What will I be when I complete the sessions? Will I be "Catholic" or always a step away because I wasn't raised Catholic?
Persons who complete preparation for the Rite of Christian Reception and choose to join the Catholic Church are received into full communion with the Catholic Church by making a Profession of Faith, receiving Eucharist and being confirmed. By reason of their previous baptism and the Profession of Faith they are then full and complete members of the Catholic Church. There is no distinction between persons baptized Catholic as infants, persons baptized as adults, or persons baptized and raised in another Christian tradition who have been received into full communion through the Rite of Reception.
-- Dave Cushing (01.12)
Click here to read the Celebration of Reception.
See Also: "Do I Have to Believe Everything that Catholics Believe?" in the following section.
Is it wrong for a Catholic to believe the majority of the world is eschatalogical? The short answer to this question is, not necessarily, if by "the majority of the world" you mean the way the world mostly is. The fact is that at any given time this world is a combination of both the Eschatalogical and Incarnational principles, and under any given circumstances, it may be more or less one or the other. Individuals (and theologians) may disagree, according to their experience and perception, of how much there is of one or the other. The Catholic worldview always incorporates both the Eschatalogical and Incarnational worldviews, although it may lean ultimately more toward the Incarnational view. This is because the broader Catholic tradition, rooted in the Gospel testimony, recognizes that the Incarnation of Jesus Christ (his life, death and resurrection) was a decisive event in the history of God's relationship to Creation and to humankind. The Incarnation initiated a new phase in this relationship, one in which this world is gradually being redeemed and transformed, leading toward the Kingdom of God (which, in the end, will finally be realized outside of time and space). So the Incarnational view is always one which will be fulfilled in the future -- a reality we dream about and hope for. The real question is not so much how the world is today, but how it could be, should be, or one day will be. The power of the Incarnational worldview is that it draws us further and further into the new reality which is gradually but surely unfolding by the grace of God, even though we may be limited for the time being in our ability to experience that New Creation more fully. The more we realize what Jesus accomplished by his life, death and resurrection, the more likely we are to allow the Incarnational vision to guide our lives as individuals and as a community.
-- Dave Cushing (03/12)
What does it mean to say that the Catholic Church is “Apostolic”?
According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the Church is apostolic because it was founded on the apostles. This is understood in three ways:
-- historically, because the Church arose out of the witness and mission of the first apostles;
-- spiritually, because with the help of the Holy Spirit the Church remembers and passes on the original teaching of the apostles; and
-- structurally because the Church is taught, sanctified and guided by the apostles through their successors, the college of bishops in union with the successor of Peter, the bishop of Rome (cf. #857). This teaching is based on various scriptural citations including this passage from Mark’s Gospel (3:13-14): “[He] called to him those whom he desired…and he appointed twelve, whom also he named apostles, to be with him and to be sent out to preach” and this passage from John’s Gospel (20:21): “As the Father has sent me, even so I send you.” In the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church (Lumen Gentium), the Second Vatican Council taught: “In order that the mission entrusted to them might be continued after their death, [the apostles] consigned by will and testament, as it were, to their immediate collaborators the duty of completing and consolidating the work they had begun, urging them to tend to the whole flock, in which the Holy Spirit had appointed them to shepherd the Church of God. They accordingly designated such men and then made the ruling that likewise on their death other proven men should take over their ministry” (#20).
-- Dave Cushing (02/12)
What is the Magisterium? "Magisterium" derives from a Latin term which means master or teacher, referring to someone who has authority or mastery of a particular subject. In the Catholic Church, Magisteriumusually refers to the official teaching authority of the Pope and Bishops, which derives from their standing as successors to the Apostles. According to the Second Vatican Council's Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation/Dei verbi (1965), "the task of giving an authentic interpretation of the Word of God...has been entrusted to the living teaching office of the Church alone" whose authority "is exercised in the name of Jesus Christ." The Council pointed out, however, that "this Magisterium is not superior to the Word of God, but is its servant" and "teaches only what has been handed on to it" (cf. #10). The official teaching authority of the Magisterium can be exercised in two ways:
• an extraordinary or solemn way, such as a declaration of an Ecumenical Council of bishops in union with the Pope, or by the Pope himself speaking ex cathedra, or "from the chair [of Peter];"
• or in an ordinary way by the bishops of the universal church or by the Pope, individual bishops or conference of bishops exercising their ordinary teaching authority.
In the first case, teachings may (when specifically declared as such) to be infallible or irreformable. In the second, teachings may be considered definitive or nondefinitive (which may also be called authoritative or authentic). Infallible or definitive teachings require an irrevocable assent of faith; nondefinitive teachings require what Vatican II called "ready and respectful allegiance of mind" or "loyal submission of the will and intellect" (Dogmatic Constitution on the Church/Lumen Gentium, #25).
-- Dave Cushing (05/11)
Do you have to believe in everything that Catholics believe in? This is a really important question, and it is difficult to give a simple answer. Let's begin with making a distinction about "everything that Catholics believe in."
There are some things which are so important that they are virtually non-negotiable: these are aspects of Catholic faith proclaimed in the Creed or defined in authoritative or "infallible" teachings of the Church. These are fundamental faith-choices which in effect define what it means to be a Catholic Christian.
For instance, there is no point in being a Catholic Christian if we don't believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God who came to redeem humankind from sin and established a community of disciples, inspired by the Holy Spirit, which continues to proclaim his redeeming work in the world. These are fundamental convictions, expressed in the Creed, which Catholics share with all other Christians.
However, there are other aspects of Catholic faith which derive from these fundamental convictions. Some are more obvious conclusions based on the fundamental truths; others are less obvious and tend to arise more out of the Church's experience over the years.
Generally, these aspects of Catholic faith derive from how Catholics understand the nature of the “one, holy, catholic and apostolic” church proclaimed in the Creed. These include, in a general way, the characteristics of the Catholic worldview which we have (or will) discuss in the Rites of Initiation and Reception. More specifically, they would include the Catholic understanding of Jesus’ presence in the Eucharist, the special role of Mary and the Saints, the function of the ordained minister, bishops and the Pope.
The Church expects Catholics to give "religious assent" to its ordinary teaching on faith and moral issues. This means that individual Catholics respect what the Church teaches, even if they do not fully understand or agree with it.
The Church teaches that individuals must follow their own conscience, even if it is wrong, but it also insists that Catholics have a moral obligation to insure that their conscience is properly formed. A properly formed conscience is more than a individual's personal opinion; it involves a sincere effort to understand and accept the Church's teaching as best we can.
The fact is that individual Catholics do not always agree with everything the Church believes or teaches because we are imperfect, fallible and sinful human beings and our faith is always imperfect. In other cases, it is possible that the experience of the people (notice this is the community, not a few individuals) is uncovering an aspect of the truth which may not have been adequately incorporated into the Church's teaching in the past.
In either case, the important thing is to maintain a respect for what the Church teaches, even if we disagree with it, assuming (1) that the Church may be right and we may be wrong, or (2) that the Church may be wrong but will eventually recognize a deeper truth and adjust its teaching accordingly based on what Catholics call "the sense of the faithful." (There is a comparable situation in our personal lives, where we may find ourselves as adult children disagreeing with something(s) our parents believe, but we continue to respect them and what they believe -- and often we discover as we grow in age and wisdom that they were right all along.)
Keep in mind, too, that there are many aspects of Catholic belief and life that are essentially customs or traditions which you are free to accept or not.
If you are seriously worried about this, be patient. The distinction between more and less fundamental aspects of Catholic faith, customs and traditions should become clearer as we proceed through the RCIA process. This is something that you may also want to discuss with your sponsor, a member of the RCIA Team from your parish, or your pastor as the process continues.
Being unable to fully understand, accept or believe "everything that Catholics believe," as long as this does not involve the fundamental essentials, should not ordinarily prevent us from participating as fully as possible in the spiritual and sacramental life of the Church, always with the hope that we will continue to grow in our ability to respect, understand and accept what the Church believes and teaches.
