Catholic Church

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The Catholic Church (also known as the Roman Catholic Church) is a society of faithful which holds itself to be the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church founded by Jesus Christ. Over a billion people presently living identify themselves as members of the Catholic Church, which would make it the largest organised religious body in the world. The Church maintains that its sacred mission is the salvation of souls by means of spreading amongst all humanity the Evangelium of Jesus Christ and administering the seven sacraments to its body of believers—who subsist in the Catholic faith—under the authority of the Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church and the bishops in communion with him.[1]

From roughly the 3rd century, when Constantine the Great made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire until around the 18th century when freemasonry came to dominate society, the Catholic Church played a preeminent role in European life. It continues to do so to a significant extent, although it is internally fractured due to disputes on the nature of modernity in general and how the Church should respond to liberalism and Jewish influenced "pluralism". Along the way, there have been significant religious splits; the Great Schism with the Orthodox Church in the 11th century and the advent of Protestantism in the 16th century.

The Holy See; the preeminent episcopal see and central government of the Church; was for over a millenium in the Pontifical States at Rome. Today however, its base is the Vatican City, a small sovereign state within Italy's capital city Rome. The Basilica of St. John Lateran is the mother church, although St. Peter's Basilica is a place of unique significance for Catholics; St. Peter the Apostle, who the Church holds Christ named as His Church's first Pope, is burried there. The Church consists of the Latin Church, also known as the Western Church and twenty-two Eastern Catholic Churches who are in full communion with the Holy See. With three exceptions, most of the latter had fallen into disagreement in ancient times and then returned to full communion. Today, around half of those identifying as Catholics live in the Americas, although significant populations live elsewhere, including over 280 million in Europe.

Contents

Beliefs

Teaching Authority

The Catholic Church identifies itself as "the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth", as spoken of by St. Paul.[2] Jesus himself speaks of the Church's authority when He explains to the apostles the final recourse in correcting an obstinate brother: "And if he will not hear them: tell the church. And if he will not hear the church, let him be to thee as the heathen and publican."[3] Catholics believe that Jesus gave the Church its teaching authority, called the Magisterium, when He told St. Peter,

And I say to thee: That thou art Peter; and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. [19] And I will give to thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven. And whatsoever thou shalt bind upon earth, it shall be bound also in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose upon earth, it shall be loosed also in heaven.[4]

The Church interprets this passage as a conferral of papal powers on St. Peter, who later became the first Bishop of Rome, and holds that his authority passes onto each Bishop of Rome in succession. The Keys to the Kingdom of Heaven appear on the flag of Vatican City and are a traditional symbol of papal authority. The powers to bind and to loose, but not the keys, were later given to the other apostles.[5]

Seven Sacraments

A sacrament is an exterior sign of grace given to the Church by Jesus Christ.[6] While the Protestants deny the institution of the sacraments, or reduce their number, the Catholic Church, as with the Orthodox churches, has always taught that the sacraments are seven in number.

Baptism

The Baptism of Christ by the 15th century Italian artist Piero della Francesca. It shows St. John the Baptist with Jesus Christ.

The first and most necessary sacrament, baptism is an ablution in water which Catholics believe cleanses the recipient of Original Sin and any other sins committed until its reception. The sacrament was prefigured by St. John the Baptist, who is so known from the baptisms he gave before Jesus began His public ministry; Jesus, though sinless, received baptism from John's hands as an example of righteousness.[7] It is the only sacrament which anyone, even a nonbeliever, may administer, provided they have the intention to do so. It is performed by making water to wash over the subject, whether by pouring or immersion, while the minister of the sacrament says, "I baptize thee in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen." The formula is derived from the Gospel of St. Matthew, in which Jesus enjoins His disciples, "Going therefore, teach ye all nations; baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost."[8] Because Christ taught that "he that shall drink of the water that I will give him, shall not thirst for ever,"[9] baptism is performed only once, ordinarily a short time after birth, though adult converts not previously baptized need be baptized as adults to be received into the Church.

