Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Introduction to the Catholic Church



The Catholic Church – Roman (Latin) Rite
            There is probably no other religion on Earth that is more widespread and known than the Catholic Church.  As I write this, the media is gathering in Rome anticipating the election of a new Pope due to the fact that Pope Benedict XVI retired. (Ruth, Lisa M, Wash. Times)  The Catholic Church is the largest religion on Earth with over 1.5 billion members.  It is also the oldest western religion.  One can say, based on history that it has built western society as we know it today. 
The Catholic Church is a revealed religion. (CCC. Para. 813)  It can be traced back to Jesus Christ and the Apostles. (Bokenkotter, pg1)  The Church states that it has the four marks of the true Church: One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic. (CCC. Para. 865)  Jesus Christ is thought to be by billions, the Son of God.  The Jews prior to Christ were expecting a Messiah or Savior.  This Messiah was thought to be a warrior who would rescue Israel similarly like Moses did in the book of Exodus found in the Bible. (Levine, USCatholic.org)  However, the one claming to be the Messiah - or “chosen/anointed one” - was a poor carpenter named Jesus Christ. (Bible Catholic Pastoral Edition, Mark 6:1-3 [p.83-84])  This would cause scandal among the Jews of the time who expected a man with a sword in hand that would defeat the oppressors of the nation of Israel.
Furthermore, instead of rousing up the people to fight against Rome, Christ spoke of peace, love, forgiveness and repentance. (Bible Catholic Pastoral Edition, Matthew 7:1-5 [p.11] John 16:33 [p.222] Matthew 4:17 [p.12]) This was a sharp contrast to what the image of the Messiah was supposed to be.  According to the Gospels in the New Testament, Jesus chose 12 men. (Bible Catholic Pastoral Edition, Matthew 10 [p.26]) These 12 men would represent each of the twelve tribes of Israel. (Bible Catholic Pastoral Edition, Matthew 19:28 [p.48])  In a sense, Christ was renewing the already established Jewish religion. (Bible Catholic Pastoral Edition, Matthew 19:28 [p.48]) 
One of them named Simon was a fisherman and the oldest.  Jesus would change his name to Peter which means “rock.”  He would also tell Peter that He would give him the keys of the kingdom of Heaven and Earth.  Whatever Peter changed would be changed in heaven and whatever he left untouched would be left untouched. (Bible Catholic Pastoral Edition, Matthew 16:18-19 [p.42]).  This giving of the keys originates from Isaiah 22:20-22 in the Old Testament.  (Bible Catholic Pastoral Edition, Isaiah 22:22 [p.546])  Hezekiah gave the keys to the kingdom of David to a servant named Eliakim to be the prime minister.  The keys are also a symbol of succession.  The Catholic Church teaches that Peter would have a specific primal role in the Church as the visible head of it.  This role would be defined as the Papacy. (CCC paragraph 881)  Jesus would then continue stating that the gates of hell would not prevail against the Church. 
Before the crucifixion, death and resurrection of Christ, Christ told the Apostles that he would send a Paraclete or “helper” who will remind them of what he has taught and would guide them. (Bible Catholic Pastoral Edition, John 14:15-17 [p.218])  Jesus would then ascend into heaven and the Apostles would be left to begin their mission to preach the Gospel to the world and Baptize in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. (Catholic Pastoral Edition, Matthew 28:18-20 [p.70])  On the fiftieth day after the Resurrection, this helper would come over the Apostles and Mary - Jesus’ mother - as they prayed in a room. (Catholic Pastoral Edition, Acts 2:1-13 [p.236-237])  This helper would be the Holy Spirit and would allow those who received Him to speak the Word of God clearly and in the vernacular of those who were listening.  The Catholic Church calls this day Pentecost and it is considered the birthday of the Catholic Church. (CCC paragraph 1076)
After Pentecost, the Apostles would spread around the region and preach the message of Jesus Christ.  They would baptize, and celebrate primitive versions of what are called “sacraments,” or visible signs of God’s grace. (Catholic Pastoral Edition, Acts 20:7 [p.273], Acts 19:5 [p.270]; Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 774)  The Catholic Church would establish its center in Rome. (Bokenkotter, Pg. 16-27)  Peter and another disciple named Paul who was not originally part of the Apostles founded the Church there.  This is why the Church is centered in Vatican City, Rome.  According to Origen of Alexandria, Peter was crucified on the land upside-down.  He did not want to die in the same manner as Christ so he requested to be crucified in this manner.  His remains would be buried where the basilica of St. Peter’s is now. (Bokenkotter, 42)  His “cathedra” or chair is also preserved there. 