Click here for information about forming a moral conscience.
-- Dave Cushing (09/10)(11/13)
I have a problem with the current situation at mass, and I feel like if it isn't addressed I'm going to have a hard time staying committed during the RCIA process. My husband and I would like to increase our contacts within the Catholic Church, because frankly we feel rather isolated. It’s discouraging when we attend the after-mass donuts and get ignored by the people we try to introduce ourselves to. It's hard enough that non-Catholics can't even fully participate at mass, but when none of the congregation show any interest in including newcomers in even casual conversation, it's enough to drive us away.
I wish I had a good answer to your concern, but I don't.
I know many people, including my wife and myself, who have experienced not feeling welcome in a parish. And it is a big reason people leave the Catholic Church, so you are very wise to think about this in advance.
Part of the problem is that many Catholic parishes these days (like Queen of Peace) tend to be made up of older people, who are pretty set on their ways and kind of take going to church for granted. They don't tend to notice or appreciate the people around them as much as they should, especially if they don't know them. Some parishes (like Blessed Sacrament) tend to have more younger couples involved, and I think they are generally more welcoming, but many times it still leaves something to be desired.
A bigger part of the problem, I think, is that Catholics do not personalize church or worship in the same way that non-Catholic Christians do. Partly because of the principle of sacramentality (which we will talk more about in RCIA), Catholics sense that they are part of something much bigger than themselves -- or even than their local church. On a spiritual level, the individual and even the local community are subsumed into this bigger reality when we gather to worship. So community is really important to Catholics, but at a deeper (and maybe some would say more spiritual) level. It's something that happens to us, as much as something that we do.
However, most people today are looking for a personal sense of community as well, and that is a perfectly legitimate (even necessary) spiritual desire. So we are kind of back to your original question about what you should do.
I think getting involved in the First Tuesday group for younger couples would help. (We will be meeting on the first Tuesday evening of September in the chapel wing at Covenant Medical Center.) Participating in the RCIA process itself may help a lot, both at feeling personally connected and understanding why Catholics are the way they are -- which would help you make a decision about joining that is not based entirely on your Sunday experience in local Catholic churches, as important as that is.
Getting involved in activities at a local parish where you would be working side-by-side with other younger couples would also help meet this need for personal relationships with other Catholics. We are also working to get more things going specifically for younger couples, including a faith-sharing or bible-study group for younger Catholics (and Catholics-to-be). Personally, I think getting involved in social justice work also helps some people feel connected to Christ and the bigger community. Being patient with yourself and with our Catholic parishes will also help a little.
Rest assured that God does want to have a personal relationship with you. I hope that over time it will come in and through the Catholic community, but it is possible that God is calling you in another direction. The RCIA is designed to give you time, space and some ideas which can help you discern how God is reaching out to you.
Are there some specific examples of changes that came about as a result of Vatican II? The Second Vatican Council made a number of changes in how Catholics live and celebrate their faith. The most far-reaching changes were in the way Catholics celebrate Mass (see below), but there were many others, including a relaxation of the traditional rules for abstinence on Fridays; changes in the life and discipline of religious men and women, including adaptations of the traditional "habit" or clothes which religious women wore in public; a new openness to dialogue with the modern world and ecumenical contact with other churches and religious traditions; less emphasis on mission work designed to convert people to Catholicism and more emphasis on work for peace and justice in human society; less emphasis on pious devotions and more emphasis on the Mass as the "source and summit" of Catholic spiritual life; and a spirituality which stresses prayerful participation in everyday life more than an escape from the everyday world. The Council recognized the role which the bishops play in the governance of the church, which led to the creation of Synods of Bishops which meet regularly to advise the Pope on issues confronting the universal church. At the local level, parishes and dioceses formed Pastoral Councils which advise the bishop or pastor on issues confronting the local church. Theologically, there was a new appreciation for the Church as "the Body of Christ" or "the People of God."
-- Dave Cushing (11/09)
How can I be more comfortable learning about God?
Learning about God often means changing our previous impressions or images of God. While any kind of change involves a risk, changing what we know or how we think about God is even more challenging because our relationship to God is so intimate and fundamental. For adults who have maintained a fairly consistent image or idea about God for most of our adult lives, the idea of adjusting what we know or how we think about God can be very disturbing.
It's like a person who is forced to move out of a home, neighborhood or community where they have lived for a long time. This is always much more than just a change of address; it often has profound ramifications on many other aspects of their lives, both positive and negative. In those situations what we fear most is that relationships we have depended upon and treasured may be lost after we move away. In the same way, we may fear losing our relationship with God -- even faith itself -- if our image or understanding of God changes too much.
I think we can reduce our discomfort level in this case by trying to approach the situation as a new opportunity, being confident that in time what is gained will outweigh what is lost. Learning more about God, even if it changes our image or understanding of God, does not mean that our previous image of God was wrong, only that we are being invited to something new -- a deeper, fuller appreciation for Who God is and how much God loves us. However, leaving behind what is familiar and comfortable about God may mean taking a step into a place which seems strange and mysterious. It helps to remember that God is ultimately the Great Mystery, and the truth is our human ability to know and understand God is limited.
In fact, when we die we are actually surrendering ourselves into this Great Mystery; perhaps this final and ultimate change will be a little easier if along they way we have had opportunities to encounter some aspects of the Great Mystery, even the ones that make us uncomfortable and unsure.
-- Dave Cushing (01/12)
Please explain the difference between God and Jesus. Are they the same person? Is God the father of Jesus? What about Joseph? The short answer to your question(s) is: Jesus Christ is fully God, whose divine origin is in the divine existence or being Christians recognize as God. Christian belief traditionally considers Joseph the human stepfather of Jesus. To understand this, however, requires a further explanation of Christian belief in the Holy Trinity. This belief is called the central mystery of the Christian faith because it is, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church says, "the most fundamental and essential" tenet of the faith. At the same time, it remains a mystery because human beings lack the ability to fully understand and/or express exactly the truth about God. Like our Jewish ancestors, Christians believe that there is only one God (what Catholic doctrine calls one being); however, human beings experience this one God in three distinct ways (or what the doctrine callsmissions) -- as the Creator ("Father"), as the Redeemer ("Son") and as the life-force that continues to abide among us ("Holy Spirit"). The traditional explanation of the Holy Trinity, which dates from the mid-4th century, refers to the distinct ways in which we experience God's relationship to us as persons, but it does not mean the word "person" in exactly the same sense that modern people understand the word "person" (ie. as an autonomous and self-contained individual). It is almost impossible to find an analogy which accurately illustrates what Christians believe about the nature of God. You may get some idea if you think of a family, which is a single living reality in which there are various persons with different roles or missions: father, mother, child, sibling, all of whom are distinct but equally members of the family; compare that example to an individual person, who is one person but has various roles or relationships as wife, mother, child, sister. Catholic teaching has tended to find both examples inadequate in themselves, but it might be said that the truth of the Trinity lies somewhere in between these two examples, or perhaps as a combination of the two. It is important, I think, to add two more comments. First, as a catechumen, you should know that the early Christian community did not "invent" the doctrine of the Holy Trinity just for fun or to confuse people; the doctrine arose out of their very serious effort to explain how human beings have, and continue to, experience the divine reality we call God. Secondly, you should know that the great majority of Christians through history -- including our best theologians -- have not been able to fully understand or explain the mystery of the Holy Trinity, so it should not disturb you if you find this truth difficult to comprehend.
(See also the Question from October 6, below.)
