The Essentials of Catholicism

 

 

crucifixion

 

Introduction

The following questions and answers are not meant to form a complete presentation of the Catholic faith.  They are meant only to provide a concise introduction to the essential teachings of Catholicism, in light of the widespread confusion that presently afflicts the Church.   No attempt has been made to persuade the skeptic or non-believer.  The intention is only to introduce the seeker to the mind of the Church, and to do so with clarity, simplicity, and directness.  There is a presumption throughout, however, that the reader has been influenced by many non-Catholic and non-Christian notions, such as now fill the modern Church and world.  These notions are often the result of ignorance, unbelief, superstition, or even lies that have been told and re-told about the faith.   The following explanations could serve as a first step in correcting these errors with truth, especially for those who are seriously considering either a turn or a return to the Church.

May the Holy Spirit bless with divine light and strength all who sincerely seek the true God and the truth He has revealed to us through His holy Church.

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Part I: Concepts

 

What Is a Mystery?

A mystery is a religious truth which can be only partly comprehended by the human intellect.  Such mysteries pertain directly or indirectly to the infinite God, and are naturally only imperfectly grasped by the finite human mind.  But those mysteries that man must know and understand for the purposes of salvation can indeed be sufficiently understood with effort.   God generously reveals and provides all that man must know and possess in order to fully obtain the purpose for which he was created.

What is Truth?

Truth is objective reality perceived by the intellect.  As an aspect of God’s creation, it may be attained either by the natural light of human reason, or else, by divine revelation.

The existence of a particular truth is not dependent upon its recognition by a person.  Because truth is real, it can in no way be made unreal, untrue, or non-existent by the failure or refusal of an individual to recognize it.  Truth is precisely as real as the person who affirms or denies it.

Many people deny the existence of truth or reality.  But if truth did not exist, then it could not be stated that there is no truth, for this would be a truism.  And if reality were only a dream or an illusion, then so, too, would be the perception that all is unreal.  In other words, the denials of truth and reality are logical absurdities that undermine, not only religion, but also science and education in general.  For if nothing is true, and if all is an illusion, then what remains of the so-called “facts” necessary to science and every other intellectual field?  And without facts, what is the purpose of education, communication, or even conversation?

What is Faith?

Faith is not a religious emotion or warm feeling towards God.  Nor is it the mere awareness or knowledge of certain religious teachings.  Faith is a grace-inspired conviction and trust in the God who reveals.  It is not vague, but specific.  Faith fully embraces the particular truths God has revealed.  And it does so, not because such truths are persuasive in themselves, but because of the authority of the God who has revealed them.

What Is Religion?

The word “religion” probably comes from the Latin word “religare,” which means to “tie” or “bind.”  Through religion, believers freely bind themselves upward to the transcendent God and to His will.  Religion that is primarily concerned with the things of this world, therefore, is contrary to the very meaning of the word.

Religion concerns itself with three primary areas: theology (belief), morality (behavior), and liturgy (devotion).  These three areas are based, not on what man has invented, but on what God has revealed.  Thus, the religious person believes what God has revealed about Himself, man, the world, and the future; he or she strives to live according to the revealed will of God; and the religious person worships God as God has declared He desires to be worshipped.

At the Last Supper, Jesus commanded, “Do this in memory of me.”  Thus, although the Church is free to create various forms of devotion, her primary act of divine worship is and must always be the Holy Mass, in which the divine command is literally fulfilled.

Many people – even many Christians – disparage religion, as if Christ condemned it as a mere invention of corrupt and greedy man.  Christ condemned, not all religion, but only bad or false religion.  In fact, He engaged night and day in teaching and defending the doctrinal, moral, and devotional truths that comprise the Gospel.  Any person who teaches or practices the same engages in religion.

What Is Revelation?

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Part II: Doctrine

What Is God?

God is the eternal all-good uncreated Supreme Being who created all that exists – both the spiritual and the physical.   God is not an abstraction or a concept of man’s imagination, but an actual living being who knows, loves, and acts.  He is not an energy or force, but a divine spirit with intellect and free will.  He does not change or evolve, but is perfect and complete in every way.  He is not part of His creation, but is transcendent and sovereign over it.   He is not distant from His creatures, but is intimately involved in their daily lives.  And He can neither deceive nor be deceived, but is the origin and source of all truth.

From moment to moment, God preserves and governs all things, holding them in existence and guiding them to the end for which they were created.  Those creatures who have received the gifts of intellect and free will, but misuse them to contradict God’s purposes, may individually exclude themselves from His designs – tragically and even eternally.  But neither angelic nor human beings can prevent the providential plan of God from being perfectly fulfilled.

What is the Most Holy Trinity?

As should be expected, the deepest mystery of all is God Himself.  For how could the finite human mind easily perceive the infinite?  And yet, this infinite Being has revealed to us much about Himself – specifically, His Trinitarian nature.

The Most Holy Trinity is the primary doctrine of the Christian religion.  It refers to the unity of the three divine Persons – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – that constitutes the living God.  These three Persons are equally divine and equally eternal.  One Person is in no way more divine or more eternal than either of the other Persons.  The Son is the self-knowledge of the Father, and the Holy Spirit is the love of the Father and the Son.  The Holy Trinity, then, is an eternal and divine community and unity of truth and love that comprises the one true God.

