September 10, 2015

Are there cats (and other animals) in heaven?

By Msgr. M. Francis Mannion *

A good friend talked me into adopting a stray cat on Christmas Day 2011. I named him PatCat after my friend Patrick, and enjoyed his company immensely for over three years. PatCat was killed by a car on Palm Sunday of this year and I buried him behind our church. I still miss him, but have no inclination to replace him. It wouldn’t seem right.

This occurrence opened again for me a question many people ask after their pets die: Are there animals in heaven? Although the Church has never pronounced on the matter, I believe there are.

The 1989 Book of Blessings (BB), the Church’s official source for the blessing of persons, places, and things contains an Order for the Blessing of Animals. The introduction to this Blessing offers a statement of how animals have participated in God’s work of salvation.

It reads as follows: “The animals of God’s creation inhabit the skies, the earth, and the sea. They share in the fortunes of human existence and have a part in human life. God, who confers his gifts on all living things, has often used the service of animals or made them symbolic reminders of the gifts of salvation” (no. 949).

The BB continues: “Animals were saved from the flood and afterwards made a part of the covenant with Noah (Genesis 9:9-10). The paschal lamb brings to mind the passover sacrifice and the deliverance from the bondage of Egypt (Exodus 12:13-14); a giant fish saved Jonah (Jonah 2:1-11); ravens brought bread to Elijah (1 Kings 17:6); animals were included in the repentance enjoined on humans (Jonah 3:7). And animals share in Christ’s redemption of all God’s creation” (ibid.).

It not a big leap from this to say that animals are not irrelevant to the life of heaven, indeed that cats—and other animals—belong in heaven.

Is there a more direct biblical basis for this belief?  I think do. It is found in the Book of the Prophet Isaiah in which the Prophet describes the life of the world to come: “Then the wolf shall be the guest of the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; the calf and the young lion shall browse together, with a little child to guide them. The cow and the bear shall be neighbors, together their young shall rest; the lion shall eat hay like the ox. The baby shall play by the cobra’s den, and the child shall lay his hand on the adder’s lair. There shall be no harm or ruin on all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be filled with knowledge of the Lord, as water covers the sea” (11:6-9).

St. Paul sets forth an expansive theology of creation in his Letter to the Romans. He asserts that all created things—among which I number animals—will be in heaven. For Paul, all creation—not just the human part of it—will be raised up in the coming of the Kingdom. Paul writes:  “For creation awaits with eager expectation the revelation of the children of God; for creation was made subject to futility, not of its own accord but because of the one who subjected it, in hope that creation itself would be set free from slavery to corruption and share in the glorious freedom of the children of God. We know that all creation is groaning in labor pains even until now” (8:19-22).

This column may be taken as a tribute to PatCat. If you feel like sending  sympathy cards, don’t forget to include cash.

Msgr. Mannion is pastor emeritus of St. Vincent de Paul parish in Salt Lake City. He holds a Ph.D in sacramental theology from The Catholic University of America. He was founding president of The Society for Catholic Liturgy in 1995 and the founding editor of the Societys journal, Antiphon. At the invitation of Cardinal Francis George of Chicago he founded the Mundelein Liturgical Institute in 2000.

* Catholic News Agency columns are opinion and do not necessarily express the perspective of the agency.