-- Dave Cushing (01/11)
Is belief in the Trinity strictly Biblical, or is it more a Catholic concept? Belief in the Trinity (that God is three "Persons" in one "Being") is not limited to Catholics. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church explains, belief in the Trinity is "the central mystery of Christian faith and life" (#234) and is shared by all Christians. This is a truth (amystery) which is not accessible to human reason alone, and therefore is known only because God chose to reveal it to humankind. Belief in one God (ie, one Being) developed gradually in the Jewish tradition and became the fundamental belief that distinguished the Hebrew people from their pagan neighbors. Belief in three "Persons" grew out of the early Christian community's reflections on the teaching and experience of Jesus. The first disciples of Jesus came to believe that Jesus himself was divine, largely on the witness of his miracles and his resurrection from the dead; this belief was expressed in the opening of John's Gospel (see John 1:1ff). However, they also remembered that Jesus referred to God as "father" (for example, see Matthew 11:27) and promised to send "another paraclete" or Advocate (see John 7:39; 14:26; 15:26; 16:14). The early Christian community struggled with how to understand and explain this mystery, and did not finalize its statement of belief until the Councils of Niceae (in 325) and Constantinople (in 381). The Nicene Creed written by these councils, and recited by Catholics each Sunday at Mass, is the definitive statement of Christian belief in the Trinity.
> Read more about how the Catechism of the Catholic Church explains belief in the Trinity here: http://www.vatican.va/archive/catechism/p1s2c1p2.htm]
-- Dave Cushing (10/10)
What does the Creed mean when it says Jesus “descended into hell’?
In short, it means that Jesus really died, and is necessary to our Christian conviction that he rose from the dead. The phrase “descended into hell,” which first appears in the Apostles Creed, refers to a phrase used by Paul in Ephesians 4:9: “descended into the lower parts of the earth.” The reference here is to what Scripture calls “the abode of the dead,” which was called sheol in Hebrew, hades in Greek (and translated as hell in English); in this case, it refers to “all the dead, whether evil or righteous” who await redemption. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church,“ Jesus did not descend into hell to deliver the damned nor to destroy the hell of damnation, but to free the just who had gone before him” (cf. #633). According to the Catechism, “descended into hell” as used by the early community of believers means “that Jesus, like all men, experienced death and in his soul joined the others in the realm of the dead. But he descended there as Savior, proclaiming the Good News to the spirits imprisoned there” (#632). In other words, “By the expression ‘he descended into hell,’ the Apostles Creed confesses that Jesus did really die and through his death for us conquered death and the devil ‘who has the power of death’” (#636).
-- Dave Cushing (02/12)
If Jesus was required to bring salvation to mankind, wasn't Judas a necessary part of that plan? Why is he viewed just as a villain? Christians do believe that our salvation depends upon God's saving action, and so Jesus was a necessary part of God's plan for saving mankind. The fact that suffering and dying are, in and of themselves, evil consequences of human sinfulness, many theologians believe it is unlikely that God specifically intended (ie, planned) that Jesus would suffer and die (although God may have known in advance how things would turn out). What God desired is that Jesus would be faithful to his mission: to make God's love and mercy available to human beings. Predictably, many people rejected this gift and sought to destroy the one who brought it, thereby causing Jesus' suffering and death. TheCatechism of the Catholic Church is quite definite about where to place the responsibility for Jesus' suffering and death, and it is not on God (or, for that matter, on Judas). The Catechism says: "the greatest moral evil ever committed -- the rejection and murder of God's only Son -- [was] caused by the sins of all men" (#312). In other words, it is our sinfulness -- not God's plan -- which made Jesus' suffering and death necessary. As it turns out, Judas played an important role in the historical events leading to Jesus' death, but Judas is only one of many individuals -- "all men," the Catechism says -- responsible for Jesus death. If Judas had not betrayed Jesus, no doubt the authorities would have found another way to arrest Jesus and kill him, which suggests that the broader scheme of things he was not exactly necessary nor individually responsible for Jesus' death.
-- Dave Cushing [01/11]
If Jesus never sinned, why was he baptized? According to theCatechism of the Catholic Church, "Our Lord voluntarily submitted himself to the baptism of St. John [which was] intended for sinners in order to 'fulfill all righteousness'" (#1224, quoting Matthew 3.15), which is to say, in order to fulfill his Father's will (cf. #536). His baptism was "a manifestation of his self-emptying" (#1224) as well as a sign of "the acceptance and inauguration of his mission as God's suffering servant" (#536). In other words, Jesus did it not because he had to, but because he wanted to -- in order to signify his desire to do the Father's will. "Already he is anticipating the 'baptism' of his bloody death," and "he consents to this baptism of death for the remission of our sins" (#536).
-- Dave Cushing [01/11]
If Jesus wasn't born on December 25, why do we celebrate his birth on that date?
Traditionally, the Church in the east has celebrated the Lord's birth on the feast of the Epiphany, January 6 and the Church in the west has celebrated the Lord's birth on Christmas, December 25. The truth is, no one knows exactly how or why the Church in the west chose December 25, but there is evidence that December 25 was the date being celebrated in Rome as early as the year 336. According to Adolph Adam in his book The Liturgical Year, there are two main theories on how the Christian community arrived at the date of December 25: One is that it was a response to the Roman Emperor Aurelian's decision in 274 to make December 25, (the winter solstice) the date for honoring the Syrian sun-god Emesa. "In order to immunize Christians against the attraction of this pagan feast," Adam writes, "the Church of Rome established a feast of Christ's birth to be celebrated on the same day.... Christians could now make the triumphant claim that they, the Christians, were celebrating the feast of the true Sun which alone can give light and salvation to the world" (p. 123). A second theory is based on the efforts of the early Christian community to calculate the birth of Jesus based on the solar calendar, using equinoxes and solstices as cosmic dates around which important human events were timed. Tradition believed that John the Baptist was born at the summer solstice, and according to Luke 1.26, Jesus was born six months after John, which would place his birth at the time of the winter solstice. Adam writes: "In this coincidence of the beginning of the sun's new career with the beginning of Jesus' earthly life people saw an enchanting work of divine providence. Here indeed was the "hand of God"'"(p. 123). According to Adam, it is likely that these two theories each contributed in their own way to the decision to celebrate Christ's birth on December 25. Adam notes that the new feast spread rapidly throughout the western Church and was almost universal by the end of the fourth century. The effort by Church leaders in the west to refute the Arian heresy, which denied the full humanity of Jesus Christ, may have contributed to the popularity of Christmas as the feast on which Christians celebrated the fact that the Divine became human.
-- Dave Cushing (01/11)
Can you give me some explanations and resources about Mary? Devotion to Mary the Mother of Jesus dates back to the earliest days of the Christian community, which perhaps as early as the wedding feast at Cana (cf. John 2:1ff) realized Mary's special role in the life and ministry of her Son. In fact, the Catechism of the Catholic Church stresses that what Catholics believe about Mary "is based on what it believes about Christ," the Incarnate Word of God (#487). Because Mary was the mother of Jesus, we believe that it is appropriate to say that she is "the Mother of God" and "the Mother of the Church."
Catholics believe that Mary was chosen from all eternity to be the mother of the Incarnate Word and given special graces appropriate to that role (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, #488, 490). Thus, when the angel appeared to Mary as a young woman he could already proclaim her "full of grace" (cf. Luke 1:28). When Mary questioned the angel about how she could be pregnant without having had intercourse with a man, the angel explained that it would happen through the power of the Holy Spirit. As a result, from early on the Christian community believed that Jesus was conceived in Mary's womb solely by the power of the Holy Spirit -- "a virginal conception...that surpasses all human understanding and possibility" (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church,#496-500).
Over the centuries, the conviction developed in the Christian Church that Mary was redeemed (and free of all sin) from the moment of her conception, a conviction officially proclaimed as the doctrine of theImmaculate Conception by Pope Pius IX in 1854. A corollary of this belief is the doctrine of the Assumption, proclaimed by Pope Pius XII in 1950; this doctrine proclaims that because she was "preserved free from all stain of original sin" Mary "was taken up body and soul into heavenly glory" at the time of her death -- an event which the Catechism calls "a singular participation in her Son's Resurrection and an anticipation of the resurrection of other Christians" (cf. Catechism, #966).