It is common among many people and faiths today to confess that God is love.  But in what sense could this have been true from all eternity, even before the existence of creation?  In other words, what could God have loved before He made and loved us?  The answer is found in the Most Holy Trinity.  From all eternity, the Father loved the Son and the Son loved the Father; and from all eternity, the Holy Spirit loved the Father and the Son, and the Father and the Son loved the Holy Spirit.

Who is Jesus Christ?

Jesus Christ is the divine Son of God and Savior of the world who was conceived, not by man, but by the Holy Spirit in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary.  He came to teach humanity eternal truth and to offer His life upon a cross in atonement for the sins of the entire human race.  Through the offering of His human life, Christ has redeemed every human from the grip of sin, death, and damnation.  As a result, man may obtain eternal life through Him.  Hence, although every human being could potentially attain salvation due entirely to the infinitely sufficient salvific work of Christ, nevertheless, each person must individually respond to or cooperate with this saving work in order to benefit from it.

Jesus Christ is not merely the founder of the world religion called Christianity.  Much more, He is the God-man, the second Person of the Holy Trinity, and is therefore worshipped by angelic and human beings.  Never was there a time when Jesus was not the divine Son of God.  Thus, He is not a human person with a divine nature, but a divine person having acquired a human nature for the purposes of redeeming the human race.

Who is the Blessed Virgin Mary?

The Blessed Virgin Mary is the Mother of Jesus Christ.  Because Jesus is divine, Mary is therefore the Mother of God (Divine Maternity).  Our Lord’s divine nature was not created within Mary’s womb, but only His human nature.  However, Mary gave birth to a Person, not a nature, and that Person is the eternal and divine Son of God who was conceived by the Holy Spirit within Mary’s womb.  Therefore, Mary is called by the Church, not only the Mother of Jesus – such as all non-believers would call her – but the Mother of God, a title that simultaneously professes the divinity of Christ.

In preparation for her vocation as the Mother of the Savior, and in order that she might be worthy to carry Our Lord, Mary was conceived without original sin (Immaculate Conception), and as a direct result, committed no personal sins during her earthly life.  All the days of her life, she remained a virgin (Perpetual Virginity), for the body that was consecrated to the divine plan would never be used for ordinary purposes and pleasures by mere man, not even by her holy husband, Saint Joseph.  When Our Lady’s life was concluded, and in order to honor the body that bore the Son of God and provided the flesh with which mankind was redeemed, Mary was preserved from the decay of the tomb and taken up into heaven (Assumption), body and soul.  Hence, no relics of her body have ever been venerated or found.  And now, glorified in heaven, she constantly intercedes for the Church on earth before her divine Son, whom she worships.

What is Man?

Man is a being that is the union of spirit and matter, soul and body.  He is not a spiritual being temporarily trapped inside a physical body, but the union of the two components.

Whereas the human body is mortal and will one day die and decay, the human soul is immortal and will never die.  Death is the temporary separation of these two components.  In fact, death is an unnatural state for the human soul, which was created in order to be joined to a human body.

Once brought out of non-existence by the Creator, every human being will exist forever as a conscious individual.  Hence, the human person will never become “absorbed” into a divine energy, and thus, lose his or her individual existence.  Nor will they ever be annihilated by God.

At the end of this world, God will restore all human bodies and souls to their original union, and then Christ will judge all people according to their faith and conduct.  This restoration of body and soul means that the doctrine of reincarnation is irreconcilable with the Christian religion, since reincarnation teaches that each soul inhabits many different bodies over many different lifetimes.  A person lives only once, and after death is either punished or rewarded, according to the manner in which he or she believed and lived.

The purpose of every man and woman is to know, love, and serve God in this life, and to enjoy God forever in the life to come.  In other words, the vocation of the human person is not natural, but supernatural, even if the manner in which many people live denies this truth.

What is a Human Soul?

A human soul is a spirit – a real, individual, non-material intelligent being, which is meant to animate a human body.  In essence it is a person.  The human soul is created in the “image and likeness of God” in that it is spiritual and immortal, and possesses intellect and free will.  By means of these gifts, a person may know truth and abide by goodness.

The human soul did not pre-exist, but was brought out of non-existence by God.  It is spontaneously created by Him when the human body is conceived through the conjugal act.  Such is the dignity of this act, that God, according to His will, simultaneously creates an immortal soul to animate the flesh brought forth by husband and wife.

What Is an Angel?

An angel is an individual non-material intelligence created by God whose sole purpose is to serve God.  It differs from a human soul in that it has no relationship with a material body, and thus is called a “pure spirit,” meaning, a being that is purely spiritual.  Holy Scripture records many instances in which angels appeared in human form, but these forms did not belong to their nature, and served only the temporary purpose of allowing angels to communicate with human beings.  An angel is a person and is created in the image and likeness of God: it is spiritual, immortal, and possesses intellect and free will.

What Is a Fallen Angel?

A fallen angel is a pure spirit that, at the beginning of creation, rebelled against God and thus became evil by its own doing.  Such a spirit is also called a demon.  Satan (“Adversary”) is the chief fallen angel who first preferred himself to God and then led a general angelic insurrection.  Although extraordinarily powerful and intelligent, Satan and the demons are in no way comparable to God, who alone is supernatural, all-powerful (omnipotent), and all knowing (omniscient).  They are more properly called preternatural beings.