Necessary for Salvation

The Catholic Church has always taught that the sacrament of baptism is a prerequisite for salvation. This is in following the Gospel of St. John, when Jesus tells the Pharisee Nicodemus, "Amen, amen I say to thee, unless a man be born again of water and the Holy Ghost, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God."[10]. Consequently, while evangelical Protestants usually identify being born again with acceptance of Jesus, Catholics believe that baptism is what Jesus is referring to in the relevant passage.

While strictly speaking not a sacrament, some theologians hold that baptism of desire, meaning a perfect act of love for God, suffices for salvation when sacramental (water) baptism is impossible. Likewise, since Pope Pius IX promulgated his allocution Quanto Conficiamur Moerore in 1863, wherein he teaches that souls in "invincible ignorance" of the Faith "are able to attain eternal life by the efficacious virtue of divine light and grace" many have posited a more equivocating interpretation of the perennial dogma, and held that sacramental baptism is not always necessary to wash away Original Sin. However, given that he concludes the paragraph by simply observing that God's "supreme kindness and clemency do not permit anyone at all who is not guilty of deliberate sin to suffer eternal punishments,"[11] some traditionalists have interpreted the passage to mean that, like Cornelius, these invincibly ignorant would merely receive baptism later, and that while invincible ignorance is not a sin in itself, it does not absolve the unbeliever from his other sins. Broadly speaking, liberals and neo-Catholics accept the more equivocating interpretation of the dogma, while traditionalist religious orders are split, with the Society of St. Pius X, Society of Saint Pius V, and Congregation of Mary Immaculate Queen advocating the liberal view, while the Slaves of the Immaculate Heart of Mary and Most Holy Family Monastery supporting the strict interpretation.

Confirmation

In confirmation, Christians are strengthened in the Faith by receiving the Holy Ghost. The sacrament is seen as a fulfillment of baptism. The ordinary minister of confirmation is the bishop, although priests may also perform confirmation with permission. The minister of the sacrament lays his hands on the candidate, anoints him with holy chrism, and says, "I sign thee with the sign of the Cross, and I confirm thee with the chrism of salvation; in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost."[12]

The sacrament was performed by the Apostles in their ministry after the Pentecost. In the Acts of the Apostles, it is written that when

...the apostles, who were in Jerusalem, had heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent unto them Peter and John. Who, when they were come, prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Ghost. For he was not as yet come upon any of them; but they were only baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then they laid their hands upon them, and they received the Holy Ghost.[13]

From Apostolic times through the Middle Ages, confirmation could be received quite early, even in infancy shortly following baptism. During the Counter Reformation, the rite came to be conferred later as emphasis on mature understanding of Catholic doctrine grew. Bishops have the authority to set the age proper for receiving confirmation in their dioceses; today, Catholics in the United States are usually confirmed during their secondary school years.

Confirmations imparts seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, namely Understanding, Counsel, Fortitude, Knowledge, Piety, Fear of the Lord, and Wisdom. While the Church believes that Christians receive these gifts at their baptism, with confirmation, they are held to be greatly strengthened.

The Eucharist

The Church holds that Jesus Christ instituted the Eucharist at the Last Supper. Catholics believe the bread and wine transubstantiates into the true Body and Blood of Christ at Mass.

Know alternatively as the Blessed Sacrament, the Lord's Supper, and the Bread of Angels (Panis angelicus in Latin), and Holy Communion when received, the Eucharist is the consecration of bread and wine which takes place during the Canon, or most sacred part, of the Mass. The Church teaches that at the hands of the priest, acting in the person of Christ, the bread and wine, while retaining their outward appearances, become the literal Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. This change is known as transubstantiation. The Council of Trent proclaimed "the excellence of the Most Holy Eucharist over the other sacraments," explaining that "The most Holy Eucharist has indeed this in common with the other sacraments, that it is a symbol of a sacred thing and a visible form of an invisible grace; but there is found in it this excellent and peculiar characteristic, that the other sacraments then first have the power of sanctifying when one uses them, while in the Eucharist there is the Author Himself of sanctity before it is used."[14] The faithful must receive the Eucharist at least once a year during Easter,[15] but are encouraged to communicate frequently during Mass. Adoration of the Eucharist kept after the Mass has been an important part of Catholic spirituality since the early Middle Ages.

