able to face judgment without undue fear. Sincere Catholics try to always live in a state of grace, receiving the Sacraments of Confession and the Eucharist regularly. And on our deathbeds -- if we're blessed to have time on a deathbed instead of being taken suddenly, without preparation --  we make ourselves ready for our particular judgment by receiving the Sacrament of Unction if we're able (if we're sick for a long while before we die but aren't in imminent danger of death, we ask our priests to make sick calls so we can receive the Eucharist and make confessions as needed). We pray, especially to St. Joseph, to have a happy death when our time comes.2 (On another level, it is wise, too, to make temporal preparations for death so that your loved ones will be better able to get on after you die. Do this even if you are young.)

We keep death in mind throughout the year by making use of various memento mori (reminders of our death), like vanitas paintings and skull bead rosaries. We take heed of those things the Brothers Grimm called "Death's Messengers." We also carve out chunks of liturgical time to center our attention on death: Lent begins with the ashes of Ash Wednesday to remind us of our earthly fate, and the month of November is dedicated to the souls of the departed, with All Souls celebrated on November 2. Throughout the year, we pray for our dead, both privately, including by seeking indulgences for them, and liturgically, by having Masses said for them. We live knowing that, "soon enough," we'll have to walk through those "darksome doors." 3

The traditional Bona Mors litany for a happy death (download it in pdf format here) is one that, if prayed properly, forces one to confront the realities of death and judgment:

O Lord Jesus, God of goodness, and Father of mercies, I draw nigh to Thee with a contrite and humble heart; to Thee I recommend the last hour of my life, and that judgment which awaits me thereafter.

When my feet, benumbed with death, shall admonish me, that my course in this life is drawing to an end, merciful Jesus, have mercy on me.

When my hands, cold and trembling, shall no longer be able to clasp the crucifix, and shall let it fall against my will on my bed of suffering, merciful Jesus, have mercy on me.

When my eyes, dim with trouble at the approach of death, shall fix themselves on Thee, my last and only support, merciful Jesus, have mercy on me.

When my lips, cold and trembling, pronounce for the last time Thy adorable Name, merciful Jesus, have mercy on me.

When my face, pale and livid, shall inspire the beholders with pity and dismay; when my hair, bathed in the sweat of death, and stiffening on my head, shall forebode my approaching end, merciful Jesus, have mercy on me.

When my ears, soon to be for ever shut to the discourse of men, shall be opened to hear that irrevocable decree which is to fix my sentence for all eternity, merciful Jesus, have mercy on me.

When my imagination, agitated by dreadful spectres, shall be steeped in the abyss of angins
uish; when my soul, affrighted with the sight of my iniquities and the terrors of Thy judgments, shall wrestle with the angel of darkness, who will endeavour to conceal Thy mercies from my eyes, and plunge me into despair, merciful Jesus, have mercy on me.

When my poor heart, oppressed with suffering and exhausted by its continual struggles with the enemies of its salvation, shall feel the pangs of death, merciful Jesus, have mercy on me.

When the last tear, the forerunner of my dissolution, shall drop from my eyes, receive it as a sacrifice of expiation for my sins; grant that I may expire the victim of penance; and then, in that dreadful moment, merciful Jesus, have mercy on me.

When those present, encircling my bed, shall be moved with compassion for me, and invoke Thy clemency in my behalf, merciful Jesus, have mercy on me.

When I shall have lost the use of my senses, when the world shall have vanished from my sight, when I shall groan with anguish in my last agony and the pangs of death, merciful Jesus, have mercy on me.

When my last sighs shall force my soul to issue from my body, accept them as born of a loving impatience to come to Thee; merciful Jesus, have mercy on me.

When my soul, trembling on my lips, shall bid adieu to the world, and leave my body lifeless, pale and cold, receive this separation as a homage which I willingly pay to Thy Divine Majesty, and in that last moment of my mortal life, merciful Jesus, have mercy on me.