What Is Evil?       

Evil is the absence of good as embodied in the fallen angel, Satan.  God did not make evil, but only permits it for the time being, and is able to draw good from it in ways that are often unrecognizable to man.  Evil is the result of the rejection of the good and the true on the part of free and intelligent creatures, and is always directed towards the undermining of God’s holy will – an objective which is impossible to achieve.   In the end, all who follow the ways of evil will be eternally removed from the presence of God.

What Is the Church?

The Church is the body of believers – including clergy, religious, and laity – that believes in Jesus Christ, is sanctified by the Holy Spirit, and is united by apostolic faith, sacramental worship, and hierarchical governance.

How Can One Identify the True Church?

The one true Church directly founded by Jesus Christ possesses four distinctive marks that distinguish her from all other claimants.  Because the Church described in the New Testament possessed these marks, the true Church must possess them today as well.  She is one (Unity), holy (Sanctity), catholic (Catholicity), and apostolic (Apostolicity).

The Church is one.  In this mark she possesses a unity of doctrine, morality, and devotion.  She is also governed by bishops, priests, and deacons, all of whom are united under the supreme authority of the pope.  This unity of government maintains a singleness of teaching, worship, and mission.

The Church is holy.  The holiness of the Church is not due to the holiness of her members; it is not the sum of their sanctity.  Rather, it is due to her Founder and Lord, Jesus Christ, and more fully, to the Trinitarian God whom she worships and serves.  Christ died to sanctify the Church, and, in spite of human sin and scandal, her holy nature cannot ever be altered.  In addition, she possesses doctrines which reveal the truth about the thrice-holy God, moral precepts which guide the faithful in the way of holiness, and seven sacraments which are channels of holiness in that they bestow sanctifying grace.  Finally, the sanctity of the Church is demonstrated in her saints who are nothing more than those individuals who believed, received, and practiced the Church’s means of holiness.

The Church is catholic.  The term “catholic” is derived from a Greek word meaning universal.  The Church is universal, first and foremost, in the extent of her mission.  She was commissioned by Jesus Christ to go out to all the nations and make disciples.  Her mission is catholic in that it includes all peoples, cultures, philosophies, and religions.  She is to preach the Gospel to the entire world and receive every person who would follow Christ.  This mission is to be carried out for all time, until Jesus Christ returns.  The Church is catholic also in the completeness of her teaching.  She is to proclaim all that Christ taught without compromise.  And the Church is catholic in that she offers and celebrates all seven sacraments given to her by her Lord.  Thus, the true Church is unique in that she possesses the fullness of Christ’s truth and grace given for our salvation.

The Church is apostolic.  She was founded not by man, but by God.  She is that same communion of believers that Christ first called, instructed, and sent out in the twelve Apostles.  These Apostles in turn, called, instructed, and sent out others with the same commission as they had received from Christ.  This apostolicity is maintained over the ages through the sacrament of Holy Orders, so that every bishop can ultimately trace his consecration back to an Apostle.  Thus, the Church possesses an authority which is not an empty claim, but which she demonstrably possesses from Jesus Christ through His Apostles..  As a result, having received from Christ through the Apostles the Spirit of truth to guide her into all the truth, the Church’s teachings remain free of all error.

The certain identity of the true Church carries an important urgency and significance in that Christ made several promises to the Church that He directly founded.  The apostolic Church alone received those promises, and Christ is faithful to His promises.  These include divine authority and fidelity of doctrine.

Does Corruption Prove the Catholic Church Is Not the True Church of Jesus Christ?

Corruption and scandals within the Catholic Church prove only that all men and women are sinners in dire need of the grace of God.  They are further evidence of Catholic teaching on original sin, and reveal the uncomfortable fact that even religious people can fall to the extremes of immorality.

Christ’s teachings and expectations regarding His Church were entirely realistic.  He never said the Church would be the perfect, but warned His disciples that sin and scandal would appear within her in various grave ways.  In spite of this, they must not despair of her nor doubt that she truly is the Church of Christ.

Today, tragically, the divine aspects of the Church are often obscured by her shockingly ugly human aspects, so that many people find it too difficult to believe this could possibly be the Church founded by Our Lord.  This is understandable, but it is contrary to the forewarnings of Christ.

“It is impossible that scandals should not come; but woe to him through whom they come!  It were better for him if a millstone were hung about his neck and he were thrown into the sea, than that he should cause one of these little ones to sin” (Lk. 17:1-2).

What Is the Mission of the Church?

The mission of the Church is to do precisely and perpetually that which Jesus Christ commissioned her to do.  This “Great Commission” is found in Matthew 28:19-20:

“All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and behold, I am with you all days, even unto the consummation of the world.”

In other words, Jesus Christ, the divine Son of God, possesses all authority.  His Church must evangelize with Gospel truth and sanctify with sacramental grace all people in the name of the Most Holy Trinity, and instruct them in all the teachings of our Lord for all time – that is, until Christ returns.

In the simplest of terms, the mission of the Church is to glorify God and save souls.

Is the Catholic Church Just Another Denomination?

