An area of Catholic theology that is often misunderstood by non-Catholics and Catholics alike is that of the end times and the rapture. The concepts of the end of the world and death are very dramatized and in many ways mysterious in our current society. Because of this, much fiction has been mixed in with truth, blurring the lines between what has been revealed in scripture, and what are simply fanatical ideas.
When many people, Protestant and Catholic alike, think of the end times, they automatically think of the rapture, a type of “Left Behind” event. In this event, those who are right with God are mysteriously taken up into heaven, and those who are living in sin, remain on Earth during a time of tribulation and chaos. The Catholic teaching on the end times however, does not support this type of event.
The word “rapture” comes from the Latin word meaning “to be caught up” or “taken up”. This refers to the passage in St. Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians 4:17 which states, “then we who are alive, who are left, shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air; and so we shall always be with the Lord.” The Catholic understanding of this passage is that those believers who are alive during Christ’s second coming will not experience death, but rather, will be gloriously transformed and join the saints already with Christ. Nowhere in 1 Thessalonians does St. Paul teach a secret coming of Christ. Furthermore, St. Paul states that Christ’s coming will be announced by the cry of an archangel and by a trumpet blast. St. Paul is describing the resurrection of the dead that will take place at Christ’s second coming. It appears, when reading 1 Thessalonians that Christians at the time were worried that those who died before Christ’s second coming would not share in His triumphant return. Paul assures them that when the time comes, they will join the resurrected to meet the Lord and will share in Christ’s triumphant descent from heaven to earth.