Chapter 13. Our Eternal Destiny • 153
THE MEANING OF CHRISTIAN DEATH
Lord, for your faithful people, life is changed,
When the body of our earthly dwelling lies in death,
we gain an everlasting dwelling place in heaven.
—Preface of Christian Death I,
; CCC, no. 1012
The final article of the Creed proclaims our belief in everlasting life. At
the Catholic Rite of Commendation of the Dying we sometimes hear this
prayer: “Go forth, Christian soul, from this world. . . . May you live in
peace this day, may your home be with God in Zion, may you see your
redeemer face to face” (Prayer of Commendation of the Dying, no. 220).
Death is the natural and inevitable end of life on earth. “[There is] a time
to be born, and a time to die” (Eccl 3:2). We change, we grow old, and
even death seems appropriate after a full life. “And the dust returns to
earth as it once was, / and the life breath returns to God who gave it”
But the reality of death and its finality give an urgency to our lives.
“Death puts an end to human life as the time open to either accept-
ing or rejecting the divine grace manifested in Christ” (CCC, no. 1021).
This teaching recognizes that the death of a person marks an end to our
earthly journey with its sorrows and joys, its sinful failures, and the tri-
umphs of Christ’s saving grace and help.
The Church teaches that “each man receives his eternal retribution
in his immortal soul at the very moment of his death, in a particular
judgment” (CCC, no. 1022). St. John of the Cross (1542-1591) wrote,
“At the evening of life, we shall be judged on our love” (
, no. 64).
Perfect love will make possible entrance into heaven, imperfect love will
require purification, and a total lack of love will mean eternal separation
“Heaven is the ultimate end and fulfillment of the deepest human
longings, the state of supreme, definitive happiness” (CCC, no. 1024).
This will be brought about by a perfect communion with the Holy
Trinity, the Blessed Mother, the angels and saints. Jesus Christ opened
heaven to us by his death and Resurrection.