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Year of Faith Series 6

Posted on : 13-05-2013 | By : TAG | In : Faith Series

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THE CHURCH

“ I believe in one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church.” (Ref. CCC Part I, Sec. 2, Ch. 3)

 The Aim of the Church

Human institutions ( a society, a company, etc.) are established to attain some goal. At the outset, they often have great vigor, in many cases owing to the personal impetus of their founders. It is by no means uncommon, however, that with the passing of time, they decline and even cease to exist.

 

(1) The Catholic Church is different. It is the most unusual institution that ever existed, because it was not founded by a mere man but by God, by Jesus Christ Himself.

(2) It also differs from other institutions because its founder lives forever. For this reason, the Church can never cease to exist. Even though it has been persecuted in many places and still suffers persecution today, the Church will always remain. Christ Himself promised St. Peter: “I say to you, you are Peter and upon this rock I will build my Church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” (Matt. 16, 18) and He also told the apostles: “I am with you all days, even unto the consummation of the world.” (Matt. 28, 20).

(3) The Church also differs in that its aim is not a human aim. It aims to lead souls to the eternal happiness of heaven. Since everyone has an immortal soul to save, the Church is intended for all people of all times.

Thus, the Catholic Church is not and could never be a merely ‘humanitarian’ institution or philanthropic society and much less a political party. It aims much higher. This does not mean, however, that it is uninterested in the things of this world. On the contrary, by helping people follow Jesus Christ and save their souls, it contributes powerfully to peace and justice on earth.

Is it necessary to belong to the Church? We must remember what Our Lord told the apostles and disciples shortly before His ascension into heaven: “Go into the whole world and preach the gospel to every creature. He who believes and is baptized shall be saved, but he who does not believe shall be condemned.” (Mark 16, 15-16). In other words, Our Lord gave the apostles the task of teaching His doctrine and of baptizing and administering the sacraments. Therefore, only in the Church do we find the ‘means’ necessary to achieve salvation: the teaching and the sacraments.

The Foundation and Beginnings of the Church

Christ came into the world to save all men, not only those of His own time but those of all times. To continue His mission, He founded the Church, which was made up of all those who have believed in Him. He named Peter as His vicar or representative, the head of the apostles.

After Christ’s ascension into heaven, as Sacred Scripture tells us, the apostles were gathered with Mary, the Mother of Jesus, praying together in the same place, when there came a sort of powerful wind and they underwent an interior transformation. It was the day of Pentecost, the coming of the Holy Spirit, the Third person of the Blessed Trinity, sent by God the Father and the Son to the apostles so that they could fulfill the mission entrusted to them: to teach His doctrine everywhere and to baptize all peoples.

The apostles, filled with the Holy Spirit, left the place and began to teach the doctrine of Christ fearlessly; with so much power that on that day, several thousands were converted in Jerusalem, of many races and tongues, and they received Baptism, which was, and continues to be, the means by which people are incorporated into the Church.

The Church, the Mystical Body of Christ

Sacred Scripture compares the Church to a human body; the head is Jesus Christ Himself and the members all the baptized (Cor. 12 , 12-18). In any living body, there is an invisible soul which gives it life; in the Church, the soul is the Holy Spirit, present within each Christian in the state of grace, who moves him to live in a manner consistent with his faith. The Holy Spirit is also present, in a particular way, in those who have the mission of teaching, governing and administering the sacraments, as the apostles did at the beginning.

Not all the members of a body are equal: some ‘cells’ are alive and others dead. This also happens within the Church. Some members are ‘alive’, or in the grace of God and obey and share His life. Others are ‘dead’, or in mortal sin and unless they recover their ‘life’, they will die in sin and be separated from Christ forever and condemned to hell.

Those souls who have reached heaven (Church Triumphant) and are forever united to Christ also form part of the Church as do souls in purgatory (Church Suffering).We who are still pilgrims on earth are called Church Militant.

In the human body, the members influence one another. When one is sick, the others feel it and help it. This also happens in the Church. There is communication among the members by which the good action of one has repercussions on the others. This communication in good is called ‘Communion of Saints’. Thanks to it we benefit from the unlimited merits of Christ and His Blessed Mother Mary, from the prayers of the saints and from all good actions (prayers and sacrifices) of the living faithful who are in the grace of God. On the other hand, the harm which the Church suffers stems especially from the sins committed by her members.

The Hierarchy of the Church

In the body which is the Church, some members govern and the others are governed. All are equal, as Christians, but have different functions. Christ gave the supreme power to govern the whole Church to St. Peter who, after preaching in Jerusalem, moved to Rome in order to govern the whole Church from there. He was martyred in Rome together with many of the first Christians. The successors of St. Peter, as Bishops of Rome, are the Popes or Roman Pontiffs, who have succeeded one another uninterruptedly until our own time. Our present Pope Benedict XVI is the 265th pope.

The other apostles journeyed the world over while remaining under the authority of St. Peter. They taught and baptized, as Our Lord had commanded them, and they gave their lives for Christ through martyrdom. Their successors are the bishops who govern portions of the Church, usually called dioceses. They are assisted by priests and deacons who cooperate with the bishops in the teaching of the Christian doctrine and in the administration of the sacraments.

The Pope, bishops, priests and deacons together form the ‘hierarchy’ of the Church. The Pope has the power over the universal Church; the bishops in union with him, over their respective dioceses. The government of the Church includes the passing of laws which must be fulfilled, such as the precept of attending Mass on Sundays and holydays, which obliges under pain of mortal sin.

Besides governing, they have the mission of teaching. From the beginning, the apostles faithfully handed on Christ’s teachings. They had the special assistance of the Holy Spirit to avoid falling into error. Through this assistance, we can be sure that all official teachings of the Church (pertaining to faith and morals) are faithful to the truth of Christ. The function of teaching and the body of these teachings is called the ‘Magisterium of the Church’. 

In addition to the teaching mission, the hierarchy also has the mission of sanctifying, that is, the administration of the sacraments.

The Church founded by Jesus Christ has the following characteristics:

  • One – there is only one true Church because Jesus Christ did not found others. It is also one in that the faith is one and the same at all times and in all places. Furthermore, Catholics obey a single authority. Such unity is found only in the Catholic Church.
  • Holy – its founder is holy. Her doctrine and sacraments are holy in that they lead to sanctity. Also, there have never been lacking holy men and women in the Church, even in our own time, who make an effort to live the demands of their faith to the full.
  • Catholic – which means universal, because it hands on all the teachings of Christ, without omitting anything, to all men of all times, independently of their race or social situation.
  • Apostolic – because she traces her origin back to the apostles in an uninterrupted succession. Also, all that the apostles learned from Christ is preserved intact in the Church and cannot be changed, which is called the ‘deposit of faith’. The Church can modify accidental, external aspects, but never anything essential. For example, the Church will never approve divorce or abortion or contraception. She could never adapt herself to the ways of men in this regard; rather it is men who must come to live in conformity with the truth.

We cannot be cowards and hide the fact of being Catholics when the Church or her teaching needs to be defended. It would be senseless for a Catholic to criticize the Church. We ought to be refined enough to avoid criticizing members of the hierarchy, even if they might deserve it. In such cases, a good Catholic ought to increase his prayer for the person who gives bad example. Each of us should love and serve the Church in his own circumstances. It is not possible to love God and not love the Church, because the Church is of God.

May 13, 2013, feast of our Lady of Fatima (Portugal)

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