RE WE ALL going to heaven? That’s a bit of a sensitive question. But what’s the answer? Are we all going to heaven? Sometimes it seems like we just assume so. Is seems like, in some people’s minds, the only necessary qualification to be saved is to be “a basically good person.” But, is that what Jesus teaches? Is that what Catholics believe?
I do not think God wants us to live in perpetual fear of whether or not we will be saved. But neither do I think God wants us to live comfortably on the assumption that we are going to heaven no matter what.
In order to explore the question more fully, let us consider a few points from Sacred Scripture and from the sacred liturgy.
What does the Bible have to say about all this? Firstly, it reveals to us God’s will concerning this specific matter. St. Paul writes to Timothy: “God desires all men to be saved and to come to knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4). Thus, God’s will is made clear to us through His Word.
The Book of Daniel also deals a bit with the question of our salvation. Daniel, chapter 12 speaks about the end of the world. There we read, “Some shall live forever; others shall be an everlasting horror and disgrace” (Daniel 12:2). That may sound severe, but this, too, is the Word of God.
The Lord, Himself, addresses this question when He tells the memorable parable about the sheep & the goats. This is the story in which Jesus says that, at the end of time, humanity will be split into two groups. The Lord will place the sheep on His right and the goats on His left. The sheep will be welcomed into the joy of the Father in Heaven, and the goats will be led to “eternal punishment” (Matthew 25:31-46). So, is it possible to go to hell? If we look just at Jesus’ own words, we have to admit that at least the possibility exists. There is no automatic guarantee of our salvation.
In still another part of the Scriptures, the Lord says, “Truly, truly, I say to you: unless a man is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the Kingdom of God.” The Church has always taught that Baptism is necessary for salvation. By our human birth, we are children of our parents; it’s only by the rebirth of Baptism that we become children of God. God, of course, is not bound by His own rules, but He has given us the Sacrament of Baptism as the gateway to eternal life. It’s that important.
So, again I ask, are we all going to heaven? The prayers of the Mass have something to contribute to the discussion.
In the former Sacramentary, you may recall, the priest used to say the following for the consecration of the Precious Blood: “This is the cup of My Blood, the Blood of the new and everlasting covenant. It will be shed for you and for all, so that sins may be forgiven.” Now, of course, the priest says: “This is the chalice of My Blood, the Blood of the new and eternal covenant, which will be poured out for you and for many.” The change from “for all” to “for many” is significant. The Latins says pro multis, “for many.”
Does that mean that Jesus didn’t die for all of us? No—the death and Resurrection of Jesus absolutely is meant for us all. What the change does mean is this: although Jesus paid the price for the salvation of all, we are free to reject His gift. It’s the same as if I bought tickets to the latest movie for everyone in my congregation. I could buy a few thousand tickets and hand them out, but no one would be obligated to show up. In a similar way, through His Blood, Jesus has purchased the salvation of every person who ever lived, but we remain free to leave that gift sitting on the shelf unused. Every time we hear those words of consecration, they should be a reminder to us that by our lives—what we say and what we do—we choose for ourselves whether we wish to be among the “many.”
In other parts of the Mass, we very often pray for the dead. If we were perfectly sure of our salvation, though, there would be no reason to bother praying for the dead or for the Holy Souls in Purgatory. But we do. We have funeral Masses; we arrange to have Masses celebrated for deceased loved ones; and, in every Eucharistic Prayer, we pray for the dead. For example, in the Third Eucharistic Prayer, the priest says, “To our departed brothers and sisters, and to all who were pleasing to You at their passing from this life, give kind admittance to Your Kingdom.”
The presence of these prayers for all the faithful departed in the sacred liturgy demonstrates that Catholic belief demands both a lively hope in the salvation of all and a gentle reticence to become too assured of any person’s salvation (especially our own). A good bit of further reading on this topic is the book Dare We Hope That All Men Be Saved? by Hans Urs von Balthasar.
OD IS FAR MORE than the “Almighty Ticket-Taker.” He is a loving, merciful, and faithful God. As we read in Psalm 16, He is our “inheritance.” But it is nevertheless very clear from Sacred Scripture and from the prayers we pray at Mass that one’s entrance into heaven depends on having faith and living it out in this life.
So, are we all going to heaven? I certainly hope so. But we should never dare to take our salvation for granted.
He who stands firm to the end will be saved. (Matthew 10:22)