Catholicism: the Reason for My Hope Part III

Ordination to the Catholic priesthood (Latin r...

Ordination to the Catholic priesthood.

The Structure of the Church and the Continuity of Her Teachings

The structure of the Church that Christ founded has a structure that Christ imposed on Her. Just before He gave Peter the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven that bind and loose on heaven and earth, Christ asked the disciples who the people said He was. The reply was this. And they said: “Some [say] John the Baptist; some, Elijah; and others, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets.”  Then Jesus said to them: “But whom do you say that I am?” And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answering, said to him: “Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-Jona: because flesh and blood hath not revealed it to thee, but my Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 16:14-17). In this way Christ dismisses the notion that the Church is a democracy that is ruled by the people’s vote or opinion. It is also, not a Church ruled by committee alone. It is ruled by God, through Peter acting alone and by the other apostles acting together with their head Peter. We can infer this rather easily by seeing Christ hand over the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven to Peter alone immediately after this scene and to this day we say that any Pope, occupies the chair of Peter and has use of His gift to bind and to loose. This indicates that this Theocracy will have a human face, a vicar or ambassador of Christ, to lead and guide the Church on earth.

So we already see in the embryonic Church a structure being loosely formed and the details being left to those who have been given the authority to do so. We have a head, a governing body and those that they deem fit to lead the people and shepherd the people. No other Church has this structure that we see developed in Matthew 16.

Later, after Christ had risen, He appears in the upper room and consecrates the apostles by breathing on them (reminiscent of the only other time in scripture that God breathed on man; when He gave life to our first parent Adam). This is a new spiritual gift. It is a new spiritual life given only to His apostles. And by their reception it signified a special gift of the Holy Spirit; the breath of God. And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and saith unto them, “Receive ye the Holy Spirit: Whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them; and whose sins you shall retain, they are retained.” (John 20:22-23). This was the reception of the gift of Holy Orders given to our Bishops and Priests for the absolution of sins: a means to help Christians return to grace when they have failed Christ and the Church – sinning against God and man. It is why we must maintain an apostolic priesthood that received this power and grace; uniquely given to these men of the Church for our benefit.

In this way the Church has been anointed with an exclusive power which was afforded Her by Christ for the leadership and shepherding of His flock. For those who feel they need not confess their sins to a man, how would these men ever know what they were to “forgive or retain” unless the sins were confessed? It is illogical that any other meaning can be attributed to the above verses. Why confess to a mere man? Because Christ ordained it and also because when you have sinned against God, you have sinned against the men and women of the Church as well and must be forgiven by both. When the priest absolves your sin, he does so in persona Christi (in the person of Christ), his power coming from Christ Himself by way of the Holy Spirit as given to these first apostles. Now this gift has been passed on historically through the anointing of their successors right to our present time. So it is appropriate that  a man, chosen by God for ministering to the Church, is indispensable to the Church for mending the sin between the sinner and God as well as the Church which the penitent had professed to follow.

So here we can see the basic structure of the Church and what we today call Holy Orders: Pope, Bishop, Priest and Deacon (who has limited powers to help the priests and bishops).

The continuity of teaching is another important and relevant factor which I evaluated as an aspiring convert to the Church. For 2000 years, of martyrdoms, heresies, apostasies, corruption and scandal the Church has not ever violated as a teaching the Deposit of Faith that was delivered Her through Christ and the Apostles. All divine revelation ended when the last apostle died. This de fide teaching which was passed down via the spoken tradition and the written scriptures has over the years been codified in most of the important areas. They are inviolate, as the Church, acting as the world’s sworn protector of this Deposit, will not and cannot change a single thing that is contained therein.

As times change and customs in other countries differ from one another, we modify the unessential to become part of and integrated into the people being served; but we hold to the same de fide teachings unfailingly. Even if we could change them, our question would be: to which time in history and to which culture should we succumb? Would the Church be different and believe differently in every part of the world and at every time period? So we cannot do this with our divinely revealed teachings as they are to be preserved for all time.

It is one of the sad facts that we see the churches that have come out of the Catholic Church violate and deny many of these inviolable teachings. The most recent of these teachings that all Christianity embraced was the immorality of contraception. It was struck from the teaching of 1 single protestant denomination in the 1930’s and within a few years every protestant church had succumbed to the pressure of the secular world: for science had perfected a simple and an affordable way to practice contraception and the people were clamouring for it.

The Catholic Church cannot change this even if most of the Catholic’s would like us to. It is apostolic and biblical and is part of the everlasting deposit of faith that the Church is sworn to uphold. We cannot be seduced by the world on matters of grave error.

For these reasons, I find that having the assurance of a Church with a divinely chosen structure and a commitment to oppose the world on matters of essential teachings a great comfort.  She has guarded our faith faithfully for 2000 years and shows Herself to be a fortress that even the Gates of Hell will not prevail against.

Catholicism: the Reason for My Hope Part II

Challoner's 1749 revision of the Rheims New Te...

Challoner’s 1749 revision of the Rheims New Testament

Scripture and How We Acquired the Bible

Why should I believe the Bible?

It is the most basic question that a critic of Christianity might ask. It is a good question because I can see nothing in the books of the Bible that tell me that what you are reading is Divinely inspired. When I open the Bible, choirs of angels do not sing and a heavenly light does not appear to illumine the pages. So why should I believe the Bible and reject the Quran or the Bhagavad Gita?

It seems that I must make this decision on some criteria other than what is in the text. Even if a statement in the text did tell me that it was divinely inspired (and no text does that) there is no proof that it is. Surely, God would not expect me to believe something that could not be ratified by an authoritative source, otherwise I might believe in fairy tales or nursery rhymes as most atheist assert. Faith and reason must each play their role. God gave us reason for a reason and a free will so that we might accept truth or reject truth or vise versa.

It seems to me that God would provide us enough proof that we could reasonably accept the premise that the books of the Bible are indeed worthy to be called the Word of God; then the believer has what is necessary to make a leap of faith (not blind faith as some describe it) and come to a decision that is at least believable and acceptable to men of reason. In order for that to happen I need a trusted authority to inform me that the Bible is trustworthy and accurately portrays the Christian faith. Without the authority I have no reason to believe.

My parents may be my authority in the belief of my ancestors and heritage. That belief rests on the assumption that our parents (and their forefathers as well) would not lie about such things and thus we take the leap of faith needed to hold to these living memories and pass them down to our children as well though we cannot fully authenticate their every detail.

It is much the same with the Catholic Church. She is the Mother who ratifies the history, the heritage and the living faith of the Christian. It is, as I say, a living memory of the faith from the time of Christ (see Part I on Authority). So it is for this reason that I am able to accept the Bible and echo the words of St. Augustine when he fought with Manichaeism in a rebuttal of Mani: “I would not believe in the Gospel myself if the authority of the Catholic Church did not influence me to do so.” (Against the letter of Mani, 5,6, 397 A.D.)

Indeed, how could I accept the books of the Bible as being divinely inspired unless the Church told me? There must be an authority.

Without an authority we are at sea without a captain. Can we each be captains? Can we each navigate or teach ourselves the necessary navigational skills to get to our destination. How about the currents? Do we know them and how to counter them? Do we take best advantage of the wind?

It is simple logic that any church not founded by Christ that would use the books approved by the True Church cannot then say that the Church is wrong but the books of the Bible are inerrant. It is impossible logic. The Bible too was rewritten in parts and certain books removed by those who had not the authority to do so.

