What does the Catholic Church say about the rapture?
For those who may be unfamiliar, some groups of non-Catholic Christians believe in a “rapture” event (or perhaps multiple events) which they see as a future event that happens before the “final tribulation” (as their perspective also sees it) before the Lord comes at the end of the world. Their belief holds that in the rapture, all who belong to Jesus Christ (according to their own denomination-specific understanding) will be brought to Christ, along with those who have already died. They propose that this event will consist in the bodily resurrection of all those who have died in Christ along with the “taking” or “rapturing” of those believers who are still alive on earth in a single instant so that all of these will be with Jesus before the final days. The rest (who are not raptured) will be “left behind” (to use a common expression) and will be subject to the worst tribulations that comes as part of the end of the world. While this view is held by Christians of some denominations, its origins are only in the last 200 years and are based upon a problematic interpretation of 1 Thessalonians 4:17 that speaks of those who are alive on earth at the time of Jesus’ coming being “caught up together…in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.” Those who subscribe to a rapture event see this text as one of their definitive proofs;
however, it is clear by context that this passage refers to the end of the world (and not a time before final tribulation) and that the image of being caught up to meet the Lord in the air is properly understood as meeting the Lord as He returns to earth in His second coming after a manner of how we might go out to meet an important dignitary or leader when they arrive in town.
We clearly acknowledge and accept the words of Paul in 1 Thessalonians 4:17 on those alive being lifted in the air to meet the Lord when He comes in glory. However, it is not Catholic faith to think that a moment will come when some will vanish from immediate sight to go to Jesus while others are left behind to face tribulation. Rather, we believe that when the Lord comes in glory, the dead will rise and those alive will see the Lord in His coming. In this moment will be the final judgement, wherein those separated from Christ will go off to eternal punishment while the just will inherit eternal life (Cf. Matthew 25:31-46, noting in particular verse 46).
Do saints have bodies in heaven?
As Jesus Himself was raised in the body, so too we believe that eternal life in God’s presence in heaven will be in the resurrected body. While, for now (before the Second Coming), it is our belief that only Jesus Himself and the Blessed Virgin Mary (through the Assumption) dwell in heaven in the resurrected body, the fulfillment of this truth will come at the end of the world when the bodies of all are raised from the dead, with those separated from Christ going off to eternal punishment and the just inheriting eternal life (This moment is known as the Final Judgement and is spoke of by Jesus in Matthew 25:31-46). Accordingly, heavenly life will be lived in the body – a glorified body.