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Resurrection of the Dead

  • FR. WILLIAM SAUNDERS

At Easter, we celebrate that Jesus rose from the dead. In the creed, we believe in the "resurrection of the dead." Could you better explain these beliefs?

 

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In the Gospels, Jesus predicted three times that He would be arrested by the chief priests and scribes, suffer, be condemned to death and be crucified; however, He also predicted that He would be "raised up" on the third day" (cf. Mt 16:21, 17:22-23, 20:17-19). The predictions came true. On Easter Sunday morning, when Mary Magdalene and other women, St. Peter and St. John went to the tomb, they found it empty. The angel proclaimed, "You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, the one who was crucified. He has been raised up; He is not here" (Mk 16:6). Jesus had risen body and soul from the dead.

Later, Jesus appeared to the Apostles and others. He would appear and disppear suddenly. He could be embraced (Mt 28:9). He showed the wound marks of His hands and side to the Apostles, and invited St. Thomas to examine them with his fingers (Jn 20:19ff). He was not always easily recognizable, as in the appearance to Mary Magdalene (Jn 20:11ff) or to the Apostles by the Sea of Galilee (Jn 21:1ff). Jesus also shared meals with His Apostles (Jn 21:9ff, Lk 24:36ff) and other disciples (Lk 23:13). However, Jesus affirmed He was not some ghost or some resuscitated corpse. Jesus said, "Look at My hands and My feet; it is really I. Touch Me, and see that a ghost does not have flesh and bones as I do" (Lk 24:29).

Clearly, our Lord appeared bodily, but no longer bound to the laws of our time and space. Therefore, through the resurrection, our Lord has a radically transformed or glorified existence. Glorification means that Jesus was fully and perfectly spiritualized and divinized without loss of His humanity.

We believe that we too will share this glorfication. When we die, our souls stand before God in the particular judgment, and we have to account for our lives the good and the bad, the omissions and the commissions. God will then judge the soul worthy of heaven, hell, or purgatory.

At the end of time the time of our Lord's second coming and the general judgment we too will share in the resurrection of the dead and be reunited with our bodies. At that time, Christ will transform the bodies of the righteous and make them like His own glorified body. St. Paul addressed this issue: "Perhaps someone will say, 'How are the dead to be raised up? What kind of body will they have?' A nonsensical question! The seed you sow does not germinate unless it dies. So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown in the earth is subject to decay, what rises is incorruptible. What is sown is ignoble, what rises is glorious. Weakness is sown, strength rises up. A natural body is put down and a spiritualbody comes up" (1 Cor 15:35-36, 42-44).

The bodies of the faithful will be transfigured to the pattern of the risen Christ. Traditionally, theology has described these resurrected and glorified bodies as having the characteristics of identity, entirety and immortality. Moreover, they will also have four "transcendent qualities": impassibility freedom from physical evil, death, sickness and pain; clarity freedom from defects and an endowment with beauty and radiance; agility whereby the soul moves the body and there is freedom of motion; and subtility whereby the body is completely spiritualized under the dominion of the soul. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches, "After the universal judgment, the righteous will reign forever with Christ, glorified in body and soul" (No. 1042).

What about the resurrected bodies of the souls of the damned in hell? These bodies will have identity, entirety and immortality, but not the our transcendent qualities. They will have the condition necessary for suffering the eternal punishment of hell, but not the glorification of the Lord shared by those in heaven.

We must admit that this "glorification" exceeds our understanding and even our imagination. Keep in mind that each of us is a person, a union of body and soul, and Christ came to redeem each of us as a whole person. The late great theologian, Hans Urs von Balthasar, posited, "A bodiless soul is not a human being, and reincarnation would never be able to redeem us from entrapment in death. But this hope, insane in view of decay and the grave, and also contradictory to all experience, hangs on one fact: Christ's Resurrection, apart from which all Christian belief is 'in vain' (1 Cor 15:14)" (Credo, 95). Therefore, we believe in this because Christ, who rose body and soul from the dead, promised us a like resurrection of the body: "For an hour is coming in which all those in teir tombs shall hear His voice and come forth. Those who have done right shall rise to live; the evildoers shall rise to be damned" (Jn 5:28-29).

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Acknowledgement

Saunders, Rev. William. "Resurrection of the Dead" Arlington Catholic Herald.

This article is reprinted with permission from Arlington Catholic Herald.

The Author

Strait Answers.JPGFather William P. Saunders is pastor of Our Lady of Hope Parish in Potomac Falls and former dean of the Notre Dame Graduate School of Christendom College. Father has been writing his weekly "Straight Answers" column for the Arlington Catholic Herald since 1993. The above article is one of those "Straight Answers" columns. Father Saunders is the author of Straight Answers, Answers to 100 Questions about the Catholic Faith, a book based on 100 of his columns and published by Cathedral Press in Baltimore.

Copyright © 2003 Arlington Catholic Herald
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