So Luther and Calvin used a different set of Jewish Scriptures than did the Church that gave us the Bible. They preferred to use the Palestinian Canon or Jerusalem Canon as opposed to the Septuagint that was in use throughout the Holy Land during the time of Christ. The latter canons being created by Rabbi’s after the destruction of the temple to stem the loss of Jews into the new Christian Church. It removed many books that prophesized about the Messiah: books that pointed to Christ as the One who was promised.

Now Luther and Calvin used these same books for other nefarious reasons than did the Rabbi’s. There reason in using them was to discourage things concerning “works of faith” working in love; or things concerning the prayers for the dead.

Without giving the reader the books and sections that even Calvin and Luther disagreed on putting in their Bibles, it should be obvious that they had no authority to tinker with the Bible at all. By whose authority are you acting? Obviously, the answer is that the authority was their own, given to themselves, as though they possessed it by their very nature.

Servus Fidelis or Servus Infidelis

A visit to the Blessed Sacrament is the "...

Servus fidelis or infidelis, that is the question. Are we faithful servants or unfaithful servants? I think everyone tries to be the former but many have been misled to accept opinion rather than doctrine and mistakenly pass misinformation on to others. I do not question their good intentions. These good intentioned people have donated their time and effort to educate our children in the faith and those adults who want to convert to Catholicism.

We are at a time when most people who are old enough to be teaching religious education were raised in a church without the old Baltimore Catechism that was written in various volumes for children of all ages and even for adults. The Vatican wanted to rid us of the question and answer format, though countless children came to understand their faith very well under this system. Since the close of Vatican II in 1965 we had no approved Catechism to use for our children or for our adults. This situation lasted until the present Catechism was published in English in 1994 and it was supposed to be a guide for the bishops and priests, not for the laity. However, because we had nothing else the laity bought these catechisms in droves and it is now a household item. But still: where are the excellent tools for teaching that will take a child from an elementary understanding to a full understanding of the faith. Our children are leaving the church in increasing numbers and from my pew-side analysis it is a combination of the secular education system and the poor catechesis that makes their faith unattractive and opposed to reason. Once our kids leave the house many simply never return.

Of those that stay (God bless their attempts to hold to the faith) many don’t know what they are supposed to adhere to as doctrine that must be believed. And poll after poll shows that Catholics, especially the young and those catechized during the years 1965-1994 (catechism free days) think of themselves as more spiritual than religious. Meaning, I suppose, that they have embarked on a spiritual journey without the guidance of Catholic theology and doctrine.

Another poll in 1992[1] showed that a mere 30 percent of Catholic laity believed in transubstantiation. Some believed in consubstantiation as some Protestants denominations believe and others believed that the Blessed Sacrament was simply a symbol of Christ. Though the sampling was very small, it should not have mattered. Most if not all should have understood this basic teaching of the Church. That was, sad to say, a shocking poll.

Therefore, we cannot be shocked at the irreverence at Mass in many parishes because the un-catechized or poorly catechized just don’t know any better. And now their children don’t either.

Is there any wonder why we have experienced such a slide from the wonder and awe that Catholics used to exhibit every time they attended Mass?

We are all unprofitable servants. We only have what has been given to us to offer and nothing of our own; not even our free will or our sufferings offered as gifts to God are our very own.  Everything including our love for God is merely the return of a gift we received from Him. Therefore even our faith and the Holy Doctrines of the faith are gifts to us from above simply delivered to us by His Church. Our Sacraments are delivered through the Church as well and when we accept the Sacrament of Confirmation we really should have a good idea of what the Church teaches and assent to all the teachings of the Church.

I am a supporter of the New Evangelization and see it as a way to change the world. The New Evangelization as spelled out in John Paul II’s encyclical, At the Beginning of the Third Millennium, called for each Catholic to strengthen their faith and live lives worthy of our call to Christianity in the world. He said that “all pastoral initiatives must be set in relation to holiness.” My only question is how many Catholics know their faith or have even witnessed true holiness that they might be able to go forth and transform the world?

We are at a crossroads, in my mind. Pope Benedict XVI has written a motu proprio, Porta Fidei, for the year of faith beginning October 11, 2012 in which he would like everyone to deepen their commitment to the faith. Again, in order for this to be successful, it seems to me that we need to work ceaselessly to educate our flock from the bottom up so that we will not merely be viewing another year in honor of this thing or that thing which on the whole most of us ignore.

My wife, a DRE for 21 years, has a pretty good handle on the difficulties they have in teaching the kids. The primary difficulty is the unwillingness for the parents to take the studies seriously and work with their kids for the preparation for their Sacraments. It mirrors the lack of parental involvement in our schools. Apparently, the modern view is that we will leave the teaching to the schools. Meanwhile they are beside themselves when their child flunks a course in school or is told that their child is not ready for the Sacraments. It is their contention that the fault lies in the school, parish or teacher. But none are willing to admit that they should be pointing the finger at themselves.

The texts for the children have also been dumbed down substantially from the old Baltimore Catechism series. At the high school level, the old texts of yesteryear such as the series, Our Quest for Happiness (1940, Lepanto Press), would not be understood by most of our adult parents let alone their children. Our education systems have made it next to impossible to educate our children in their faith as they have no training in critical thinking skills.

The only way that I see for this to change is not to look towards others to do what we need to do ourselves. We must educate ourselves in critical thinking skills, logic, theology, religion and the catechism. Then we must take responsibility for our children in these areas as well. If we leave it up to the books, the teachers and the schools we will change nothing. We need to fight for our own children: in the process we might just learn something of value ourselves. You may want to supplement your child’s religious education by reading from the Baltimore Catechism at night. It is still available and it is still a good teaching of the faith.

Once we and our children understand the Catholic faith, it will not take much to find more respect and reverence in our parishes: people will insist on more holiness and deeper faith formation. Who knows? We might just preserve the Faith of our Fathers for another generation or two.


[1] THIRD GALLUP POLL (1992):  BELIEF IN DOGMA ON HOLY EUCHARIST

In January 1992, the St. Augustine Center Association sponsored a second Gallup poll, called “A Gallup Survey of Catholics regarding Holy Communion.” This poll, which included telephone interviews of 519 U.S. Catholics during the period of December 10, 1991, to January 19, 1992, revealed that ONLY 30% OF NOVUS ORDO CATHOLICS BELIEVE THE DE-FIDE DOGMA ABOUT THE SACRAMENT OF THE HOLY EUCHARIST namely, that at Communion they are really and truly receivng the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, under the appearance of bread and wine, which is known as the Real Presence. 70% OF NOVUS ORDO CATHOLICS NOW HOLD AN HERETICAL BELIEF IN THE HOLY EUCHARIST. Specifically,

1) 29% of Novus Ordo Catholics believe that when receiving Holy Communion, they are receiving bread and wine, which symbolize the spirit and teachings of Jesus Christ, and in so doing are expressing their attachment to His Person and words.  This is the heresy of Protestant John Zwingli, who taught the false doctrine that the Mass is merely a symbolic commemoration of Christ’s death.

2) 24% of Novus Ordo Catholics believe that when receiving Holy Communion, they are receiving the Body and Blood of Christ, which has become that because of their personal belief.  This is the heresy of Protestant John Calvin, who taught the false doctrine that the faith of the recipient transforms the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ.