The term Eucharist, meaning thanksgiving in Greek, does not directly appear as a name for the sacrament in the New Testament, but is derived from the authors' descriptions of Jesus' actions during the Last Supper before His crucifixion. In St. Paul's First Letter to the Corinthians, he attests:

For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, that the Lord Jesus, the same night in which he was betrayed, took bread. And giving thanks, broke, and said: Take ye, and eat: this is my body, which shall be delivered for you: this do for the commemoration of me.

Penance

Penance, also called confession, and frequently known in the Conciliar Church as reconciliation, is a sacrament whereby a priest, acting in persona Christi or in the person of Christ, hears a Catholic's sins and absolved him from guilt. The practice may be traced to Jesus' ministry, where on receiving "one sick of the palsy lying in bed," He said, "Be of good heart, son, thy sins are forgiven thee."[16] This scandalized the scribes, who associated the power to forgive sins exclusively with God. In the Gospel of St. John, Jesus expressly confers this power on the Church, whereby its human ministers might act with divine authority.

He said therefore to them again: Peace be to you. As the Father hath sent me, I also send you. When he had said this, he breathed on them; and he said to them: Receive ye the Holy Ghost. Whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them; and whose sins you shall retain, they are retained.[17]
A confessional box at the Cologne Cathedral, Germany.

Penitents, or those attending confession, must have contrition or true sorrow for their sins, confess all mortal sins they are conscious of, and perform satisfaction, a way of making amends for the sins usually involving prayers prescribed by the priest. If the penitent is not contrite or holds back sins, the Church considers it a bad confession, which the individual must admit in their next confession to be absolved. In the Latin Rite, confession is usually said in private, through an opaque screen at which the penitent kneels, or sometimes in a chair facing the priest in the Conciliar Church. He ordinarily begins by saying, "Bless me Father, for I have sinned. It has been n. since my last confession," then lists his sins, and hears the priest's counsel on avoiding sin and growing in holiness. Usually the penitent here recites the Act of Contrition. The priest then absolves him of his sins and tells him to go in peace.

Extreme Unction

In extreme unction (meaning last anointing), also called Last Rites, the gravely ill are anointed with blessed oil for the remission of sins and, God willing, a return to bodily health. From the Middle Ages until Vatican II extreme unction was generally reserved for those in danger of imminent death, but following Vatican II the Conciliar Church changed its official name to the Anointing if the Sick in 1972, to emphasize that those gravely ill may receive this sacrament even if they are not perilously near death, although the term extreme unction also continues to be used. During Jesus' ministry He "anointed with oil many that were sick, and healed them."[18] The anointing of the sick for spiritual healing as well as physical appears in the General Epistle of St. James.

Is any man sick among you? Let him bring in the priests of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith shall save the sick man: and the Lord shall raise him up: and if he be in sins, they shall be forgiven him.[19]

For a gravely sick Catholic to receive extreme unction, he must have reached the age of reason, and have contrition for his sins. The priest, the minister of the sacrament, performs a ritual containing penance and Viaticum (the Holy Eucharist) before the anointing. The oil of the sick, blessed by the bishop at the Chrism Mass (on Maundy Thursday every year, is usually olive oil, though other vegetable oils may be used as well. Although the priest brings everything truly necessary for the rite when he arrives for a sick call, before Vatican II pious Catholics commonly kept special kits including two blessed candles, holy water, a standing crucifix, and a white tablecloth in their homes to assist the priest in performance of the sacrament.[20]

Holy Orders

Holy orders refers to the conferral of ecclesiastical offices. The Catholic Church is governed by an episcopal polity, and holds that its clergy are successors of the Twelve Apostles. While all Catholics are held to partake in orders in the sense that they "are a chosen generation, a kingly priesthood, a holy nation, a purchased people" called into the light of Christ,[21] certain of the faithful are ordained to a sacramental priesthood. In the Church's understanding, Jesus' words at the Last Supper, "Do this for a commemoration of me,"[22] commission the apostles, and the priests who came after them, to say the Mass in His place on earth. Catholic thought sees Jesus' intention of creating a priesthood to perform the sacraments, preach, and otherwise tend to the spiritual welfare of the faithful mirrored by St. Paul, who asked, "how shall they preach unless they be sent..."[23]