The Catholic Church is not a denomination.  If she were, then she would be not a Protestant denomination, but a Jewish one, for she came forth directly from the Jewish people and religion.  As historical evidence of this, the name “Catholic” was in familiar use by the turn of the first century.  By that time, it was necessary to use a term other than “Christian” because there already existed many religious sects and factions claiming to be the true Church.  Hence, the Catholic Church is the one true Church founded directly by Jesus Christ two thousand years ago.  For this reason, she is referred to as the Apostolic Church, the Church founded by Christ through His apostles.

Outside of the Catholic Church, however, elements of truth and grace do exist.  These would include the written Word of God (the Bible) and Trinitarian Baptism.  Yet, Christ entrusted to the Catholic Church the fullness of His truth and grace, and the all-important gifts of indefectibility and infallibility by which the Church will always endure and will never officially and definitively teach error.  It is the will of God, then, that all people should share in these many gifts, and be saved through them.  For this reason, Christ commissioned his Church to evangelize all peoples, so that all who would accept Him would be gathered into one body, under one visible head, into the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.  This unity would be a sign and witness that the Catholic Church is no mere human institution fragmented by divisions and contradictions, as are all merely human institutions.

“Where the bishop appears, there let the people be, just as where Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church” (Letter of St. Ignatius of Antioch to the Smyrnaeans, 107 AD).

“I do not pray for these only [the Apostles], but also for those who believe in me through their word, that they may all be one; even as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you sent me” (Jn. 17:20-21).

What is the Magisterium?

The magisterium is the highest teaching authority in the Church, and consists of the pope and those bishops who are in communion with him.  Its purpose is to expound and defend the Deposit of Faith, so that all future generations can receive the same doctrinal, moral, and spiritual teachings as previous generations,  And yet, the magisterium continues to further enlighten the faithful regarding these same teachings.  For as centuries pass, the Church continues to encounter new difficulties and dilemmas – heresies and moral controversies that may never have been mentioned in Holy Scripture (in vitro fertilization, human cloning, etc.) nor faced by the Church.  By means of the Spirit of Truth, the magisterium is able to authoritatively resolve these issues and render decisions, in order to preserve the integrity of the faith.  At other times, the magisterium may elevate a previously held teaching to a higher status, after the Church has come to a more thorough comprehension of it (Immaculate Conception, Assumption).  The result is a deeper understanding of the one Catholic faith.  In this sense, there can be a “development of doctrine” over time, but this development in no way allows for either the creation of new teachings or the denial of previously defined and held teachings.

An individual bishop who, through persistent false teaching or disobedience, disregards this communion with the pope and bishops, separates himself from the magisterium.

The “ordinary magisterium” refers to the daily teaching of the bishops through preaching and writing, while the “extraordinary magisterium” refers to the more solemn teaching of Church councils and papal documents.

However, it is not the purpose or right of the magisterium to invent new teachings and then impose them on the faithful.  The Church possesses authority neither to create truth nor to deny it, but only to guide and guard it.  As the Catechism of the Catholic Church states,

“Yet this Magisterium is not superior to the Word of God, but is its servant. It teaches only what has been handed on to it.  At the divine command and with the help of the Holy Spirit, it listens to this devotedly, guards it with dedication, and expounds it faithfully.  All that it proposes for belief as being divinely revealed is drawn from this single deposit of faith” (CCC 87).

What Are the Sources of Catholic Teaching?

The sources of Catholic teaching are Sacred Tradition, Holy Scripture, and the living magisterium.  The unity and purity of faith require that, if Tradition and Scripture exist, then there must be a means of resolving disputes or conflicting interpretations.  In fact, because Tradition does not consist of every statement made by the Fathers of the Church, the bishops, and other venerable theologians, there must be an authoritative means of sifting this vast mass of proposed teaching, in order to retain the correct and remove the mistaken.  This means is the magisterium.

Ideas and notions not found in these three sources of Catholic teaching are not to be regarded as belonging to the faith, and thus, no individual Catholic is bound to accept them.  Common sources of religious ideas that many Catholics wrongly accept and try to impose on others include private revelations, dreams, psychic messages, and near death experiences.  Such ideas may be erroneous, fraudulent, or even demonic in origin.  A Catholic must be at all times vigilant in protecting their faith from such dangers.

Who is the Head of the Catholic Church?

The true and invisible Head of the Catholic Church is Jesus Christ Himself who promised to remain with her until the end of time.  He reigns over the entire Church in her three states – the Church Militant on earth, the Church Suffering in purgatory, and the Church Triumphant in heaven.  The powers of hell will never prevail against the Church because Christ our Lord guides and protects her.  However, this same Lord has placed Saint Peter and his successors, the popes, at the head of the Church on earth, and through these universal pastors Christ the Good Shepherd tends His flock.

What Is Papal Infallibility?

The pope – who is the successor of the apostle Saint Peter and the visible head of the Church on earth – is infallible when he teaches the universal Church in a definitive way on matters of faith and morals.  He is not impeccable, since he can both sin in his personal life and err in his personal opinions.   Infallibility is a gift from God by which the true Church is kept from error in matters important to salvation.  Hence, under the above conditions, the pope is prevented by God from officially teaching that which is contrary to the truth.

