Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Over the years, I have been asked more times than I can count about what heaven will be like. My first answer is always that until I get there and see it for myself, I’m not entirely sure. But I always follow up by talking about what we hear from Scripture, and then what the Church and the great theologians and saints described as the beatific vision. The Bible makes clear that in heaven, the hosts of angels surround God’s throne night and day, offering an unceasing chorus of praise. It is from the book of Revelation that we read about the angels singing “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of hosts…” The beatific vision is what those non-angelic beings (humanity) experience when they get to heaven. The saints join the chorus of angelic voices, though they are united to God in radically different way. The joy of heaven is to be with God for eternity.
A quick word here about eternal union with God. When speaking with children, their biggest concern about this is that they’ll get bored if the heavenly eternity is just singing praise to God forever. I have learned that it is important to try to convey (and I often struggle to do this well) that in heaven, every desire we could ever have is perfectly satisfied, and so filled are we with the love of God that we will never look for anything else, for looking at God face to face every human longing will disappear in the light of His all-consuming love. Convincing kids that this is better than X-Box or PlayStation is not always easy. But I digress…
If the goal of our human life is to get to heaven, to be united with God perfectly for all eternity, then we will need the help of grace along the way. The Mass is one of those great sources of grace. In fact, the Mass is not only meant to bring us spiritually to the Last Supper and to Calvary, but is also meant to foreshadow the eternal liturgy of heaven. Thus our voices join with the heavenly choirs in singing “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of hosts.” Every Mass reminds us, however imperfectly, of what heaven will be like. Think of children playing backyard wiffle ball. They lack the equipment and venue of a Major League franchise, but they are trying to imitate what they see and hear when they watch professionals. Though not every kid playing ball in the yard will experience the thrill of the professional game, it is safe to say that every pro was once a kid dreaming of stardom as he hit wiffle balls over his fence. So at every Mass, however imperfect our equipment or skill might be, we are a living reflection of the truth of the heavenly liturgy. And what is more, through our celebration of the Mass, with all its imperfections, God pours out His graces so that we can experience union with Him even now.
This holds true all the more when we pray for the deceased. To have Mass offered for them (both the funeral Mass and other Masses we may have for their intentions) is to pray in union with the whole Church Universal, in the way that best reflects the heavenly reality, and our hope for all the dead in Christ . In the face of death, our desire is that our departed would be with God for eternity. We desire the gift of salvation to be theirs. When we pray for the dead at Mass, we are really praying that the eternal union foreshadowed in the earthly liturgy would now be a reality for our deceased. Simultaneously, we ask God to increase our faith in His power, and our hope in the gift of salvation. For “at present, we see indistinctly, as in a mirror, but then face to face. At present, I know partially; then I shall know fully, as I am fully known.” (1 Cor. 13:12).