Monday, October 31, 2011

The Last Things

  • You will die.
  • You will be judged.
  • You may go to heaven.
  • Or you may go to hell.
Popularly, we call these the Four Last Things and, being Catholics we might also add the eminently real possibility of Purgatory.


Dies iræ! Dies illa
Solvet sæclum in favilla:
Teste David cum Sibylla!

The day of wrath, that day 
Will dissolve the world in ashes 
As foretold by David and the sibyl!

You may die at any moment. There is one chance in however many millions that right at this very moment, the ceiling above you fails spectacularly and a chunk of load-bearing beam lands right on your head. There could be a sudden, violent earthquake that cracks open the ground under you and crushes you. You might encounter right around the corner a violent and thoroughly bad person who will shoot you for the twenty dollars in your wallet.
Or, you might die in sixty years, warm in your own bed, surrounded by two or three generations of family praying around you.
However you die in the end, die you will, and there is no way for you to know if it will or will not happen sixty seconds from now, or sixty years, or more.
Immediately after your death, you will face your judgement. (CCC 1022)


Quantus tremor est futurus, 
Quando iudex est venturus, 
Cuncta stricte discussurus!

How much tremor there will be, 
When the judge will come, 
Investigating everything strictly!

Jesus Christ sits at the right Hand of the Father, and by Him will you be judged after death. You will be judged both by your faith and your works. Alone, you have no chance of a favourable judgement. Without God's free gift of Faith, without Christ's free gift of Himself, our only destination is hell. Through the Church though, there is salvation. All salvation comes through the Church, because the Church is salvation.


Rex tremendæ maiestatis,
Qui salvandos salvas gratis,
Salva me, fons pietatis.

King of tremendous majesty,
who freely savest those that have to be saved,
save me, source of mercy.

Should we die in a state of grace, we will enjoy forever perfect communion with our God, with Him forever in heaven, experiencing Him face to face. As well, we will share our experience of God with all the Church Triumphant, from Mary, the Queen of Heaven and Mother of God, all the way to the lowliest of the unknown saints, who quietly and unassumingly worked out their salvation with fear and trembling. (CCC 1023-1029)


Lacrimosa dies illa,
Qua resurget ex favilla
Judicandus homo reus.
Huic ergo parce, Deus.

Tearful will be that day, 
On which from the ash arises 
The guilty man who is to be judged. 
Spare him therefore, God.

Hell is awful even to contemplate, however it must be done. Hell is a very real possibility for any one of us, should we reject Christ's sacrifice even for a moment. The sharpest pain in all of hell is the eternal separation from God's love.
Catechism of the Catholic Church 1034: Jesus often speaks of "Gehenna" of "the unquenchable fire" reserved for those who to the end of their lives refuse to believe and be converted, where both soul and body can be lost. Jesus solemnly proclaims that he "will send his angels, and they will gather . . . all evil doers, and throw them into the furnace of fire," and that he will pronounce the condemnation: "Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire!"
The damned man is condemned by himself alone; God merely complies with his wishes. These are those who, in their arrogance, refuse to serve God, refuse to accept His mercy. All we may do is pray for them now, that they repent, and pray for ourselves that we do not follow them.

Pie Iesu Domine, dona eis requiem. Amen

Merciful Lord Jesus, grant them rest. Amen.

No temporary sacrifice is too great for us to obtain salvation, and no temporary pleasure is worth risking, even for the briefest moment, the eternal pain of hell. What is eighty years, when weighed against eternal joy, or eternal punishment? For that matter what is a thousand years? What is the entire history of the human race, weighed on a scale against eternity with or without our God?

The Catholic attitude towards death is rather unique in today's culture. Most either dread death or, more often, ignore it, sanitize it, and forget about it. Funerals today have become "celebrations of life", the dying are shut up in white hospital rooms and sent away to live with the rest of the elderly- out of sight, out of mind. Most people today are not prepared to look death in the face.
A statue in St. Peter in Chains Basilica.
Picture taken by myself.
For us Catholics however, death is neither something to be feared, nor ignored, nor sanitized. Death remains as a consequence of the first sin, yet at the same time we know that it has been defeated; it has lost its power to destroy. So a certain tension is present. We are not to fear death any longer because it has no power over our souls, but at the same time its attack against the body cannot be celebrated. We are not dualists, so we recognize our bodies as good, as temples of the Holy Ghost.
Traditionally, we perform the funeral rites in black vestments, with unbleached candles. These represent our somber attitude towards the ending of an earthly life. We cannot celebrate because we can be certain of no man's ultimate salvation, save for the Saints.
At the same time, we also embrace the macabre to a certain extent, and we even might interpret it sometimes as mocking the attempts of the Evil One to use death as his weapon. We decorate the outsides of our greatest Gothic churches with grotesque gargoyles, and some of our monuments include the skull and bones, and images of Death personified. 
The most central symbol of our faith, the Crucifix, mocks Satan in the moment of his defeat. At the moment of the death of Jesus Christ, Satan's power over us was broken once and for all. No longer is death his weapon because the Son of God- the Son of Man, has taken death unto himself, become sin, and washed us clean in His Blood.

Tomorrow we celebrate All Saints' Day, and the day after we commemorate All Souls' Day. We are commemorating and celebrating the Church Suffering and the Church Triumphant: again, those for whom death has no power. Prayers for the final purification of the Suffering, and rejoicing in the salvation of the Triumphant These are the Faithful who have accepted Christ's sacrifice, and by doing so, overcame the power of the devil in our world. On the Last Day, these faithfully departed, and us too should we accept Christ's sacrifice, will be reunited with our redeemed bodies, and death will have lost the last outward sign of its power.

Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine.
Grant them eternal rest, Lord.

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