Questions of Faith
Most people have experienced the sadness of witnessing an animal die, usually a beloved pet who brought great joy throughout their short lifespan. During the grieving period, it’s common for parents to tell children that there’s a special place for all the animals who have departed from their world – like a pet heaven.
This image of a pet no longer in pain and experiencing paradise can certainly alleviate the worry of a young child wondering where their favourite animal has gone to, but is there any truth to the claim?
The Church has no official teaching on the matter of pets entering heaven, but there are theological principles that can direct us to what answer is most probable.
Catholics believe that all living things have souls, and this includes not only humans, but also plants and animals. When a living thing dies, the soul separates from its body or organic makeup. In the case of animals, the soul goes out of existence. However, the souls of human beings are radically different from the souls of other living things. Whereas the souls of animals are contingent upon their material makeup, human souls remain in existence after death because it is immaterial.
This means that that human souls can’t be destroyed, and so are immortal.
Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI said in a sermon in 2008, that when an animal dies, it “just means the end of existence on earth”. It’s reasonable to believe then that all animals that die before the Second Coming and the creation of the “new heaven and new earth” will cease to exist.
This, however, doesn’t necessarily mean that there won’t be any animals after the Second Coming.
Some theologians argue that animals flourished in the Garden of Eden, before sin entered the world, and so there’s no inherent or theological contradiction in positing that God could create more animals.Animals were present when the fullness of grace abounded. However, others argue that there will be no need for animals to exist in the new creation, which pertains to ultimately knowing and loving God. Of course, this is all just speculative, and we will only really ever find out the answer at the end of time.
“The souls of human beings are radically different from the souls of other living things”
Accompanied with this question is often another: ‘How will I be truly happy in Heaven without my pet?’ Scripture teaches that for those in heaven, God “will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away” (Rev. 21:4). While it’s not clear how this will be achieved, it seems those in heaven will somehow be reconfigured to understand the nature of all things and be fully capable of contemplating God.
To sum up, it’s likely that animals that have existed and continue to exist until the Second Coming will pass away like other material things, but that there is a strong possibility animals created anew could exist in Heaven.