Over the years, Catholic devotion to Mary has included a variety of public and private prayer forms, including special prayers, novenas, chaplets (beads) such as the Rosary. As the Catechism explains, "From the most ancient times the Blessed Virgin has been honored with the title of 'Mother of God,' to whose protection the faithful fly in all their dangers and needs." At certain times, and in the lives of some individual Catholics, devotion to Mary may seem to supplant worship of Jesus, but it is never equal to or a substitute for worship of God. The Catechismstresses that "this very special devotion [to Mary]...differs essentially from the adoration which is given to the Incarnate Word and equally to the Father and the Holy Spirit" (#971).
> Read more about Mary in the Catechism of the Catholic Church,sections 487-507; 721-726 and 963-972, available online here.
> Read Pope John Paul II's encyclical letter Redemptoris Mater here.
> Read a Catholic Update on Mary here.
-- Dave Cushing (05/11)
Please explain the basic journey to sainthood. According to the directions contained in the Apostolic Constitution Divinus Perfectionis Magister issued by Pope John Paul II in 1983, the procedure leading to canonization (official recognition) of sainthood cannot begin until a least five years have passed since the candidate's death. The potential saint's "cause" is represented by a group known as the "Actor Causae," which may be a diocese, parish, religious congregation or association; however, the official process must be initiated by the bishop in the diocese where the person died. Once the local bishop receives permission from the Vatican, he forms a diocesan tribunal which collects documents and interviews witnesses about the person. The information is then sent to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, where an advocate (called a "postulator") prepares a summary of the information and submits it to a panel of theologians. If the panel approves, the cause is passed on to the members of the bishops who are members of the Congregation. If the Congregation approves the cause, it is submitted to the Pope, who may authorize the Congregation to publish a decree affirming the individual's heoric virtues and indicating that the individual is a candidate for canonization. At this point the individual is given the title "Servant of God." In order to move to the next step, beatification, a miracle must be attributed to the individual's intercession. Possible miracles are reported and investigated by a procedure similar to that outlined above, which concludes with a second decree approved by the Pope and published by the Congregation. This decree confers the title "Blessed" on the individual and authorizes a limited degree of public veneration. A second miracle is normally required for the final step in the process, which concludes with a third decree conferring the title "Saint" and authorizing public veneration by the Universal Church.
> Read "Understanding the Canonization Process" here.
> Read "What Makes a Saint" here.
> Find out more about saints here.
> Visit the official website of the Congregation for the Cause of Saints here.
-- Dave Cushing (05/11)
Explain venial vs. mortal sins differences and why and how the division occurred for the sins to fit into different categories. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, mortal sin "destroys charity in the heart of man by a grave violation of God's law [and] turns man away from God;" venial sin "allows charity to subsist, even though it offends and wounds it" (#1855; cf. #1861, 1862-63). Another way of saying this is that mortal sin destroys our ability to love and our relationship to God; venial sin diminishes our ability to love and our relationship to God, but does not destroy it. Three conditions must be met in order for a person to commit a mortal sin: a) the action must involve a serious matter; b) the person must fully understand the seriousness of the action; and c) the person must give complete consent to the action (#1857-59). In other words, a person may commit an action which is considered objectively to be mortally wrong, but not be guilty of committing a mortal sin if they did not fully understand and freely choose to commit that action. For instance, the Catechism says, "The promptings of feelings and passions can...diminish the voluntary and free character of the offense, as can external pressures or pathological disorders" (#1860). In the past it was assumed that the average Catholic committed mortal sins easily and frequently; today many spiritual advisers consider mortal sin quite rare. Many pastors distinguish between venial, serious and mortal sins in order to acknowledge that the average person may do things which are seriously wrong but which do not reach the deadly level of mortal sin.
> Read more about sin in the Catechism, #1852-1864 online here.
> Read a Catholic Update, "Understanding Sin Today" here.
> Read more about forming a moral conscience here.
-- Dave Cushing (05/11)
I believe that morality does have a personal aspect to it along with a religious base. I struggle with a code of commandments, but there are exceptions to these. I am assuming that the concern here is that a list of laws or commandments may not be able to adequately account for the personal conditions or circumstances in which an individual acts. The short answer to this is that the Church recognizes that every individual must act according to his or her personal conscience (ie, what they sincerely believe is right or wrong in a given situation), even when it is wrong. This is not the same as saying "anything goes," or "if it feels right do it," because the church also believes every person has a moral responsibility to develop a mature and sincere conscience which incorporates the convictions of the faith community expressed in church teaching. Laws and commandments, however, express what isobjectively right or wrong. Sometimes it is not possible subjectively for a given individual in a given circumstance to do what is ideally demanded either because they lack the ability or the desire. In that case, we choose to do the best we can under the circumstances. In these situations the action itself might be objectively wrong (this is what the Catholic Church means when it insists on the existence of "moral absolutes"), but the person's moral responsibility for the action may be limited by the circumstances or limitations under which they act. According to traditional Catholic teaching, there are three criteria for sinful action (ie, moral culpability): the action must be (objectively) wrong; the person must know that it is wrong; and the person must freely choose to do it. Even in situations where we might not be fully responsible for an action which breaks the law, it is important that we recognize the tension between what we actually do and what we should do or could do under better circumstances, because that is what challenges us to grow. The mistake most of us make is that we want to reject what the law expects when we are unable or unwilling to fulfill it completely. What most of us need is a stronger sense of the virtue of humility, which helps us accept the fact that we are imperfect (which is to say, sinful) persons. What we also need is a better understanding of the moral or personal value which the law seeks to uphold, because there are also situations in which we could, given the circumstances, actually do more than we need or are required to do under the law.
-- Dave Cushing (02/10)
One of my best friends is a homosexual; is she not allowed the basic rights of others? In their 1997 pastoral letter, All Our Children,the Catholic bishops of the United States wrote: "The teachings of the Church make it clear that the fundamental human rights of homosexual persons must be defended and that all of us must strive to eliminate any forms of injustice, oppression, or violence against them. It is not sufficient only to avoid unjust discrimination. Homosexual persons 'must be accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity' (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 2358)." However, church teaching does not accept that homosexual persons have the right to sexual intercourse or marriage. This is because the church believes that sexual intercourse is appropriate only within the context of married life and that marriage, properly defined, is a relationship between a man and a woman. So if by "basic rights" you include the right to sexual intercourse and/or marriage, you are correct that church teaching would deny these rights to a homosexual person. We should note that church teaching also denies these rights to heterosexual persons who are not married or not free or willing to enter into a sacramental marriage. In their letter, the bishops went on to say that homosexual persons have a right to be fully nourished as human persons in relationship with other human persons. "This includes friendship, which is a way of loving and is essential to healthy human development. It is one of the richest possible human experiences. Friendship can and does thrive outside of genital sexual involvement." And, the bishops said, homosexual persons should have an active role in the faith community, which "means that all homosexual persons have a right to be welcomed into the community, to hear the word of God, and to receive pastoral care. Homosexual persons living chaste lives should have opportunities to lead and serve the community." Like society in general, our faith communities are gradually growing out of a "don't ask don't tell" attitude toward our brothers and sisters who are homosexual; we are slowly learning to intentionally accept and embrace their active participation in the local church.
> Read the full text of the bishops' letter at:http://www.usccb.org/laity/always.shtml .
