When Are We Judged?
By Father Kenneth Doyle
Question: In the Nicene Creed, we recite that Christ “will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead.” But many of us assume that we are judged individually (and hopefully off to heaven) at the moment of our death. So which is it – are we judged by God as soon as we die or is it later, at Christ’s return?
Answer: Both are true. The Catholic Church has always believed in a twofold judgement by God: a particular judgement at the moment of death and a general judgement at the end of time.
So immediately when we die, each individual is judged as either worthy of eternal life in heaven (there may be a temporary stop in purgatory for purification from the remnants of sin) or deserving of eternal punishment in hell.
In the words of the Catechism of the Catholic Church: “Each man receives his eternal retribution in his immortal soul at the very moment of his death, in a particular judgement that refers his life to Christ” (No. 1022). That particular judgement will be private.
But then at the end of the world, when Jesus returns in glory, there will be a public “general” judgement at which each one’s particular judgement will be confirmed and revealed to all. Again, in the words of the catechism: “The Last Judgement will reveal even to its furthest consequences the good each person has done or failed to do during his earthly life” (No. 1039).
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