However, these important truths do not mean that the Catholic faith is merely the sum of the opinions of a single reigning pope.  On the contrary, in order to be a good Catholic, the pope himself must submit to those doctrines authoritatively taught in Holy Scripture and Sacred Tradition, and which have been further explained and defended by the Church over the ages.  This so-called “deposit of faith” is a precious treasury of truth that must be guarded with all of the Church’s might.  In fact, it was for this reason that Christ gave the Church the charism of papal infallibility, so that the deposit of faith could be more fully explained and understood through the ages without error.  As the Catechism states,

“Yet this Magisterium is not superior to the Word of God, but is its servant. It teaches only what has been handed on to it.  At the divine command and with the help of the Holy Spirit, it listens to this devotedly, guards it with dedication, and expounds it faithfully.  All that it proposes for belief as being divinely revealed is drawn from this single deposit of faith” (CCC 87).

What Is Heaven?

Heaven is the place and state in which the human and angelic friends of God will enjoy His presence forever without pain, sorrow, or end.  It is the will of God that every human being should enter this eternal realm of joy and peace.  But God has so arranged salvation that man must merit heavenly bliss by faith, hope, and charity.

What Is Purgatory?

Purgatory is a temporary place and state in which those who die as the friends of God, but with imperfections and attachments to sin, must first be purified through suffering.  All who enter purgatory are saved and are being prepared for heavenly glory.  But because nothing unclean may enter heaven, God in His mercy has provided that purgatory should “purge” the imperfect faithful in preparation for entrance into the Divine Presence.

What Is Hell?

Hell is the place and state in which the human and angelic opponents of God and His Kingdom must endure the agonies of separation from Him forever.  It is a realm of incomprehensible pain and remorse that afflicts both the body and the soul, and that never passes away.

It is the emphatic will of God that every person should one day enjoy the eternal bliss of heaven.  No one is predestined to hell – not even Judas Iscariot.  In the saving work of Jesus Christ, God has done everything necessary to make salvation possible for every human being.  But, mystery of mysteries, many people reject these divine advances.  Hence, hell is necessitated, not by an arbitrary divine wrath or a scarcity of divine love or mercy, but by the existence of human and angelic free will which allow persons to reject the Divine Goodness to the end, and thus, to merit hell hereafter.

The existence of hell is a terrifying reminder that God profoundly respects the freedom of His intelligent creatures, and therefore, allows them either to love and serve Him, or to loathe and oppose Him.  Yet, this loathing and opposing need not be violent or overt in nature.  They can exist also as a cold indifference to all things religious, so that one cares not at all for the distinctions between truth and error, good and evil, God and Satan.  The end result of this indifference is that one lives as if God did not exist and as if there will never be a day on which one must answer for one’s life.

What Is the Particular Judgment?

The particular judgement refers to the divine judgment that each person will receive immediately at the moment of death.  Holy Scripture says,

“…It is appointed unto men to die once and after this comes the judgment…” (Heb. 9:27).

Clearly, then, the popular eastern doctrine of reincarnation is contrary to the Christian faith because it claims each person lives many different life times.  As the Catechism of the Catholic Church plainly states,

“There is no ‘reincarnation’ after death” (CCC 1013).

What Is the General or Final Judgement?

The general or final judgment refers to the divine judgment that all mankind will face at the end of this world.  After the Second Coming of Christ, when every dead person will have been resurrected and reunited with their one respective soul, then the entire human race – every people and nation from every time and place – will stand before Jesus Christ and be judged according to their faith and conduct in this present life.

Saint Paul wrote,

“For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive good or evil, according to what he has done in the body” (2 Cor. 5:10).

With the final judgment, purgatory will cease to exist, and all human and angelic beings will exist forever either in heaven or in hell.

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Part III: Moral

 

What Is a Sin?

A sin is a thought, word, or deed which is contrary to the divine moral law.  It is something we have done that we shouldn’t have (a sin of commission), or something we failed to do that we should have (a sin of omission).  Every sin is an act of rebellion by an individual against the known will of God.

A mortal sin is one in which the act itself is serious (grave matter), the person knows it is serious (full knowledge), and yet, he or she freely chooses to commit it (deliberate consent).  Mortal sin deprives the soul of sanctifying grace and, without repentance, leads to eternal damnation.

A venial sin is one in which at least one of the above three conditions is lacking.  Venial sin does not deprive the soul of sanctifying grace, but it still offends God, weakens the spiritual health of the soul, and can eventually lead to mortal sin.

To receive Holy Communion in a state of mortal guilt is to commit the additional grave sin of sacrilege.  A person must first confess all mortal sins in the sacrament of Penance.  The Church also highly recommends the sacramental confession of venial sins.

What Is the Origin of Sin?

Everything that God creates is good in and of itself.  But certain creatures – namely, angelic and human beings – have a nature which allows them to determine their own moral state.  Hence, by means of the gifts of intellect and free will, angelic and human beings are able to know truth and do good.

At the beginning of creation, God established the angels to know, love, and serve Him.  Yet, he allowed them to prefer either their own created natures and wills, or His uncreated nature and will.  In an act of pride and rebellion, many angels preferred themselves.  As a result of this fall from grace, their nature was corrupted and they became fallen angles, or demons.