-- Dave Cushing (02/10)
What is the origin of the Sign of the Cross? The sign of the cross apparently originated in a private devotional habit used by early Christians. The cross was a sign of degradation and humiliation in the Roman Empire, which used crucifixion as a particularly gruesome method of executing non-citizens. Early Christians, however, realized that it was through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, that salvation came to the world and began discreetly using a small sign of the cross, traced on the forehead with one finger, as a reminder of this saving event in which they participated by the grace of Baptism. In 313 the Emperor Constantine credited his victory over a rival to a vision in which he saw a large cross and the words “in this sign you shall conquer.” Constantine ended the persecution of Christians and eventually imposed Christianity as the official religion of the empire. As a result, it became possible to use the symbol of the cross in public. During the fourth century, the sign of the cross was introduced into the liturgy, being traced on the forehead of a person during Baptism and used as a blessing over the bread and wine at Eucharist. As the doctrine of the Trinity developed, orthodox Christians began adding the baptismal formula “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” to the sign of the cross which was made by touching the hand to the forehead, chest, and each shoulder. Today, Catholics and many other Christians use both the large and small sign of the cross in both public and private devotion, at the beginning and end of prayer, and to accompany a blessing.
Following the conversion of Constantine the cross was transformed from a sign of shame to one of triumph, and highly ornamental crosses made of exotic woods and precious metals, decorated with jewels and gemstones, were used in both religious and civil ceremonies. Evidence of the first crucifix (a cross with the body of Christ attached) dates from the fifth century, and late in that century the Council of Constantinople (692) ordered the use of crucifixes in place of ornamental crosses. The use of the crucifix both encouraged and reflected a growing emphasis in Christian theology and spirituality on the suffering and death of Jesus. During the Reformation, Anglican and Lutheran reformers continued to use the crucifix, but more radical reformers saw it as a sign of Roman hierarchy and idolatry; in some cases they insisted on the use of a plain cross without the body or forbade the use of such symbols entirely.
-- Dave Cushing (11/13)
What is the origin of the rosary? Use of the rosary in devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary probably developed early in the Christian tradition, although its exact origins are uncertain. Many believe it became a substitute for daily prayer during the late third and fourth centuries, when members of local Christian communities were no longer able to gather in person to pray the psalms each day. The use of prayer beads (which is common in various religious traditions) and the repetition of simple prayers is actually a fairly sophisticated form of prayer which occupies the senses and frees the mind to meditate on deeper spiritual mysteries.
The rosary as we know it was introduced by St. Dominic in the early 13th century and popularized by Alan of Rupe in the late 15th century. Some early forms of the Rosary consisted of fifteen "decades" (groups of ten prayers) which corresponded with the 150 prayers in the Book of Psalms. The popular Rosary used today has five decades; each decade consists of the Lord's Prayer, ten Hail Marys, and the Glory Be. A scriptural event or "mystery" is assigned to each decade and pray-ers meditate on a different set of mysteries each day: the Joyful Mysteries on Mondays and Saturdays; the Sorrowful Mysteries on Tuesdays and Fridays; the Glorious Mysteries on Wednesday and Sundays; and theMysteries of Light on Thursdays. The various mysteries correspond to events in the life of Jesus or the early church, centering the rosary as much on Jesus as on Mary. In recent years, the Church has reminded Catholics that devotion to Mary derives from and leads back to our relationship to Jesus Christ.
> You can find out more about the rosary here.
> Read more about the history of the rosary here.
-- Dave Cushing (10/15)
Explain novenas. Novenas are a form of prayer which take place over a period of nine consecutive days or nine consecutive weeks. (The English "novena" derives from a Latin word which means "nine at a time.") The number nine was chosen because that was the number of days Mary and the Apostles spent in prayer between the Ascension of Jesus and Pentecost. Novenas became popular in the seventeenth century, and have often been officially sanctioned by the Church. A novena can be public, in which case it is prayed in church by a group of people, or private, in which case it is prayed privately by individuals. A novena consists of a specific prayer -- usually a prayer of request or petition -- which is repeated on each day or week or the novena, as well as additional prayers such as the Our Father and Hail Mary. There are a variety of novenas addressed to Our Lord, the Blessed Virgin or various saints, requesting specific gifts or needs. Traditionally, public novenas were also popular around special feasts or occasions in the Church calendar, or in the case of difficult times such as natural disasters or war. Some ethnic communities in the Catholic Church have traditionally had novenas addressed to particular saints who are esteemed by that group. Novenas are an example of perseverance in prayer, such as that exhibited by the persistent widow in Luke's Gospel (cf. 18.1-8).
(See the explanation of sacramentals and devotional practices below.)
> Find various contemporary novenas, such as novenas for life, for peace and justice, and for guidance in civic elections produced by various departments of the U.S. Bishops Conference here.
> See a slide show about the annual Solemn Novena to St. Jude here.
-- Dave Cushing (05/11)
I'd like more information on scapulars -- why they're used, who wears them, and where to get them. Scapulars originated as long narrow pieces of cloth which had a hole for the neck and were worn over the shoulders and down both the front and back. Scapulars were worn by vowed religious men and women over their tunic; according to Ann Ball in A Handbook of Catholic Sacramentals, scapulars were originally a work garment which was worn to protect the tunic. Over the years scapulars became identified as part of the distinctive habit (ie, uniform) of various religious communities of men or women and could be used to identify members of that community. Various scapulars were associated with a particular religious tradition about how or why they were adopted, such as the Brown Scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel or the Scapular of the Immaculate Conception. Over time, simple versions of the scapular were created for lay persons who are associated with particular religious communities but are not full members. These lay persons associate themselves with a particular religious community after a period of preparation and instruction, and are officially "invested" in the scapular by a person in authority in the community. The lay person's scapular is much smaller, and usually consists of two pieces of cloth about 1x2 inches, connected by ribbons and worn over the shoulders underneath a person's regular clothes. The lay person's scapular is a sign and reminder that the person wishes to participate in the spiritual and apostolic activity of the community and wishes to imitate the spiritual life of its members. Care is taken before a person in invested in a scapular to make sure that they understand the meaning and purpose of this sacramental and do not treat it superstitiously. Devotional scapulars can be purchased from a Catholic religious goods store or website and used as a private devotional practice, although this is not common among most American Catholic lay people today.
> See the question on sacramentals and devotional practices below.
-- Dave Cushing (05/11)
What are sacramentals or private devotional practices? How and why do Catholics use them? According to the U.S. Catholic bishops' publication Popular Devotional Practices—Questions and Answers(2003), examples of devotional practices include: pilgrimages, novenas, processions and celebrations in honor of Mary and the other saints, the daily Angeles, the Stations of the Cross, the veneration of relics and the use of sacramentals such as holy water, crucifixes, statues, candles, scapulars, and beads (which includes chaplets and the rosary). The bishops quoted Pope Pius XII, who said that popular devotional practices attract and direct people to God, “purifying them from their sins, encouraging them to practice virtue,...stimulating them to advance along the path of sincere piety by accustoming them to meditate on the eternal truths, and disposing them better to contemplate the mysteries of the human and divine natures of Christ.” Unlike the sacraments, which can be traced to Jesus’ ministry, popular devotions developed out of the lived experience of the Christian community in a particular time and place; they often correspond more closely to the spiritual needs of a certain people at a certain time than others. “Popular devotions are not a matter in which ‘one size fits all,’” the American bishops wrote; quoting Pope Paul VI, they observed that the Church “does not bind herself to any particular expression of an individual cultural epoch or to the particular anthropological ideas underlying such expressions” but “understands that certain outward religious expressions, while perfectly valid in themselves, may be less suitable to men and women of different ages and cultures.” The bishops explained that some popular devotions are based on private revelations rather than public Revelation. (Public revelation refers to the revealing action of God directed to humanity as a whole and is transmitted in Sacred Scripture and in Sacred Tradition. Private revelations refer visions, revelations or miraculous communication from God, Mary or another saint, given to an individual or small group, not to the Church as a whole.) As a result, there is no obligation to accept or employ them. “Even when a ‘private revelation’ has spread to the entire world . . . and has been recognized in the liturgical calendar, the Church does not make mandatory the acceptance either of the original story or of particular forms of piety springing from it,” the bishops wrote. They also noted that popular religiosity has its limits. Quoting Pope Paul VI, the bishops said popular religiosity “is often subject to penetration by many distortions of religion and even superstitions. It frequently remains at the level of forms of worship not involving a true acceptance by faith. It can even lead to the creation of sects and endanger the true ecclesial community.” The bishops pointed out that while official public liturgy (the Eucharist, the sacraments and the Liturgy of the Hours) is the source and summit of Catholic prayer, “popular devotions allow the practice of the faith to pass beyond the bounds of the Church's official liturgy and to permeate more thoroughly the daily lives of people in their own culture.” They cautioned that popular devotions should never be considered equal to, a substitute for, or combined with the liturgy, and should always “flow from and lead to a fuller participation in the liturgy."
