"The resurrection of the body"
“Cindy” emailed me a question for our site. She wanted me to post the following exchange which dovetails the conclusion of my homily on Easter Sunday:
Hello Father Greg!
I have a question that I thought I knew the answer to growing up as a Catholic. I always believed that when a person dies, their soul immediately goes to be judged and I thought that by their judgment, they go on to heaven, purgatory or hell. But in the past few years, I have heard that we "await the resurrection of the body in death." Does this mean that when we die, our soul does not go immediately, but awaits the final day when we are all lifted up and judged?
Thank you for your time,
Thanks for your question. The Church teaches what you have always believed: "Each man receives his eternal retribution in his immortal soul at the very moment of his death, in a particular judgment that refers his life to Christ: either entrance into the blessedness of heaven - through a purification (purgatory) or immediately - or immediate and everlasting damnation" (Catechism of the Catholic Church, # 1022). So, each one of us will be judged immediately when we die. This is called the Particular Judgment.
But, Scripture and Tradition is also clear about a General Judgment. This will come at the end of the world when Christ comes for the second time. We say this in the Creed: "He will come to judge the living and the dead". In the General Judgment, everyone will be judged immediately and will either go to Heaven or Hell forever (see Matthew 25):
1) The living will either go to Heaven or Hell
2) Those in Purgatory will go to Heaven
3) Those already in Heaven or Hell will remain there forever (i.e., their particular judgment remains in tact forever).
We also profess belief in the resurrection of the body; this gets to the second part of your question. Just prior to the General (or Last or Final) Judgment, Christ will raise the bodies of those who have died. The Catechism explains:
"In death, the separation of the soul from the body, the human body decays and the soul goes to meet God, while awaiting its reunion with its glorified body. God, in his almighty power, will definitively grant incorruptible life to our bodies by reuniting them with our souls, through the power of Jesus' Resurrection (#997)."All the dead will rise, 'those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of judgment'" (998).
As you can see, both of your points are correct! Our bodies separate from our souls at death and either go to Heaven, Hell or Purgatory. Then, they are reunited with our bodies forever either in Heaven or in Hell.
Hope this helps…