3) 10% of Novus Ordo Catholics believe that when receiving Holy Communion, they are receiving bread and wine, in which Jesus Christ is really and truly present.  This is the heresy of Protestant Martin Luther, who taught the false doctrine known as “consubstantiation,” that the Body and Blood of Christ coexist with the elements of bread and wine during the Eucharist.

4) 8% of Novus Ordo Catholics hold some other non-Catholic belief.

5) Only 30% of Novus Ordo Catholics believe that they are really and truly receiving the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ under the appearance of Bread and Wine.  This has always been the Church’s dogma regarding the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist.

The Catholic Church teaches that Transubstantiation, that is, the complete change of the bread and wine into the substance of Christ’s Body and Blood, is effected by an ordained priest during the Consecration of the Mass, so that only the appearance of bread and wine remain.  The Sacramental presence of Christ begins the moment of transubstantiation and remains as long as the Eucharistic species exist. This doctrine goes back to Apostolic times, and its basis is in Scripture and Tradition.  The term “transubstantiation,” meaning “change of substance,” was adopted by the dogmatic Fourth Lateran Ecumenical Council in 1215 to help explain the doctrine of the Real Presence.

The poll results show a terrible confusion on the part of Catholics concerning one of the most fundamental dogmata of the Church, a confusion that has actually led them into (at least material) heresy.

The poll results were presented to the U.S. Bishops at their annual conference of November 1992 at Washington, D.C.  The bishops failed to take any action, but preferred to let 7 out of 10 Catholics remain in (at least material) heresy.

From the Depths of Despair to Sublime Subsistence

Our last post considered the wretched existence of our poor souls and our complete reliance on the benevolence and Goodness of Christ. I would like now to consider how this Divine Help is experienced during life and their salutary effects on the soul.

As Catholics, we have been given grace upon grace and yet we may be unaware of the majesty of these gifts and the mystical effects these graces supply to the soul. As a Catholic we were given the Sacraments of Initiation; Baptism, Confirmation and the Holy Eucharist. The grace that we receive from these gifts is given ex opere operato, by the very fact of being administered. These gifts are essential to our spiritual life. Without them we would continue our lives in complete despair, knowing that we, by ourselves, and in our present state cannot cure ourselves and moreover have no right to expect or warrant being healed by salvific grace; what we would call sanctifying grace. Without sanctifying grace, God will not recognize you; for it is the presence of His Son dwelling in your soul that gives you the ability, the dignity and the right to salvation. Your dignity resides wholly in Christ as long as Christ resides in you. His presence is essential for your spiritual life as well as your eternal life.

Our sacraments of healing are Christ’s gifts freely given to all who wish to abide in the Church, His Mystical Body. These sacraments, Reconciliation or Penance and the Anointing of the Sick, are meant to restore us to the state which we previously attained, after failing our Lord and our Church by sin; thereby falling, as it were, from a state of grace. Now the beautiful aspect of what was commonly called Confession is that we are expected to make an inspection of our lives on a regular basis. We are to examine how we have failed our commitment to live a life of virtue, whether by a committed act or by an omission of an act that we should have performed. This in and of itself is the constant inspection we are called to make while training our wills to be completely submissive to the Will of God.

Examination of Conscience is a valuable tool left us by the Church and can be utilized in a more effective way by the spiritual aspirant than most Catholics ever dreamt. For the ardent spiritual aspirant, being actively engaged in ridding themselves of sin and gaining the habits of virtue, can utilize the practice of the examination to great benefit. Often they determine their predominant fault and work on eradicating it by working valiantly on obtaining the very virtue that is opposed to the fault which continuously causes them to fail. This is called particular examen and is a method of catching oneself at the moment of committing the fault and making note of it immediately. Over time, a continuous examen, will allow the pilgrim soul to free itself from the attacks of evil and advance in the spiritual way.

Most valuable of all, for our strength in the climb to perfection, is the frequent reception of the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ Himself. He is our spiritual food and drink for the journey; supplying us with all the graces needed. After all He is the Grace: the Gift that is freely given to the soul that supplies all our needs.  He remains in residence within our souls until we break with Him through sin. His Holiness will not allow Him to be present in a soul stained with serious sin. Therefore it is of the highest priority that one keep his soul pure; treating the soul as we would the Holy of Holies, free from the stain of sin and a welcoming home for Christ Himself.

Though we will fail from time to time, Christ is always eager to return to the soul at the next Eucharist to dwell within us should we but make the necessary amends in Confession for our mortal sins or by reconfirming our wills to eradicate our un-Confessed venial sins. Such is the forgiveness of a loving Father that will not abandon His children if they but turn back to Him. The Church and Her Sacraments allows the spiritual aspirant to prosper and advance in the spiritual life and are indispensable to anyone who truly is looking to climb from despair to a sublime subsistence in and with Christ Himself.

So, You Want a Deeper Spirituality?

Growth in our faith is something to which not every Catholic truly aspires. At the other end of the spectrum, some try to adopt all the Catholic devotions known to man and soon find that they have no time for their spouses, their children or their own lives. They live with the belief that if a little is good then more is better and if more is better then everything is best. Soon, tired and unhappy, they leave their journey or perhaps their loved ones leave them. It can be a recipe for failure.

It is amazing that people set out without a clear view of the essentials needed to prosper their efforts. We need help, and we should admit it. We need to stop and take stock of what we truly possess and what we don’t. Just like we would if we were leaving to go on an actually pilgrimage through a strange land, we would try to prepare ourselves as best we can for each eventuality.

The first step in the development of an authentic and valid spirituality is to find out who you are: not as a psychologist might look at you from a distance as an object but in conspectu Christi. That means to examine oneself in the Presence of Christ. Looking at ourselves and our past as a dispassionate image of an actor in a movie is not going to cut it. We will have to enter into a real understanding of who we are and what we are. What we possess and what we lack.

This inspection of self requires a serious and mature personality that desires to find true humility and knows that this examination must be made with the light of Christ (lumen Christi). Only through this lens will we ever know who we truly are in relationship to God and how much we need and depend on Him for any chance of transformation to occur in this life or for gaining salvation in the next. We rely solely on Him. If you cannot bear to see yourself as you really are and witness the wretched state of your being then the spiritual life may not be something that you desire at this time. But we are all called to the spiritual life, make no doubt about it. The first step then is the one that most of us forget and usually skip. It’s forgotten because it is unpleasant.

You might wonder how long this might take so we can move on to the next step. My answer is: a lifetime.

The first step is in a way the last step. You will not know if you are growing unless you are put to the test. Repeated tests are needed so that you may examine your progress or your regression. Humility is being built all throughout our spiritual pilgrimage. It starts slowly and progresses slowly but it is a growth in knowledge of Christ and knowledge of self. It is the naked viewing of Reality, as it truly is, it is not covered over by our egos, our desires or our good intentions.

What do we possess? Almost nothing! And even that was a gift we neither deserved nor earned. It is free will. It is the only thing we possess that God has given every individual to use: for our good or for our self-destruction.

What are we lacking? Everything! We are solely dependent and we need come to a True Realization of our need-fulness. It is only through this realization that we develop the plasticity needed for Christ to mold and change us as He would. In this way Christ may make us into His own image: transformed in Christ.

