The Transfiguration of Christ offers a window into the future of the elect. By the power of the resurrected Christ, his followers are destined to become like him, glorified and transfigured in eternal life.
By Deacon Frederick Bartels
6 August 2017
Today we celebrate the Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord, narrated in Matthew’s gospel (17:1-9):
Jesus took Peter, James, and his brother, John, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them; his face shone like the sun and his clothes became white as light. And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, conversing with him.Mt 17:1-2
One aspect of this beautiful event is that it affords us a window into our future; namely, the general resurrection. At this time, the dead bodies of the faithful of Christ will be raised up, glorified, and reunited to their spiritual and immortal souls. Thus we will live on throughout eternity, fully human, enjoying a glorified state of existence and the fullness of human life. The future of the elect is to become like Christ (cf. 1 Jn 3:2) and to receive a glorified body like his.
Although many today think the resurrection of the dead is simply too fantastic a doctrine to accept, we have the certainty of the promise of God himself that this event is indeed in our future. God has disclosed this promise. What a gift of life and love!
The General Resurrection:
We profess our belief in the resurrection from the dead every Sunday at Mass when we recite the Nicene Creed. In fact, the faith of the Church is based on the resurrected Christ, whom we are destined to follow, raised to a new, spiritualized life by the gift of his Spirit. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (Nos. 997-1004) provides information based on Tradition, Scripture and the belief of the Church on what we know will take place. Following are some of the main points:
What is “rising”? In death, the separation of the soul from the body, the human body decays and the soul goes to meet God, while awaiting its reunion with its glorified body. God, in his almighty power, will definitively grant incorruptible life to our bodies by reuniting them with our souls, through the power of Jesus’ Resurrection.
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” (Jn 5:29; Dan 12:2).
How? Christ is raised with his own body: “See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself” (Lk 24:39); 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” (Lateran Council IV (1215): DS 801; Phil 3:21; 1 Cor 15:44.):
But someone will ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?” You foolish man! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. And what you sow is not the body which is to be, but a bare kernel. . . . What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable. . . . The dead will be raised imperishable. . . . For this perishable nature must put on the imperishable, and this mortal nature must put on immortality (1 Cor 15:35-37,42,52,53).
This “how” exceeds our imagination and understanding; it is accessible only to faith. Yet our participation in the Eucharist already gives us a foretaste of Christ’s transfiguration of our bodies:
Just as bread that comes from the earth, after God’s blessing has been invoked upon it, is no longer ordinary bread, but Eucharist, formed of two things, the one earthly and the other heavenly: so too our bodies, which partake of the Eucharist, are no longer corruptible, but possess the hope of resurrection (St. Irenaeus, Adv. haeres. 4,18,4-5:PG 7/1,1028-1029).
When? Definitively “at the last day,” “at the end of the world (Jn 6: 39-40,44,54; 11:24; LG 48 § 3). Indeed, the resurrection of the dead is closely associated with Christ’s Parousia:
For the Lord himself will descend from heaven, with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first (Rom 6:23; cf. Gen 2:17).
St. Thomas Aquinas on The Properties of The Glorified Body
In the “Summa Theologica, Supplement to the Third Part,” St. Thomas Aquinas provides us with his theology on the five main properties of the glorified body each the followers of Christ is to receive:
Identity: The glorified body we receive, raised from the dead, will be our body, not a foreign or alien one. We will recognize it as our own, we will also recognize others, and they will recognize us.
Quality: It will be at the height of its powers, fully possessing integrity and health. Our glorified body will be beautiful, powerful, and in a state of perfection. This relates to the fullness of life of the glorified state. It is not a diminished state, but a completed, elevated one.
Impassibility: this refers to unchangeability. Our glorified body will never diminish, age, fall ill or die. It is not susceptible to injury, sickness, death or decay. It might be thought of as a “spiritualized body,” although bear in mind it is a body, not simply a spirit.
Agility: this property refers to complete ease of movement. St. Thomas thought that we would move in a similar manner to that of the angels, in a spiritual way, at the speed of thought. Perhaps the whole universe will be our playground! Each place is made readily accessible by simply thinking about it. In any case, the normal constraints of time and space will not apply as they do now in the material world.
Clarity: this property refers to luminosity. We get a glimpse of this concept in the Transfiguration event, when the divine nature of Jesus shines out, illuminates, his human nature. His glory shines through and he becomes radiant like the sun, dazzling white. We can see that, also, this entails a type of transparency. The beauty of the spiritual soul, with its radiant holiness, as well as our share in the divine nature of God, are interior and invisible realities. Clarity of the glorified body refers to how these things will illuminate outward appearances from within. Divine light will radiate outward throughout the glorified body.
When we joyfully anticipate Christ’s promise of the resurrection from the dead, we are engaging the theological virtue of hope, which is a gift from God normally received at baptism and through faith in Christ. This gift enables us to trust in the promises of Christ and look forward to the fullness of life to come, which is defined as eternal communion with the Tripersonal God. God indeed has beautiful things in store for those who love him!
What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him. (1 Cor 2:9)
Praise be to God!
Deacon Frederick Bartels is a member of the Catholic clergy who serves the Church in the diocese of Pueblo. He holds an MA in Theology and Educational Ministry and is a Catholic educator, public speaker, and evangelist who strives to infuse culture with the saving principles of the gospel.