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Catholic Culture Trusted Commentary

The MOST Theological Collection: A Basic Catholic Catechism

"Part IV: The Apostles' Creed VI-VIII"


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Sixth Article: "He ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of God the Father almighty"

The Ascension of Christ and His Glorified Existence

After 40 days He ascended. During this period, He actually gave the primacy He had promised to Peter, as we read in John 21. The many events between His resurrection and ascension preclude the theory that He ascended on Easter. His ascension does not mean that heaven is somewhere up in space. This was a way of making clear that He was leaving the present mode of existence. St. Paul in Colossians 3:1 urges us to live our lives now as if we had already died, had risen, and had ascended with Him. In a mystical sense we have done that, in that our Head has done that. In the physical sense it is still in the future.

He ascended to receive the glory of the conqueror of sin and death (Philippians 2:8-11); to be our Mediator and advocate with the Father (Hebrews 9:24); to send the Holy Spirit as He had promised at the Last Supper (John 16:7); and to prepare a place for us as He also promised (John 14:2).

Now He is seated at the Father's right, which means He has had as He said "all power given to Him in heaven and on earth (Matthew 28:18). He always had that power as God, but now exercises it as man, as King of the Universe, with His Mother beside Him as Queen of the Universe.

As God He is everywhere, but not as man, though He is present most widely in the Holy Eucharist even as man.

Besides this real bodily presence, there are other lesser forms of presence. Vatican II explained the various forms of presence, in the Constitution on the Liturgy, ยง 7: "Christ is always present to His Church, especially in liturgical actions. He is present in the Sacrifice of the Mass in the person of the priest, 'He is the same one, now offering by the ministry of priests, who then offered Himself on the Cross [citing the Council of Trent]. ' But He is most greatly present under the Eucharistic species. He is present by His power in the Sacraments, so that when anyone baptizes, Christ Himself baptizes. He is present in His word, for He speaks when the Sacred Scriptures are read in the Church. He is present, finally, when the Church prays and sings the Psalms, He who promised 'Where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am in their midst'"(Matthew 18:20).

Seventh Article: "From thence He shall come to judge the living and the dead"

1. General and Particular Judgment

Jesus will come at the end of time to judge all human beings. This is called the parousia, His second coming. It was foretold by the angels as He ascended: "This Jesus who is taken up from you to heaven, will come in the way in which you saw Him going into heaven" (Acts 1:11).

There are two judgments for each one of us. At once after death we will be judged on our life. The Epistle to the Hebrews says (9:27): " It is appointed to men to die once, and after that comes the judgment". Then, "Each one will receive his pay, according to his works" (1 Cor 3:8).

The general judgment at the end of time simply solemnly confirms the particular judgments of each one, with the difference that then the body as well as the soul will receive what is due it. And all God's judgments will be revealed as most just.

We do not know what form it will take. In Matthew 25:31-46 we read a picture of that judgment, with the good on the right of the Judge, the wicked on the left. We know there will be such a judgement, but its precise form we do not know, for there is no place on the globe where all men of all centuries could stand before the Judge. It will however certainly give the solemn sentence, and will, as we said, reveal to each one the justice of all the judgments of God. God can reveal this interiorly by one touch as it were, as He does at times in Interior Locutions, which can convey any amount of knowledge at one stroke.

2. Eternal Punishment

There can be no change of heart towards God, for or against His will, after death. Hence hell and heaven must both be without end.

The chief suffering of hell is the loss of God. In this life, we can go comfortably without thinking of Him. But then it will be different. For one thing, our senses now keep telling us this world and this life are the only important things. Then that din of the senses will be gone. But more especially, when we cross into the next life, as it were, the light goes on. In this life, our intelligence has two components, the spirit intellect that is proper to the spiritual soul, which is tied to the marvelous, but yet material instrument in our heads. The latter limits us greatly. But at death, that limit is gone. Then even if the soul does not at once see God, it carries with it the information on Him, but then really understands, and wants Him intensely. To lose Him forever, or to be in a twisted state of wanting Him, yet in revolt against Him - this is the chief pain of hell.