When at length my soul, admitted to Thy presence, shall first behold the immortal splendour of Thy Majesty, reject it not, but receive me into the loving embrace of Thy mercy, where I may for ever sing Thy praises; merciful Jesus, have mercy on me.

Let us pray. O God, who hast doomed all men to die, but hast concealed from all the hour of their death, grant that I may pass my days in the practice of holiness and justice, and that I may be made worthy to quit this world in the embrace of Thy love, through the merits of our Lord Jesus Christ, Who liveth and reigneth with Thee in the unity of the Holy Ghost, God, for ever and ever. Amen.

[See this section of this site's page "Becoming Virtuous: How to Acquire the Virtue of Fortitude" for a method of overcoming inordinate fear of death] 4

Particular Judgment

The purpose of this focus on death is to keep wordly things in proper perspective and to strive to be in a state of grace always because death comes when it comes. But death isn't the end; it's one step of a journey that leads either to Heaven or to Hell. When we die, we will be immediately judged by Christ, Who will judge us as to whether or not we died a state of grace.
We will know full well why we've been judged as we've been judged; our intellects will be illumined such that we see God's wisdom, justice, and mercy perfectly as they relate to us.

If we haven't died in a state of grace --  if we die with the stain of mortal sins on our souls -- we will be sent to Hell; if we have, we will be sent to Heaven, often -- likely usually -- with a stop in Purgatory beforehand, where we will be purified of the temporal effects of our sins so that we can go on and enter into the purity of Heaven.

So how do we die in a state of grace? We emulate Christ as best as we can by acquiring the cardinal virtues, we obey God's commandments and the six precepts of the Church, we confess our sins as we go along, and we try to receive the sacrament of Unction before death.

No one knows how long time in Purgatory lasts. No one knows for sure the nature of the punishments endured there either, but purification "by fire" is a common belief, one held by many of our great Saints, from St. Gregory the Great to SS. Bonaventure and Thomas Aquinas. The nature of this "fire," whether it's metaphorical or more literal, no one knows. But if we are blessed enough to make it to Purgatory, we will be cleansed, and then, at some time known only to God, will be let into Heaven.

Those in Purgatory are saved and remain part of the Communion of Saints. We on earth pray for their souls, especially on All Souls Day (November 2), and it's piously believed that they pray for ours.


Some of the saved will go directly to Heaven when they die. Others of the saved will end up there after some time spent in Purgatory. But Heaven -- the holy place, the house of the Father, the Kingdom of Christ -- is the destination -- a real, finite place -- of all those who die in a state of grace. There, the purpose for which we were made -- to be happy with God -- will be utterly fulfilled. Here, in this vale of tears, we clamor to know Our Creator, and we long for Him. We feel an existential emptiness that so many futiley try to fill up with worldly things -- sex, drugs, human respect, "success," distractions. We get glimpses of Him, such as what we see when we open the Book of Nature, or when otherwise moved by the True, Good, and Beautiful. But our glimpses are fleeting and murky, like things seen under the waters of a dirty lake. In Heaven, though, we will see Him with crystal clarity, with nothing between us. I Corinthians 13:12 tells us, "We see now through a glass in a dark manner; but then face to face. Now I know in part; but then I shall know even as I am known." Our intellects will be supernaturally illumined by the light of His glory, and, so, we will be able to share in His Divine Nature, as I John 3:2 reveals: "we shall be like to Him: because we shall see Him as He is."

We will have this vision of Him -- "the Beatific vision" -- as human beings, though. Our natures will be perfected, but they will remain human; our vision of Him will be clear, but limited; we will know what He wills us to know. We will also know and recognize each other -- our loved ones who've died in a state of grace, our ancestors, the Saints, the angels. There will be no pain or sadness, and our happiness will be eternal. After the Last Judgment (see below), our bodies will be resurrected and glorified, and we will enjoy the renewed Heaven and earth. I Corinthians 2:9 tells us that "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."

Some in Heaven will receive a greater reward than others. Those who die with a high degree of sanctity will receive more than those who die with less: see The Parable of the Sower and consider I Corinthians 15:41-42:

One is the glory of the sun, another the glory of the moon, and another the glory of the stars. For star differeth from star in glory. So also is the resurrection of the dead.

