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Woodrow Wehr wrote:

Hi, guys —

We assume that the souls of our loved ones go to Heaven upon death yet we also say the souls are lifted up on Judgement Day.

  • Which one is correct?
    • Are souls lifted up upon death, or
    • are the myriad of souls, from the first (men/women) still in some sort of Limbo until some future date?


  { Where do our loved ones go after death; are they lifted up to Limbo or do they go to Heaven? }

Eric replied:

Dear Woodrow,

Actually we shouldn't assume that the souls of our loved ones go to Heaven upon death. The souls of those who die in a state of friendship with God — theologians call this a state of grace — either go to Heaven immediately, or, before they enter Heaven, they enter a state of purification from sins they've committed during their life on Earth. (We call this Purgatory). These could be sins that they've repented of, but still remain attached to; they are minor (or venial) sins they haven't repented of however not everyone dies in a state of friendship with God.

These souls descend immediately into the state of eternal separation from God and perpetually regret what we call, Hell. Since God looks at the hearts of our loved ones, and indeed all men, and we see only the externals, we cannot judge based on what we see and know whether our loved ones, who have died, are in Heaven, Hell, or Purgatory. Only God can judge, and that judgment is hidden from us (except in the case of canonized saints) until the Last Day.

All the souls of those who have died throughout the ages now await the Last Day in Heaven, Hell, or Purgatory, without their bodies (except for Jesus and the Blessed Virgin Mary, which now have glorified resurrected bodies). On the Last Day, all men will be reunited with their bodies; the righteous ones in Heaven will receive a glorified body, and the wicked in Hell will receive bodies suitable to their condition. We call this the Resurrection. Then the judgment of God will be revealed to all, and what was hidden, will be brought to light as God lays bare the secrets of the heart (See Matthew 10:26, Luke 12:2-3, Romans 2:16, Ecclesiastes 12:14). This is the General Judgment.

It is important not to assume that our loved ones are in Heaven, because if they are in Purgatory, they can be helped by our prayers for them, so we should never give up praying for our departed loved ones. Imagine how forlorn and forsaken they would feel if they were in Purgatory with no one praying for them for any kind of relief! It's also important that we not rule out Hell as a destination, because it is a real possibility, both for them and for us. It's a sobering thought that we can choose to go to Hell by choosing sin over our relationship with God.

Anytime we deliberately and knowingly choose to commit a serious sin, including sexual sins that are so popular and taken for granted today (such as sexual activity outside of the spousal bond of a husband and wife), we cut ourselves off from friendship with God and choose Hell over Heaven. If we die in that state of rejecting God, then our destiny forever is Hell. And Jesus said:

13 Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy, that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. 14 For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few.

(Matthew 7:13-14 Revised Standard Version; Second Catholic Edition)

Jesus Himself said that it was hard to get to Heaven, and few are those who find it! A very good reason not to assume that all our loved ones go to Heaven.


Woodrow replied:

So, in essence,

We should assume that pretty much all the souls of those born sometime before in the 900's A.D., and everyone, except for those granted Sainthood since then, are either in Hell or Purgatory (Limbo).

It is a pretty bleak explanation, but it clarifies the question for me. I will no longer say Amen to the Priest's eulogy; if he says the departed one is now in the arms of God.

The chances of that being the case are not very good. That is so sad.

Thank you for your help.


Eric replied:


That is not at all the conclusion you should draw from what I said.

My apologies if I was not clear. The closest conclusion you could draw from what I said is that we cannot on earth know (with infallible certainty) the eternal fate of such people. It is not that no one born before the formal canonization process cannot be in Heaven, but that we cannot infallibly know they are in Heaven. In point of fact, there is a feast day, All Saints (November 1st), where we honor all those who are in Heaven but never got formally canonized on Earth plus all those we honor as saints, who were never formally canonized (such as the Apostles), for whom we have a moral certitude that they are in Heaven.

Your loved ones may in fact be in Heaven. They may in fact be in Purgatory on their way to Heaven. They may in fact be in Hell. You and I will face the same possibilities.

My point is we cannot say for sure (that is, assume) that our deceased loved ones are in Heaven. We can certainly hope that they are, and pray for them, but we cannot infallibly know their fate short of canonization.


Woodrow replied:


So, a request for intercession (for whatever reason) should only be directed to members of the Holy Family or to those for whom we have moral certitude that they are in Heaven as it is most likely the case that the request to a loved one may not go anywhere. I violate this practice quite often. I am a sinner, I admit and need all the help that I can muster. OK, I will modify one of my routine practices while I pray.