When man and woman were first created, God gave them a similar opportunity to choose either God or themselves.  Tragically, at the instigation of the chief fallen angel – Satan – man and woman (Adam and Eve), in an act of pride and rebellion, preferred themselves.  As a result of this fall from grace, their nature was corrupted with original sin, which is the state in which all people are conceived.

What Is the Purpose of the Divine Moral Law, or Morality?

The purpose of the divine moral law is to reveal to every person how God intended him or her to live.  Morality guides human behavior according to God’s will.  But when such behavior contradicts the divine will, the specific precepts of the law warn the individual that he or she has departed from the way of God.  In a sense, then, morality is a system of signs that directs people to their proper end and warns them when they have departed from that end.

Man’s true vocation is not natural, but supernatural.  It is to be with God in a state of perpetual joy.  But this heavenly state can be reached only by living as God intended every person to live; that is, by being holy, as God is holy.

Where is the Divine Moral Law Revealed?

The divine moral law is revealed in its fundamentals in the Ten Commandments and is further expounded in the Gospel.  These teachings, because of their inherent loftiness and because they are founded on the love of the one true God, comprise the apex of all morality.  They reveal the “way of perfection,” the way of the saints.  Catholic catechesis and moral theology provide a fuller exposition of these fundamental moral teachings, and apply them to the specific circumstances and dilemmas of daily life, many of which did not exist during the biblical era.

Christianity without clear and lofty morals would be an aberration that contradicted the very nature of the religion, which consists of divine truth both believed and lived.  Hence, just as being a faithful Christian consists both in what one believes and does not believe, so it consists in what one does and does not do.  The New Testament expresses this necessary consistency with such expressions as “doing the truth” and “faith working through charity.”

Why Is Catholic Sexual Morality So Strict?

Catholic sexual morality may seem to be strict when compared with the nearly non-existent standards of the secular world, but it is no stricter than it should be.  When something precious but delicate is threatened with misuse and violence, the only appropriate response is to protect it with great solicitude.  God protects the gift of sex with moral principles, and the Church upholds and defends these principles as an essential part of her mission.  If she were to leave sexual behavior to the whim and passion of individuals, then she would be heartlessly irresponsible, like a parent that left a child to experiment with fire, and then defended such indifference by arguing that children should be allowed to play as they please.

Sexual acts uniquely incorporate the whole person – body and soul, mind and heart.  To give of oneself to another person through a sexual act is to make nearly a total offering of oneself; thus, it is to be vulnerable in the extreme.  If that gift is met with indifference, the result for the giver will be profound emotional pain.  If the gift is met with cruelty and abuse, the giver may suffer irreparable psychological harm.

Sexual activity involves superlative degrees of physical pleasure, such that there is the constant danger that one will become unhealthily obsessed and even addicted to it.  There is a close parallel with drug and alcohol use, and notice how carefully these are monitored and tempered by state and federal laws, for the protection of those who would either use or abuse such substances.

At the same time, because sex is responsible for the establishment of the family, the reckless use of this gift can have a much wider social impact, including single-parent homes, domestic violence, child neglect and abuse, poverty, debt, and the many social programs needed to counter the effects of large numbers of disordered families.

All such moral, psychological, and social chaos comes directly from the misuse and abuse of the gift of sex.  For these reasons, the Church, in her concern for the happiness and salvation of all people, provides prudent moral guidance.

How Did Christ Summarize the Spirit of the Gospel?

Christ summarized the spirit of the Gospel with the law of charity.  Charity is a virtue by which we love God above all else and our neighbor for the love of God.  It is not an excuse to disregard the specifics of the moral law, as if, as long as we feel love for others, we can freely sin without guilt.  No, charity is the spirit in which we are to conform to the divine moral law.  It is holy love.

The twofold dictates of charity are a matter of divine revelation.  But equally important is their order: the love of God is first, and the love of neighbor second.  When this order is maintained, human relations are protected from sin.  But when they are reversed, when the love of neighbor is regarded as primary and the love of God secondary, then human relations become polluted with sin because the will of God is no longer the standard of human conduct.  True charity is always holy in that it is fully conformed to the divine moral law.

What Are the Ten Commandments?

The Ten Commandments are the most rudimentary precepts of human conduct.  They are necessary to civilization, peace, and true human progress, so that if God had not revealed them, humanity would have necessarily invented them for its own safety and welfare.

The Ten Commandments, first revealed in Old Testament times in an era of incomplete revelation, have been given a fuller exposition by the Church, which is guided by the light of the Holy Spirit and the principles of the Holy Gospel.  Hence, each commandment includes a broader and more general category of sin.

A) The Love of God

First Commandment: I am the Lord your God; you shall not have strange gods before me.

Second Commandment: You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.

Third Commandment: Remember to keep holy the Lord’s Day.

B) The Love of Others

Fourth Commandment: Honor your father and your mother.

Fifth Commandment: You shall not kill.

Sixth Commandment: You shall not commit adultery.

Seventh Commandment: You shall not steel.

Eighth Commandment: You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

Ninth Commandment: You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife.

Tenth Commandment: You shall not covet your neighbor’s goods.

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Part IV: Devotion

 

What Is Prayer?