But consider how a small vial may only be able to hold a few teaspoonsful of water while a large pitcher might be able to hold many cups' worth: though one is greater than the other in terms of capacity, each can only be so full. So it is with souls: each soul in Heaven will be filled and want for nothing though one soul might receive more than the next.


Hell is the place of punishment after death. Theologically, it has four different meanings:

Hell in the strict sense The abode of those who are damned forever, and of Satan and the other bad angels (demons). It is known as "Infernus" in Latin, as "Hades" in Greek, and as "Gehenna" in Hebrew. When the word "Hell" is used without qualification, it's almost always the place of the damned that is being referred to.
The Limbo of the Fathers the place where the just were sent who died before the time of Christ. The Limbo of the Fathers was emptied by Christ during the "Harrowing of Hell" after His Crucifixion, an event we remember on Holy Saturday, the day before Easter.
The Limbo of the Infants a place of natural happiness, but without the beatific vision (i.e., without seeing the Face of God). Limbo is the destination of those who die with the stain of original sin, but with no grievous personal sins, whether they're infants or adults. The Limbo of the Infants isn't theologically certain and not a matter of Catholic dogma, but it is piously believed by many, including by some of our greatest Saints, and logically follows from Catholic dogma. Those who die without receiving the Sacrament of Baptism are left to the mercy and justice of God, Who is All Good, and Who is not limited by His own Sacraments. Note that when the word "Limbo" is used without qualification, it's almost always the Limbo of the Infants that's being referred to.
Purgatory theologically, Purgatory is an aspect of "Hell" in that it is a place of punishment. But Purgatory is temporary, and all who go there to be cleansed before entering Heaven are saved.

It's Hell in the first sense that is the focus here.

No one knows the location of Hell, or the precise nature of its punishments. But that it is a definite place, and that it is, well, hellish -- and for ever -- is without doubt. Some words used by Sacred Scripture to describe Hell and the state of those who are sent to it:

"abyss" (Luke 8:31)
"place of torments" (Luke 16:28)
"pool of fire" (Apocalypse 19:20)
"furnace of fire" (Matthew 13:42, 50)
"unquenchable fire" (Matthew 3:12)
"everlasting fire" (Matthew 18:8)
"mist of darkness" (2 Peter 2:17)
"destruction" (Philippians 3:19)
"perdition" (1 Timothy 6:9)
"eternal destruction" (2 Thessalonians 1:9)
"corruption" (Galatians 6:8)
"second death" (Apocalypse 2:11)

Those who choose Hell -- and any soul that is sent there does choose it and is fully deserving of it -- are damned. They are cut off, cut out, for ever.
We don't pray for them, and they have no power or desire to pray for us. They are confirmed in their evil, incapable of repenting. And they suffer the "pain of loss" (poena damni) -- that is, they will never receive the Beatific Vision. They will never have that immediate knowledge of God that comes from seeing Him face to Face -- and they will always know what they've lost. They will also suffer pain in their senses (poena sensus), such as from fire, which is spoken of repeatedly in Sacred Scripture as being a hallmark of Satan's abode.

Just as in Heaven different souls are rewarded differently, so it is in Hell. Though obviously not a matter of dogma, Dante, in the first part of his "Divine Comedy," describes nine "circles of Hell," with the circles sitting on top of each other, getting smaller, and marking greater and greater punishments as they go down. The top, first circle is that of Limbo, a place of natural happiness for those who die with no great personal sins, but without having removed the stain of original sin from their souls.

The second circle is for those given to lust, who are buffeted by howling winds and storm.

The third is for gluttons, who are forced to endure a a great storm of putrefaction.

The fourth is for those possessed by greed, who fight each other while weighed down by great weights.

The fifth is filled by the wrathful, where those actively given to ire fight each other on the slimy surface of the River Styx, while those who are passively wrathful -- who are sullen -- lie beneath the surface.