My form of silent prayer is probably different from others. I don't arbitrarily recite standardized prayers. I generally use the time talking to images of deceased personage assuming that they have direct access to God or that He is listening in. I don't know that I like changing my form of prayer.

Prayer has always been a deeply personal way of communing with loved ones (and/or) God. Just saying (3) of these prayers or (2) of these prayers always seemed cold to me and non-productive. Guess I have been wrong.

Thanks again,


Eric replied:

I did not say,

a request for intercession (for whatever reason) should only be directed to members of the Holy Family or to those for whom we have moral certitude that they are in Heaven.

You do not need to be infallibly (or morally) certain that a person is in Heaven in order to pray to them. My point was not to address whether you could pray to them or address them through the Communion of Saints (a topic I did not broach); rather, my point was that your original premise that, We assume that the souls of our loved ones go to Heaven upon death is mistaken. The implications of this are that we should pray for our deceased loved ones (thus assuming they are in Purgatory, not Heaven) and that we ought not exclude the possibility that some people, potentially even ourselves, go to Hell.

If we assume everyone goes directly to Heaven, then we assume we are going directly to Heaven, which means we assume there are no consequences for our sin, which means that we develop a cavalier attitude about sin, thus endangering our souls and our relationship with God. Being aware that some go to Hell gives us a more sober attitude about sin and its dangers.


Paul replied:

Dear Woodrow,

I don't understand your response to Eric.

Maybe I'm missing something. Eric explained there are two judgments:

  1. one personal, our Particular Judgment (immediately upon death) and
  2. one public judgment (Judgment Day at the end of history).

All disembodied souls anticipate reunification with their bodies on the last day, which, for the saved, will be glorified.

It isn't prudent to make a judgment as to where someone's soul is after death. This is for God to judge. If a Christian judges their relative is in Heaven, this would negate him praying for his relative. Souls in Purgatory need our prayers; souls in Heaven (or Hell) do not.

P.S. Purgatory is not Limbo. They are very different.


Woodrow replied:


Forgive me for my response.

Eric clarified things for me and I thanked him. You aren't missing anything. I got it. He was very helpful. We have to assume that the souls of our loved ones may not yet be with God. I don't plan on no longer mentally speaking with my loved ones as that is an element of my form of praying.

I will still pray for their souls.

I think I understand the concept of Purgatory. You are right it is not Limbo but for me there is an element of Limbo where souls are expiating sins while waiting to enter someplace else. Forgive me for using the term. I am not a theologian. To me, the same is true of Heaven and Hell. Hell looks like Dante's inferno. Heaven is an Eden in the clouds. As for Purgatory, when I close my eyes, I see souls floating in some sort of a non-descriptive abyss.

For instance, it is hard for me to mentally form an image of Moses. He invariably comes out looking like Charlton Heston. I am sure that is probably wrong. Considering his ancestry and the part of the world he was from, his real form wasn't probably even close to Charlton's. God made me a vision-oriented person. It is my nature. Therefore, when I picture souls floating in neither of my visions of Heaven and Hell, I see Limbo.

If I have offended you in any way, I apologize


Paul replied:

Dear Woodrow,

No offense at all.



Mike replied:

Dear Woodrow,

I just wanted to add a bit to what both Eric and Paul have said.

The best way to think of Purgatory is as the Holy Hospital of Heaven.

Souls in Purgatory are saved souls, saved by our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Purgatory has nothing to do with salvation but has everything to do with personal holiness. (Revelation 21:27)

This web posting will give you a good analogy:

I have another website dedicated to praying for the Holy Souls in Purgatory; I also have a FREE Purgatory Prayer program for those interested in praying for the Holy Souls on a regular basis. Check it out if you are interested:

Limbo was never a Church teaching in the Catholic Church but rather a theological opinion of where unbaptized babies go after they pass from this Earthly life to Eternal Life.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church and Pope St. John Paul II closed the issue by saying:

VI. The Necessity of Baptism

1261 As regards children who have died without Baptism, the Church can only entrust them to the mercy of God, as she does in her funeral rites for them. Indeed, the great mercy of God who desires that all men should be saved, and Jesus' tenderness toward children which caused him to say:

"Let the children come to me, do not hinder them"

(Mark 10:14; cf. 1 Timothy 2:4)

allow us to hope that there is a way of salvation for children who have died without Baptism. All the more urgent is the Church's call not to prevent little children coming to Christ through the gift of holy Baptism.

I hope this helps,


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