What can I do to gain this transformation in Christ? First and foremost, stop thinking you can do anything to accomplish it. It is Christ who will do the accomplishing within you. All you need do is lay yourself at the Mercy of Christ and see yourself as you truly are. By doing so you will commit your life and your will to whatever your Lord has in store. To give of your will is the first, last and only gift you possess that can be given back to God. It is a requirement if we are to be capable of dying to self so that Christ may live in us. To put on the new man; to live, not I, but Christ lives in me. How few are willing to make the commitment.

To realize the Love of God and to respond to His love is essential. Knowing the miserable state of our souls and our nothingness when placed before the All Good God lets us free ourselves from any misconceptions we have of ourselves; freeing us to let go of our wills and do die to self. Our sacrificial love can then be given out of love for His Supreme Act of Sacrificial Love which was given us first. It is the pinnacle that we seek and that which He wills for us. Love is the “the one thing necessary.”

False Ecumenism

Ecumenical Gathering

Ecumenism has as its goal, in fact it has as its actual definition, the aim of unity among all Christian churches throughout the world. It is a laudable goal for Christianity to end this disunity among Christians; for it is scandalous to Christ and to His prayer for unity. So it is a rightful goal of all Christians to work diligently for the unity that Christ wanted for His Church. To that end many church leaders have embarked on this goal through dialog with one another to see if we can one day reunite as one faith.

For the Catholic, the Vatican II document, Unitatis Redintegratio (commonly referred to as the Decree on Ecumenism) had as its aim to open up this dialog with those who have parted from the Church, especially the major Protestant denominations. The document however makes it clear that we cannot give up the purity of our doctrinal teachings just to arrive at a false appearance of peace though we are not in agreement on matters of doctrine. The following quote from the document makes that clear: “Nothing is so foreign to the spirit of ecumenism as a false irenicism (a social temper, condition or a state of public opinion for making peace), in which the purity of Catholic doctrine suffers loss and its genuine and certain meaning is clouded.” __ Decree on Ecumenism(Unitatis Redintegratio), Chapter II, 11

So the above is the Church’s intent for a genuine attempt at ecumenism and these guidelines insure that we do not change our de fide[1] teachings simply to gain a form of unity that would be, in reality, no unity at all. Peace between the denominations, though the goal or end of ecumenism, cannot make use of a means to that goal which denies the essential teachings of the faith. The ends, though admirable, never justifies the means if they are not of themselves in keeping with the truth.

I was recently made aware of some progress in the ecumenical talks between some of the protestant denominations. Much work had been done emphasize what we had in common rather than what we held as differences. One area that has excited some was the movement of some protestants to a position of acceptance of the Catholic Pope as a head of Christian leadership, however the Pope would be more of a figurehead with no real authority. This information seemed to seemed to delivered to me as a positive sign and first step toward an eventual reunification. Another sticking point, however, was that the other faiths would require that we rescind our anathema[2] for those who didn’t hold to the defined dogmas of our faith, especially those that condemned the protestant position as heretical and therefore opposed to the faith.

My initial question to his announcement was to ask, how the Catholic Church could reverse a solemn definition made in a Dogmatic Council which was held by the Bishops in union with the Pope? It was indicated that it might take another Council. However, the Catholic Church has never in any Council overturned a dogmatic teaching by another Council. If they did it would nullify a valid Council of the Church and overturn our traditional belief that the Holy Spirit guides and prevents such Councils from error. The other thought was the Pope could remove the anathema.

That type of thinking to me is what is wrong with many who get involved in the new evangelization and why so many critics call it an ecumenism of syncretism.[3] It has violated the principles cited above from Vatican II and is nothing more than an accommodation for peace between denominations facilitated by abandoning essential, traditional and definitively held teachings of the Catholic Church. I don’t think any ecuminism has a chance of getting Rome to ratify such demands on the part of the protestant denominations. If they did, it would spell the end of the Catholic Church as we now know it. The Church could no longer call Herself indefectible when relating to Her teachings on faith and morals. We will have abandoned the foundational principles of our faith to make friends and to mediate a new belief that is conciliatory and a collaborative effort by different faiths. It would be a watered-down faith that could no longer call itself the True Church.

My other thoughts are these:

First, if the Pope is just a figurehead without any power, how can we consider that this in any way is an agreement between different faiths and ours? Or is the pastor implying that they wouldn’t mind changing the defined role of the Pope to just a figurehead without the special graces granted Him by Christ? That would deny solemnly defined teaching.

Secondly, if we did remove the anathemas for this or any other held belief, then what is the need for any definitive teaching? The condemnation of an anathema is automatic even if not stated. If someone holds to a heresy, then they are ipso facto[4] excommunicated simply by holding to the heresy itself. It is the most common form of excommunication. Therefore if I, as an Anglican, sign some document that says that we are in agreement on matters of the Pope yet I do not agree with the de fide teaching of the Church, we are back where we started. I would be excommunicated ipso facto and we would no longer share in a communion of belief: not that we did anyway because the Pope is more than a simple figurehead.

Now maybe I misunderstood the positions that we are now calling a hopeful sign in this movement. However, if what was related to me is true, it would be a scandalous departure from the intent of ecumenism as put forth by the Council Fathers at Vatican II. I pray that I did not understand this apparant movement as intended. Perhaps it was just showing that inch by inch protestants are moving toward eventually accepting the Catholic positions.

God help us if this is the outcome we are looking for as an end, however. If so, this kind of dialog would be nothing more that the false irenicism warned against and would seem to make our ecumenical efforts nothing more than a false ecumenism.


[1] Literally ‘of the Faith’: it is a theological term used to express an essential teaching of the Church that cannot be changed.

[2] Condemnation, as in a heresy, which represents a serious breach of faith and is worthy of excommunication.

[3] The combining of different (often contradictory) beliefs, while melding beliefs or practices from various schools of thought.

[4] By the very fact itself.

Changes in the Celebration of Mass since Vatican II

Traditional vs. Novus Ordo

Traditional Altar    Novus Ordo table     Traditional Mass        Novus Ordo Clown Mass

 Note: I wrote this about 5 years after becoming Catholic (15 years ago) but thought it worthwhile to post since it gets to the heart of many misunderstandings that Catholics have about the changes in the Mass. What do the changes mean to us and to our spirituality? How many priests still tend to view the changes as the priest in this bulletin? Would anyone in the past, celebrating the Tridentine Rite, accept a clown Mass as a good and proper way to reach out to children? In the days prior to the Novus Ordo Mass a priest would have been restrained by his parishioners and probably whisked away to a mental hospital had he attempted to do such a thing. Thank God, most parish priests try to do as good a job as they can with the Novus Ordo Mass and there are relatively few who desecrate the Mass as the above priest did. I think most bishops have put an end to these shananigans. Likewise, which sanctuary (designated and consecrated as a holy altar to offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass) is more conducive to genuine reverence? I do not remember if I sent this to our Diocesan Paper or not, though if I did, I am doubtful that it was ever printed – I just can’t remember back that far (getting old). Anyway, below is what was written and perhaps submitted:

I was recently appalled by the answer given to a layman’s question in a prominent parish’s bulletin.  I will reprint the entire question and answer below in sections, giving comments for each section.

Question

Since the Second Vatican Council, what are some of the more significant changes in the celebration of the Eucharist?  Why do you think these changes have occurred?

 Answer

Probably the most obvious overall change has been the moving from use of the Latin language to the language of those participating in the Eucharist, referred to as the vernacular.

