The Path to Heaven

Ghent altarpieceIn my last entry, I briefly described purgatory.  Here is a quick review: It is a purification on the way to heaven, if we are not prepared to go immediately to heaven.  This is due to the effects of sin throughout our lifetime.  As long as we are not in the state of mortal sin (so go to confession) when our time on this earth comes to an end, we either go straight to heaven, or spend a bit of time getting ready for heaven, being conformed more to Christ to be truly prepared to enter the kingdom.  It is said that the souls in purgatory sing the Gloria, because they know for sure they will be united with God in heaven someday. (So, again, go to confession!!!)

So…what is heaven like?  I mean, we all want to go there, don’t we?

Often, people believe heaven to be like one big party, with everyone doing their own self-expressive dance and having a great time doing whatever they want.  Sorry to tell you, that’s not what heaven is like!  Heaven is not chaos, with everyone doing whatever they feel like!  Heaven is the ordered praise of God, all creation united as one in a song of joy.

The Catechism teaches: “Those who die in God’s grace and friendship and are perfectly purified live for ever with Christ.” (CCC 1023).  It continues, “This perfect life with the Most Holy Trinity – this communion of like and love with Trinity, with the Virgin Mary, the angels and all the blessed – is called ‘heaven’.  Heaven is the ultimate end and fulfillment of the deepest human longings, the state of supreme, definitive happiness.” (1024)

This perfect state is often described in Scripture as the heavenly banquet, the wedding feast, the heavenly Jerusalem.  When we participate in the Sacraments, especially the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, it is said that the veil between heaven and earth is lifted and we catch a brief glimpse of heaven.  The manner of our participation will affect how closely we can represent the heavenly banquet, and therefore how clearly the symbols speak – remember that to be truly symbolic, sacramental, means to make present invisible heavenly realities.

Here are a couple of questions (courtesy an exercise one of my professors often does in presentations) to reflect on what heaven is like:

Is heaven radiant or dull?  Light or dark?  Living or dead?  Earthly or detached from earthly things?  “Modern” or transcending beyond all ages?  Empty or populated?  (With whom?) Is heaven ordered or chaotic?


Purgatory and Indulgences

purgatoryWhat on earth are indulgences?? And does purgatory STILL exist??

This topic came up for me recently during the sede vacante period. In preparing a special Holy Hour for the Pope, I was asked if the papal intentions persist (yes), and if so, if you may still gain an indulgence under the usual conditions (yes). I thought to myself how awesome it was that someone was thinking about this!

Really, though, I do not think many Catholics today have any idea about indulgences. Among the things I have heard are: “oh Vatican 2 did away with that” or “the Church used to sell those but not anymore”.

“An indulgence is a remission before God of the temporal punishment due to sins whose guilt has already been forgiven…” (Catechism 1471)

This means it is taking away the punishment that we might have after death due to sins we committed in our lives.  I do not mean hell (that is a different topic), I mean purgatory.  Purgatory is  basically the state after death of a soul that will eventually go to heaven, but must be purified first (and that purification is not easy or pleasant).

Sin has consequences.  We may think, well, I confessed my sin, that’s it.  The consequences of sin are twofold: first,  grave sin deprives us of communion with God and makes us incapable of eternal life (damnation), and second, all sin involves an unhealthy attachment that must be purified to free us from the “temporal punishment of sin”(purgatory).  We can overcome the first consequence easily: go to confession.  The second consequence is overcome by conforming ourselves more to Christ, by works of mercy and charity, as well as by works of prayer and penance.

Think of it like this: you were playing ball, and you broke your neighbors’ window (maybe just through carelessness), and it is your fault.  You go and ask your neighbor for forgiveness, and they are really nice and forgiving type of people, so they say, you know what, it’s okay, thanks for saying you are sorry.  So you are forgiven!  But you still have to pay for the window.

“Indulgences” through works of prayer basically involve a whole-hearted prayer stipulated by the Church, and you usually must have gone to confession and received the Eucharist in a state of grace in a short period of time before or after.  Indulgences may be partial (some amount of time) or plenary (this gets rid of all your time in purgatory).  One might think this is not needed, but I’m pretty sure most of us want to get to heaven as quickly as possible.  This prayer may be applied to yourself, or it may be applied to anyone who has died.

There are plenty of souls in purgatory that do not have someone to pray for them… and they could get to heaven sooner if you helped them!  Do you include them in your prayers?  I sure hope that people pray for me when I die.


