The Glory of Heaven
Those who die in God's grace and are purified get to live with Christ forever. They see God as he is, face-to-face. This communion of life and love with the Trinity, the Virgin Mary, the angels, and all the blessed is heavenly — the ultimate object of the deepest human desire and the state of supreme happiness. In Heaven, men live with and in Christ, but they still retain their true identity.
By his death and Resurrection, Jesus Christ opened Heaven to all who choose to accept it. Good people benefit fully from Christ's redemption. Those who have believed in him and have remained faithful become partners in his glory. Heaven is a community of all who have lived in Christ.
How Heaven functions is a mystery. It is far beyond what man can comprehend, so the Scriptures describe it in images that man can relate to: life, light, peace, wedding feast, wine of the kingdom, the Father's house, the heavenly Jerusalem, paradise.
God is the primary object of man's mind and will in Heaven. Once there, men receive “beatific vision,” the ability to see God in all his glory. The secondary object of the beatific vision is the knowledge and love of those people whom Christians have known on earth.
Church theologians teach that because it is not a bodily activity, beatific vision does not require sense and imagination. Beatific vision and love are activities of man's spiritual faculties.
Man needs an even greater ennoblement and strengthening of his spiritual faculties, greater than the virtues of hope and faith, to enjoy the beatific vision.
Theologians speak of Heaven as the state of happiness. They explain that we exist to give God glory and to find our happiness, but we find our happiness only in giving glory to God. In Heaven, the members of Christ's Mystical Body glorify God by their participation in the glory of Christ — it is only in Christ that they can do so. Christ is the final Temple where God is perfectly adored, and Heaven is its sanctuary.
Because Christ and Mary are now glorified in body, and because a body requires a place in which to dwell, Church tradition follows Scripture in teaching that Heaven is a place. However, it will exist in the fullest sense only after the Parousia, when those who are saved regain their original bodies.
The essential element in the state of heavenly glory is the union with the Blessed Trinity in mind and heart, resulting in the beatific joy. All who die in the state of grace possess essential glory as soon as their purification is completed. However, the fullness of glory will come to them when they receive back their bodies after the Second Coming.
Theology teaches that God destined man for happiness. For man to gain his final end, he must gain happiness. Therefore, Heaven must bring man to a state of perfect bliss. The concern here is not physical satisfaction; true contentment is associated with fulfilling the noble aspirations of the soul.
Since he has always been intended for the supernatural union with God, man has no destiny other than the supernatural one. Thus, his ultimate happiness is union with God. God is the primary object of the beatific vision. God alone is able to satisfy the human and angelic intellect made for the possession of truth; God alone is able to satisfy the desires of the human heart or angelic will.
The infinite perfection of the Blessed Trinity and the infinite love of God provide never-ending satisfaction. This happiness does not grow tiresome because it is not mixed with material pleasure, which, by its nature, cannot last. The happiness of Heaven is permanent; there can be no anxiety that it will diminish or go away.
Here is an outline of what the Catholic Church teaches about heavenly bliss:
It varies from one person to another, in correspondence to the state of the individual's union with God at the time of death.
Martyrs, virgins, and teachers of the faith receive a special mark or halo that denotes their dedication to Christ or his work during their lifetime.
Members enjoy the Company of the Elect — that is, each of the blessed takes delight in the others, including Our Lady, the angels, and the saints. How they lived on earth will give them affinities with certain of the blessed, though there will be full accord of spirit with all.
There will be the Resurrection, or restoration, of the body. The blessed in heaven will have the same bodies, however, those bodies will have special characteristics, including the following:
Splendor: Gives bodies a supernatural radiance and makes them beautiful to look at
Agility: Enables the glorified body to move through space in an instant
Subtlety: The complete subordination of the body to the soul, so that both are perfectly integrated
Impassibility: The glorified body no longer suffers and does not need to eat or sleep to preserve itself from wear and tear
Renewal of the world, together with the restoration of the body, completes God's plan for salvation. The renewed universe is the ultimate glorification of Christ and contributes to the happiness of the blessed.