The Catholic Church has for 2,000 years have taught that the soul will go to one of three places immediately after death.
The saved will go to Heaven or Purgatory, the damned will go to hell. Purgatory is not an eternal state so the soul will go to Heaven eventually due to the grace and mercy of God. When the trumpet of God sounds on that great and glorious day, the dead in Christ will rise, just like Matthew 27:51-54:
"And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And the earth shook, and the rocks were split. The tombs also were opened. And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many. When the centurion and those who were with him, keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were filled with awe and said, “Truly this was the Son of God!”
The General Judgment will be far more a complete and dramatic scale, a grander scale more than this, the soul will be reunited with the body and then judgment. The saved will enter into Heaven and the damned will go to hell.
The soul does not die, I remember the medical establishment taught us that no one knows when the soul of a person passes on so we should always be mindful of those who are dying in the hospital.
I think this is true so we need to give them as much comfort as we can by being encouraging. When I worked in the Emergency Room, I was very mindful of this. I remember one Lady who had been pronounced dead by the doctor, when I was getting her prepared to put her in a shroud, she woke up and I began to respond but she was ready to go.
She did not want me to help her, she immediately went back into her prose, she looked very much in peace. The doctor let her go.
One of the important Priests who played a major role in my formation, Father Micek, he told me the story when he was a young priest in Arkansas, a Mission Territory.
He was teaching an elderly lady the Catholic Faith when one evening, Father was called about the lady going into a coma. The Lady's Daughter called Father because her Mother was in a coma for 5 days. At this time, there was not the great medical ability to give IV, so the Lady was greatly dehydrated, this was a serious health issue, close to death. Father baptizes the woman and then begins to administer the Anointing of the Sick.
She was totally unconscious, yet at the point when Father finished the Anointing, the woman sat right up and cried, "Thank God, thank you Father"! Father was a young man and just beginning his ministry. He almost fell over in total surprise! Father's story has always stuck with me as I can imagine this scene!
It was 29 December 2004, I received a Red Cross message informing me that my Mother was dying. The Doctor and Hospice all were confirming Mom's status with the Red Cross. I was informed that my Mother was coming in and out of consciousness and she had been calling for me. I was serving in New Orleans working at the Military Enlistment Processing Center (MEPS) as the Medical Element NCOIC.
I arrived home from work and that is when I was notified by my wife of the situation. My family in Missouri alerted us before the Red Cross message arrived to my unit. My Command was afraid to let me respond to my Mother's wish because the next day was for the Recruiters, the opportunity to floor Applicants all day. I was able to work out support from my Element, but my Command would not budge. I was able to fly to Missouri the following evening after the mission was completed. My Mother's persistence kept her alive as long as she hoped I was on my way home.
I finally arrived at home in Southwestern Missouri at 23:00 the following night. I flew wearing my Class A uniform. Mom had never seen me in uniform through out my military career. I always went home in civilian clothes, but on this trip, in honor of my Mother, I was determined to wear my uniform. A friend picked me up at the airport and they briefed me what was happening. Mom had been in a coma for nearly 5 days, she has not had anything to eat or drink so she was dehydrated.
They had to put a diaper on her because she was not conscious. When I arrived there I could see her skin tone was pale, her eyes were sunken in, her joints were swollen from lack of circulation, her vital signs were practically non-existent and her breathing was raspy. I sat down at the foot of the bed and simply observed what was happening. One of my Aunt's was there with my Sister-In-Law and Brother who were trying to make Mom as comfortable as they could.
After a few moments, everyone left the room leaving my Brother and me alone with Mother. Mom didn't know who I was, she was in a coma state. As we both sat there with Mom, my Brother began to sing a Johnny Cash song to break the ice. I kind of just listened and watched. There was no response from Mom not even a twitch. When he paused, I began singing a song that came to mind, "Immaculate Mary, your praises we sing...."
At this point, Mom began to respond to what I was singing. I began singing every verse I could think of. Mom began to sing with a voice that seemed to come deep from within her chest and she became stronger the more I sang. I was singing every song I could think of as Mom seemed to be coming out of this death trap.
We ended up singing praises to God for 30-40 minutes after which, Mom was alert, could see me and I was able to explain my medals on my uniform to her. This was the most amazing thing, everyone there was scratching their heads as I was very excited. The following morning, Father Bill arrived (childhood Priest) to give Mom the Anointing of the Sick.
As soon as Father left, Mom was able to get up and use the rest room, she sat down at the table and was eating chicken, chili dogs, and pizza. Again, everyone was scratching their heads trying not to get too excited about this.
I was only quoting James 5:13-15, "Is anyone among you suffering? He should pray. Is anyone in good spirits? He should sing praise. Is anyone among you sick? He should summon the presbyters of the church, and they should pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord, and the prayer of faith will save the sick person, and the Lord will raise him up. If he has committed any sins, he will be forgiven".
Consider Elisha, "Once while some Israelites were burying a man, suddenly they saw a band of raiders; so they threw the man's body into Elisha's tomb. When the body touched Elisha's bones, the man came to life and stood up on his feet."
Also Samuel, "Now Samuel had died, and all Israel had mourned for him and buried him in Ramah, his own city. And Saul had put the mediums and the necromancers out of the land. The Philistines assembled and came and encamped at Shunem. And Saul gathered all Israel, and they encamped at Gilboa. When Saul saw the army of the Philistines, he was afraid, and his heart trembled greatly. And when Saul inquired of the Lord, the Lord did not answer him, either by dreams, or by Urim, or by prophets. Then Saul said to his servants, “Seek out for me a woman who is a medium, that I may go to her and inquire of her.” And his servants said to him, “Behold, there is a medium at En-dor.”
So Saul disguised himself and put on other garments and went, he and two men with him. And they came to the woman by night. And he said, “Divine for me by a spirit and bring up for me whomever I shall name to you.” The woman said to him, “Surely you know what Saul has done, how he has cut off the mediums and the necromancers from the land. Why then are you laying a trap for my life to bring about my death?” But Saul swore to her by the Lord, “As the Lord lives, no punishment shall come upon you for this thing.” Then the woman said, “Whom shall I bring up for you?” He said, “Bring up Samuel for me.” When the woman saw Samuel, she cried out with a loud voice. And the woman said to Saul, “Why have you deceived me? You are Saul.” The king said to her, “Do not be afraid. What do you see?” And the woman said to Saul, “I see a god coming up out of the earth.” He said to her, “What is his appearance?” And she said, “An old man is coming up, and he is wrapped in a robe.” And Saul knew that it was Samuel, and he bowed with his face to the ground and paid homage."
From a Christian perspective, the soul lives and is aware of the things through the power of God.
Hebrews 12:1-2 says, "Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God."
It is clear from this text that we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses. St. Paul sees this as a major reason we should fight the battle of life because we are being watched by heaven.
At the death of Jesus, he went to preach to the spirits in "prison" indicating that those in this state were with Jesus. Jesus opened the doors for all those in his hearing, those saved from the foundation of the world. They were not spiritually dead, but they clearly were waiting. The Catholic Church does not believe that the soul sleeps in the tomb until the Resurrection. The Saints are seen praising God around the throne. Revelation 4 is basically the heavenly worship that is taking place in the Mass, we are participating in that heavenly worship.
My Mother would pass early morning 1 August 2006, she died after receiving the Anointing of the Sick for the last time. Thank you Lord!