The contemplation of the imposing drama of the Last Judgment has always been of immense benefit to the faithful; and even in our days, it’s an efficacious element for awakening consciences and calling to conversion. A subject that appears with clarity and frequency in the Sacred Scriptures, the Last Judgment holds great pastoral value and is easily understandable by all.
The Church condenses this truth of the faith in the definitive and simple words that Catholics pray daily in the Creed: Christ will come ‘to judge the living and the dead.’
But….will Christ really come as just judge? Or as something else? How will His judgment be? Full of tender goodness or resolute justice? Will he chastise anyone, or just embrace all, full of love?
In a word, the Church wishes that we think of the Final Judgment with only ‘expectation and deep joy’ or also with reverential fear that should help to keep us from sin and thus guarantee our eternal salvation?
What consolation this certainty arouses in our hearts! The Church is truly a mother and, as a mother, she seeks her children’s good, especially of those who are furthest away and are afflicted, until she finds its fullness in the glorious body of Christ with all its members.
A further suggestion is offered to us by the Gospel of John, where it explicitly states that “God sent his Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him. He who believes in him is not condemned; he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God” (Jn 3:17-18). This means, then, that this final judgement is already in progress, it begins now over the course of our lives. Thus judgement is pronounced at every moment of life, as it sums up our faith in the salvation which is present and active in Christ, or of our unbelief, whereby we close in upon ourselves. But if we close ourselves to the love of Jesus, we condemn ourselves. Salvation is to open oneself to Jesus, it is he who saves us. If we are sinners — and we all are — we ask him for forgiveness and if we go to him with the desire to be good, the Lord forgives us. But for this we must open ourselves to Jesus’ love, which is stronger than all else. Jesus’ love is great, Jesus’ love is merciful, Jesus’ love forgives. (General Audience, December 11, 2013)
Enter in the various parts of our study
There is therefore a season for mercy, when the long-suffering of God calleth sinners to repentance. Hear the Apostle distinguishing each season, and do thou also distinguish it… ‘Thinkest thou,’ he saith, ‘O man, that judgest them that do such things, and doest the same, that thou shalt escape the judgment of God?’ And as if we were to reply, Why do I commit such sins daily, and no evil occurreth unto me? He goeth on to show to him the season of mercy: ‘Despisest thou the riches of His goodness, and forbearance, and long-suffering?’ And he did indeed despise them; but the Apostle hath made him anxious. ‘Not knowing,’ he saith, ‘that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance?’ Behold the season of mercy. But that he might not think this would last forever, how did he in the next verse raise his fears? Now hear the season of judgment; thou hast heard the season of mercy, on which account, ‘mercy and judgment will I sing unto Thee, O Lord:’ ‘But thou,’ saith the Apostle, ‘after thy hardness and impenitent heart, treasurest up unto thyself wrath against the day of wrath, and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, who will render to every man according to his deeds’. (Saint Augustine. Exposition on Psalm 101 (100), no. 1-2)
For He shall come manifestly to judge justly the just and the unjust, who before came hiddenly to be unjustly judged by the unjust. He, I say, shall come manifestly, and shall not keep silence, that is, shall make Himself known by His voice of judgment. (Saint Augustine. The City of God, bk. 20, ch. 24, no.2)
For He will come in the glory of His power, who of old condescended to come in the lowliness of humanity; and He will separate all the godly from the ungodly,—not only from those who have utterly refused to believe in Him at all, but also from those who have believed in Him to no purpose and without fruit. To the one class He will give an eternal kingdom together with Himself, while to the other He will award eternal punishment together with the devil. (Saint Augustine. On the Catechising of the Uninstructed, ch. 24, no. 45)
He also ascended into heaven, according to the Apostle, that he may appear in the presence of God for us, and discharge for us the office of advocate with the Father. My little children, says Saint John, these things I write to you, that you may not sin. But if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the just: and he is the propitiation for our sins. There is nothing from which the faithful should derive greater joy and gladness of soul than from the reflection that Jesus Christ is constituted our advocate and the mediator of our salvation with the Eternal Father, with whom His influence and authority are supreme. (Catechism of Trent, Article VI of the Creed)
The Sacred Scriptures inform us that there are two comings of the Son of God: the one when He assumed human flesh for our salvation in the womb of a virgin; the other when He shall come at the end of the world to judge all mankind. This latter coming is called in Scripture the day of the Lord. ‘The day of the Lord,’ says the Apostle, ‘shall come, as a thief in the night; and our Lord Himself says: Of that day and hour no one knoweth.’ […] And if, from the beginning of the world that day of the Lord, on which He was clothed with our flesh, was sighed for by all as the foundation of their hope of deliverance; so also, after the death and Ascension of the Son of God, we should make that other day of the Lord the object of our most earnest desires, looking for the blessed hope and coming of the glory of the great God.’ (Catechism of Trent, Article VII of the Creed)
