Immediately at death, the soul on leaving the body has to go somewhere. It has to be assigned to its proper place. Heaven, hell, or purgatory are the possible places. It is for God to decide where the soul deserves to go. While on earth we can use our free will to our heart's content. We can keep God's law, or break it. We can be better or worse as we choose. God gives us free rein. At death, however, the iron curtain falls. God's judgment is passed on what we, during life, chose freely to do and actually did do. God does the judging. We furnish Him with the material for His judgment. God, of course, knows all things. He knows at one glance our status or condition. He does not have to sift evidence and laboriously weigh the case, as would a human judge. As for ourselves, at the moment of death our whole life will flash before us in an instant and we will clearly see the good and the bad.
God will not pronounce sentence by word of mouth. No, but He will light up our minds to see the verdict of salvation or damnation according as our souls are guilty or not. Now while on earth we often enough wonder just how bad a particular action was, whether we were really guilty or not. We know, of course, that however uncertain we are ourselves, God will never condemn us for an act that we performed in good faith. In examining our consciences, very often we end up in confusion and quite rightly recommend ourselves to the mercy of God to forgive us as He sees us guilty. But in the moment of death God will give us the light to see clearly exactly how we stand before Him. When the floodlights of God's judgment are turned full blast on the soul, how clearly then will every last fault show up! We will know our condition. And God will pass the unchangeable decision.
The Suddenness of Judgment
The sentence will be executed without delay. Some poor suffering person might have lain on a bed of sickness and pain for many a month or many a year. Death was slow in coming. Gradually, gradually, the spectre of death crept up on its victim. Death may have been slow in coming. But its blow when it came was sudden. How quick the events rush on! In an instant death, judgment, and commitment to heaven, hell, or purgatory. It seemed that death would never come. But in an instant the soul is judged and swiftly wrapt up to heaven, or plunged into hell, or borne to the cleansing fires of purgatory.
After the moment of death it is too late to to plead for mercy. The time for moving God is over. You should have implored His mercy long ago. Now He must judge you according as you lived.
There is not much point in trying to determine where the particular judgment takes place. If it takes place immediately after death, it would seem to take place right at the body, as the soul leaves the body. This view gives striking meaning to a death-bed scene.
To witness a death is to be present at a judgment, for Almighty God judges immediately the departing soul. What deep emotion should flood our souls as we stand in the presence of death and judgment, and meditate on a soul soaring heavenward, or plunging downward
To see someone die is occasion for a meditation without equal. We can always be grateful that we of the living still have time in which to improve the condition of our souls. It is the judgment that makes death terrible or welcome. If death were mere inactivity, we could simply ignore it . But since death means immediate judgment and appointment to some kind of life, for good or for bad, then it must concern us. And it is indeed of particular concern to each one of us. For the particular judgment is for each one of us individually.
Source: Come The End, Imprimatur 1951