Moreover, some erroneously call the Catholic Church, the “Roman Catholic Church;” however, this is not the proper title.  The Catholic Church is a collection of about 22 different churches or rites. (CCC, Para.1203)  Latin is one of those rites which originated in Rome as the official vernacular.   Each rite has a distinct way of having Liturgy, or public service/worship.
The early Church used the philosophies of its time to explicate Christian dogmas.  They used Greek philosophy’s view of the “Logos” to explain God.  God has always been part of philosophy whether Greek or not.  The major difference with the God of philosophy in ancient Greece and the Biblical/Qur’an God is that this being is not named or treated as a person who interacts with humanity.  This Supreme Being is merely described as the “esse subsistens” or the absolute being, while the Judeo-Christian God names Himself and interacts personally with humanity according to Pope Benedict XVI. (XVI, Benedict, 130)   
The Catholic Church would eventually be recognized as the official religion of the Roman Empire after Constantine receives a vision of a Christian symbol, the chi-rho which means Christ. (Bokenkotter: 35,38)  He would hand over the Pagan temples to the Catholic Church which would be transformed into Christian themed buildings. (Bokenkotter, 39)  The Pantheon is an example.  It originally existed to give homage to the many Pagan Roman gods and now it is a Catholic Church giving homage to Christ’s mother and all the Christian martyrs, or those who died for the faith.  The Church would rise in power after this and would eventually take over the Roman Empire. (Bokenkotter, 89-90)
With this temporal authority, the Church under the leadership of Popes was able to promote the religion more and leave its mark on society.  It presented the western idea of the university and created the first hospital system.  Many priests and monks worked in the sciences such as Franciscan Roger Bacon who formulated what we now use as the scientific method. (Bokenkotter, 143)  Even the “Big Bang” theory was developed by Monsignor George Lemaitre who corrected physicist Albert Einstein who believed the universe was constant and not expanding.  The Bible or Scripture itself was put together by the Catholic Church in 382 A.D. by Pope Damasus I. (CCC. Para. 120)  Scripture was defined as the “Word of God” and Christians were required to learn it.  By using the Bible or Sacred Scripture as well as Sacred Tradition, or the teachings of the Apostles and early Christian; the Catholic Church define its teachings. (CCC. Para 87, 94)
The religion itself is based solely on the person of Christ. (CCC. Para 666) Christ is seen as the source of the truth, liberty and salvation from sin. (CCC 2466)  Grace, or the favor or life of God is given to people. (CCC. Para. 1996) The people using free will can respond to it with the gift of faith.  They then put that faith into works or action in order to be justified in the eyes of God. (CCC. Para. 1993) The Church sums this up in the Theological virtues of Faith, Hope and Charity. (CCC. Para. 1813, 2095)  The living of these virtues will bring about the Cardinal virtues of, Fortitude, Prudence, Temperance and Justice. (CCC. Para 1805, 1834) 
In addition to these virtues, the Catholic Church offers the seven sacraments which are divided into three categories: Initiation, Healing and Vocation.  Baptism, Confirmation and the Holy Eucharist are the Sacraments of initiation. (CCC. Para. 1113) They leave an indelible mark on the souls of believers who receive them. (CCC. Para. 698) Anointing of the Sick and Penance are the Sacraments of Healing.  One offers comfort to the sick and prepares them for death while the other removes all sin when a believer confesses his or her sins to a priest. (CCC. Para. 1421) Lastly, Holy Matrimony and Holy Orders are the Vocation Sacraments.  God can call one to marry the opposite gender, or a male to become a deacon or priest via ordination in Holy Orders.  Only celibate men can become deacons, priests, bishops, cardinals and pope. (CCC. Para. 1580, 1598) Women are called to the religious life, but this is not the same as Holy Orders.  
The Catholic Church is a monotheistic religion which believes God to be three distinct Divine persons who co-substantially exist as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. (CCC. Para. 253) God is the only one worshiped while the saints, or men and women who succeeded in living the Christian virtues and have died are canonized and are believed to intercede on the behalf of those still living on Earth or the “Church Militant.” (CCC. Para. 956)