The sixth is for heretics, who are punished by being held in flaming tombs.

The seventh consists of three rings of its own: one for those who are violent against their neighbors, who are punished by swimming in a hot river of blood and fire; the next for those who are violent against themselves, and have been turned into gnarly trees that get pecked at by Harpies -- woman-faced birds; and the last for those who are violent against God (blasphemers), Art (userers) or Nature (sodomites), who are punished by lying face up on a plain of burning sand while flames fall from the sky.

The eighth circle consists of ten trenches, one each for various types of fraudsters: panderers and seducers, who are whipped by horned demons; flatterers, who fight each other while soaking in excrement; those who engage in simony (the selling of spiritual goods), who are placed head-down in holes while flames burn their feet; sorcerers, whose heads are twisted around and who are forced to walk backwards forever; corrupt politicians, who are immersed in a lake of boiling tar; hypocrites, who are condmened to wear heavy, leaden robes and walk endlessly on a narrow track; thieves, who are bitten and tortured by nasty reptiles; those who encourage fraud, who are each wrapped up in an individual flame; sowers of discord, who are hacked up by a sword-carrying demon, and then drag their healing bodies around a ditch only to be hacked up again as they complete their route; and falsifiers, who are cursed with disease, endless screaming, stench, and other afflictions.

The ninth, last, and lowest circle of Hell is for traitors, and consists of a frozen lake divided into four circles, with one circle each for those who are traitors to their families; those who are traitors to their country; those who are traitors to their guests; and those who are traitors to their benefactors and lords (it is here where Dante puts Judas. See the page on Spy Wednesday for more information). As the four concentric circles of the frozen lake are crossed, the punishments of the damned are their being more frozen and more immobilized in the lake's ice.

However accurate Dante's description of Hell, and however you envision it, know that it is real, and it is torment. To those who think the existence of Hell is unjust or somehow not consistent with the idea of God as Good, please read the section on Possession on the "Oppression, Obsession, and Possession" page of the "Spiritual Warfare: The Preternatural World" part of this site.

The fact of eternal damnation is recalled throughout the year in the traditional liturgy, but folk customs on the Eve of All Saints (All Hallows Eve, or "Hallowe'en") are particularly focused on Hell.

Universal Eschatology

End Times (the Eschaton)

With each utterance of one of the Church's four creeds, we affirm that Christ will come again to judge the living and the dead. We celebrate this event -- the "Parousia" or "Second Coming" --  liturgically on the Last Sunday of Pentecost and also during Advent, as we simultaneously anticipate reliving His first coming as a Baby born in Bethlehem at Christmas.

Imagine it! Matthew 24:27-30:

For as lightning cometh out of the east, and appeareth even into the west: so shall the coming of the Son of man be. Wheresoever the body shall be, there shall the eagles also be gathered together. And immediately after the tribulation of those days, the sun shall be darkened and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of heaven shall be moved: And then shall appear the sign [Cross] of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all tribes of the earth mourn: and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with much power and majesty.

When this will occur, no one knows for certain. The Parable of the Ten Virgins teaches us that we won't know the hour of His return, but are to always be ready for it. There will be signs, though, and the Catholic Encyclopedia lists nine that theologians usually enumerate. They are:
  • A general preaching of the Gospel: Matthew 24:14 "And this gospel of the kingdom, shall be preached in the whole world, for a testimony to all nations, and then shall the consummation come."

  • Conversion of the Jews: Romans 11:25-26 "For I would not have you ignorant, brethren, of this mystery, (lest you should be wise in your own conceits), that blindness in part has happened in Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles should come in.  And so all Israel should be saved, as it is written: There shall come out of Sion, he that shall deliver, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob."

