The Essentials of Catholicism




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 review of the basics 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 when she uses certain familiar religious terms, and to do so with clarity and simplicity.  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 world.  The following introduction could serve as a first step in correcting these notions, especially for those who are seriously considering either a turn or a return to 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 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 about Himself, humanity, the world, and the future.  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 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 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 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, a real, individual, non-material intelligence, 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 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 or annihilated by Him.

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.

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 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 the 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.

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 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, and thereby be saved.

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 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 the Saints or Angels?

According to Catholic teaching, a person who worships saints or angels is guilty of the mortal sin of idolatry.  Absolutely no person or thing is to be worshipped other than God alone.  This teaching could be easily found even in a child’s catechism.  The Holy Mass, for example, is never offered to a saint, but only to God the Father through His Son Jesus Christ in the Holy Spirit.  Holy Mass is the supreme act of adoration offered to the Most Holy Trinity.

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 true God who is alone to be worshipped.  This type of devotion, which may include litanies, hymns, or the rosary, is called veneration, as opposed to adoration.  Veneration may be shown to the saints and angels, while adoration is to be shown to God alone.  In fact, such veneration is actually indirect worship of God, for we venerate in them only their godliness.

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.  When we admire a work of art, we speak of the work itself in complimentary terms.  This is how we indirectly compliment the person who created it.  If the artist overheard our comments, how surprised we would be if he or she angrily complained that we complimented merely the work of art, rather than the artist who created it!  And so it is with the Divine Artist.  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, to 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 principles and spirit, including the sincere 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.

What is the Sacrament of Penance?

Penance (Confession, 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 Him 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 a person dies in mortal 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 are thus eternally lost.  The Catholic Church makes no such claim.  Under such circumstances, when a person has no sacramental opportunity, he or she may certainly confess their sins directly to God, or make what is called an act of contrition, a general expression of sorrow for sin.  If they are truly contrite, then they will be forgiven.  Sacramental confession exists for those who are able to make use of it.  It is the ordinary means by which the sinner is reconciled with God, receives an increase of sanctifying grace, and may be counseled in the moral life.

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 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, and, 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.

The human being is a lofty creature with a lofty vocation: it is to be with God in a state of perpetual joy.  But this state can be reached only by living as God has intended the human being 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.

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 felt love for others, we could freely sin without guilt.  No, charity is the spirit in which we are to conform to the divine moral law.

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 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 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 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 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, 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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