What will the Last Day look like?
Answer: The essentials regarding Christian belief on the Last Day has already been dealt with in Question and Answer 125 (p. 14). To this, I would add the following:
How will they rise again?
Our language, our words relate to this world and its reality. We lack the words for the world of God and the reality of God. The early Christians already experienced this when they asked: How will the dead arise again? What will become of the body that is rotting in the grave? Are the disabled still disabled once they have arisen? Does a child that dies grow into an adult in heaven? What happens to all who have already died in the hope of God and in faith in Jesus Christ, and are yet to die?
To all these questions – and to many more – we have no better answer than to look to the risen Lord Jesus, who is transfigured in glory and at the same time still bears the wounds of His suffering as a sign of His great love for which He gave us His life. The empty grave, the marks of the nails and the new and mysterious epiphany of the risen Lord allow us to say that the dead will arise with their bodies, which will be transformed because they are glorified, just as the grain of wheat that falls into the ground, is transformed in death to bear much fruit (cf. Jn 12:24).
What is rising? 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 (CCC, 997).
In view of this mystery surrounding life and love that rests on the almighty power of God, Saint Paul says to his community in Corinth: …What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him (1 Cor 2:9).
When we partake in the Eucharist, we give our body the body of our Lord as food. ...our participation in the Eucharist already gives us a foretaste of Christ’s transfiguration of our bodies (CCC 1000). Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day (Jn 6:54).
In anticipation of the resurrection, the body and soul of the faithful already have a part in the dignity of belonging to Christ. Hence the call to honour our own bodies but also the bodies of others, especially the suffering (cf. CCC 1004). The body is meant .... for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. And God raised the Lord and will also raise us by his power. Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Do you not know that the body is the temple of the Holy Spirit within you?...You are not your own …therefore glorify God in your body (1 Cor 6:13-15,19-20)!
Christianity and death
Death makes people afraid – even for those who trust in God death means parting and separation. Everything that makes up the life of a person - possessions and people - must be left behind. Everyone dies his or her own death and does so with empty hands.
No one who is dying has to be ashamed of their fear. Jesus also called out to His father on the cross. Everyone can call out to Christ when their hour approaches. Just like the criminal who was crucified with Jesus, everyone can put their whole trust in the saviour, who responds: Amen, truly I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise. (Lk 23:43). With Jesus every dying person can be sure that merciful God will transform all fear into joy and will fill empty hands. For those who die in Christ’s grace it is a participation in the death of the Lord, so that they can also share in his Resurrection (CCC 1006).
We Christians believe we will meet God when we die. Eyes that have been closed in death will open. We stand before God: each of us with our story, our love and our sins. With everything that they have done for good and for evil: out of love of our neighbour but also to their detriment. We believe that this encounter is decisive to life.
The prophets of Israel and Jesus Himself speak of this experience as a judgment. The eyes of God look down to the ground. Nothing can be hidden from Him, nothing can be glossed over. He, who is infinitely just, knows that we are weak, and considers this. He, who is infinitely merciful, sees whether we admit to all in our weakness and whether we await everything from His mercy. Here judgment will be given: reward or retribution, blessedness or perdition, in the bosom of Abraham or eternal fire, paeans of praise or weeping and gnashing of teeth (cf. Mt 8:12), dancing at the wedding banquet or knocking in vain on closed doors (Mt 25:1-13). These are images that hit a raw nerve. They are aimed at those who are on the path so that they may convert, change their life, and grow strong in Christ’s love: in faith, in hope and in love.
For to your faithful people life is changed, not taken away,
and when our mortal flesh is laid aside,
an everlasting dwelling place
is made ready for us in heaven.
(Preface to the Mass for the dead)
Death: marks the end of earthly life and beginning of eternal life. The soul separates itself from the perishable body. It encounters God in the particular judgement. On the Last Day when Jesus will come again in glory, all the dead will be raised up, their souls reunited with their bodies, the just with a transfigured and glorified body, and the damned with a body filled with pain and anguish.
Judgement: There is a distinction between the particular or “personal” judgement (judgement of the individual) and the general or “Last” Judgement. The individual judgement islinked to the moment of death. This decides on either entrance into the blessedness of heaven or immediate and everlasting damnation. Judgement depends on how much each person has tried to follow the will of God in their earthly life and to believe in Jesus Christ. This judgement is final. The Last Judgment or general judgement – the judgement of the world – comes after that and is connected to the Last Day when Jesus will come again to fully reveal God’s kingdom, His kingdom. On this day all the dead will be resurrected. In the presence of all the nations, who will be gathered before Christ, each person will be judged with their soul and with their body (cf. Mt 25:32).
Sentence: ™he verdict, or sentence will be measured against free will during a person’s life on earth. Whoever has consciously and freely separated themselves from God has no place amongst the elect; their lot is amongst the accursed in eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels (Mt 25:41); that is hell. For those who acknowledge God and His Son Jesus Christ but who, at their death, are not yet fully prepared or worthy to meet God face a time of purification, of waiting and maturity, which we desribe with the name of Purgatory. There they wait in hope of entering full communion with God. The prayers of the faithful help them. Of the elect, those who let the love of Christ saturate them while they were on earth and who let His love convert them, Christ says: Come, you that are blessed by my father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world (Mt 25:34). They see God as He is and they will be like Him (cf. 1 Jn 3:2); they live eternally in communion with Him. They are in heaven.
(This text, with some minor changes, is selected from: “Ich glaube. Kleiner Katholischer Katechismus“ [the English title: „I believe. A Little Catholic Catehchism“](Königstein im Taunus: Aid to the Church in Need, 2004), p. 107-110.