The Fundamentals of the Catholic Faith



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.   What man must know and possess in order to fully obtain the purpose for which he was created God generously reveals and provides.

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 – and because particular truths are just as real as all truths combined – it can in no way be made unreal, untrue, or non-existent by the failure or unwillingness of an individual to recognize it.  Truth is precisely as real as the person who affirms or denies it.

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?

The Most Holy Trinity is the primary doctrine of the Christian religion and its deepest mystery.  It refers to the unity of the three divine Persons – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – that constitutes the living God.  These Persons are equally divine and equally eternal.  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 the eternal community and unity of truth and love that comprises the one true God.

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, who remained a virgin all the days of her life, is rightly called the Mother of God.

In preparation for her vocation as the Mother of the Savior, Mary was conceived without original sin (Immaculate Conception), and as a direct result, committed no personal sins during her earthly life.  When this 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, the Mary was preserved from the decay of the tomb and taken up into heaven (Assumption), body and soul.  Now, glorified in heaven, she constantly intercedes for the Church on earth before her divine Son.

What is Man?

Man is a being that is the union of spirit and matter, soul and body.  He is not a spiritual being trapped inside a physical body, but is the union of the two components, and this union is his normal natural state.  Man is made in the “image and likeness of God” in that he has a spiritual immortal soul by which he possesses intellect and free will.  By means of these gifts, he is called by his Creator to know truth and to love goodness.  Man, in other words, has been equipped to fulfill his vocation and final purpose as an essentially religious being; he is meant to know, love, and serve God all the days of his life.  To do so is to conform to the actual design of his nature, even if corrupting elements within him resist this lofty vocation.

Whereas the human body is mortal and will one day die, the human soul is immortal and will never die.  Death is the temporary separation of these two components.  In fact, it is abnormal and unnatural for the human soul to be separated from its proper human body.  Every human being will exist for all eternity as a conscious individual.  Hence, the human person will never become “absorbed” in God, and thus, lose his or her individuality.

At the end of this world, at the time of the final judgement, God will restore all human bodies and souls to their original union and then judge all people according to their faith and conduct.  This restoration of each body to its proper soul makes the Hindu/New Age doctrine of reincarnation irreconcilable with the Christian faith, since it teaches that each soul inhabits many different bodies over many different lifetimes.  A human being lives only once – for one lifetime – and then that singular union of body and soul stands before God to answer for its life.

For What Purpose Was Man Created?

Man was created to adore and serve his Creator, and finally to enjoy Him forever in heaven.  In order to do this, man must seek God, submit his life to Him, and love Him above all other persons and things.  Until he does so, man remains a restless and an ultimately aimless creature.  For his supreme vocation is not natural, but supernatural.  His whole being longs for the divine, even when he is unaware of it.

What is a Human Soul?

A human soul is a spirit, an individual non-material intelligence, which animates 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 intelligence and free will.  The human soul is spontaneously created by God when the human body is conceived through the marital act.  Such is the unsearchable dignity of this act, that God cooperates with it in creating a soul to animate the flesh brought forth by husband and wife.  This is the reason the Catholic Church so diligently guards sexual morality: because the marital act is so holy when performed in accord with God’s will.

The human soul is not pre-existent, but is created at a moment in time.  And once created, it will exist as an individual person for all eternity.  Never will the human person be “absorbed “ into God.

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.

Does the Church Possess Distinctive Marks?

The one true Church of Jesus Christ possesses four distinctive marks that distinguish her from all denominations and sects.  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 trintarian 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.

What Is the Mission of the Church?

The mission of the Church is to do 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 all people, sanctify them with sacramental grace in the name of the Holy Trinity, and instruct them in all the teachings of our Lord for all time, until Christ returns.

Put even more simply, 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.  Rather, she is the one true Church founded by Jesus Christ two thousand years ago.  For this reason, she is referred to as the Apostolic Church, the Church founded by Christ through the apostles.

Outside of the Catholic Church, however, elements of truth and grace do exist.  These would include, for example, the Word of God and Trinitarian Baptism.  But 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 definitely 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 people, that all who would accept Him might be gathered together into one body, under one visible head, into the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church, and thereby be saved.

Who is the Head of the Catholic Church?

The Head of the Catholic Church is Jesus Christ Himself who promised to remain with His Church until the end of time.  The powers of hell will never prevail against the Church because Christ our Lord guides and protects her.

Is the Pope Infallible?

The pope – who is the successor of Saint Peter the apostle and the visible head of the Church on earth – is infallible when he teaches the universal Church in a definitive way regarding 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 (proclaiming to the universal Church in a definitive manner some matter of faith or morals), the pope is prevented by God from officially teaching that which is contrary to the truth.

