Every year, I dedicate the greater part of an entire class period to reviewing the Nicene Creed with my Confirmation class. It’s not strictly part of the curriculum, but I think it’s one of the most worthwhile lessons of the year. It’s also one of my favorite classes to teach. It’s one of those lessons that inevitably fill me with joy, where the passion exudes from every pore of my body and it feel like I’m going to burst with excitement. Yeah, I’m a theology nerd.
The class runs like this: I offer a brief explanation of what a creed is, and the students are asked to identify some of the creeds that we recite on a somewhat regular basis, namely the Nicene Creed and the Apostles Creed. With that introduction completed, I hand out printed Nicene Creeds and invite the students to read them quietly and to underline or circle any words, phrases, and sentences that they do not understand. After that is completed, I read through the creed and we discuss every piece of underlining or circling that the students have done. Usually, that amounts to me breaking down each and every line of the Nicene Creed, because by the time I have everyone’s contributions, I have every single single line underlined.
Needless to say, I spend a lot of class discussing the meaning of ‘consubstantial,’ and listing the million and one ways that we can assert that Jesus Christ is fully God and fully man. But there is also a particular phrase in the latter portion of the Nicene Creed that really gets my students: “the resurrection of the body.”
Most of the time, my students want to know if the resurrection refers to Christ’s. I think most of them assume that it is, but there’s enough confusion that they still feel the need to ask. Then they are inevitably surprised when I tell them that, no, it does not refer to Christ’s resurrection, that it refers to ours.
The resurrection of the body is one of the most incredible and mysterious teachings of the Catholic faith. It’s incredible because it’s the necessary conclusion of our salvation. Christ came so that we might have life, and have it to the fullest. But our fullest life is a human life, since we are human persons, and to be human is to be an embodied soul. We are not bodiless beings like the angels, and so we are not complete without our bodies. Our bodies, just as much as our souls, make us who we are.
Because of this, our salvation cannot end with our admission to heaven. Yes, Christ granted us that through his death and resurrection, but it has offered us so much more. Through His resurrection, we are granted our own. Christ is not the only one to experience a reunion of body and soul upon the resurrection; we will too.
Revelation speaks of a future “new heaven and…new earth” (21:1) that will be established at the end of time. In St. John’s vision, he saw that the old heaven and earth will pass away, making way for a new creation. That new heaven and new earth, that new creation, is our destiny. That is what we were created for. We were created human. We were created embodied and ensouled. At the end of the world as we know it, we will get our bodies back, but perfected, and we will reach the end for which we were created. That is the full promise of salvation. Christ’s story didn’t end in the tomb, with the separation of His body and soul. Neither will ours. That was never the plan.
The doctrine of the resurrection of the body is incredible, but it is also mysterious. Whenever my students learn about this teaching, they have plenty of questions that I cannot answer: How old will we be? Can we appear at an age that we never experienced during our mortal lives (in other words, what about babies who die in the womb or in their first years of life- will they be fated to spend an eternity as such?) Or what if we die of old age- will we spend the rest of our immortal lives as a 98 year old? What will our bodies look like? What will we be able to do with them- eat, walk through walls, wear clothing?
This teaching is very mysterious. We know that our bodies will be resurrected, but we don’t know many of the details. We can hypothesize some things based on Christ’s resurrection- Christ was able to eat (Luke 24:43) and appear in locked rooms (John 20:19), so many theologians have assumed that this means that we will be able to do the same. As far as how old we will be, theories abound- some claim that our bodies will be those of ourselves at the peak of our lives, had they not been touched by illness, war, plague, or anything that might strike us down too soon, so we could theoretically be any age, while other theologians suggest that we might all be 33, the age of Christ at His own death and resurrection.
Presumably, we will not know the answers to such questions until this doctrine becomes a reality, until the resurrection of the body actually occurs. Then we will know everything about our resurrected bodies, and we will be satisfied with the reality of our eternal lives with God. But for now, it is an enjoyable past time, imagining what our resurrected bodies will be like. And it’s a conversation that I really never get tired of.
Mary Help of Christians, pray for us!