Deathbed Repentance and State of Grace Arguments

I have some concerns and questions about salvation.

It’s this notion of deathbed repentance which is bothering me.

Obviously we pick up our crosses and embark on our journey, following our Lord.

Now, if someone has led a less than perfect life, and truly is sorry, and repents, my understanding is that they would die with no mortal sin, and go straight to heaven?

My counter-understanding to this is that they might not have sufficient grace to merit this, and would instead go to purgatory.

Should a catholic suddenly die, and they missed mass last Sunday- but otherwise led a good Christian life- what of this? I would presume that if this catholic were living a good Christian life, then they may not have the necessary will to miss mass,

"1857 For a sin to be mortal, three conditions must together be met: "Mortal sin is sin whose object is grave matter and which is also committed with full knowledge and deliberate consent.“131”

I would think that, if this catholic had not repented, then my presupposition that they were leading a good Christian life would be inaccurate, anyway. So this answers itself to an extent.

Back to my opening question. Only pure souls are in heaven. If one leads a bad life, there would be an accumulation of impurities which a deadthbed repentance would not cleanse, even if the soul was free of mortal sin? There would be attachments to sin, still.

Simplistically, let’s say someone was inclined to jealousy. They get to heaven and see ‘so-and-so’. “How did he get to heaven?!” they’d say. A jealous thought.

Going into the afterlife with this ‘baggage’ seems not to be possible, otherwise heaven would not be ‘heaven’; it would be less then perfect.

So to summarise and to get your valuable comments:

  • Would my assumption re. the miss-mass miss heaven analogy above, with its accompanying theory about the nature of that person’s relationship with God be an accurate one? With a side note- if this person missed mass, but with all their heart wanted to have been at mass that day- would it be a mortal sin (side note b) (!) - would one argue that while it was very noble to have really, really wanted to be at mass- if they could have found a way to attend, and didn’t, would it be mortal?. Would the intense feeling of remorse counter this by being true contrition?)

  • A deathbed repentance would not send a soul to heaven. Instead it opens up the evidence for a purgatory. The repentance and genuine contrition would at least start the afterlife journey into heaven.

There’s a lot there, but I invite comments!

Not exactly. The person would still bear the imperfections of the sin that he had repented of and would need a time in purgatory to address those imperfections. The way Sister explained it to us in 2nd grade was to think of mortal sins as nails in our souls. Going to confession removes the nails, but the holes were still there. In purgatory, the nail holes were fixed.

Again sort of. Blowing off Mass is a “grave matter”. But their might have been a defect in either “full knowledge” and/or in “deliberate consent”. FREX we are not obligated to attend Mass while sick. How sick do we have to be? I dunno. Bubonic Plague or a severe flu/cold undoubtedly qualifies. How about a hangover? Probably not. A really severe hangover? What if you just don’t feel very well? God knows, but we just have to follow our conscious. If you really, in your heart of hearts, thought you were sick enough, but objectively you weren’t, you still get the benefit of lacking “full knowledge” and are not mortally culpable (but it is still a venial sin).

Similarly with “deliberate consent”. The alarm goes off in time for the 11:00 Mass, you think, “Ah, its too early, I’ll go to the 5:00 ‘Teen Life’ one” and go back to sleep. Later that day you find that the “Teen Life” group is on an out of town retreat so there’s no 5:00 Mass that week. You’re going to miss Mass, but you didn’t deliberately consent.

So blowing off Mass deliberately, with full knowledge aforethought (as they say) is undoubtedly a mortal sin and will send you to Hell. Missing Mass through, well, a bit of laziness, I guess is the best way to say it, **might **not.

You seem to be slightly misunderstanding the role of Purgatory. If you die in a state of grace (no unrepented Mortal Sins) you will eventually get to Heaven. But despite being in a state of grace, you almost certainly have some sort of imperfection, attachment to sin, etc. The time you spend in Purgatory will address these and you will, one “purged” of those imperfections, enter Heaven.

I believe that someone who is baptized on their deathbed goes straight to heaven, but an already baptized person who confesses on their deathbed would still have to go to purgatory.

I have heard this - and should have mentioned this in the OP.

Again, I don’t see that this could occur. Even though the soul is completely cleansed by baptism, the person would still carry baggage from life. Call them habits, or tendency towards sin. Can this person really go straight into heaven?

Yes I understand your thought there. I would say that any purification that would happen then would be not in terms of temporal punishment for sin – but simply purification - any change within the soul needed (remember too that we are discussing the soul -not the body. At the resurrection* we will have the resurrected body*). Thus not so much purgatory in the normal sense that people think of such (regarding temporal punishment)-but simply a perfecting of the soul. The Love of Christ making any needed healing and perfection on the way into heaven. (and such transformation can take place in the blink of an eye…)

Good reply Bookcat. So you’re suggesting a different path in this scenario, where a person baptised just before death would enter a purification process which would be different to those enduring temporal ‘punishment’/purification.

I would say that our purification by Christ will vary according to the state in which we die. And especially in the case noted - such can happen in the* twinkling of an eye* perhaps as it will with those who are alive at the second coming of Christ - see Saint Paul 1 Corinthians 15:51-52.

A person who is baptized upon his death bed in the very last moment of life - will have had all his sins - and their temporal punishments washed away. There will be no “temporal punishment” for any sin for him. Nothing remains to impede his entry into the beatific vision. Did certain temporal consequences remain after the baptism? Yes -death itself for one - and the inclination to sin (concupiscence) and weaknesses of character (see CCC 1263-1264).

