The Rapture Virus
Infectious - But Not for the Informed Catholic
The Rapture Versus Scripture, Tradition and the Sensus Fidelium - Part Three of Three Parts:
"What the Church always taught was that some few could be taken body and soul at the end of the world to stand before God at the Last Judgment because of their great merit in fighting the Antichrist. These Catholics will not have been spared from the great tribulations foretold for end of the age; rather, they will be the greatest saints of the Church because they will have endured the greatest sufferings and trials. In the popular Left Behind book and movie, there is no need for sanctity. Scores of people without any special merit are taken from the earth. This mediocre group of people is hardly the models for the last saints who will fight against the Antichrist."
The Protestant illusion of the Rapture, hatched in heresy in recent times, has ruptured many souls, infecting their perception of Eschatology, and consequently their Faith. If one truly knows their Catholic Faith, the Rapture will not capture their attention which should be focused on the Four Last Things: DEATH, JUDGMENT, HEAVEN AND HELL!
3. The Rapture in Sacred Scriptures and Tradition
The rapture also depends on an "extra" and "secret" coming of Our Lord before the final coming and last judgment. The notion that men, women, and children will be taken to heaven body and soul before the last judgment in a mysterious and sudden disappearance is extremely original. There is absolutely nothing in Scriptures, or in a good interpretation of it, that allows Catholics to believe this.
Should anyone attempt to convince you of the Rapture with that feeble line: "But it's in the Bible," the response is simple. Where? Nowhere does the term "rapture" appear. Its formulation has come by means of induction and reading this strange theory into various passages.
What verses do Rapture theorists most often quote to prove the unorthodox theory? Here is a favorite: "And the dead who are in Christ will rise first; then we who are alive, who are left, shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet Christ, into the air, and so we shall be always with the Lord" (1 Thess 4:15-6).
St. Paul is very clear in his text about what he is speaking about and to whom he is referring. He is speaking about the final coming of Our Lord at the last judgment, when Christ will come to judge both the living and the dead. He is comforting those in the community who had loved ones already dead, assuring them that on this public occasion of the second coming of Our Lord, the dead will rise first to be reunited to their bodies and be judged, to be followed by those who are yet alive. Catholic Catechism and Scriptures makes this very clear, and it is even unchallenged by most mainline Protestant sects who reject the Rapture invention.
Nor is there any evidence in Sacred Scriptures of a secret or silent "coming" of Our Lord. All the texts speak of loud trumpet calls announcing "the Son of Man coming on the clouds of Heaven with power and great glory" (Matt 24:30) Nothing about a secret rapture "in-between" the Incarnation and Our Lord's last and final arrival to judge the living and the dead.
To illustrate the juggling act Evangelicals have to make to back up their theory, let's go to a text they use to justify Rapture. They hold that the parable of the ten virgins (Matt 25:2-13) is a parable of the rapture of the "church." The five wise virgins with lamps lit and ready are "taken up" by Christ the bridegroom; the five unprepared foolish virgins are "left behind." This stretches the parable to the point of the ridiculous. According to Catholic eschatological tradition, this parable, which advises Catholics to "watch ye therefore, because you know not the day nor the hour," refers to the vigilance members of the Church Militant must exercise throughout life to be prepared for the last things: death, judgment, Heaven or hell.
Finally, adherents to rapture theory can make no claims to some long held Tradition that comes from the Apostles or the Church Fathers and Doctors, since their theory evolved only as recently as the 19th century.
2. Glimmerings of the theory appeared with the Boston Puritan minister Increase Mather (1639-1723), who wrote of the saved being "caught up in the air" 3-1/2 years before Christ judged the world. A Chilean Jesuit named Manuel Lacunza published a work in 1812 in which he theorized that Our Lord would take up the faithful who regularly received Communion and keep them with Him safe for 45 days during a period of terrible chastisement. This book was translated into English in 1827 by Edward Irving, minister of the Protestant Church of Scotland. Irving's work would appear to be the basis for Darby's development of the Rapture theory. Paul Thigpen, The Rapture Trap: A Catholic Response to 'End Times' Fever (West Chester: PA: Ascension Press, 2001), pp. 143-5.
As Catholics, we know that the only "raptures" that took place in History occurred with the two prophets, Elias and Enoch, who will come again at the end of the world to fight in the last battle against the Antichrist. The Antichrist, as Catholics know, will be a man who makes war against Christ. Therefore, he will try to effect a change in the true Faith, and large numbers of Catholics will be deceived by him. We also know that there will be types and forerunners of the Antichrist.
