Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of May 20, 2002
What are the forms of rapture?
By SR. LOUISE ZDUNICH, NDC
What is the Rapture? Who will be called? What about the others? What is their doctrine?
In the New Testament, we see two forms of rapture. The first is individual when Paul described his experience of being taken out of himself into the third heaven (2 Corinthians 12).
The second is a group experience when Christ returns in glory at the end of time and "catches up" into the air the holy ones with himself (1 Thessalonians 4).
The Modern Catholic Dictionary defines rapture as a "sudden and violent" form of ecstasy which "cannot as a rule be resisted" while resistance is possible "at least at the onset" with simple ecstasy.
The word rapture comes from the Latin word raptio or "seized." The word ecstasy comes from the Latin "to stand outside of oneself."
Suspension of the external senses and the normal signs of consciousness is common while the face is usually radiant. St. Teresa of Avila gives us an image of ecstasy; as the clouds gather up the moisture from the earth and take it up so "the cloud ascends to heaven and brings the soul along and shows it the kingdom prepared for it."
Throughout Christian history, caution has been advised and exercised with regard to ecstasy. Ecstasy is not the goal of the spiritual life but it should inspire action and must have moral consequences.
From his own experience, Paul put greater store in his "thorn in the flesh" than in his ecstasy. St. Teresa suggested that ecstasy can come from God or from the devil or from one's imagination or psychological state.
Therefore, it needs to be evaluated with the test of authenticity which is the desire of the soul to remain in complete conformity with God.
In 1 Thessalonians 4, Paul consoled the believers who were grieving because they feared that those who had died would have no chance to see Christ again. Paul assured them that at the end, the dead would be resurrected and re-united with the living to dwell permanently with Jesus in his resurrected glory.
In 2 Thessalonians 2:1, we read about the coming of "a man of lawlessness," an evil one who "enthrones himself in God's sanctuary and claims that he is God" (v. 5) causing much suffering.
This is the period of the great tribulation. The evil one will be destroyed by Christ who will gather together the faithful ones unto himself.
This is the taking up or rapture of the believers which, according to 2 Thessalonians, would come after great trials.
There has been much speculation about the timing of the rapture in relation to the great tribulation.
A view popularized in the early 19th century by Darby, an American Protestant fundamentalist, is that before this period of great trial, a sort of "secret rapture" of believers will occur, leaving non-believers to face the trails.
In the early Church, millenarianism (belief in the 1,000-year period of blessedness) was found mainly among the Gnostic and Montanist sects, while at the time of the Reformation, it was adhered to by the Anabaptists and the Moravian and Bohemian Brethren.
In modern times, it has held sway among fundamental groups, especially strong with the recent millennium year 2000 when we heard a lot about the end of the world which some believed would take place then. We must remember that apocalyptic literature is written in symbolic form and therefore is not meant to be understood literally.
The Catholic Catechism uses end-time terminology much as Paul does without mentioning the rapture ( a word not used by Paul either), or any of the hype given it by fundamentalists today.
Mainline Christians, in general, have not focused on these ideas, knowing that we do not know when or how the end of the world will occur.
"Stay awake because you do not know the day that your master is coming. . . . you too, must stand ready because the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect" (Matthew 24:42-44).
Instead of a lot of hype, we need to focus on how we live our lives in the present: loving God and caring for one another and the Earth as the Jesus of the Gospels told us to.
"Look at the birds. . . . They neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. . . . Think of the flowers in the fields; they never work nor spin; yet I assure you that not even Solomon in all his regalia was robed like one of these. . . . So do not worry, do not say, What are we to eat and drink? How are we to be clothed? Set your hearts on God's reign first and all these things will be given you."