Q. I hear some people say after they have lost a loved one that the deceased becomes a “little angel in heaven.” Is this what the Catholic Church teaches?
A. This commonly-held belief should be handled with gentleness and kindness, especially when one is dealing with the pain and trauma of the loss of a loved one. However, this is not the teaching of the Catholic Church.
We say in the Apostle’s Creed, “I believe in the resurrection of the body.” During this solemn season of Easter, we celebrate the greatest news that the world has ever heard: that Christ is truly risen, and as risen he invites us to share in his resurrection. This is our greatest source of hope, as it gives us abiding purpose in both the joys and sorrows in our lives.
In the Gospels, there are several accounts of Christ’s encounter with people in his resurrected body. In those encounters, he showed the apostles his wound marks in his hands and side. He invited St. Thomas to place his hands in Jesus’s side. He ate meals with his disciples. He invited people to touch him so that they would not think that he was a ghost.
Christ’s resurrected body is changed. For instance, Mary Magdalene does not immediately recognize him, thinking that he was a gardener. Jesus, in his resurrected body, would appear and disappear before people’s eyes. However, Scripture and Sacred Tradition attest to his bodily resurrection.
An angel is not able to be touched by human hands. Angels do not eat food. Jesus eats and Jesus allows his body to be touched because he has taken on human flesh, and retains his human nature for all eternity, as true God and true man.
Again, we all hope to share in the resurrection of Christ and it is clear from the scriptures that the resurrection of Christ is a bodily resurrection. The Catholic Church makes this clear in the Catechism of the Catholic Church: “‘We believe in the true resurrection of this flesh that we now possess’ (Council of Lyons II). We sow a corruptible body in the tomb, but he raises up an incorruptible body, a spiritual body” (CCC 1017).
And so, when we, God willing, share in the resurrection of Christ, we don’t become an angel. An angel has a completely different nature and is, thus, a different creature. Human nature consists in having a body and soul composite.
Perhaps the thought that human beings become angels or spirits after death is conceived by the reality that the soul separates from the body at death. However, as previously mentioned, the Church clearly teaches that the body and soul are reunited at the resurrection of the body.
The very fact that Christ, the God-man, has taken on human flesh and has been resurrected in his body, tells us that the material world is good; the body is good. In the Scriptures we hear the “flesh” portrayed negativity at times. For instance, Jesus says, “the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Mt. 26:41). Here, and in other places the “flesh” simply means human weakness due to Original Sin.
Write to Ask the Register using our online form, or write to 3700 Sheridan Blvd., Suite 10, Lincoln NE 68506-6100. All questions are subject to editing. Editors decide which questions to publish. Personal questions cannot be answered. People with such questions are urged to take them to their nearest Catholic priest.