As a note: This is just a quick primer on purgatory and indulgences. I’d encourage everyone to find out some of the opportunities for indulgences. Here is a great one on the official Year of Faith website: Check it out!

Cantate Domino – Introit for the 5th Sunday of Easter

Here is the Gregorian Introit for the Fifth Sunday of Easter. This is one of my favourites, and a great one for all singers (and the name of our choir here!)

“Sing to the Lord a new song, alleluia; for the Lord has accomplished wondrous deeds, alleluia; he has revealed his justice in the sight of the Gentiles, alleluia, alleluia. V. His right hand and his holy arm have given him victory.”

(Thanks to CCWatershed and their collection of practice videos for the Propers!)

Sing the Mass!

Sing the Mass!

What is often the excuse for not singing the Propers? (if you know what propers are)  Too hard. Choir can’t/won’t learn them. I don’t know how to read it. I didn’t know they were in English.

Here is yet another new resource available for FREE download. We have so many options to use the given texts, and actually sing THE Mass and not just sing AT Mass.

Check out the other work they have been up to over there too.

Year of Faith and Sacramental Language


One way of talking about the Liturgy, and our life in the Church, is to use sacramental language. What does that mean? To talk in sacramental language is to talk in terms of how something (a sign, a gesture, words) reveals to us the hidden realities of heaven.

The Catechism (CCC 1145) often refers to the Liturgy in terms of sacramental language. “A sacramental celebration is woven from signs and symbols.” What are signs and symbols? In our daily life, signs point us to something. Think of a stop sign: a red octagon means “Stop!” The golden arches show you where you can get a cheeseburger. Those are signs, they point the way to something else. But the golden arches do not contain within themselves anything more than showing you where to find a McD’s. In Catholic language, symbols are signs that not only point to something (as in, merely a sign, or “just a sign”), but symbols also contain the very thing they symbolize.

Confusing? Think of the American flag (or the Canadian flag for me and my home country). It is a sign of your country and of patriotism, but it also instills in you a sense of patriotism and pride when you see it. In that sense, it also shines forth what it symbolizes, and it contains deeper meaning. It is not “merely a sign”, it is a symbol of more because it makes something more present.

In the Liturgy, the “signs and symbols” we use are not merely to be taken at face value. Every part of the Mass contains deeper meaning, and becomes a symbol of heavenly realities: not only does it point us towards heaven, it also contains within it and reveals the very realities of heaven. Think of an image of a crucifix, for example. It does not say to us “Jesus died on the cross, end of story.” It brings to mind the entire Paschal Mystery (Jesus’ death and Resurrection for the salvation of the world.) This heavenly reality moves us, and as believers in faith, it can effect a change within us the more we contemplate it.

Do you have a beautiful crucifix in your Church? We should all have a crucifix in our homes as well. Spend some time this week contemplating and adoring the image of the Lord on the Cross.

Year of Faith and the Liturgy of the Hours


The Liturgy of the Hours is the constant prayer of the Church. Even if you personally don’t do it, it is constant rhythm of prayer, as people are praying it all around the world every single day at every hour of the day and night. Priests and deacons are obligated (by Canon Law and many teachings of the Church, including the Second Vatican Council documents) to pray the Liturgy of the Hours each day. Religious orders generally have this obligation as well, and pray the Hours in community, usually sung! Every day, the hours are Lauds (Morning Prayer),  the midday prayers (Midmorning, Midday, Midafternoon ), Vespers (Evening Prayer) and Compline (Night Prayer).  Each of these hours contains different psalms, hymns, readings, and intentions. Lauds and Vespers (Morning and Evening) are considered to be the most important, the “hinges” on which the day revolves in prayer. The Office of Readings is also a part of the Liturgy of the Hours. It used to be a part of the first prayer of the day (Matins) even sometimes read in the middle of the night! Now it may be read at any time of the day, and consists of Scripture readings, Church documents (like papal teachings) and writings of the Saints (like homilies from St. John Chrysostom, which are pretty neat).  I recommend giving the Hours a try…if it sounds daunting, start with one, like Night Prayer. You don’t need to buy a whole breviary set… there’s an app for that!

So what is the point? There are people around the world praying constantly, and some who do nothing BUT pray. Why? Prayer is not just asking for what you want, like writing a letter to Santa. We may ask for help, but we also pray in praise of God. The liturgical life of the Church is a constant reminder of our life in Christ, a way of guarding our thoughts, turning our mind, our eyes and our ears towards the things of heaven. It is a way of preparing ourselves for that day when, hopefully, we come to see God face to face, and are joined forever with him in heaven.