Prayer is the turning of the mind and heart upwards to God in interior acts of adoration, thanksgiving, propitiation, and petition.  Fervent prayer rightly overflows into exterior acts of devotion such as bows and genuflections, in accord with man’s spiritual and corporeal nature.  In fact, such exterior acts are prayer in gesture form, and are part and parcel of worshipping God “in spirit and in truth.”  Through prayer and gesture, then, man worships God with his whole being.

The purpose of prayer is not to bring God’s will into conformity with man’s, but to bring man’s will in conformity with God’s.  Hence, within every prayer should be the heartfelt conviction, “Nevertheless, Lord, Your will be done, not mine”.

Do Catholics Worship Saints, Angels, or Statues?

According to Catholic teaching, a person who worships saints, angels, or statues is guilty of the mortal sin of idolatry.  No creature is ever to be worshipped, but only the Creator, God the Almighty.  This teaching is found even in children’s catechisms.  The Holy Mass, for example, is never offered to a saint or angel, but only to God the Father through His Son Jesus Christ in the Holy Spirit.  For the Mass is the supreme act of adoration offered to the Most Holy Trinity.

When Catholics pray to saints or angels, they show great love and respect for them and ask for their powerful intercession before the one true God who is alone to be worshipped.  This type of devotion, which may include litanies, hymns, or the rosary, is called veneration, and it is infinitely inferior to the devotion shown to God.  Adoration, which is infinitely superior to veneration, is the apex of all devotion and is to be shown to God alone.  Nevertheless, veneration is actually the indirect worship of God, for we venerate in the saints and angels only their godly faith, virtues, and good works.

Some people object that the veneration of saints and angels subtracts from the devotion that should be shown to God alone.  But we could make the same objection whenever one person speaks well of another person.  Should we never praise others, because such time and words detract from the praise of God?

As we admire a work of art, we often speak out loud in praise of the artist.  If the artist overheard our comments, how surprised we would be if he or she angrily complained that we had complimented merely the work of art, rather than the artist who created it!  And so it is with the Divine Artist, who is indirectly worshipped whenever we praise His magnificent works – most especially His saints and angels.  Hence, the Psalms often indirectly glorify God by praising His many works in creation.

What is Grace?

In general, grace is an interior gift from God that makes us holy and enables us to do His will.  

Sanctifying grace is the life of the Holy Trinity given to the soul and animating it with a supernatural quality.  A person who possesses this grace is holy, and, if he or she dies in the state of grace, will go to heaven.  However, a person may lose this grace through grave sin.  Sacramental confession restores lost grace.  The seven sacraments are a primary means by which sanctifying grace is initially given, regularly increased, and even restored when lost.  A person who dies unrepentant in grave sin, and thus, without sanctifying grace, is eternally lost.

Actual grace is a temporary assistance by which God helps a person to do that which is good, right, and difficult, to understand His will, or to better comprehend a particular truth of the faith.  Simply, actual grace is divine but momentary strength or light.

What Is a Sacrament?

A sacrament is a rite of the Church which, in its external form, signifies its internal effects on the recipient.  For example, baptism consists of the pouring of water over the recipient, or their immersion in it, together with the pronouncing of the Persons of the Holy Trinity.  The external form consists of a washing with water, which signifies the sacramental effect of an internal cleansing of sin.  Similarly, the Holy Eucharist is given as food to be reverently consumed.  Food and drink are normally consumed in order to refresh us and make us strong and energetic.  But in this case, the Sacred Body and Precious Blood of Christ are received in order to further sanctify us and make us courageous and strong in the Christian life.

Christ Himself gave the Church all seven of the sacraments: Baptism, Confirmation, Holy Eucharist, Penance, Anointing of the Sick, Holy Orders, and Holy Matrimony.  Each of these is a channel by which we receive the sanctifying grace merited by Christ on the Cross.

The sacraments either give grace to those who lack it, increase it in those who already possess it, or restore it to those who have lost it.  They are the sevenfold means by which God prepares and equips us – with special graces, gifts, and virtues – for the various stages and vocations of the Christian life.  By cooperating with these, the faithful steadily grow in holiness.

What is the Sacrament of Baptism?

Baptism is the first in order of the Sacraments and the gateway to the Kingdom of God.  It is not a mere symbolic gesture or public expression that one has already been born again through an emotional religious experience.  Such powerful moments of repentance and belief can be important preparations for conversion.  But Baptism itself is the actual sacramental means by which, through water and the pronouncing of the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, all sin is forgiven and the recipient is sanctified by grace and given gifts and virtues essential to the Christian life.

In the very first Christian sermon preached on the day of Pentecost, Saint Peter said,

“Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38).

Baptism is essential to salvation.  For those who, through no fault of their own, could not possibly receive the sacrament, the teaching of the Church proposes two related means: baptism of blood and baptism of desire.  Baptism of blood refers to the willing loss of one’s life for Christ or His teaching, otherwise known as martyrdom.  Baptism of desire refers to cooperation with divine grace and conformity to the divine moral law; in other words, it entails the willingness to do all that God requires for salvation, so that, although the person was not formed by the written Gospel, he or she in fact conformed to its fundamental principles and spirit, including that sorrow for sin called contrition.  In either case, that salvation is due entirely to the salvific work of Jesus Christ.  For there is salvation in no other person.

“This translation after the promulgation of the Gospel cannot be affected except through the laver of regeneration [water baptism], or a desire for it” (Council of Trent, Session 6, Chapter 4).

