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“Ask a Priest: How Do the Particular and Last Judgments Differ?”
Q: I am a little confused on what is the difference between the particular and the general judgment. Can you help me to understand more fully what both of these are? – S.P.
Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC
A: The particular judgment is what each of us individually will face at the moment of our death. We will learn immediately our fate: either heaven right away, purgatory for a while and then heaven, or hell for eternity.
Our fate will depend on the state of our soul at death. If we die in mortal sin, our destiny is hell. If we die with any unforgiven venial sins or if we still owe a debt of temporal punishment for past sins, we will go to purgatory for a period of purification before entrance into heaven.
The general, or last, or final judgment will be at the end of time. It will include all those who have died and all those still on earth.
At the last judgment everything comes to light: all the hidden motives and actions of all of us, all the consequences of our decisions, all the ways God worked in our lives. It’s kind of a wrap-up event, the last in history.
The distinction between these two judgments is one of the topics covered in our Retreat Guide for All Saints’ and All Souls’ Day: Fire of Mercy. You might want to watch or listen to it to dig a little deeper.
There won’t be any changes in the fate of individuals who already died. Someone already in heaven doesn’t have to worry about losing paradise. A soul in hell won’t get a second chance at heaven.
A fuller treatment about the final judgment can be found in the Catechism, which is quoted extensively here:
THE LAST JUDGMENT
1038 The resurrection of all the dead, “of both the just and the unjust,” will precede the Last Judgment. This will be “the hour when all who are in the tombs will hear [the Son of man’s] voice and come forth, those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of judgment.” Then Christ will come “in his glory, and all the angels with him. … Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate them one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will place the sheep at his right hand, but the goats at the left. … And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
1039 In the presence of Christ, who is Truth itself, the truth of each man’s relationship with God will be laid bare. The Last Judgment will reveal even to its furthest consequences the good each person has done or failed to do during his earthly life. […]
1040 The Last Judgment will come when Christ returns in glory. Only the Father knows the day and the hour; only he determines the moment of its coming. Then through his Son Jesus Christ he will pronounce the final word on all history. We shall know the ultimate meaning of the whole work of creation and of the entire economy of salvation and understand the marvelous ways by which his Providence led everything towards its final end. The Last Judgment will reveal that God’s justice triumphs over all the injustices committed by his creatures and that God’s love is stronger than death.
1041 The message of the Last Judgment calls men to conversion while God is still giving them “the acceptable time, … the day of salvation.” It inspires a holy fear of God and commits them to the justice of the Kingdom of God. It proclaims the “blessed hope” of the Lord’s return, when he will come “to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at in all who have believed.” [end quoted material]
Note that phrase about “the acceptable time”: Now is the time to prepare for our particular judgment. For it awaits us all.
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