Comment

Although it is true that the change of language into the vernacular is a huge difference, it is inferred by the above answer that this was the desire of the Vatican Council fathers.  In fact The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy Chapter 2, Article 54 says: “A suitable place may be allotted to the vernacular in Masses which are celebrated with the people, especially in the readings and ‘the common prayer,’ and also, as local conditions may warrant, in those parts which pertain to the people, according to the rules laid down in Article 36 of this Constitution.  Nevertheless care must be taken to ensure that the faithful may also be able to say or sing in Latin those parts of the Ordinary of the Mass which pertain to them.”  Article 36 says: “The use of the Latin language, with due respect to particular law, is to be preserved in the Latin rites.  But since the use of the vernacular, whether in the Mass, the administration of sacraments, or in other parts of the liturgy, may frequently be of great advantage to the people, a wider use may be made of it, especially in readings, directives and in some prayers and chants.”  I guess some prayers and chants have now been stretched into everything – as if chant even exists in the great majority of churches today.  The appendix to the above in the Flannery edition gives the following information:  “The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy had allowed a very restricted use of the vernacular in the Mass, but left the way open for an appeal by hierarchies to the Holy See for more radical concessions.”  Isn’t this what really happened?  It was not the desire of the Vatican Council per se but of social and political pressures brought to bear on Regional Conferences and ultimately upon the Holy See that so devastated our use of Latin in the Liturgy. And thus Flannery continues: “However, restrictions on the use of the vernacular were progressively lifted in the face of representations by the hierarchies from all over the world, until by 1971 the use of the vernacular in public Masses was left entirely to the judgment of Episcopal conferences, to the judgment of individual priests for private Masses, and of the ordinary for the divine office, in private, in common or in choir.”  A classical example of leaving the barn door open or giving an inch to those who would take a mile.

Also, note that the expert who is answering the layman’s question in the bulletin says that we are using the language of those who are participating in the Mass.  The truth of the matter is not so rosy – who is it that participates?  Our communities have been further stratified by the use of English (predominantly) in our Mass.  The parishioners that formerly sat together during Mass must now seek out Masses in their own tongue – and when there is only a small community of Hispanics or Chinese or what-have-you, these people are completely left out of the picture.  When Mass was said in Latin, all peoples regardless of language barriers, could participate in Mass using their own Missals with their particular vernacular translation printed on the opposite page from the Latin.  We are no longer one people but a myriad of little communities who rarely, if ever, cross the language barrier to worship as a larger Catholic Family; a reincarnation of the Tower of Babel. Should we applaud this home wrecking?  So far the answer is not technically wrong – but one senses a personal preference for this change as being beneficial for the Church.  What about the inaccuracies of poor translations that have given us a Mass that diverges from the Editio Typica in so many ways?  It has been a constant source of concern for Rome that we have not yet set right the ICEL translation of the Mass.  To this end the Bishops in charge of that project have been warned recently that they have until Easter 2000 to fix the problems (restructuring the ICEL) or Rome will fix it for them. Note: These are the changes that we are just now witnessing in 2012.

Answer

I think the most obvious visible change has been turning the altars around so the priest celebrant faces the congregation and is not standing with his back to the people while he faces the front wall of the sanctuary.

Comment

Now here is a loaded answer!  It is true that this (unsanctioned) posture of the priest is definitely a visible change that ranks right up there with the absence of authentic art, statues, stain glass, altar rails, the unwarranted use of extraordinary ministers, altar girls et al.  However, the author of the answer has now tried to explain away, what amounts to, an infraction of the rubrics by utilizing his personal sociological or psychological preferences.  The facts again are not that the priest faced the “wall” or “turned his back to the people” as some kind of affront to their personhood.  Does he think that the Church designed the rubrics of the Mass, during all the previous centuries when the Mass was said “ad orientem,” as a playwright might stage the actors in relation to his audience?  The priest did not face the wall, he faced the east (the Orient) or the direction from which Christ would return.  Since all churches could not be built in such an east-west configuration, the practice became to celebrate Mass towards the Tabernacle where the Real Christ who mediates between us and God the Father reposes.  As a matter of my own sociological and psychological preference, I find it appalling that a priest would say Mass with his back turned toward our Lord.  I guess this answers the question of why so many of our churches have removed the Tabernacle and have hidden Christ away in some remote part of the Church; they no longer need to address such troubling questions.  Rubrics of the Mass were designed for the worship of God and not for the amusement of the people – so that we can make eye contact with the priest and be spellbound by his performance.  The rubrics have always placed the priest, (acting in persona Christi) as “alter Christus” a mediator between God and ourselves.  He stands to offer God the only sacrifice that is acceptable (the body, blood, soul and divinity of His only-begotten Son) while he asks further that the individual sacrifices and prayers of the people will be accepted along with the Acceptable Sacrifice that he is offering.  If we were in a mob of people who elected an ambassador to plead our desires or to beg for mercy to a King, I would not want or expect to have my ambassador turn his back to the King and face the people while pleading our case.  The author of the above answer has overstated his case and presented an ingenuous view of the reason for the change.  The change has never been documented as a rubric to be followed although it is true that the bishops have allowed and even promoted it.  In fact, the rubrics at one point say that the priest should now turn and face the people.  If he must turn to face the people, then pray tell, what direction was he facing before the instruction was given?  It is simply another example of the disobedience that has swept through our Church.  No one, it seems, wants Rome to tell them what to do.

Answer

The Fathers of the Second Vatican Council advocated these changes to emphasize that the Eucharist is something we all do; the celebrant by reason of his ordination to the priesthood and the laity by reason of their being baptized into what we call the priesthood of the laity.  It was not uncommon, prior to the liturgical changes, for lay participants at Mass to pray a Rosary, sometimes out loud, while the priest, “said the Mass” in a subdued voice.  The Rosary is a proper and honored private devotion but it has no place during the community celebration of the Eucharist.

Comment

Again, the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council never advocated these changes – I would defy him to produce a single Vatican document that makes his case.  The Eucharist (or thanksgiving) is the word most widely used today.  It may be an effort to decrease the importance of the ACTION of God – the Sacrifice – while increasing the importance of the ACTION of the people in thanking Him.  At least I personally see it this way – since rarely, if ever, do we hear the Mass referred to as THE HOLY SACRIFICE OF THE MASS.  Don’t get me wrong!  Eucharist is a perfectly acceptable name for the Mass – but still there seems to be a sociological restructuring going on here.  And yes, both the laity and the ordained participate in the thanksgiving.  How is this different from what was taught previously?  Why are there no words from our expert on the difference between the ordained ministerial priesthood and the royal priesthood (which differs in essence and not merely by degree)?  Again, the insinuation of the author is that we are predominantly the same – a blurring of the differences between priest and laity.  The Church never sanctioned the practice of saying rosaries during Mass.  The fact that some people did this is no different today as it was then.  I have witnessed the same in parishes who say the Mass in the vernacular today.  Although, in neither instance have I heard the rosary said aloud in such a manner as to distract the faithful.  I wonder which Mass was quieter and more prayerful and respectful of the other faithful?  I’m sure he knows the answer to that question.  Today it is not uncommon to find a loud and uproarious congregation that allows children to run up and down the aisles or parishioners who banter with the priest who asks them questions – in what has become a totally informal gathering.  Silence is still specified in the instructions for the Mass.  Why isn’t it enforced?  I suppose we are to take notice of the words which the author placed in quotations:  “said the Mass.”  Is his inference that the priests who (for hundreds of years) “said Mass” were not celebrating or offering thanksgiving?  Was it just a simple act of reading the words in a book or play?  Of course, if we were to compare this with what we get in our parishes today I suppose we would have to say that now it has become improvisational theater.  But of course the insinuation is wrong from the start.  Have you ever wondered how the Church produced so many holy Saints and Popes when they were forced to just “say the Mass?”  I wonder if these Saints and Popes were prone to saying a Rosary during Masses they weren’t celebrating themselves.  I found in the above paragraph a not-so-well hidden attack on all things traditional.  We are, don’t you know, a Church of tradition.  To disparage our tradition is to mock our fathers and mothers in the faith and to tell them how stupid they were now that we have matured in intellect and faith that far surpasses theirs.  To accept and actually prefer the changes made in the Mass is one thing: but to disparage the earlier tradition is quite another.

