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“Ask a Priest: What If I Find Part of the Creed Hard to Accept?”
Q: I was wondering about the last two lines of the Nicene Creed where it says, “I look forward to the resurrection of the body and the life of the world to come.” I have been omitting saying these two lines during the Mass for many months now, partly because I don’t understand it theologically and I don’t want to be guilty of lying if I say it without believing it. I have the idea (partly from my studying) that we don’t know with certainty that we’ll make it to heaven when we die, so how can we look forward to it so much? But then again, I don’t want to intentionally not participate in the whole Mass by not saying these lines. I’d appreciate your feedback on this situation. – M.O.
Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC
A: It is good to see that you are so conscientious about trying to practice your faith sincerely.
First off, it’s not essential that we “understand” every tenet of the faith “theologically,” for the simple fact that some points will always be a bit mysterious and beyond the full grasp of our intellects.
This doesn’t mean that our act of faith is naïve or mindless or insincere. After all, we often make “acts of faith” in people without totally understanding them or what they do. As kids we trusted our moms when they told us to eat our spinach, for instance. Or we casually board an airliner, trusting that the pilot knows his job. These acts of faith don’t require that we understand everything about nutrition or about the person in the cockpit.
Now, to the specific point you mention: It is a matter of our faith that we will all be reunited with our bodies at the end of time.
Here, it is worth quoting from the Catechism:
- We firmly believe, and hence we hope that, just as Christ is truly risen from the dead and lives forever, so after death the righteous will live forever with the risen Christ and he will raise them up on the last day. Our resurrection, like his own, will be the work of the Most Holy Trinity.
- The term “flesh” refers to man in his state of weakness and mortality. The “resurrection of the flesh” (the literal formulation of the Apostles’ Creed) means not only that the immortal soul will live on after death, but that even our “mortal body” will come to life again.
- Belief in the resurrection of the dead has been an essential element of the Christian faith from its beginnings. “The confidence of Christians is the resurrection of the dead; believing this we live .…”
In fact, even lost souls will be reunited with their bodies. Back to the Catechism:
- Who will rise? All the dead will rise, “those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of judgment.”
- How? Christ is raised with his own body: “See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself”; but he did not return to an earthly life. So, in him, “all of them will rise again with their own bodies which they now bear,” but Christ “will change our lowly body to be like his glorious body,” into a “spiritual body.”
- This “how” exceeds our imagination and understanding; it is accessible only to faith. [end quoted material]
So that is our faith: whether we are going to heaven or to hell, we will be reunited with our bodies someday. This is one reason we treat dead bodies reverently.
That we say in the creed that we “look forward to the resurrection of the body” expresses our Christian hope that salvation is attainable. You could see your own recitation of this line as an expression of hope, not as a statement of absolute foreknowledge of the future.
In fact, your attitude is healthy, for we shouldn’t think our salvation is automatic. Even St. Paul warned his audience to “work out your salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12).
So the upshot: Don’t worry if you fully understand everything in the creed. The creed is only the tip of an iceberg; beneath the waves lie the fathomless depths of the truths of the faith. These truths take a lifetime to plumb.
For now, ask the Holy Spirit for the gift of deeper understanding. So long as you aren’t rejecting parts of the creed outright, you can be sure that your participation in the Mass is sincere.
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