The 12 Articles of the Apostles’ Creed
During the weeks of Lent as we accompany our Elect who are preparing to receive the Sacraments and as we approach the renewal of our own baptismal promises, we will offer reflection on some of the articles of the Apostles’ Creed and how they directly impact our lives.
“I believe in the resurrection of the body and life everlasting.”
The last two articles of the Apostles’ Creed relate to the four last things: death, judgment, hell, and heaven, which aren’t named explicitly but are contained in the profession of bodily resurrection and everlasting life.
According to the Scriptures, death was not part of God’s creation – “God did not make death, nor delight in the destruction of the living” (Wisdom 1:13). Death entered the world because of sin; Adam and Eve were expelled from Eden so that they could not eat of the tree of life (Genesis 3:22). This was not simply a punishment but a remedy so that they would not live forever in the miserable state of separation from God cause by their sin.
But death cannot defeat God. Jesus shows his power over death in raising the widow’s son (Luke 7:11-16), the synagogue official’s daughter (Matthew 9:18-26), and Lazarus (John 11:1-44). These are different from the resurrection of Jesus. After his resurrection, Jesus has a glorified body that can change appearance, appear and disappear suddenly, and was taken up into heaven in the sight of his disciples (Acts 1:6-11). He was not an apparition because he ate (Luke 24:43), but his body is no longer subject to disease or death. On the other hand, Lazarus and the children who Jesus raised were resuscitated, not resurrected with glorified bodies; they remained subject to disease and pain and would die natural deaths again. Although redeemed by Christ, we are also subject to death because of sin and because we follow the pattern of Jesus, who died in order to conquer death. But his resurrection promises the glorified body as a restoration of human nature.
It is a common misconception that humans are spiritual beings who spend part of their existence in a body and then become purely spiritual at death, but this isn’t so; we are not purely spiritual by nature the way that angelic beings are. A complete human person is a body with a soul, and a human soul separated from the body by death is an incomplete human person – the soul endures because it is immaterial and cannot be destroyed by death but is in a sense “homeless” without a body. Therefore, to be complete and fully restored in a new creation, human souls must be reunited with their bodies.
God has revealed that, just as Jesus was raised from the dead and his body glorified, we too shall be raised from the dead and have glorified bodies. When Jesus returns in glory, there will be the General Judgment and the resurrection of the dead. The just will be go, body and soul, to heaven, and the damned will go, body and soul, to hell.
Faith in the resurrection of the body is important to the way that we live. We treat the bodies of the deceased with respect due to human persons, but even more so for the baptized because their bodies are sanctified by the sacraments and joined to Christ’s Body in the Church. For this reason, the Church continues to prefer the burial of bodies because it shows greater esteem and reflects faith in the resurrection of the body. The Church does allow cremation, but only if not chosen for reasons contrary to Christian faith. Cremated remains must be treated with the same reverence that we show intact bodies. They must be laid to rest in a sacred place (i.e., a cemetery) to ensure that they are respected and that those faithful departed are included in the prayers of the Church as well as the prayers and remembrance of their families.
Cremated human remains should never be divided (by scattering or between different family members), incorporated into jewelry, or kept at a residence or any place not intended for the repose of human remains. Such practices cannot be reconciled with the reverence that is owed to a person’s remains. We believe that the faithful departed are destined for eternal glory with Jesus Christ, and the ways that we honor them and pray for them as they await the resurrection must be in keeping with that faith.