Now the Catechism also states:

1023 Those who die in God’s grace and friendship and are perfectly purified live for ever with Christ. They are like God for ever, for they “see him as he is,” face to face:

By virtue of our apostolic authority, we define the following: According to the general disposition of God, the souls of all the saints . . . and other faithful who died after receiving Christ's holy Baptism (provided they were not in need of purification when they died, . . . or, if they then did need or will need some purification, when they have been purified after death, . . .) already before they take up their bodies again and before the general judgment - and this since the Ascension of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ into heaven - have been, are and will be in heaven, in the heavenly Kingdom and celestial paradise with Christ, joined to the company of the holy angels. Since the Passion and death of our Lord Jesus Christ, these souls have seen and do see the divine essence with an intuitive vision, and even face to face, without the mediation of any creature.599  [](

So it would seem that the person would be purified of such - make ready for heaven - (though without any temporal punishment) by the love of Jesus Christ.

I take to heart the idea expressed by Pope Benedict XVI in Spe Salvi

  1. Some recent theologians (he was one of them! -BC) are of the opinion that the fire which both burns and saves is Christ himself, the Judge and Saviour. The encounter with him is the decisive act of judgement. Before his gaze all falsehood melts away. This encounter with him, as it burns us, transforms and frees us, allowing us to become truly ourselves. All that we build during our lives can prove to be mere straw, pure bluster, and it collapses. Yet in the pain of this encounter, when the impurity and sickness of our lives become evident to us, there lies salvation. His gaze, the touch of his heart heals us through an undeniably painful transformation “as through fire”. But it is a blessed pain, in which the holy power of his love sears through us like a flame, enabling us to become totally ourselves and thus totally of God. In this way the inter-relation between justice and grace also becomes clear: the way we live our lives is not immaterial, but our defilement does not stain us for ever if we have at least continued to reach out towards Christ, towards truth and towards love. Indeed, it has already been burned away through Christ’s Passion. At the moment of judgement we experience and we absorb the overwhelming power of his love over all the evil in the world and in ourselves. The pain of love becomes our salvation and our joy. It is clear that we cannot calculate the “duration” of this transforming burning in terms of the chronological measurements of this world. The transforming “moment” of this encounter eludes earthly time-reckoning—it is the heart’s time, it is the time of “passage” to communion with God in the Body of Christ[39]. The judgement of God is hope, both because it is justice and because it is grace. If it were merely grace, making all earthly things cease to matter, God would still owe us an answer to the question about justice—the crucial question that we ask of history and of God. If it were merely justice, in the end it could bring only fear to us all. The incarnation of God in Christ has so closely linked the two together—judgement and grace—that justice is firmly established: we all work out our salvation “with fear and trembling” (Phil 2:12). Nevertheless grace allows us all to hope, and to go trustfully to meet the Judge whom we know as our “advocate”, or parakletos (cf. 1 Jn 2:1).

~ Pope Benedict XVI

Thinking further I would express things this way:

A person being who is baptized upon their death-bed - and does not commit *any *post baptismal sins - can be said to “go straight to heaven”. Yes. Certainly nothing impedes such. Yes they will enter the beatific vision when they die. Yes.

But it would seem to me (I submit all to the Church of course) that “going straight to heaven” (in this case) does not mean that Jesus does not in his love make them fully holy (within their particular degree). As they are appear before him - and thus are transformed by his love. They be made to be able to receive fully (according to their capacity) the glory and love of God.

Wonderful responses and an answer worth saving! Especially your quite from Pope Benedict which has made me want to study his writings more.

You mentioned the resurrection of the body. This is something I haven’t explored much in my faith yet.

Would the assumption (pardon this pun!) be that our bodies will be reunited to us, and we will take them into heaven?

I understand that the body and soul became separated as a result of the fall. Thus they need to be reunited. However, what would we notice about having a body again in heaven? This sounds a little silly; but wouldn’t we be ‘used’ to not having a body? It seems like the reunion mis be important?

A human soul without a body - is a quite unnatural state. We are by creation “embodied spirits” - we are not our souls trapped in a body. Souls exist as they do without their body in heaven - by a special act of God. Bodies are part of who we are as persons.



988 The Christian Creed - the profession of our faith in God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and in God’s creative, saving, and sanctifying action - culminates in the proclamation of the resurrection of the dead on the last day and in life everlasting.

989 We firmly believe, and hence we hope that, just as Christ is truly risen from the dead and lives for ever, so after death the righteous will live for ever with the risen Christ and he will raise them up on the last day.534 Our resurrection, like his own, will be the work of the Most Holy Trinity:

If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit who dwells in you.535

991 Belief in the resurrection of the dead has been an essential element of the Christian faith from its beginnings. "The confidence of Christians is the resurrection of the dead; believing this we live."538

How can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised; if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. . . . But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep.539

See the whole:

Also remember -there will be “new heavens and new earth” :slight_smile:

Let us then joyfully profess the creed which ends:

I look forward to the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.

“New heavens and new earth” seems to make it make more sense that we would again have human bodies.

I heard a Mother Angelica Live - ‘Classic’ today where she mentioned some saying, somewhere, that we would all be 33. I think it was a joke- but I am curious- would we be given our bodies, taken back out of the earth- to the age of 33?

Personally I do find this aspect of Catholic teaching the most difficult. Not for lack of faith, but in comprehension (if that isn’t a contradiction!).

Hi All,
Just to pick up on this again after some thoughts today.

I understand that purgatory could last a long ‘time’ or be over in a flash- we just don’t know (as per Jimmy Akin). It is likely we will encounter Christ and feel an intense feeling of repentance.

Can it be presumed that we will only ‘look upon the face of God’ in purgatory> Not hell?

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit