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154 • Part I. The Creed: The Faith Professed

What is heaven like? Scripture uses a variety of pictures to help us

understand heaven, such as a wedding party, a banquet, the Father’s

house, a state of unending happiness. But the real heaven is beyond any

picture we can paint of it. “What eye has not seen, and ear has not heard,

/ and what has not entered the human heart, / what God has prepared

for those who love him” (1 Cor 2:9). Seeing God face to face in all his

glory is the essential aspect of heaven. This is called the

beatific vision


To make this possible God must reveal himself and give us the capacity

to behold him.

How great will your glory and happiness be, to be allowed to

see God, to be honored with sharing the joy of salvation and

eternal light with Christ your Lord and God, . . . to delight in

the joy of immortality in the Kingdom of Heaven with the righ-

teous and God’s friends. (St. Cyprian, Letter 58, 10, 1)

“The Church gives the name


to [the] final purification of

the elect, which is entirely different from the punishment of the damned”

(CCC, no. 1031). Those who die in the state of friendship with God but

who are not fully purified and perfected are assured of their eternal sal-

vation. However, they must undergo a purification to obtain the perfec-

tion of love and holiness needed to enter heaven, where they have a heart

that is totally open to him. This process is called Purgatory.

It is impossible for us to imagine what Purgatory is. Traditionally, it

has been described as a purifying fire. Since the human soul cannot be

touched by earthly flames, the image serves to recall that perfect love is

achieved by a gradual and painful spiritual detachment from selfishness

and self-centeredness. The Church assists those in Purgatory through

prayer and especially the Eucharist in their final process of purifica-

tion. Offering Masses for the deceased is a most powerful way of aiding

them. November 2 of each year, the Commemoration of All the Faithful

Departed (All Souls Day), is a day for special remembrance and prayer

for the dead.

“The chief punishment of hell is eternal separation from God” (CCC,

no. 1035). It is impossible for us to be united with God if we refuse to

love him. When we sin seriously against God, neighbor, or self, we have