In explaining this subject the pastor should distinguish two different occasions on which everyone must appear in the presence of the Lord to render an account of all his thoughts, words and actions, and to receive immediate sentence from his Judge. […] The second occurs when on the same day and in the same place all men shall stand together before the tribunal of their Judge, that in the presence and hearing of all human beings of all times each may know his final doom and sentence. The announcement of this judgment will constitute no small part of the pain and punishment of the wicked; whereas the good and just will derive great reward and consolation from the fact that it will then appear what each one was in life. […] Although the power of judging is common to all the Persons of the Blessed Trinity, yet it is specially attributed to the Son, because to Him also in a special manner is ascribed wisdom. (Catechism of Trent, Article VII of the Creed)
The Judge who returns at the same time as Judge and Saviour has left us the duty to live in this world in accordance with his way of living. […] Since God can only be merciful we do not live as if good and evil were the same thing. This would be a deception. In reality, we live with a great responsibility. We have talents, and our responsibility is to work so that this world may be open to Christ, that it be renewed. (Benedict XVI. General Audience, November 12, 2008)
The image of the Last Judgment is not primarily an image of terror, but an image of hope; for us it may even be the decisive image of hope. Is it not also a frightening image? I would say: it is an image that evokes responsibility, an image, therefore, of that fear of which Saint Hilary spoke when he said that all our fear has its place in love (cf. Tractatus super Psalmos, Ps 127:1-3). God is justice and creates justice. This is our consolation and our hope. And in his justice there is also grace. This we know by turning our gaze to the crucified and risen Christ. Both these things—justice and grace—must be seen in their correct inner relationship. Grace does not cancel out justice. It does not make wrong into right. It is not a sponge which wipes everything away, so that whatever someone has done on earth ends up being of equal value. (Benedict XVI. Encyclical Spe Salve, no. 44, November 30, 2007)
Let us ever bear in mind this tribunal, that we may thus be enabled at all times to continue in virtue; […] For He who now hath remitted our sins, will then sit in judgment; He who hath died for our sake will then appear again to judge all mankind. ‘Unto them that look for Him,’ saith the Apostle, ‘shall He appear the second time without sin unto salvation’ (Heb 9:28). (Saint John Chrysostom. Homilies on the Gospel of John, homily 39)
The divine power of judging has been linked to the mission of Christ as Savior, as Redeemer of the world. And the same judging pertains to the work of salvation; to the order of salvation: it is a definitive salvific act. In effect, the purpose of judgment is the full participation in the divine Life as the last gift granted to man: the definitive fulfillment of his eternal vocation. At the same time the power to judge is linked with the exterior revelation of the glory of the Father in his Son as the Redeemer of man. (John Paul II. General Audience, September 30, 1987)
The Lord will appear in clouds, clothed in power and glory. He is the same Son of man, merciful and compassionate, whom the disciples knew during his earthly journey. When the moment comes for his manifestation in glory, he will come to give human history its definitive fulfillment. Through the symbolism of cosmological upheavals, the Evangelist Mark recalls that God will pronounce his last judgment on human events in the Son, putting an end to a universe corrupted by falsehood and torn by violence and injustice. (John Paul II. Homily, Jubilee of the Armed Forces and Police, November 19, 2000)
[Firmly we believe and we confess simply that the true God …] is to come at the end of time, to judge the living and the dead, and to render to each according to his works, to the wicked as well as to the elect, all of whom will rise with their bodies which they now bear, that they may receive according to their works, whether these works have been good or evil, the latter everlasting punishment with the devil, and the former everlasting glory with Christ. (Denzinger-Hünermann 801. Lateran Council IV. Definition against the Albigensians, ch.1 The Catholic Faith, November 11-30, 1215)
Jesus announced the judgment of the Last Day in his preaching. Then will the conduct of each one (cf. Mk 12:38-40) and the secrets of hearts be brought to light (Lk 12:1-3; Jn 3:20-21; Rom 2:16; 1Cor 4:5). Then will the culpable unbelief that counted the offer of God’s grace as nothing be condemned (Mt 11:20-24; 12:41-42). Our attitude to our neighbour will disclose acceptance or refusal of grace and divine love (Mt 5:22; 7:1-5). (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 678)
On Judgement Day at the end of the world, Christ will come in glory to achieve the definitive triumph of good over evil which, like the wheat and the tares, have grown up together in the course of history. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 681)