Answer

Another lesser change is being permitted to receive the Eucharist under both the form of bread and wine as the Apostles did at the Last Supper.

Comment

A true statement, but again it is made to sound like all is well with this change.  It was never intended that receiving under both species should be a valid reason for using extraordinary ministers.  But look at what has happened.  Rome has recently written the bishops of the world concerning this blurring of the lines between the lay and the ordained and the preposterous use of lay ministers to accommodate “the many” when there is no clear need.  Reception under both kinds is not a mandate (although our particular Bishop made it one – whether Canonically legal or not).  Canonically it was to be left up to the individual priest in every parish as to whether he could provide this to people in a manner that was not disruptive or if he might require help from the laity.  We see in this change another way in which some people have taken extraordinary measures to overstep the bounds of what was intended.  A social and political agenda is hot afoot in many of the changes – especially when the blurring of lines between the priesthood and laity are concerned.  Finally, a quick quote from the Sacred Congregation for Divine Worship in the Vatican II documents:  “. . . it does not seem that manner of distribution should be approved . . . in which the communicants come up directly to take the chalice themselves and receive the blood of the Lord.”

Answer

One change disturbing to some people is the practice of being allowed to accept communion in the hand.  I’m not sure why people feel this way and I can only guess.  Is there some sense that one is not “worthy” to receive the Eucharist in one’s hand but is worthy to receive it on one’s tongue?  The only other reason I can think of is that some people might think there is something “unclean” about one’s hands and, therefore, the tongue is the more “worthy” member of the body.  To this mentality I would express my suspicion that most of us commit many more violations of the law of love by what we say with our tongue than by what we do with our hands.

Note: See a short article on the Vatican Website about receiving the Eucharist on the tongue while kneeling. (here)

Comment

Oh come now, are you sure you can’t come up with some better guesses than these?  In the first place the whole idea of reception in the hand was soundly defeated in a vote by the world’s bishops as published in the documents of Vatican II (see Memoriale Domini).  That once again, the political wielders of power in the US Church were able to overwhelm and control the vote as to whether or not the US should petition Rome for an indult for this permission is a matter of documented fact.  The history of this little episode is quite enlightening if you will take the time to research it.  So either prudently or imprudently the Holy See granted the US an indult or permission.  It is not the norm but it is permissible until the indult is revoked.  Your first guess would be ludicrous since all Catholics should understand that no one is “worthy” of the body and blood of Christ (“Lord, I am not worthy to receive you but only say the word,” etc.).  And the difference between hand and tongue as members of our body is not the issue here either.  First, there is the issue that this practice is the chief culprit for bringing down the altar rails and depriving the faithful of reverently receiving Communion on their knees easily, though Vatican II reminds us to make a sign of reverence before reception (do you see that very often?).  Secondly, Communion is not “taken” it is “received.”  I am sure that the author knows that we have not communed until the body and blood of Christ is received into our digestive system.  The last time I looked, I could not begin digestion of anything placed in my hand but I certainly can when it is placed on my tongue.  The question is who am I receiving communion from?  Is it me?  Am I taking it as if it were a right?  It is not a right.  It is a great gift that is given by Jesus to us.  When I receive on my tongue I allow the priest who acts in the person of Christ to give to me what I cannot take of myself.  It is ritual.  It is symbolic.  It is the humble reception of what I could never deserve on my own.  Why then must you belittle the belief of those who continue to think with the Church’s ancient teachings on these matters?  Your other observations and guesses are demeaning to those who reverently hold to the Norm of the Church.  Isn’t it interesting that since both methods are deemed acceptable, we only see communion in the hand taught to new communicants these days.  Is this why only 30% of Catholic laity and 60% of Catholic priests believe in the Real Presence today (by latest poll)?  I don’t know the answer to that but I do know that these changes certainly cannot help.  My argument against the practice is not that it is illicit but simply that the Church has acted imprudently in allowing this permission since we have history to attest to the damage that these practices have caused in the past. We are now starting to see these same abuses in our present day Church.  How many times have you found a consecrated Host on the floor under the pews?  Or outside on the ground?  How many have you seen wait to “eat” their hosts on the way back to the pew or in the pew itself?  As for me, I’ve seen it more times than I care to remember.  And the crumbs . . . those small consecrated Hosts that are trampled underfoot at most every Mass.  Is the convenience worth all that we have lost?

Answer

Having said all of this, I must point out that everyone should feel free to receive the Eucharist in whatever manner they find most comfortable and most uplifting to their own spirituality.  Neither manner of receiving the Eucharist is “more spiritual” than the other.

Comment

Now that he has made those who receive the Sacrament on their tongues feel as lepers, he acknowledges that it’s OK if it makes us “feel comfortable.”  I for one don’t care what it feels like.  Whether something is comfortable or uncomfortable is not the question – everything does not have to feel good in order for us to have a deep and abiding spiritual life.  In fact, if I were to hazard a guess, it is probably the opposite that is truer.  The decision is not about deciding about green beans or peas for supper.  It is a matter of conscience and a matter of trying to convey to the next generation of Catholics that reverence, ritual and proper symbolism bespeaks volumes that mere words cannot express.  It is thinking with the Church – not with cliques of experts who would introduce novelty after novelty into our faith in an effort to restructure society.  This is not a feel good clinic where syrupy love is the only law – translated to mean tolerance, not of others so much but of disordered lifestyles; especially if the lifestyle is in and of itself considered serious sin.  Forgiving someone for the sin they commit is right and good – but hating sin itself is not only OK, it’s required.  If I’m OK and you’re OK, then why is Christ hanging on the cross?  The prevailing attitude in our liturgies today seems to have changed into a saccharine gathering with fellowship being the ultimate goal. It is far from the Apostles who gave up everything, including their lives, to preach the Truth, in season and out, but especially to those who would not have any of it.  Where is the real agape love – that  love we are to have for God – that love which is short on feeling but long on acts of will and self-denial? It is a manly, self-sacrificing love that we seldom see these days. Are we actively teaching that kind of love today?  I hope so. Self-denial, loving correction and heroic acts of will are not much spoken of today. Concern for our sins and perfection of our lives is all but forgotten. Till now I have seen scant fruit from the new improved expression of liturgy.