What the Church always taught was that some few could be taken body and soul at the end of the world to stand before God at the Last Judgment because of their great merit in fighting the Antichrist. These Catholics will not have been spared from the great tribulations foretold for end of the age; rather, they will be the greatest saints of the Church because they will have endured the greatest sufferings and trials. In the popular Left Behind book and movie, there is no need for sanctity. Scores of people without any special merit are taken from the earth. This mediocre group of people is hardly the models for the last saints who will fight against the Antichrist.
The Rapture theory can lay no claims, therefore, to being one, holy, or apostolic, and most adamantly it is not Catholic.
4. The Rapture versus the common sense of the faithful
Another false premise of the rapture teaching is its promise that the "elect" can escape the tribulation. It relies on the happy hypothesis that the when God chastises the world in the last days, the "believers" will be conveniently removed to a mysterious blissful locale because they do not merit chastisement - only "unbelievers" do. Then, conveniently, they can return at the end of the tribulation to enjoy the 1000 years reign of Christ on earth. In other words, these "chosen ones" would be fleeing suffering and looking for a good life.
A Catholic needs no exegetical study of Scripture to know that this point of the Rapture theory is wrong. Based on his simple sensus fidelium, he understands that any school of thinking that does not understand the inestimable value and merit of suffering is a false school. It was Christ Himself who invited His apostles, not to the good life, but to "deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow Me" (Matt 16:24).
A Catholic learns as a child that no one can attain to eternal salvation without suffering, that all suffering is permitted by God for our greater good, especially in the life to come, and thus is a sign of His love and favor. Moreover, he knows there is a superabundance of divine grace to console, strengthen, and encourage him, and to enable him to convert all sufferings into occasions of merit for eternity for himself and others.
Thus the great saints of the Church have all desired sufferings, and did not seek to avoid them. St. Augustine begged Our Lord to send him sufferings to cancel the punishment due for sin: "In this life, O Lord, burn, scorch, and wound me, only spare me in the life to come." The prayer of St. Theresa of Avila was "to suffer or to die." St. Mary Magdalene de Pazzi asked "to suffer, not to die." "To live for love is not to set up one's tent here below on the heights of Tabor, but to climb Calvary with Jesus," counseled St. Therese of Lisieux
Catholics instinctively reject any teaching that assumes the good do not deserve to suffer, that God would not permit the good or innocent to suffer, or that trials and tribulation cannot be redemptive.
In conclusion, there is no reason to give any credence to the strange notion of an extra, secret second coming of Christ who will "catch up" believers in false sects so that they can conveniently escape suffering on this earth.
5. Rapture and UFOs
An "invasion" against Israel begins the poorly executed melodrama in the Left Behind film. An immense fleet of war planes covers the sky approaching Israel to destroy it. The planes self-explode midair on their deadly mission. Suddenly, from behind a rock, appears a disheveled, all-powerful old man, supposedly a prophet, who quotes Scripture ordaining the destruction of the aggressors.
This not-very-convincing Eliah, with his white tunic and strangely arranged hair on a balding head, thankfully only shows up in the movie. We are spared the "sight" in the book. However, this presentation of the "salvation" of Israel gave me more the impression of a UFO phenomenon than something supernatural. "Good UFOs" defending Israel against "bad UFOs…"
In fact, the whole scenario of the Left Behind Rapture being popularized today seems much more a UFO phenomenon than something that comes from God. Surely the devil coming to "catch up" so-called Protestant believers would be a more viable hypothesis than the innovative theory that these same folk will fly up to meet Christ in Heaven to conveniently escape the great tribulation and punishment of the last days…
What the Church teaches about End Times
What does the Catholic Church teach about the End Times and the Final Judgment? Given the confusion of our days, it seems a brief review could be in order:
In the Apostles Creed we proclaim that Christ will come to judge the living and the dead. All the dead will rise again on the last day with their bodies so they can be judged, and good will ascend to heaven body and soul, and the evil likewise be cast into hell.
No one knows the day or the hour of Our Lord's second coming (Matt. 26:36). The Church has rejected spurious attempts to assign a date or time under the title of millennialism. (See note 3)
- Christ gave some signs of the approach of the Last Days (Matt 24:3 et): The Gospel shall be preached to the whole world, the Antichrist will appear, Enoch and Elias will return to preach penance, the Jews will be converted, and dreadful signs will appear in the Heavens. Great sufferings will be reserved for the last times, which will produce the greatest saints. Catholics will not be spared from great tribulations foretold for end of the age, but must be prepared and strengthened to endure it.
Marian Therese Horvat, Ph.D.
For past columns by Dr. Horvat in archives, see www.DailyCatholic.org/2002tru.htm
First Week of Advent
December 1-7, 2002
volume 13, no. 145
TRUE ECHOES OF CATHOLICISM