The same Father is manifestly declared (in this passage), ‘making peace and creating evil things,’ preparing fit things for both; as also there is one Judge sending both into a fit place, as the Lord sets forth in the parable of the tares and the wheat, where He says, ‘As therefore the tares are gathered together, and burned in the fire, so shall it be at the end of the world. The Son of man shall send His angels, and they shall gather from His kingdom everything that offendeth, and those who work iniquity, and shall send them into a furnace of fire: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth’. (Saint Irenaeus of Lyon. Against heresies, bk. IV, ch. 40, no. 2)
Moreover, we declare that according to the common arrangement of God, the souls of those who depart in actual mortal sin immediately after their death descend to hell where they a-re tortured by infernal punishments, and that nevertheless on the day of judgment all men with their bodies will make themselves ready to render an account of their own deeds before the tribunal of Christ, ‘so that everyone may receive the proper things of the body according as he has done whether it be good or evil’ (2Cor 5:10). (Denzinger-Hünermann 1002. Benedict XII, Edict Benedictus Deus, January 29, 1336)
For, to whomsoever the substance is entrusted, the accessory is likewise committed. Now all human affairs are ordered for the end of beatitude, which is everlasting salvation, to which men are admitted, or from which they are excluded by Christ’s judgment, as is evident from Mt 25:31, 40. Consequently, it is manifest that all human affairs are included in Christ’s judiciary power. (Saint Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, III, q. 59, a. 4)
We know well, in doing this, the problems that some modern ambiences are agitated regarding the faith. They did not escape the influence of a world that is undergoing a profound transformation, in which so many truths are either contested or put up for debate. Furthermore: we even see that some Catholics are captivated by a sort of passion for changes and innovations. Without doubt, the Church has always the obligation to penetrate more and more, and to offer them in more fitting way to men of each generation, into the profound mysteries of God, from which the fruits of salvation flow forth for all. But, at the same time, great care must be taken so that, while undertaking this necessary duty of investigation, truths of the Christian doctrine are not damaged. Because that would mean– and we have observed sadly that today this in reality takes place – general perturbation and perplexity in many faithful souls. For this reason, it is of great importance to warn that, besides that which is observable and that which is discovered by scientific means, the intelligence, which was given to us God, may arrive at reality, that which is, not only to the subjective expressions of structures and of the evolution of conscience; and that on the other hand, that what pertains to interpretation or hermeneutic is to seek to comprehend and discern, with respect to the word pronounced, the meaning of which a given text is an expression, but not to innovate, in any manner, this meaning, according to arbitrary conjectures. (Paul VI. Homily, Conclusion of the ‘Year of Faith’, June 30, 1968)
Catechesis on the subject of the last things:
– should, on the one hand, be taught under the aspect of consolation, of hope, and of salutary fear (cf. 1 Thess. 4:18) of which modem men have such great need; on the other hand, it should
– be imparted in such a way that the whole truth can be seen. It is not right to minimize the grave responsibility which everyone has regarding his future destiny. Catechesis cannot pass over in silence the judgement after death of each man, or the expiatory punishments of Purgatory, or the sad and lamentable reality of eternal death, or the final judgement. (Congregation for the Clergy, General Catechetical Directory, no. 69, April 1, 1971)
When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit upon his glorious throne, and all the nations will be assembled before him. And he will separate them one from another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will place the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. Then the king will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world’. […] Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you accursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels’. (Mt 25:31-34, 41)
Nor does the Father judge anyone, but he has given all judgment to his Son, Amen, amen, I say to you, the hour is coming and is now here when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. For just as the Father has life in himself, so also he gave to his Son the possession of life in himself. And he gave him power to exercise judgment, because he is the Son of Man. Do not be amazed at this, because the hour is coming in which all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and will come out, those who have done good deeds to the resurrection of life, but those who have done wicked deeds to the resurrection of condemnation. (Jn 5: 22.25-29)
By your stubbornness and impenitent heart, you are storing up wrath for yourself for the day of wrath and revelation of the just judgment of God, who will repay everyone according to his works: eternal life to those who seek glory, honor, and immortality through perseverance in good works, but wrath and fury to those who selfishly disobey the truth and obey wickedness. (Rom 2:5-11)