What Is the Sacrament of Confirmation?

Confirmation is a sacramental anointing, normally performed by a bishop, in which the recipients receive a special grace of fortitude.  The purpose of this grace is twofold.  First, it strengthens the recipients in the spiritual battle against all temptation and evil.  Second, it strengthens them in the spiritual battle as public witnesses of Jesus Christ, His Church, and the particular teachings of the faith.  Such a grace is necessary if one is to endure the hatred and mockery one will receive for being a faithful Catholic.

Through this sacrament, the Church calls and commissions the faithful to directly participate in her mission of bringing Christ and His truth to all people.  However, Confirmation does not infuse into the recipients knowledge of the Church’s teachings.  And since one cannot bear witness to a faith of which one is ignorant, the fulfillment of the duties of Confirmation requires serious study of the faith, both before the sacrament and after it.

What Is the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist?

The Holy Eucharist is the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ under the appearances of bread and wine.  It is not merely a symbol, image, or metaphor of Jesus’ teachings or His love for us.  Rather, “it is the Lord” who continues to dwell among His people as Emmanuel, “God with us,” in His Eucharistic presence.

Catholics receive the Holy Eucharist, not as a sign of respect, acceptance, or belonging, but as a means of growing in holiness through an increase of sanctifying grace.  The reception of Holy Communion is also a profession that one accepts the faith of the Church and intends to use the grace of the sacrament to live in conformity with it.  Thus, it makes no sense to receive communion while rejecting the faith or living contrary to its moral teachings.

To receive Holy Communion while in a state of grave sin is to commit an additional sin of sacrilege.  One must first confess sin in the sacrament of Penance, and then one will be fit to worthily receive the Eucharistic Lord.

What Is the Holy Mass?

The Holy Mass is the supreme act of divine adoration offered to the Father, through the Son, in the Holy Spirit.  It is the most perfect act of divine worship possible in this world.  It is the same sacrifice offered by Jesus Christ upon the Cross of Calvary, which is now made present throughout the ages and the world upon the altars of the Church.  Through the Mass, Christ remains among us as Immanuel; that is, “God with us.”

There obviously are banquet elements to the Mass, and it is a communal meal as well.  But these aspects have recently been greatly exaggerated, to the neglect of the sacrificial aspects and to the confusion of the faithful.  If the Mass is a banquet, it is a superlatively sacred one; and if it is a communal meal, it is one in which the Sacred Body and Precious Blood of Jesus Christ are made present and received through the ministry of priests.  Hence, it is appropriately referred to as the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

What is the Sacrament of Penance?

Penance (also called Confession or Reconciliation) is the sacramental means by which God offers His mercy to repentant sinners.  Just as Christ pronounced certain sinners forgiven, so, the Church has received from Christ a ministry of reconciliation.  On the night of Christ’s Resurrection, He appeared to His Apostles and said,

“Receive the Holy Spirit.  If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained” (Jn. 20:22-23).

However, sacramental confession is not magic.  It requires true contrition on the part of the penitent.  Contrition refers to a hatred for sin, together with the intention not to sin again and even to avoid the occasions that will most likely lead to sin.

The regular use of this sacrament (“frequent confession”) is highly recommended by the Church as an important means of growing in holiness.  Whereas the confession of venial sins is encouraged, the confession of mortal sins is absolutely required before one can receive Holy Communion.  To receive Holy Communion in the state of mortal sin is to commit an additional grave sin of sacrilege.

A common objection to this sacrament claims that, if people die in grave sin without the opportunity to confess to a priest – say, on a battlefield or due to a sudden injury – then they have no means of being forgiven by God and will be eternally lost.  The Catholic Church makes no such claim.  Under such circumstances, when people have no sacramental opportunity through no fault of their own, they may certainly confess their sins directly to God or make what is called an act of contrition, a general expression of sorrow for sin.  And if they are truly contrite, then they will be forgiven.  For God is reasonable, and the sacraments are meant to help us on the way to salvation, not hinder us.

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Conclusion

The Gospel is superlative “Good News,” the best news since the creation of the universe.  Christianity is a religion of joy that results from the fact of God’s active solicitude for His creatures. This God of mercy and love desires the salvation of every person and has gratuitously intervened in the human tragedy in order to make this possible.  The Church refers to this as God’s universal salvific will.  Hence, we must always be wary of distorting Christianity into a means by which God limits the hope of salvation, as if the salvific actions of Jesus Christ were primarily meant, not to save souls, but to condemn them.

However, in spite of God’s will and works, the mystery of human indifference and irreligiosity remains, so that many people reject or ignore the divine plan for salvation, to their own peril. The Church speaks of an objective redemption and a subjective redemption.

On the Cross of Calvary, Christ offered His human life to the Father for the redemption of the entire human race. This sacrifice has an eternal value and is superabundantly sufficient for the salvation of every human being. Thus, all humanity is objectively redeemed so that every person could potentially be saved. But this potential is undermined when individuals turn from God through unbelief and sin.  In order for the objective redemption to fulfill its purpose of salvation, each individual must personally turn to God and cooperate with His saving grace; they must repent and believe. And the result of this individual response to the divine appeal is eternal life with God – the purpose for which every person was created.

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