  • The return of Henoch (Ecclesiasticus 44:16 "Henoch pleased God, and was translated into paradise, that he may give repentance to the nations") and Elias (Malachias 4:5 "Behold I will send you Elias the prophet, before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord"). These two men, the "Two Witnesses," were taken up into Heaven without enduring bodily death, and in the "end times," they will return to earth. The Apocalypse of St. John 11:4-7 reads:

    I will give unto my two witnesses, and they shall prophesy a thousand two hundred sixty days, clothed in sackcloth. These are the two olive trees, and the two candlesticks, that stand before the Lord of the earth. And if any man will hurt them, fire shall come out of their mouths, and shall devour their enemies. And if any man will hurt them, in this manner must he be slain. These have power to shut heaven, that it rain not in the days of their prophecy: and they have power over waters to turn them into blood, and to strike the earth with all plagues as often as they will. And when they shall have finished their testimony, the beast, that ascendeth out of the abyss, shall make war against them, and shall overcome them, and kill them.

    Note that Henoch and Elias are also known as Enoch and Elijah.

  • A great apostasy: There will be a great falling away from the Faith, and a great reduction in the number of the faithful. Luke 18:8 "[T]he Son of man, when He cometh, shall He find, think you, faith on earth?"

  • The reign of Antichrist: There have been and are many Antichrists (I John 2:22 "Who is a liar, but he who denieth that Jesus is the Christ? This is Antichrist, who denieth the Father, and the Son.").  But at the end of time, there will come the principal Antichrist. Paul writes in 2 Thessalonians 2:3-4 "Let no man deceive you by any means, for unless there come a revolt first, and the man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition, who opposeth, and is lifted up above all that is called God, or that is worshipped, so that he sitteth in the temple of God, shewing himself as if he were God." The temple referred to here is a Jewish temple, according to Church Fathers.

    This Antichrist will not be an institution, government, society, or a demon, but will be an individual man -- a man believed by many Church Fathers to be associated with the Tribe of Dan (note, for ex., the ommission of Dan in the seventh chapter of the Apocalypse).
    The Antichrist will persecute Christ's Church, and we will suffer much.

    For more information, see John Henry Cardinal Newman's "The Patristic Idea of Antichrist" in this site's Catholic Library.

  • Disturbances of the natural world: the Apocalypse speaks of earthquakes, lightning, pestilence, hail, fire, a blackening of the Sun, the disappearance of many stars, and other natural calamities. There will be no "rapture" to spare Christ's Church the pains of these calamaties, the apostasy, or the doings of the Antichrist. We will suffer as Christ suffered; we will follow Him in His Passion.

  • Universal conflagration: 2 Peter 3:10 "But the day of the Lord shall come as a thief, in which the heavens shall pass away with great violence, and the elements shall be melted with heat, and the earth and the works which are in it, shall be burnt up." This conflagration won't destroy creation, but will change its form.

  • The Trumpet of the Resurrection: I Corinthians 15:52 "In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall rise again incorruptible: and we shall be changed." (see below)

  • The sign of the Son of Man appearing in the heavens: The Cross of Christ will be seen in the sky. Matthew 24:30 "And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all tribes of the earth mourn: and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with much power and majesty."

The Resurrection of the Body

All of the dead will bodily rise from their graves, their souls and bodies reunited. John 5:28: "[T]he hour cometh, wherein all that are in the graves shall hear the voice of the Son of God." Our resurrected bodies will be our own bodies -- the very bodies we inhabit now. They will be entire and immortal. If we belong to God, our bodies will also be marked by impassibility (they won't be subject to pain or struggle), glory, agility (we won't be subject to slowness, gravity, etc.), and subtility (in perfect union with our souls).

Collective Judgment

After the dead rise from their graves, the angels will gather them together with the living to witness the Last Judgment by Christ. Matthew 25:31-34:

And when the Son of man shall come in his majesty, and all the angels with Him, then shall He sit upon the seat of His majesty. And all nations shall be gathered together before Him, and He shall separate them one from another, as the shepherd separateth the sheep from the goats: And He shall set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on His left.  Then shall the King say to them that shall be on His right hand: Come, ye blessed of My Father, possess you the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.