Holy Matrimony

God the Father, original sin

Jesus Christ, sin

Holy Spirit and

Final judgment and afterlife

Nature of the Church and social teaching

Prayer and worship

Liturgical rites

Liturgy of the Hours

Devotional life, prayer, Mary and the saints

St. Michael the Archangel, the supreme enemy of Satan and the fallen angels, depicted by Reni.

History

Background and Great Schism

The Catholic Church considers itself to be the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church founded by Jesus Christ, the Messiah of Israel, founded 2000 years ago. It considers itself to be the faith of the Apostles, the Church Fathers, the legitimate ecumenical councils from the Council of Nicea onwards and the body made the state religion of the Roman Empire in 380 by Theodosius the Great. The most serious competitor to it's claim is the Orthodox Church (consisting of the Eastern Patriarchates), with whom a split occurred in 1054 known as the Great Schism; it was then that the Pope of Rome and the Patriarch of Constantinople mutually excommunicated each other. For reasons of objectivity between the two competing claims, much of the pre-11th century history of the Church, including in the West, is to be found at the Christian Church article.

Mediæval and Counter-Reformation

Second Vatican Council

See the articles on the Second Vatican Council and the Vatican II Church regarding theses topics.

Religious orders

St. Dominic de Guzmán, founder of the Order of Preachers, also known as the Dominicans.

During the history of the Church there have been various religious orders, congregations and societies where members pronounce public vows. These orders each have their own attributes and characteristics, emerging at different periods of time. Some of the best known include the monastic Benedictines, Cistercians and Trappists, as well as the mendicant Franciscans, Dominicans, Carmelites and Augustinians. From the 16th century onwards priestly societies with a renewed focus on education, missionary activity and social services emerged such as the Jesuits, Christian Brothers, Passionists and Redemptorists. Many of these orders have decayed significantly during the modernist crisis and in response more recent societies such as the CMRI and the SSPX have been founded to counter the problems.

While all priests and deacons are bound to a vow of chastity and carry out the Liturgy of Hours daily, not all of them belong to religious orders. Those that do are known as the regular clergy, those that don't are the secular clergy. Depending on the institute, there can be up to three internal orders within each institution; the first order consists of male religious (ie - priests, friars, monks), the second of female religious (ie - nuns) and the third are laymen, who although not ordained clergy, participate in the order in the spirit of their works. In addition to this, Catholic military orders were founded during the Middle Ages, such as the Knights Templar, Teutonic Knights, Knights Hospitaller, Order of the Holy Sepulchre and others. Over time some of these were either abolished, became religious orders, Catholic chivalric orders (notably the Knights of Malta) or were secularised to be used as awards of merit by states.

Gallery

References

Footnotes

  1. Questions and Answers about the Catholic Church. Eternal Word Television Network. Retrieved on 17 October 2010
  2. I Timothy 3:15
  3. Matthew 18:17
  4. Matthew 16:18-19
  5. Matthew 18:18
  6. "Sacraments." Catholic Encyclopedia, 1917 ed. [1]
  7. Matthew 4:14-15
  8. Matthew 28:19
  9. John 4:13-14
  10. John 3:5
  11. Quanto Conficiamur Moerore (7).
  12. Fisheaters - Confirmation
  13. Acts 8:14-17
  14. The Council of Trent, Session III Chapter III
  15. Fourth Lateran Council, 21
  16. Matthew 9:2 & subseq.
  17. John 20:21-23
  18. Mark 6:13
  19. James 5:14-15
  20. Extreme Unction - Fish Eaters.
  21. I Peter 2:9
  22. St. Luke 22:19
  23. Roman 10:15

Bibliography

  • Froehle, Bryan (2003). Global Catholicism, Portrait of a World Church. Georgetown University. ISBN 157075375x. 

See also

External links

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