> Read the U.S. bishops' document here.
-- Dave Cushing (05/11)
Why is each church not built the same? The architecture and furnishings for each parish worship space reflects something of the community who gather there. When Catholic churches were first built in the United States, the community often constructed buildings that spoke to their cultural heritage. For example, Irish immigrants, would use statuary and colors associated with their Irish roots and traditions within their churches. The architecture itself would speak to similar structures from their homeland. The local customs and rituals would also be reflected in some of the aesthetics of the environment and decorations. Craftsmen from the community would often build the sanctuary furnishings, using similar materials that were found in their ancestral churches in Ireland.
New churches today follow national and archdiocesan guidelines in building projects. They also reflect something of the community that is building them. The materials that are chosen, the style of architecture, and the furnishing designs help create an environment that speaks to the "personality" and heritage of the people who gather there. Rural churches will not look exactly the same as metropolitan churches, cathedrals in different regions of the country will differ in style and design, but all will contain the same elements for worship, i.e. one altar, and ambo, presider's chair, font, tabernacle, etc. WE create a house for God's Church and the space continues to shape us as the Church, the People of God.
-- Pam Johnston (10/12)
Do I have to attend Mass every Sunday?
According to the Code of Canon Law, Catholics are obliged to assist at Mass on Sundays and other holy days of obligation (#1247). This is one of the traditional laws or precepts of the Church which, according to theCatechism of the Catholic Church, are established by the Church in order "to guarantee to the faithful the indispensable minimum in the spirit of prayer and moral effort in the growth in love of God and neighbor" (#2042). In the past Catholics felt obligated under pain of mortal sin to attend Mass every Sunday and many did so faithfully; today, however, less than half of adult Catholics attend Mass every Sunday, and even many who do do not feel obligated to do so. The main reason for this change is that many Catholics now sense that Mass is not something you do because you have to; in this way they are more like the early Christians who celebrated the Eucharist because they wanted to, not because they had to. There are a variety of reasons for why some Catholics do not attend Mass every Sunday -- some do not feel welcome; others find the ritual boring or irrelevant; some are too busy, tired, or distracted by other responsibilities. Many, however, are simply disinterested; they wonder: what difference does it make anyway? The fact is, the Mass has no meaning (and makes no difference) if we do not first believe that the life, death and resurrection of Jesus makes a difference. The Eucharist connects us to the saving power of God's grace, made present to humankind in Jesus Christ. We are changed, the people around us are changed, the world is changed -- all because Jesus Christ lived, died, rose from the dead and continues to live among us. We gather at Mass to remember, to celebrate and to give thanks for the ways in which this reality has transformed (in theological language,redeemed) us. Our participation in this Eucharistic community makes a difference because it makes us different. It is no longer an issue of what we have to do, once we admit that we need and want to be changed by God's redeeming grace. Then we are more likely to decide that we have to come to Mass -- but only because we want to.
-- Dave Cushing (02/12)
What are the signs made before the Gospel lesson is read? The custom of making a small sign of the cross on the forehead, lips and heart before reading or hearing the Gospel developed in the Middle Ages as a sign of reverence for the Word of God contained in the Gospel. The gesture was a sign of the individual's intention to open one's mind to the Word, confess it in speech, and treasure it in the heart. The custom may be accompanied by a silent prayer, "May the Word be in my mind, on my lips and in my heart."
-- Dave Cushing (05/11)
Will explanation and protocol for confession be reviewed? The Sacrament of Reconciliation (also called the Sacrament of Penance, and commonly called "Confession" by many Catholics) will be explained during the RCIA/RCRA process, and we will explain how and why Catholics celebrate this Sacrament.
In the meantime you can find more information about Reconciliation and how Catholics celebrate it here.
-- Dave Cushing (05/11)
How does one dress when holy days occur? For instance, I hear red is worn on St. Joseph's day, March 19 but don't know why.There may be some custom among certain ethnic communities to wear special colors on different feast days (such as the Irish who wear green on the feast of St. Patrick, or the Italians who wear red on the feast of St. Joseph), but generally Catholics do not dress in particular ways or colors for different feasts. Occasionally in some parishes the assembly will be asked to wear something red on the feast of Pentecost, in which case the color reminds people of the tongs of fire which Scripture says appeared above the heads of the Apostles on the first Pentecost, but this is not an official liturgical rubric. The official rubrics do prescribe the color of vestments which the priest wears:
• White, which symbolizes purity and hope, is worn during the seasons of Christmas and Easter and at funerals.
• Red, which signifies the outpouring of blood, is worn on Palm Sunday, Good Friday and the feast days of Apostles and martyrs. It is also worn on Pentecost and at Confirmation as a symbol of the fire of the Holy Spirit.
• Green symbolizes hope and is worn during what the Church calls "Ordinary Time," the times in the liturgical seasons between major feast days of Christmas and Pentecost.
• Violet or Blue is worn during the season of Advent to symbolize preparation and waiting and during Lent to signify an attitude of penitence and remorse.
-- Dave Cushing (05/11)
How does the bread and wine become the body and blood [of Christ]? This is how the Catechism of the Catholic Church (1994) explains what happens to the bread and wine: "'Because Christ our Redeemer said that it was truly his body that he was offering under the species of bread, it has always been the conviction of the Church of God...that by the consecration of the bread and wine there takes place a change of the whole substance of the bread into the substance of the body of Christ our Lord and of the whole substance of the wine into the substance of his blood. This change the holy Catholic Church has fittingly and properly called transubstantiation'" (#1376). In other words, this change leaves the accidents (or appearance) of the bread and wine unchanged, even as it changes the substance (the real thing) into the body and blood -- a change which can be explained only as an act of God (which is to say, an act of Christ), which is what Catholics believe it is. This real thing is something more substantial than a sign or symbol, but not literally physical in the sense you would think of in an act of cannibalism. The Catechism explains it this way, quoting Pope Paul VI, "'This presence is called "real"... because it is presence in the fullest sense: that is to say, it is a substantial presence by which Christ, God and man, makes himself wholly and entirely present'" (#1374). For most Catholics, this a true act of faith -- in other words, it is something we believe without being able to adequately explain how it happens. In the end it is a reality which people experience more than they understand.
-- Dave Cushing (10/10)
How and why were the sacraments Baptism and Confirmation separated? If you are supposed to be baptized first, why wasn't there more of a push to make a baptism something to happen after birth for us all at the same time of confirmation? As best we know, the three Sacraments of Initiation -- Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist -- were originally part of one unified ritual in the early Christian communities (much as they are today for unbaptized adults who are joining the Catholic Church through the RCIA). Early on, people were baptized, confirmed and received first Eucharist all at the same time, under the leadership of the local community leader (the equivalent of what we would call a bishop today) who "confirmed" the legitimacy of the person's baptism and admitted the newly-baptized to the Liturgy of the Eucharist. Two historical or social trends led to the gradual separation of these three sacraments. One was the growth of the Christian community, and the fact that in many smaller communities there were no longer bishops available to confirm the baptism. Rather than delegating this responsibility to the bishop's assistant (what today we would call a parish priest), the church decided to postpone "confirmation" until the bishop could be present and could speak on behalf of the whole local church. The second trend evolved from the early Christian community's debate over whether children could be baptized. The consensus which developed in the western Church was that infants and children should be baptized, but the community recognized that infants and children are not able to speak for themselves. Over the years, it seemed logical to postpone confirmation (once separated from baptism) until the individual baptized as an infant or child was old enough to speak on his or her own behalf about their desire to be (an adult) Christian. There has been some discussion in the Catholic Church since the Second Vatican Council about whether the three sacraments of initiation should be reunited for all ages, not just adults, and some bishops have experimented with different arrangements and different ages. A consensus has not developed, however, and for now the Church has preserved the practice of postponing confirmation for individuals baptized as infants and children.
