All of the words which are a part of the Church’s liturgy reflect divine truth and eternal wisdom. The Creed, for example, is not a piece of prose intended only to embellish the liturgy. All of the words of the Creed are explications of certain aspects of the faith. One of the phrases which we profess week after week is, “I look forward to the resurrection of the dead.” But, what does this mean? Faith is not superstition; we should have a sense of why we do what we do and why we say what we say.
The more intentional we are in the living the faith, the more blessings we receive, and the more we merit before God. To be intentional means to have knowledge of what one is doing and meaning to do it. Being intentional is not like being a passive jellyfish that only goes where the current moves it–being intentional is like a builder who knows what he is setting out to build and then builds it. The builder knows what he is doing and he means to do it. The same should be said of our relationship to Jesus and the worship we offer Him.
In light of the resurrection theme from the readings at today’s Mass, let us consider the truth behind the phrase, “I look forward to the resurrection of the dead.” Specifically, what does this phrase means for us and what does it mean for the way in which we live our lives. Also, what will the resurrection of our bodies look like?
I do not want to be led too far afield by the Four Last Things, but a gloss will help set the stage for our current consideration. At our death, our soul will separate from the body which will begin to decay. Immediately upon death the soul is before God for judgment. This judgment is called the Particular Judgment (see Hebrews 9:27). St Thomas Aquinas compares this judgment to gravity, because the soul is “either plunged into hell or soars to heaven, unless it is held back by some debt, for which its flight must be delayed until the soul is first of all cleansed” (Summa Theologica question 39, article 2). The way in which we choose to follow Jesus now has eternal significance for our Particular Judgment. The Catechism quotes St John of the Cross on this point: “At the evening of life, we shall be judged on our love” (CCC, 1022).
The Last Judgment, however, is of most interest to our present consideration. The Catechism tells us, “The Last Judgment will reveal even to its furthest consequences the good each person has done or failed to do during his earthly life” (CCC, 1039). The resurrection of the dead will precede the Final Judgment as the words of Our Lord in John 5:28-29 make clear. This brings us to our present question: For those receiving and Eternal Reward, what will their bodies look like?
St Thomas highlights four characteristics which will mark the glorified bodies of the saints (which, please God, we hope to be): impassibility, subtlety, agility, and clarity. Each of these characteristics will increase the happiness of persons in Heaven.
Impassibility: the body of a saint will be free from every sort of suffering, ailment, or death. In a word, no evil will touch a gloried body–arthritis no more!
Subtlety: the complete control of the body by the soul. As Our Lord was able pass into a locked room, so will the bodies of the saints. The etymology of this word suggests the ability to penetrate. St Paul uses the word “spiritual” to describe this characteristic of the body (1 Corinthians 15:44).
Agility: the characteristic refers to the soul’s control of the body with regards to movement. The body of a resurrected saint will be able to move as quick as his mind is able to think. The obligatory use of mobility aids, with which many are intimately acquainted, will be no more!
Clarity: the bodies of the saints will have a brightness which shows forth their glory. I cannot help but think of the way the stained glass images of saints illumine on a sunny day. Likewise, the holier a person is, and the more merit they accumulate, the brighter they will shine. No imperfection will mar the resurrected body of a saint. We can think of the Transfiguration of Our Lord!
Next time you profess the Creed, think of great blessings in store for you in you die in God’s friendship. Also, the characteristics of the glorified bodies of the saints should increase our hope and strengthen our resolve over any of the present difficulties we face. We must have a proper respect for our bodies and those of others because souls and bodies will be reunited before the Last Judgment. One of the best virtues we can practice in order to prepare ourselves for our bodily resurrection is chastity.
Remember: each time we receive one of the Seven Sacraments we are put into contact with the Resurrected body of Jesus.