Note: Since this writing the Holy See under Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI have made great strides in getting rid of many abuses of the Novus Ordo Mass. In fact Pope Benedict XVI has begun distributing the Eucharist on the tongue while kneeling at the Masses he celebrates. See this article (last paragraph). It is now no longer required for a priest to get permission from his Bishop to say the Latin Mass and there is much work being done to return sacred music to a wider use of chant and polyphony. Only time will tell if we will one day experience a true reform of the reform and return to a more dignified, reverent and holy Mass. May God move the Church to restore the holiness, reverence and awe we should expect in all our Catholic parishes.
Since writing this, I also ran across a very interesting quote concerning saying the rosary in Mass that I wish I had known at the writing:

“So varied and diverse are men’s talents and characters that it is impossible for all to be moved and attracted to the same extent by community prayers, hymns and liturgical services. Moreover, the needs and inclinations of all are not the same, nor are they always constant in the same individual. Who, then, would say, on account of such a prejudice, that all these Christians cannot participate in the Mass nor share its fruits? On the contrary, they can adopt some other method which proves easier for certain people; for instance, they can lovingly meditate on the mysteries of Jesus Christ or perform other exercises of piety or recite prayers which, though they differ from the sacred rites, are still essentially in harmony with them. (Pope Pius XII, Mediator Dei)

A Parable of Catholic Penance and Indulgence

Catholic Church Saint Ulrich in Bollschweil (B...

In order to understand the Catholic Teaching on Penance and Indulgences let us use a practical example from ordinary life to illustrate what is taking place. One might call this a parable of sorts:

 We have a family (a husband, wife and child) that live together on a small farm. The husband is called away by his Father for an extended visit, leaving the wife and child to run the household in his absence.

 The husband issues some instructions before his departure. To the wife he says: “You will be in charge during my absence. Do as I have taught you. Whatever decisions you make will be honored by me.”

 To the child he says: “Your mother will be in charge while I am gone. Do as she says and obey these simple rules that I will now give you in the presence of your mother.”

 Let us say that among these rules is a forbiddance to drive his tractor. Some time later, the child, knowingly violates that rule. The child drives the tractor into a ravine and breaks the axle. The mother is told of this occurrence and because of the tears and sobbing of the child, forgives the child for the disobedience. However, to make things right, justice needs also to be served. Therefore, the mother (fully aware of the husband’s sense of justice and his unprecedented mercy) wisely tells the child to get a job at a neighbor’s farm in order to pay back the price of the broken axle. The child would then have the tractor restored to the original condition as soon as practicable.

 The child, showing remorse and the best of intentions, begins working in order to save the money necessary for the repairs. However, the mother, in her mercy, sees that the child is working as hard as possible and may get discouraged by the task. Therefore, exercising her mercy (knowing full-well the mercy that her husband would show), relieves the child of the duty of working at the neighbor’s farm and instead gives the child a few simple chores around their own home instead.

 The mother then goes to the bank and withdraws a sum of money from the family’s savings. This is comprised mostly of the money that her husband has earned but partly from the inheritance of relatives that had passed away. This money is mercifully used to repair the tractor and to restore the child to the condition that the child was in before the unfortunate mishap. But the child must accomplish the few menial chores around the house as specified to receive the benefit.

 Now the husband, in the above story represents Christ while His Spouse, the Wife, is the Church as established before Christ’s departure from our midst. The child is, of course, the members of the Church. Since Christ told his Apostles that whatever they bind and whatever they loose would be bound and loosed in heaven[1], the Church has the right, as did the wife, to exercise this power in the absence of her Spouse. She first, exacted a fair penance for the misdeed in accordance to the justice that was due. Secondly, she exacted mercy, in the name of her husband, to lighten the burden on the child while applying the merit (money in this case) as accumulated by her husband and those close relatives who left their money to the estate. Now the Church too has an estate and can use the merits gained by Christ and the saints (His brothers and sisters)[2] to be applied to souls for their aid and comfort.

 


[1] “Amen I say to you, whatsoever you shall bind upon earth, shall be bound also in heaven: and whatsoever you shall loose upon earth, shall be loosed also in heaven.” __ Matthew 18:18

[2] “For whosoever shall do the will of my Father, that is in heaven, he is my brother, and sister, and mother.” __ Matthew 12:50

The Mystical Body of Christ

Jesus Christ Crucifix

When we recognize that the Church Christ founded is not simply an organization comprised of bricks and mortar but a living organism, the Mystical Body of Christ, we start to understand how different it is from any organization that has ever been formed in history. The Church has also been characterized as a living vine, with the people as its branches. Both images bring forth an image of something alive and vital.

If the Church is the Mystical Body of Christ, as scripture attests, we know that our allegiance is not with a group of people that have formed a corporate style of organization. Incredibly, this organization is our union with the One. And this One person that we belong to is Jesus Christ and this is the 1st mark of the Church; that it is One.

Because we belong to Jesus Christ and we know and believe in our hearts and minds that He is God we also belong to that which is always Holy. It can never be unholy as God can never be unholy. This is the 2nd mark of the Church: it is Holy. Though we often separate ourselves from Christ by sin or wound the Mystical Body of Christ, He is always willing to readmit us into His Body should we do penance and seek reconciliation. He grafts us back onto the Vine as St. Paul says. If not, we have severed our relationship to the only salvific means man has: Jesus Christ Himself.

Christ Jesus, though he came to the Jews, opened the gates wide and called all of mankind to Himself. It was a universal call to the world and that is why the Church will forever be called Catholic, the 3rd mark of the Church. The diversity within the Church and her presence throughout the world testifies that men from every corner of the earth have found Christ Jesus in His Mystical Body. They have eaten of His flesh and drunk of His blood and thereby find their life in the Lifeblood of Christ as a participation in His Person.

The Apostolic nature of the Mystical Body of Christ is that the Church is a living memory and living union with Christ that stretches back in history to the founding of the Church. For we are Apostolic: the 4th mark of the Church. As the Apostles were sent into the world to teach the Good News and to draw as many as would listen to the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, we too are asked to do the same in every age and it is our participation in the Apostolic nature of this Mystical Body to be sent into the world and draw all things to Him. Our communion with the Lord is a participation in His love; the self-sacrificing love of a family member.

As I think about the characteristics of the Mystical Body, it strikes me that when we decided to take up membership in the Church (to be a member of the Mystical Body) and become a part of the Living God, we are called to share in His Life and in His sufferings as well. We don’t just take up membership, we take up His cross. We will take the stripes, wear the crown of thorns, be mocked for our beliefs, and ultimately carry our cross with Him and suffer agony with Him, both in body and in soul. The world will hate us as it did Him and scorn us for being a stumbling block to their worldly designs.

We sometimes forget as Christians what exactly we were called to. It is not the romanticized faith of warm and fuzzy feelings, honor, esteem and a successful and prosperous life. We know that our happiness does not reside in the world. We are called to something far greater than anything this world has to offer. In fact we reject the world and the things of this world and seek only to remain joined to our Head. If we live in Him and die in Him, we will also rise with Him and abide with Him in an endless participation in His Divinity. It is as  St. Athanasius said: “God became man so that man might become a god.”

Catholicism: the Reason for My Hope Part I

Vatican

“. . . sanctify the Lord Christ in your hearts, being ready always to satisfy every one that asketh you a reason of that hope which is in you.” __ 1 Peter 3:15

I will in a series of posts try to satisfy the answers of those who might ask my reason for the hope I have in our Lord Jesus Christ. My reasons consist in large part to the very existence of His Church (the Mystical Body of Christ), still active and present from Her founding, that brought Christ Jesus to me in all Truth, in His Word and in His Sacraments. The Catholic Church has provided a living memory and memorial of the original faith of our fathers which She delivers whole and entire to the present generation. So it is my faith which fills me with the same hope that has filled the hearts of countless Christians in an unbroken chain for 2,000 years.

