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Browsing Fr. Joel Hastings

General and Particular Judgment

Feb 12, 2018

What is the difference between general and particular judgment? Does God judge us in front of everyone and say our sins aloud? If so I thought we were forgiven in confession. So why would he bring our sins up again?

     The distinction between the time of the general judgment and particular judgment is very straightforward. At the time of each one’s death, each one is judged either as worthy of the eternal life of heaven (which may first require a “stop off” in purgatory for purification from any last remaining imperfections) or are separated from God and consigned to the eternal loss of hell. This immediate judgment upon dying is known as the “particular judgment.”  It awaits all of us at the very moment that we die and it will be clear in an immediate way. 

     The “general judgment” is that act of judgment which accompanies the glorious return of Jesus Christ in His second coming, when He comes “to judge the living and the dead” (as we say in professing the Nicene Creed). The manner of this general judgment is characterized by Jesus’ own words in Matthew 25:31-46, as Jesus speaks of how He will separate the sheep from the goats, saying to the sheep at His right that they are to inherit that kingdom, as they fed the hungry, gave drink to the thirsty, etc., while sending the goats off to eternal punishment for not having carried out the way of charity. What is not so clear (and thus, the question asked here is a good one) is what will that general judgment be like in reference to our sins for which we already received forgiveness, and whether or not this moment will be a time of joy and peace or one of sorrow and perhaps humiliation. 

     Be it known that at the general judgment, the reality of each one’s particular judgment will remain and be confirmed – those already judged worthy of heaven in the particular judgment will be in heaven, and any consigned to hell in the particular judgment will remain so. As to “what” happens then at the general judgment that it is a “judgment” is reflected upon in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraphs 1038-1041 that speak of the “Last Judgment,” (which is the same as the general judgment). In paragraph 1039 we are told that this general judgment “will reveal even to its furthest consequences the good each person has done or failed to do during his earthly life.” In addition, paragraph 1040 says that in this moment of general judgment, “We shall know the ultimate meaning of the whole work of creation and of the entire [plan] of salvation and understand the marvelous ways by which His Providence led everything towards its final end,” – revealing the triumph of God’s justice over all injustices.

     While this description of the general judgment does not directly answer the question asked here, the Catechism does point to the fact that the victory of Jesus Christ over sin is the primary revelation of the last judgment – that in everything He has conquered sin. Thus, the revealing of the “furthest consequences” of the good we have done or failed to do will be seen in the glory of Christ’s triumph (and not as a humiliation of those who have already received forgiveness of sins). The general judgment will usher in the fullness of the glory of Christ’s victory, showing that even in the failures and sins of humanity, those who received forgiveness and remained faithful to the end share in the triumph – and are not humiliated.

     In conclusion, those who remain faithful to Jesus Christ are not meant to fear judgment – neither the particular judgment nor the general – as God wills it to be an entrance into the triumph of Jesus Christ over sin and death, with sins acknowledged in justice and in the revelation of the glory of Christ who conquers every sin.

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