At the moment of death, the moment of separation of soul and body, the soul’s destination for eternity is irrevocably fixed.
“Everyone will be judged at death, as well as at the last day: ‘Since men only die once, and after that comes judgement’ (Heb 9:27).” (Penny Catechism, 76)
THE MOMENT OF DEATH (from the writings of St Catherine of Siena)
“The demons can do nothing against souls but what God permits them to do to test their virtue and so that they may gain salvation and sanctification. Every soul receives the necessary graces from God to overcome temptations and, if it falls into sin, that happens because it wanted to. Upon death each soul will have for its judge its own conscience and by itself, if it is not converted, it will be condemned for all eternity.
THE DEATH OF THE JUST AND OF SINNERS
‘You see, then, that they are my ministers to torture the damned in Hell, and in this life, to exercise and prove virtue in the soul. Not that it is the intention of the devil to prove virtue to you (for he has not love), but rather to deprive you of it, and this he cannot do, if you do not wish it.
Now you see, then, how great is the foolishness of men in making themselves feeble, when I have made them strong, and in putting themselves into the hands of the Devil. Wherefore, know, that at the moment of death, they, having passed their life under the lordship of the devil (not that they were forced to do so, for as I told you they cannot be forced, but they voluntarily put themselves into his hands) – arriving at the extremity of their death under this perverse lordship, they await no other judgement than that of their own conscience, and desperately, despairingly, come to eternal damnations.
Wherefore Hell, through their hate, surges up to them in the extremity of death, and before they get there, they take hold of it, by means of their lord the devil.
As the righteous, who have lived in charity and died in love, if they have lived perfectly in virtue, illuminated with the light of faith, with perfect hope in the Blood of the Lamb, when the extremity of death comes, see the good which I have prepared for them, and embrace it with the arms of love, holding fast with pressure of love to Me, the Supreme and Eternal Good. And so they taste eternal life before they have left the mortal body, that is, before the soul is separated from the body.
Others who have passed their lives, and have arrived at the last extremity of death with an ordinary charity (not that great perfection), embrace My mercy with the same light of faith and hope that had those perfect ones, but, in them, it is imperfect, for, because they were imperfect, they constrained My mercy, counting My mercy greater than their sins.
The wicked sinners do the contrary, for, seeing, with desperation, their destination, they embrace it with hatred, as I told you. So that neither the one nor the other waits for judgement, but, in departing this life, they receive every one their place, as I have told you, and they taste it and possess it before they depart from the body, at the extremity of death: the damned with hatred and with despair, and the perfect ones with love and the light of faith and with the hope of the Blood. And the imperfect arrive at the state of Purgatory, with mercy and the same faith.’ (Dialogue, c. XLII).
THE PEACE OF HOLY SOULS AT THE MOMENT OF DEATH
‘Oh how happy is the soul of the just when they come to the moment of death… To such as these the vision of the devils can do no harm, because of the vision which they have of Me, which they see by faith and hold by love; the darkness and the terrible aspect of the demons do not give them trouble or any fear, because in them is not the poison of sin. There is no servile fear in them, but holy fear.
Wherefore they do not fear the demon’s deception, because with supernatural light and with the light of Holy Scripture they know them, so that they do not cause them darkness or disquietude. So thus they gloriously pass, bathed in the Blood, with hunger for the salvation of souls, all on fire with love for their neighbour, having passed through the door of the word and entered into Me; and by My goodness each one is arranged in his place, and to each one is measured of the affection of love according as he has measured to Me.’ (Dialogue, c. CXXXI).
THE DEMON AND THE DYING SINNER
‘How terrible and dark is their death! Because in the moment of death, as I told you, the devil accuses them with great terror and darkness, showing his face, which you know is so horrible that the creature would rather choose any pain that can be suffered in this world than see it; and so greatly does he freshen the sting of conscience that it gnaws him horribly. The disordinate delights and sensuality of which he made lords over his reason, accuse him miserably, because then he knows the truth of that which at first he knew not, and his error brings him to great confusion. In his life he lived unfaithfully to Me, self-love having veiled the pupil of the most holy faith, wherefore the devil torments him with infidelity in order to bring him to despair… In this battle he now finds himself denuded and without any virtue, and on whichever side he turns he hears nothing but reproaches with great confusion.’ (Dialogue CXXXII).”
– This article was published in “De Vita Contemplativa” (Monthly Magazine for Monasteries), Year VII – Number 11