by Msgr. Stuart Swetland
Dear Father: In the Apostles’ Creed, we profess our belief in “the resurrection of the body.” In the post-Resurrection Gospels, Jesus is able to pass through doors, eat actual food, and show his wounds to St. Thomas. The Catechism of the Catholic Church talks about a “glorified body” (CCC, 997). What do “glorified” bodies and the Risen Lord’s body mean for us in the afterlife? —Anonymous in Oregon
Dear Anonymous in Oregon:
On Sundays and other solemnities, the norm for the Church (in the East and the West) is for each person to profess the faith. The synthesis of faith normally used is known as the Nicene Creed (learn more about this creed on page 42). The ancient profession of the Church of Rome known as the Apostles’ Creed also can be used (see CCC, 194–195).
Both of these creeds speak of the resurrection of Jesus via the formula “on the third day he rose again.” Both also speak of our firm and certain hope that the faithful who persevere in charity will share in his resurrection. In the Apostles’Creed, we profess “the resurrection of the body,” and in the Nicene Creed we proclaim, “I look forward to the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.”
Following the apostle Paul, the most fundamental proclamation of the Christian faith is the belief in the Resurrection (see 1 Corinthians 15). “Christ is risen! Christ is risen, indeed!” is the Paschal greeting that expresses the foundational belief of every Christian.
St. Paul calls Christ’s resurrection the “firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Corinthians 15:20). Thus, as Christians we believe we will share in a like resurrection. The belief is part of our baptismal creed. We know that in Baptism, we diewith Christ and rise with him a “new creation.” But what begins in the regenerative action of rebirth in Baptism is meant to be brought to fulfillment in heavenly union:
We were indeed buried with him through baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life. For if we have grown into union with him through a death like his, we shall also be united with him in the resurrection. (Romans 6:4-5)
‘The world to come’
The resurrection of the just is likened to the resurrection of Jesus.
I believe the key to understanding this is the phrase, “the life of the world to come” in the Nicene Creed. Our hope is fixed on Jesus, who explicitly taught us that he is preparing a place for us so that where he is, we also may be (see John 14:1-6). Jesus came that we might have life and have it to the full (see John 10:10). And fullness of life is to dwell, toabide with Jesus forever. This is a real relationship —a deep, personal, passionate friendship (see John 15:9-15) with our Savior.
Heaven is real. What makes heaven heavenly is, among other things, that we are with the one we love with all our heart, with all our soul, and with all our mind (see Matthew 22:37) forever and ever without any possibility of separation or loss. In addition, we are united with all other persons (angelic or human) who love the Lord and have given themselves to him. Like them, we will be perfected in every way —heart, mind, body, and soul will all be perfected. This is indeed “life to the full.”
What is bodily resurrection?
Your question focuses in particular on the meaning of bodily resurrection. Since humans were created by God as bodily beings, the fullness of our redemption will also include a resurrected, glorified body. This body will have the characteristics of Christ’s glorified body. Remember that his body is fully human, for Jesus is like us in all things but sin (see Hebrews 2:17). Historically, theological reflection on the evidence given in sacred Scripture has described four characteristics of our glorified, resurrected bodies: their impassibility, their subtlety, their agility, and their clarity (see St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, Supplement, 82-85).
Remember, all humans are immortal. All humans will rise —“those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of judgment” (CCC, 998, quoting John 5:29; see Daniel 12:2).
For the just, their glorified bodies will be incapable of dying, suffering, or sickness of any kind (impassibility). They will have a spiritualized body in the sense that their bodies will be both incorruptible and not bound by space, time, or the physical limitations that we now experience (subtlety). The glorified body will perfectly reflect and obey the spiritual soul (agility). We see these aspects in Christ appearing and disappearing, passing through locked doors, and so on. These aspects are attested to in Scripture when St. Paul writes of the glorified body:
So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown corruptible; it is raised incorruptible. It is sown dishonorable; it is raised glorious. It is sown weak; it is raised powerful. It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual one. (1 Corinthians 15:42-44)
But perhaps the most glorious aspect of the resurrected body is its radiant beauty (clarity). The resurrected bodies of the saints will reflect the radiant light of Christ. Jesus taught this in Matthew 13:43 when he said, “Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father.” Each and every saint is perfected in every way. Each and every saint will be perfectly beautiful.
An aspect of their beauty, of course, like the visible wounds of our Lord’s resurrected body, will be the visible wounds of love that will show forth in every saint a unique aspect of how their self-sacrificing love reflected the brightness of Jesus’ love for them. In this sense, the saints will be like a prism, reflecting the brilliant light of Christ into the myriad aspects of human love well and faithfully lived.
We will be perfected in every way- heart, mind, body, and soul.
After the eschaton (the second coming of Christ), God will recreate all things in Christ, and there will be a “new heaven and a new earth” (see Gaudium et Spes 38-39; Revelation 21; Ephesians 1:3-10). In this peaceful kingdom, all things and people who have accepted God’s offer of relationship will be brought to perfection:
[God] will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain, [for] the old order has passed away. (Revelation 21:4)
Our perfection as humans will include the recreation of our bodies, now glorified and perfectly attuned to our souls. Together with all creation, we will rejoice as our perfection will join with all things in Christ to give God glory, for as St. Irenaeus proclaimed: “The glory of God is man fully alive.”
The glorified body will perfectly reflect and obey the spiritual soul.