-- Dave Cushing (04/12)
I am kind of nervous about doing confession. Without trying to sound flip, my first reaction to your comment is welcome to the club. I think a fairly large number of adult Catholics are nervous about confession, so much so that many do not regularly celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation. There are many reasons for that, but the most basic one is that it is uncomfortable to reveal our basic flaws and mistakes in front of another person we barely know. Maybe it will help you a little to keep these things in mind:
a) The basic focus of the Sacrament of Reconciliation, as Fr. Jaeger mentioned, is not our sinfulness, but God's love and mercy. In other words, we are celebrating good news, not bad news -- and God's love has no limits.
b) There are many ways to celebrate God's forgiveness, including the Penitential Rite at Mass, private prayer, and in conversation with other persons we trust. For Catholics, none is quite as dramatic or powerful as the Sacrament itself, but sometimes the Sacrament is more meaningful (and less scary) if we have in fact taken time to reconcile with others or with God before we celebrate the Sacrament.
c) Catholics are required by church law to confess their sins to a priest only when/if they have committed a serious ("mortal") sin, which has broken off their relationship to God and/or the faith community. Your average Catholic does not regularly commit mortal sins.
d) In the absence of mortal sin, you may use the Sacrament of Reconciliation in any way which is most helpful to your spiritual growth. For some Catholics, this means participating in a Communal Penance service but not confessing their sins privately to a priest. For others it means confessing some of their sins but not all of them.
e) Keep in mind, as Fr. Jaeger indicated, that the focus should be more on patterns, habits and attitudes which damage our relationship to God or other people more than on individual acts. In the absence of mortal sin, a good guide for what to consider and/or confess is this: Consider first those behaviors or attitudes which (1) most seriously harm ourselves or other persons, (2) which are most frequent or (3) which we most wish to change.
f) Finally, remember that the priest serves as a representative of the Body of Christ, the faith community, and God our Loving Father. His job is to assure us of God's love and forgiveness, not to judge us. Although the priest does have a responsibility to help us understand what the faith community believes is right and wrong, he is, after all, also a human person and consequently has no more right to judge us than any other human person. It is important to find a priest with whom you are comfortable, and who fulfils this role well for you.
> You may find more helpful information about celebrating the Sacrament of Reconciliation at our website:www.waterloocatholics.org/confessionguide.htm
-- Dave Cushing. (02/10)
If I went to Mass before Vatican II and then after Vatican II, would I notice a difference? Definitely, yes. There were big changes in the Mass as a result of Vatican II, including the use of local languages, a simplification of the ritual, and the type of music used at Mass. The way Catholics receive Holy Communion also changed -- now Catholics stand, and receive Communion in their hand; they also are able to receive from the cup, which was not allowed before the Council. There was a change in the "cycle" or selection of scripture readings at Mass and a shift from traditional "sermons," which usually focused on doctrinal teaching, to "homilies," which focus on the scripture readings. All of this flows from the Church's new appreciation of itself as "the People of God," and the desire for "full and active participation" of the entire assembly in the liturgy. Previously, most of the congregation were passive observers of the "sacred drama" which took place in the sanctuary; the people were actually separated from the sanctuary by a railing, and lay people did not enter the sanctuary during the liturgy except at weddings. Many prayed private prayers and devotions, like the rosary, during the Mass and relied on ringing bells to alert them to when something important was happening, like the consecration of the bread and wine. After Vatican II, the design of traditional churches was simplified so that the emphasis was on the liturgy of the Mass, not private devotions to Mary and the saints; the altar was moved closer to the assembly and turned around so that the priest now stands facing the people instead of having his back to the people. Newer Catholic churches are built so that the assembly is gathered in a circle or semi-circle around the altar and the altar railing has been removed. Non-ordained "liturgical ministers" participate in the Mass as readers ("lectors") and people who help distribute Holy Communion ("Eucharistic ministers").
> There are many examples of the traditional Latin Mass available on the Internet which will give you an idea of what the Latin Mass was like; here is one of them:
--Dave Cushing (11/09)
Are there differences between daily Mass and weekend Mass? There is not as much difference between daily and weekend Mass as there was before Vatican II, when weekend ("high") Masses usually included much more pomp and ritual than weekday ("low") Masses. The main differences now are the fact that there are only three Scripture readings at weekday Masses and four on Sunday (see below); the weekday homily is usually shorter; and in some parishes there is not as much music.
-- Dave Cushing (11/09)
Why is there only one reading at weekday Masses? Before the changes in Catholic liturgy which followed the Second Vatican Council (1962-65), Sunday Masses had only two readings: an Epistle (from the Letters section of the New Testament) and the Gospel. The Council wanted Catholics to better appreciate our Old Testament heritage, so the liturgical reforms which followed Vatican II added a reading from the Old Testament to the Sunday cycle. As a result, on Sundays and major feast days there is a reading from the Old Testament, a reading from Acts or the Epistles, and a Gospel reading. (Technically, the Psalm which follows the first reading is also a reading, although it is sung on Sundays and feast days and read antiphonally [with the congregation taking part] on weekdays. When you count the Psalm, there are actually three readings on weekdays and four on Sundays and major feast days.)
-- Dave Cushing (10/09)
Why can you choose readings for funerals and weddings? Weddings and funerals are not part of the Church's official schedule of public worship, like Sunday and weekday Masses. Although they are community celebrations, they focus in a particular way on a special occasion or special person: those who are marrying or the person who has died. For this reason, the Church provides a selection of approved readings from which couples or the family of the deceased may choose because they have special meaning to the couple or reflect something about the person who has died.
-- Dave Cushing (10/09)
Is the Catholic teaching pre-millenarian, post-millenarian or a-millenarian? “Millenarian,” is derived from the word millennium, which means a period of one thousand years; it refers to a belief in some Christian churches (Anabaptist, Seventh-Day Adventist, Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses) that there will be a period of one thousand years prior to the end of the world marked by peace and tranquility. Pre-millenarians believe that Christ will return and reign with the saints for this period; post-millenarians believe that the saints will reign during this period and Christ will return at the end of it. Ideas about a millennial period are contained in Jewish apocalyptic (end of the world) literature, and some Christians find a veiled reference to it in 2 Peter 3:8 and in Revelation 20. Catholic teaching is a-millenarian in the sense that official Catholic teaching rejects the idea of a millennial period before the end of the world. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, God’s plan entered into its time of fulfillment at Christ’s Ascension: “We are already at ‘the last hour’” and “the renewal of the world is irrevocably underway.” It is “even now anticipated in a certain real way,” but it is “yet to be fulfilled ‘with power and great glory’ by the king’s return to earth.” The present time “is the time of the Spirit and of witness, but also a time still marked by ‘distress’ and the trial of evil which does not spare the Church” (670-72). In fact, the Catechism says, the Catholic Church rejects any claim “to realize within history that messianic hope which can only be realized beyond history”--“even modified forms” of such claims about the kingdom to come “under the name of millenarianism” (676).
