Is it wrong to believe someone is in Heaven?

I’ve always understood that only God fully knows who is in Heaven or Hell but my pastor had kind of spoke very sternly against thinking that someone was in Heaven saying that “canonizing people isn’t your place, that’s why we teach to pray for all souls” I do not wish to challenge the churches authority if it condemns us believing people are in heaven. But if the Church can assess and publicly canonize people as saints, why is it wrong that if I know someone who has passed and I believed them to be in heaven privately?

There are many people that I can think of that bore so much fruit of the spirit in their lives and have posthumously inspired works of the spirit that it seems easy to believe the are in heaven. Is there anything in church teaching condemning the belief that someone is in heaven that hasn’t been formally cannonized?

I don’t think it’s wrong. Pray for them all the same.


My dad went through immense suffering. If you do not know what ALS is, look it up. Whilst I believe it possible (and maybe probable) that he had his purgation here on earth, I still think it important to pray for his soul. Even if those prayers don’t help him, they WILL help someone. God does NOT waste prayer.


You can believe anything you want to about whether someone is in heaven or not, or is “on their way to heaven”, i.e., in purgatory. Only problem is, what you “believe” is not necessarily true. If someone has received the last sacraments of the Church worthily, then they are either in heaven or purgatory.

It doesn’t really matter. If they are in purgatory, their salvation is assured, and they’re on their way to heaven. Time as we know it does not exist in heaven, purgatory, or hell for that matter. We should always pray for the repose of the poor souls, knowing that if our loved one is, indeed, already in heaven, no prayer is wasted, and Our Lord can always apply the prayers, penances, suffrages, and indulgences to someone else who needs them.

Not at all, but it might be risky. If you assume someone when straight to heaven, it would stand to reason that person might not need your prayers. That person might be in purgatory, or is standing on the edge of the abyss. We don’t know if he or she had some unfinished preparations.
I tell people right up front, PLEASE pray for me after I die. Most people who go to heaven have a layover in purgatory. If so, our prayers can only help. If that person was a saint after all, your prayers will be taken by Our Lady where they are needed.

A dead person is usually thought to be in heaven by Catholics long before they are formally canonized by the Church. Such popular devotion is often what gets the formal process going in the first place. However, prudence suggests that we should not stop praying for the dead until they are formally beatified.

No. You’re allowed to reasonably believe someone is in Heaven and ask for their intercession, even if they aren’t canonized yet. In fact, one of the requirements to even open a sainthood cause for someone is evidence that people are doing just that, believing the person is in Heaven and praying to them for their intercession.

I think what your pastor is warning against is the idea that everybody who wasn’t a terrible person like a murderer just automatically goes to Heaven, without us needing to do anything like pray for them both while they are on earth and after they die.

If you want to have reasonable hope that someone who doesn’t have an open sainthood cause is likely in Heaven - for example, your grandmother died and she was a good, kind person and you loved her, and you want to think she is in heaven - then it’s okay for you to trust God to take care of her, while at the same time praying for her soul just in case she needs some prayers. Likewise if you want to believe some holy person you knew is likely in heaven, the same applies.

One thing to remember is that even people who seem outwardly holy may have sins in their past that you don’t know about and for which they have to answer to God; even if they have confessed and been absolved, they may need to do purgatory time for the sins. Jean Vanier who died recently is a good example. So, we pray for their souls, even as we might also pray for their intercession.


I would just note that these “last sacraments” are not necessarily required for someone to be in “either heaven or purgatory”. While they do help a person on their journey, there are ways for a person to get to heaven or purgatory even if they die alone without a priest, or the priest doesn’t arrive in time.

I am quite aware of that, but when someone has received the last sacraments, you can be morally certain that they have saved their soul. Everything else falls short of that. Our modern society (which just takes it for granted that everyone goes immediately to heaven, unless they are a monster like Pol Pot, Idi Amin, or Osama bin Laden) romanticizes the concept of dying in one’s sleep — “oh, that is so the way I want to go!” — but that same society wouldn’t know an apostolic pardon or a plenary indulgence if it bit them! No Catholic should ever want to die without the last rites.

The thing about the last rites is that the Church no longer formally refers to them as “the last rites”. We still use that expression colloquially. But prior to Vatican II there was a popular belief that if you didn’t get the last rites then you might have a really bad time with your judgment with God. Also a lot of issues with the appearance of a priest basically signalling to the dying person that death was thought to be imminent. Not every dying person, or their family members, wanted to see Father coming in the door. The Church has been trying for the last few decades to dispel both of these types of thinking.

Nowadays someone can receive anointing of the sick a while before they die, and assuming the person isn’t committing any more mortal sins - which, while possible, seems unlikely when someone is lying very sick in the hospital or hospice bed - they’re good to go even if they take a couple weeks to actually exit the earth. It’s not uncommon for elderly church-goers to receive anointing one or two times a year just in case. And of course these are the same people who are down there confessing every couple weeks.

And, if your relationship with God was shaky to begin with, they might be right. I have heard that Al Capone always wanted to make sure that he would be able to get a priest, if he were to die or be killed suddenly.

I use the term “last rites” as a catch-all for confession, anointing of the sick, viaticum, apostolic pardon, and anything else that might be needful at the time of death. As you note, it is a colloquialism.

If there were even the possibility that I “might not make it”, I would be overjoyed to see the priest. I ponder my own death every day, even though I am in sterling health for my age, and am rarely in circumstances where I could get killed suddenly. Memento, homo, quia pulvis est…

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