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 also, 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.

Do Catholics Worship the Saints or Angels?

According to Catholic teaching, any person who worships the saints or the angels is guilty of the mortal sin of idolatry.  The Holy Mass, for example, is never offered to a saint, but only to God the Father through His Son in the Holy Spirit.  When Catholics pray to the saints or the angels, they show great love and respect for them and ask for their powerful intercession before the one God who is alone to be worshipped.  This type of devotion, which may include the rosary, litanies, and hymns, is called veneration.

What is Grace?

Sanctifying grace is the life of the Holy Trinity dwelling within the soul, giving it supernatural life.  A person who possesses this grace is truly holy, and, if they die in this state, will go to heaven.  However, a person may lose this grace through mortal sin.  Sacramental confession restores it.  The sacraments are the primary means of gaining and increasing sanctifying grace.

Actual grace is temporary divine 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 mystery or truth.  Simply, actual grace is momentary strength and light from God.

What Is a Sacrament?

A sacrament is a rite of the Church which, in its external form, signifies the divine grace it conveys.  Christ Himself gave the Church seven sacraments: Baptism, Confirmation, Holy Eucharist, Penance, Anointing of the Sick, Holy Orders, and Holy Matrimony.  Each of these is a channel of the sanctifying grace which Christ merited in His sacrificial death on the Cross.  They are the means by which that grace is applied to the individual.  The sacraments either give grace (first grace) to those who lack it, or increase grace (second grace) in those who already possess it.  By this means, the faithful may steadily grow in holiness.

What is the Sacrament of Penance?

Penance (Confession) is the sacramental means by which God has chosen to extend His mercy to repentant sinners.  Just as Christ pronounced certain sinners forgiven, so the Church has received from Him a “ministry of reconciliation.”  A valid and fruitful confession consists of contrition, confession, and a penance.  The sacramental absolution that follows may be given only by a priest.

The regular use of this sacrament (“frequent confession”) is highly recommended by the Church as a primary means of growth 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.

What Is a Sin?

A sin is a thought, word, deed, or omission which violates the divine moral law.  It is an act of rebellion by an individual against the revealed will of God.  Sin, depending on its gravity, deprives the soul of divine grace and may result in the loss of salvation.

A mortal sin is one in which the act itself is serious (grave matter), the person who commits the act knows it (full knowledge), and yet they freely choose to act (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 offends God, weakens the spiritual health of the soul, and often leads to mortal sin.

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

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

The purpose of the divine moral law is to show man how God intends him to live so that he may be safely guided to heaven.  Morality directs human behavior according to God’s holy will, and, when human behavior contradicts the divine will, its precepts reveal that one has departed from the way that leads to heaven.

Where is the Divine Moral Law Revealed?

The divine moral law is revealed in the Ten Commandments and the Gospel precepts.  These teachings comprise the apex of all moral law. They explain 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 circumstances and dilemmas of daily life, many of which did not exist during the biblical era.  Examples of such new moral dilemmas include in vitro fertilization and human cloning, about which the Word of God obviously says nothing.

What Is 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 a mere symbol, image, or metaphor of Jesus.  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 social honor, acceptance, or belonging, but rather, as a means of growth in holiness through the reception of sanctifying grace, and as a sign of communion with the Church and all that she teaches.  To receive Holy Communion while in a state of grave sin or heresy (the formal rejection of a teaching of the Church) is a heinous offense and contradiction.

What Is the Holy Mass?

The Holy Mass is the sacrifice of Calvary made present through the ages upon the altars of the Church.  It is the one and only sacrifice that Christ offered at the Last Supper and completed upon the Cross.  Yes, there are banquet elements to the Mass; yes, to a degree it is a communal meal.  But over the past several decades, these aspects have been terribly exaggerated, to the distortion of truth and the confusion of the faithful.  If the Mass is a banquet, it is a superlatively sacred banquet; if it is a communal meal, it is one in which the Sacred Body and Precious Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ are made present and received through the ministry of priests.  It is most appropriately referred to as the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

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 enemies of God must endure the agonies of separation from Him forever.  It is a realm of incomprehensible pain, sorrow, and emptiness.  Again, it is the will of God that every person should enter heaven.  Hell is necessitated, however, by the existence of free will which allows man to thoroughly reject the Divine Goodness here and now, and thus to merit hell hereafter.  In truth, the existence of hell is a terrifying reminder that God has a profound respect for the free decisions of his intelligent creatures.  Damnation is certainly not God’s choice; rather, it is man’s.

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, reincarnation is contrary to the Christian faith.

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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