The motivations for becoming Catholic are as many as there are Catholic converts. However faith informed by reason means that my journey will not be complete for it is a continuing conversion and growth in faith that lasts a lifetime. There are both intellectual and spiritual attractions and I will need to address them as such.

My principle intellectual reasons are these: Divine Authority, Scripture, Structure, Continuity of Teaching and, of course, the History and Teachings of the Early Church Fathers. While my principle spiritual reasons lie in the Sacraments, the Scriptures again, the Saints and the Mystics of the Church.

Let’s look at each of these in a series of posts though I may not be able to put these together back to back: it takes too long to write them.

The Church Was Founded on Divine Authority

“And I say to thee: That thou art Peter; and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give to thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven. And whatsoever thou shalt bind upon earth, it shall be bound also in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose upon earth, it shall be loosed also in heaven.” __ Matthew 16:18,19

We all know this passage but it is meaningless to those who don’t want to hear it. However, it says what it says and means what it says and no intellectual, mental, interpretational gymnastics will change the verse. Likewise the following verse:

“He said therefore to them again: Peace be to you. As the Father hath sent me, I also send you. When he had said this, he breathed on them; and he said to them: Receive ye the Holy Ghost: Whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them; and whose sins you shall retain, they are retained.”__ John 20:21-23

Note that God only breathed on man one other time in scripture; when he gave life to the original father of humankind, Adam (Genesis 2:7) who grievously sinned against God. “O happy fault, O necessary sin of Adam, which gained for us so great a Redeemer!”[1] So our Savior has breathed onto these Apostles a new gift of life; the life of the Holy Spirit delivered to the new fathers of humankind, the leaders of Christ’s Church. And Christ gave the Apostles assurances that He had prepared them and given them all that they would need to minister to His Church:

“But the Paraclete, the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things, and bring all things to your mind, whatsoever I shall have said to you.” __ John 14:26

So that which was dramatically displayed at Pentecost (the indwelling of the Holy Spirit given to the Church) was also given in a more intimate way to the Apostles.

“I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now. But when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will teach you all truth. For he shall not speak of himself; but what things soever he shall hear, he shall speak; and the things that are to come, he shall shew you. Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come. He shall glorify me; because he shall receive of mine, and shall shew it to you.” __ John 16:12-15

Now for those who are outside of the Church as I was, it is apparent that the Truth (which is Christ Himself) gave the Holy Spirit and Himself (the Truth) to the Church and will guide them into all truth as the scripture says. Is there any man who can take that gift away? Christ alone would have to do it Himself but it would mean that Christ was not an all-knowing God who knew that he would revoke this gift. That would make all of Christianity null and void. Is there anywhere in Scripture that says Christ would strip His Church of the Truth and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit? Historically do we have a person who claims that Christ took the Holy Spirit from the Church and from the succession of Apostolic Leaders and gave it to them? Has the Holy Spirit failed the Church? These questions seem fundamental in the quest for the Church that bears the marks of Christ’s Church.[2] The answers to the questions are obvious: Christ never revoked any gift or went back on any promise made.

Why then, you might say, can a Church be filled with corruption and sin? I would answer that it is because mankind is still a fallen being, as we are the sons and daughters of Adam and Eve, with Original Sin on each of our souls. We are all sinners. Yes, many will scandalize the Church but we have Christ’s assurance that he will always be with us. “I will not leave you orphans, I will come to you.” __ John14:18

So did we become orphans, without Christ’s protection? Did
Christ lie to His Apostles or did His word become impossible? As a believer in Christ, I cannot even entertain such ideas as Christ is Truth and “no word shall be impossible with God.”[3]

Christ knew that we would fail him and cause scandals – he even told them so:

“And he said to his disciples: It is impossible that scandals should not come: but woe to him through whom they come. It were better for him, that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he cast into the sea, than that he should scandalize one of these little ones. Take heed to yourselves. If thy brother sin against thee, reprove him: and if he do penance, forgive him. And if he sin against thee seven times in a day, and seven times in a day be converted unto thee, saying, I repent; forgive him.” __ Luke 17:1-4

Can we not bear the Truth that Christ foretold? Yes, we are as poor a bunch of stewards of Christ’s Church as were the Jews who sinned and even killed the prophets that God sent to them. Did God divest Himself from his people, the Jewish Old Testament Church? No! He bore with them as patiently as He could and chastised them for their disobedience and sins but he never abandoned them. Is the New Testament God a different God that breaks His covenant with the Church? Or is it that Martin Luther or Calvin or whosoever left the Church has been given the gift of the Holy Spirit and the promises Christ bestowed on the Apostles? According to these, Christ’s breathing on the Apostles and his sending of the Holy Spirit were but a waste of time and came to nothing. And what of the forgiveness of those who did sin against the Church, did the reformers give them a chance to amend their faults and return anew to full communion therein? The Pope had asked Martin Luther for meetings to discuss the matters and Luther refused him. The Church has always had a remedy for heresy and schism and that is the invoking of a Church Council. The Council of Trent made right many of the grievances of Martin Luther and yet they came to believe a new gospel. They did not take the same route of James and the Judaizers as chronicled in Acts 15. They left the Church while James accepted the judgment of the Council and the final decision of Peter.

It is His Church that is the foundation of Truth as Timothy says: “. . . the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.”[4] So when was this wrested away and given to another? Can anyone dare claim the authority that was given to Christ’s Church?

If so, give the proof: for “Thou shouldst not have any power (authority) . . . unless it were given thee from above.”__John 19:11     Indeed, it is God who gives true power and authority. And the only authority he gave to any Church that I know was the Old Testament Church of the Jews and the New Testament Church called the Catholic Church.

As a side note: it is interesting to see how God dealt with the sedition of Core in the Old Testament and his followers. [See Numbers 16:6-33]

Is there even a human historical record that corroborates that the authority was transferred from the apostolic Church? Otherwise it is still dwelling in Christ’s only Church. The only answer it seems to me is what Luther was forced to do; make a claim (from his self-appointed authority) that Christians need only the Bible for their authority. So after 15 centuries of constant teaching, Christians need no authority but the Bible alone. I wonder where such a teaching can be found in the Bible. Thus begins the exegesis of Protestantism that redefines the meanings of Biblical passages to justify their positions, with total disregard of the teaching of the Church as constantly taught for 15 centuries and the voluminous accounts from the early fathers of the Church.

Luther taught that the truths were obvious and apparent to anyone who read the texts, but are they? 35,000 Protestant denominations later, we might think that some might take fault with his assertion.

Even Luther’s teachings have changed. For a few examples: his acceptance of indulgences (he only believed that the Church misused them – which it did); belief in the perpetual virginity of Mary (many Protestants now deny this); the sinfulness of contraception (no Christian denomination accepted contraception before Margaret Sanger and the Planned Parenthood of the 1930’s). There are others but this will suffice to make the point that the teachings of Protestantism are evolving and changing to mimic the desires or thinking of the secular world.

Likewise, there is more I could say about the topic but this was a quick overview of my acceptance of the Authority of the Catholic Church and of no other.


[1] From the Exultet (or Easter Proclamation) made at the Easter Mass.

[2] The 4 Marks of the Church: One, Holy, Catholic, Apostolic

[3] Luke 1:37

[4] I Timothy 3:15