Scripture often speaks of fire in hell. On May 17, 1979, the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith explained: "She [the Church] believes that there will be eternal punishment for the sinner, who will be deprived of the sight of God, and that this punishment will have a repercussion on the whole being of the sinner." This will be, then a bodily pain. The imagery of fire means it will be a suffering as intense as that caused by earthly fire.

Of course, those who have sinned more will suffer more. But for all, there is no end to suffering and despair.

3. Purgatory

Mere reason suggests there must be a Purgatory. So many people seem to be good, but not so greatly good that they should be fit for heaven at once. Again, not nearly all are so evil as to deserve hell. So there should be a means of purification and paying the debt of temporal punishment for those not fit for hell, nor for heaven at once. (Of course Luther would say we can sin all we want and still go to heaven at once, if only we believe it is all covered by Christ's merits: Epistle 501 to Melanchthon).

There is not much in Scripture on Purgatory except that in Second Maccabees 12:45 Judas sends a collection to the Temple for those fallen in battle, found with amulets on, "that they might be freed from this sin." Luther saw so clearly that this referred to Purgatory - which he rejected - that he rejected this book too, declaring it not part of Scripture. Some have tried to see an implication of Purgatory in Matthew 12:32. There Jesus speaks of the sin against the Holy Spirit that will be forgiven "neither in this world nor in the next." But the expression quoted is known in Rabbinic literature, where it means merely "never". Still less could we deduce purgatory from First Corinthians 3:11-15. Paul means if the work of some Christian worker has been of such low quality that it burns down, he himself will be saved "as through fire." But the fire seems to mean the apocalyptic fire of the last day, not a fire of purgatory.

But our belief in Purgatory rests on the definitions of the Church, at the Councils of Lyons II, Florence, and Trent.

The essential, perhaps the only suffering of Purgatory is the loss of God - it is like what we described in speaking of hell, except that in Purgatory there is no despair, rather, great consolation from assurance of salvation. Is there also something like fire in Purgatory? A host of private apparitions say there is; the Church has never pronounced on it. In fact the Eastern part of the Catholic Church has no such tradition. Many theologians say the suffering is greater than anything on earth. Neither Scripture nor Tradition tells us if that be so.

We do know that the souls there cannot merit or help themselves in any way anymore, they can only suffer. We know we can by prayers and penances relieve them, and somehow, they are enabled to know it when we do that, and they pray for us. How long should we pray and sacrifice for a particular soul? We do not know. St. Augustine in his Confessions (9:13), written 10 to 15 years after the death of his mother, St. Monica, still asked for prayers for her. If we can believe the private apparitions, Purgatory may last the equivalent of many years (we speak thus, for there is no time in Purgatory). For certain, it is terribly wrong to virtually canonize a person at the funeral, as Protestants do under the influence of Luther's sad mistake. Sadly not a few Catholics are imitating them.

Eighth Article: "I believe in the Holy Spirit"

The Holy Spirit in the Trinity and His Mission in the World.

We already said the most essential things about the Holy Spirit in explaining Article One. Let us add a few things here.

He makes holy the souls of the just by His presence. But a Spirit is not present in the sense of taking up space. We say a Spirit is present wherever it causes an effect. In the soul, the Holy Spirit transforms it, making it basically capable of taking in, after death, the infinite streams of knowledge and love that flow within the Holy Trinity. Thus we are really "sharers in the divine nature" ( 2 Peter 1:4). This is a dignity so great that any earthly honor is insignificant besides it.

He comes with his Seven Gifts. These make the soul capable of taking in the special lights and inspirations He sends in a much higher way than what is had in ordinary graces. We do not notice much of any effects from these Gifts until we have advanced rather far in the spiritual life, for great docility and purity of heart are needed.

On Pentecost the Holy Spirit came down visibly on the Apostles. He gave them the power to speak in strange tongues to the crowds that came to Jerusalem for that Feast. He also transformed them, from selfish and timid men into giants of courage and faith.

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