What Is the Catholic Church’s View of the Rapture?

Question: Thinking of movies that focus on the “rapture,” how does the Catholic Church view this topic? Movie trailers make it look scary and violent. I’ve read the Scriptures on this but often wondered about the Church’s view on how it would happen or how it is interpreted.

The reference to a Christian “rapture” (meaning “the carrying off of a person to another place or sphere of existence”) originates in 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 where Saint Paul envisions the faithful being caught up with Christ in mid-air upon his return to earth. In more general religious terms, the rapture includes the notion that some will be “left behind” to endure an extended tribulation on earth while others join Christ in a resurrected form.

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Obviously, human minds are good at imagining violent and frightening scenes that play into our fears of being abandoned, rejected, judged harshly, and left behind, even by God. And these imaginations can be, and are, turned into violent and frightening movies!

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However, the Catholic Church, unlike many fundamentalist churches, does not interpret biblical passages about the rapture in literal terms. In other words, it doesn’t assume that we can ever predict when or how the end of the world may come about. Hopefully, this will help us spend less time being anxious about an abrupt and gruesome apocalypse and instead spend more time and energy doing work to bring about the Kingdom of God here on earth while we have the chance. The Church would have us focus on feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, and comforting those who mourn rather than having us frightened into paralysis wondering about how and when we and our loved ones might die.

(Originally published October 20, 2015)