The risen dead will have already faced their particular judgments after their deaths, but when Christ returns, all will be judged together so that His Justice and Mercy will be made manifest to all. We will each know our moral conditions, and we will know the moral conditions of others. Our sins, thoughts, and secrets will be known to all. Ponder the 4th, 5th, and 6th stanzas of the glorious Dies Irae (Day of Wrath) heard in our Requiem Masses (Masses for the dead):

Death and nature will marvel,
when the creature will rise again,
to respond to the Judge.

The written book will be brought forth,
in which all is contained,
from which the world shall be judged.

When therefore the Judge will sit,
whatever lies hidden, will appear:
nothing will remain unpunished.
Mors stupebit, et natura,
Cum resurget creatura,
Iudicanti responsura.

Liber scriptus proferetur,
In quo totum continetur,
Unde mundus iudicetur.

Iudex ergo cum sedebit,
Quidquid latet, apparebit:
Nil inultum remanebit.

The Final Consummation of All Things

After the Last Judgment, creation will be transformed into a glorious dwelling place for the saved. Apocalypse 21:1-5:

And I saw a new heaven and a new earth. For the first heaven and the first earth was gone, and the sea is now no more.  And I John saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a great voice from the throne, saying: Behold the tabernacle of God with men, and he will dwell with them. And they shall be his people; and God himself with them shall be their God. And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes: and death shall be no more, nor mourning, nor crying, nor sorrow shall be any more, for the former things are passed away. And he that sat on the throne, said: Behold, I make all things new.

So little is known about the precise nature of the "new Heaven and earth." Will animals be there? Will we miss those who aren't saved? Would we get bored? Will we be doing things? Learning things? It's a Mystery -- a Mystery about which we trust in God completely.

And so it is with all "end times" concerns. We don't know when Christ will come back, and some people can get very caught up in these things, worrying about missing signs of His Coming, obsessing over details. Some people pore over newspapers, allowing their imaginations to run wild looking for signs and "the man of sin" (and so easily publicly accusing others of being that man). But we should keep in mind that each individual will face his own personal "end time" at death. And that is what you should focus on! You can be sure that your own "end time" will come within a few decades! So emulate the five wise virgins of Christ's parable, keep your lamps full, and be ready.

For further reading, see these books in pdf format in this site's Catholic Library:


1 L
isten to Boris Karloff tell a very brief story about one man's attempt to escape death (mp3). The story comes from William Somerset Maugham, who related the tale in his 1933 play "Sheppey." The text as Karloff tells it in the movie "Targets" (1968), whence comes the mp3 clip:

Once upon a time, many, many years ago, a rich merchant in Baghdad sent his servant to the marketplace to buy provisions. And after a while the servant came back, white-faced and trembling and said, "Master, when I was in the marketplace, I was jostled by a woman in the crowd and I turned to look and I saw it was Death that had jostled me. When she looked at me she made a threatening gesture. Oh, master, please lend me your horse and I will ride away from this city and escape my fate. I will ride to Samarra; death will not find me there."

So, the merchant loaned him the horse and the servant mounted it, dug his spurs into its flanks, and as fast as the horse could gallop he rode towards Samarra.

Then the merchant went to the marketplace and he saw Death, standing in the crowd. And he said, "Why did you make a threatening gesture to my servant when you saw him this morning?" And Death said, "I made no threatening gesture; that was only a start of surprise. I was astonished to see him here in Baghdad, for I have an appointment with him tonight. In Samarra."

2 A prayer to St. Joseph for a happy death:

O Blessed Joseph, who yielded up thy last breath in the arms of Jesus and Mary, obtain for me this grace, O holy Joseph, that I may breathe forth my soul in praise, saying in spirit, if I am unable to do so in words: “Jesus, Mary and Joseph, I give You my heart and my soul.” Amen.

3 It's good, too, to keep a sense of humor about death (and pretty much everything else while you're at it). If you're grown and aren't bothered by F-bombs, I recommend the first half hour or so of Norm Macdonald's 2011 Comedy Central special "Me Doing Stand-Up." Comedy gold. May Norm R.I.P.

4 For fun, if you'd like a "Magic Eye" stereogram featuring a skull as something to focus on while pondering death, see this image.

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