The Mother of Christ, commonly referred to as the Virgin Mary holds a special veneration by Catholics. (CCC. Para. 721) It is believed that she has appeared to specific individuals throughout the centuries.  Many shrines were built on or near the spot where she had appeared.  In addition to this, Catholics stress the important of a prayer life.  Liturgy is the official worship of the Church. (CCC. Para. 1136) Catholics are required to attend Mass on Sundays and holy days of obligation. (CCC. Para. 2042) They must frequent the Sacraments of Penance and Holy Eucharist and must take part in good works.  Sacramentals, or objects and actions that are considered reminders of the sacred and bring blessings are used. (CCC. Para. 1677) Popular sacramentals are medals of saints, rosary beads, chaplets, scapulars and holy water. 
The Catholic Church believes that the human race is fallen from grace.  After the original sin of Adam and Eve, all of humanity was tarnished by it and must remove this sin via baptism. (CCC. Para. 390)  However, actual sin still remains which predisposes people to sin via their own free will.  When a sin is great, it is called mortal.  Mortal sins are sins that must have three criteria, 1. It must be a grave matter.  2. One must contemplate committing the sin 3. One freely committed the sin. (CCC. Para. 1857)
If a human being dies with a mortal sin, he or she will most likely end up in hell, or the state of absence from the love of God. (CCC. Para. 1035) Mortal sins are removed only via the sacrament of Penance. (CCC. Para. 1496) Those sins which are committed without premeditation are called Venial. (CCC. Para. 1862) These sins can be removed with an act of Contrition.  Anyone who dies with these sins will remain in the state of Purgatory which cleanses a soul prior to entry into heaven. (CCC. Para. 1031) The Sacrament of Penance does not remove the suffering that one incurs upon oneself due to sin.  Indulgences or the merits of Christ and the saints are applied to souls in order to remove this suffering. (CCC. Para. 1471) The Catholic Church teaches that human beings have an immortal soul which can exist after death in either heaven, hell, or temporarily in purgatory. (CCC. Para. 1022)   
The Catholic Church teaches that it is the Mystical body of Christ.  Christ is its head, but a visible head remains on Earth called the Pontiff, Vicar of Christ or Pope. (CCC. Para. 1119) The Pope is an ordained man who is elected by the Cardinals, or princes of the Church.  The Cardinals vote among themselves who will replace a Pope.  The Church has had 266 Popes from St. Peter to Pope Benedict XVI.  Recently, Pope Benedict XVI retired and a conclave was held which is the ceremony from which a new Pope is elected.  The Cardinal of Argentina, Jorge Mario Bergoglio was elected on March 13, 2013 and took the name of Pope Francis. 
            In closing, the Catholic Church is a religion that is well organized and has a long history.  It was difficult attempting to summarize the Catholic religion because of the volumes of information on it.  I think the religion is rational and if one observes it correctly, one will benefit greatly.  Its ideas are often misunderstood.  The Church has done much for society and is the largest charitable organization in the world.  It provides both spiritual and material needs to all peoples, even non-Catholics.  The Church educates people of all races, ages, genders, faith and no faith. 
To my knowledge, the Catholic Church is the only religion that promotes science and even has its own observatory.  Despite the bad reputation some of its members have given the Church, the Church deserves a lot of credit for many good things.   






Works Cited

Bokenkotter, Thomas.  A Concise History of the Catholic Church,   Revised and Expanded EditionImage Books, 1990

   Hurault, Bernardo. Christian Community Bible, Catholic Pastoral Edition.  Claretian Publications, 1994

   Catholic Church, Catechism of the Catholic Church.
Image Books Doubleday, 1995

                           XVI, Benedict.  Introduction to Christianity. Revised
Ignatius Press, 2004

Ruth, Lisa M.   “Pope Benedict resigns. Selecting the next Pope.” http://communities.washingtontimes.com/neighborhood/life-lisa/2013/feb/28/pope-benedict-resigns-so-whats-next/
           Washington Times News Website, 28 Feb. 2013

  A U.S. Catholic Interview – Amy-Jill Levine.  “A Jewish take on Jesus: Amy-Jilll Levine talks the gospels.”   http://www.uscatholic.org/church/2012/09/jewish-take-jesus-amy-jill-levine-talks-gospels

           US Catholic.Org Website/U.S. Catholic Vol. 77, No. 10, pages 18-22.  Oct. 2012

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