-- Dave Cushing (10/13)
> Read more from the Catechism here:
> To learn more about what Catholics believe about the end times, read any of these resources:
“What Catholics Believe About the End of the World:”
“When He Comes Again:”
“Understanding the Apocalypse”
What is the current Church stance on indulgences? Catholics still believe in indulgences, although there is not as much emphasis on indulgences in popular Catholic piety today as there was in the past. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “An indulgence is a remission before God of the temporal punishment due to sins whose guilt has already been forgiven, which the faithful Christian who is duly disposed gains under certain prescribed conditions through the action of the Church which, as the minister of redemption, dispenses and applies with authority the treasury of the satisfactions of Christ and the saints” (#1471). The idea of indulgences is based on the assumption that sinful behavior inflicts a certain harm on us and on the community. This harm remains, even after the sin is forgiven. (It is like having a heart attack; even after the heart is repaired, there is some physical damage that needs to be healed. It is helpful to note, as the Catechism does, that this damage caused by sin is not "a kind of vengeance inflicted by God from without," but results "from the very nature of sin” [#1472].) An indulgence is attached to certain “healing” activities (like saying certain prayers or participating in certain devotional activities) which repair the damage done to ourselves or to others by our sinfulness. This kind of healing is necessary in order for us, either as individuals or as a community, to enter fully into God’s Kingdom (ie, “heaven”), so if it does not happen during our lifetime here on earth, it has to happen after we die. This is where the concept of Purgatory fits in. It is the process, or experience by which we are healed (or “purified”) before entering fully into the Kingdom. In the past, Purgatory was thought of as a place, marked by time. In recent years official Catholic teaching has emphasized that (like heaven or hell), Purgatory exists outside of time and space and so is best thought of as a process or experience. (For this reason, measuring indulgences in terms of days, as was done in the past, is archaic.) Pope Benedict XVI, in his encyclical letter Spe Salvi, wrote that at the moment of judgment following death “we experience and we absorb the overwhelming power of [the Lord’s] love over all the evil in the world and in ourselves.” The Pope said we cannot calculate how long this transformation takes in terms of the chronological measurements; "the transforming ‘moment’ of this encounter eludes earthly time-reckoning—it is the heart's time” (#47).
-- Dave Cushing (10/13)
You can read more about indulgences in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, #1471-1479
and in a document from the U.S. Catholic bishops, “Popular Devotional Practices—Basic Questions and Answers”
Pope Benedict’s encyclical Spe Salvi is online athttp://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/encyclicals/documents/hf_ben-xvi_enc_20071130_spe-salvi_en.html (cf. #46-48)
Do Catholics believe that only Catholics will be saved? The short answer to this question is: no. In the past, dating back to the early Fathers of the Church, it was often said, "Outside the Church there is no salvation." The most recent Catechism of the Catholic Church (1994) explains: "Re-formulated positively, [this] means that all salvation comes from Christ the Head through the Church which is his Body" (#846). However, the Catechism goes on to quote the Second Vatican Council, which said: "Those who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or his Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and, moved by grace, try in their actions to do [God's] will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience--those too may achieve eternal salvation" (#847). Again quoting from the Second Vatican Council, the Catechism says that "the Catholic Church accepts...with respect and affection" those who have are "born into [non-Catholic Christian churches] and in them are brought up in the faith of Christ.... Christ's Spirit uses these Churches and ecclesial communities as means of salvation, whose power derives from the fullness of grace and truth that Christ has entrusted to the Catholic Church" (#818-819; cf. #1271). The Catechism acknowledges what Christian and non-Christian people share in common, including "that search...for the God who is unknown yet near." It says: "...[T]he Church considers all goodness and truth found in these religions as 'a preparation for the Gospel and given by him who enlightens all men that they may at length have life'" (#839-844). In short, Catholics believe that "in ways known to himself God can lead those who, through no fault of their own, are ignorant of the Gospel, to that faith without which it is impossible to please him" (#848).
-- Dave Cushing (10/10)
Do Catholics have the same Bible as everyone else?
Catholics have the same Bible as other Christians, but since the time of
St. Jerome, who published the first translation of the Greek bible in Latin in the fourth century, Catholic bibles have included seven "Deuterocanonical" books: Tobit, Judith 1, Judith 2, Maccabees, Wisdom, Sirach and Baruch. These books were included in the Greek translations of the Jewish Scripture (the Old Testament), but not in Hebrew translations. The Protestant Reformers followed the Jewish tradition of excluding these books from scripture. Today many Protestant Bibles also include these books, which they refer to as the "Apocrypha" books. In many Catholic bibles, these books are included with the Old Testament; in some Catholic and most Protestant bibles they appear as a separate section between the Old and New Testaments.
-- Dave Cushing (04/13)
Find out more about the Bible here:
Should we really get rid of all the important things that trouble us? This question refers to the Gospel reading for Sunday, Sept. 30, from Mark 9:47-48. In this reading Jesus advises the disciples to cut off their hand, foot or eye if it causes them to give scandal. In this reading Jesus is instructing the disciples on the responsibilities of discipleship. The most serious responsibility is to avoid giving scandal, particularly to the "little ones" who could be most easily misled. Jesus is not literally recommending physical mutilation; he is saying that giving scandal is so serious that a disciple must do everything he or she possibly can to avoid those attitudes and behaviors which give people the wrong impression of what it means to be a Christ-follower. The reference to physical mutilation is a rhetorical device to emphasize how serious the situation is. It is worth noting the emphasis Jesus puts on scandal, which is apparently the most serious wrong a Christian can commit. Often Christians think that the most seriously wrong things we do happen privately in our relationship to God; Jesus seems to be saying that the most seriously wrong things happen publicly, in our relationships to other people.
-- Dave Cushing (10/12)
If the Bible is not “factual,” why should we believe it? Catholics, like many other Christians, read the Bible in search of truth, not facts. Catholics believe that the truth contained in the Bible was first revealed to human beings in human experience and history, and then recorded in Sacred Scripture in various literary forms. Many literary forms (think, for example, of fairytales) express an important truth about life, but they are not factually “true;” these forms include poems, songs, epics and myths, all of which are included in the Bible. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “The inspired books teach the truth” (#107), but God’s word is “expressed in the words of men” and is “in every way like human language” (cf. #101). The human authors chose various literary forms in which to communicate the truth which God intended to reveal to humankind. The Catechism says that in order to interpret Scripture correctly (which is to say, in order to discover the truth revealed in Sacred Scripture) “the reader must be attentive to what the human authors truly wanted to affirm and to what God wanted to reveal” (#109) because “’[the] truth is differently presented and expressed in the various types of historical writing, in prophetical and poetical texts, and in other forms of literary expression’” (#110). In other words, what we “believe in” about the Bible is the truth revealed by God and communicated by inspired human authors through various forms of literature which are not necessarily “factual” accounts of certain events.
> Read more about how the Catechism of the Catholic Church explains biblical truth here: http://www.vatican.va/archive/catechism/p1s1c2a3.htm#II ]
> You might also be interested in this article:
-- Dave Cushing (10/10)
What were the reasons for excluding certain Gospels from the Bible?
The official list (or "canon") of books in the New Testament developed slowly, over the first centuries of the church. What eventually became books in many cases existed first of all in an oral tradition which was later written down. There are numerous traditions or books which were not accepted for the official canon of the New Testament. It is not perfectly clear how or why certain books were accepted and others rejected, but it appears that the final canon emerged as a product of consensus among the leading Christian communities in the early Church. The general consensus is that some books were rejected because their authenticity was unclear (for instance, they could not be attributed to one of the apostles or early disciples), because they seemed unique to a particular location and were not as widely used in the Christian community as the books which were finally accepted, or because their content seemed to diverge too much from what was generally believed about the experience and traditions of the early Church.
-- Dave Cushing (12/09)
Are the Jehovah’s Witnesses Christians, and where do they fit on the chart of Christian denominations?
Jehovah's Witnesses considers itself a Christian denomination, although many of its beliefs are distinct from mainstream Christianity.
The group was founded as Zion's Watch Tower Tract Society in the late 1870s by Charles Taze Russell who was influenced by the The Advent Christian Church ("Adventists") which originated in Albany New York in 1845. One of the most prominent founders of the Adventist church was George Miller, who relied on the book of Daniel and the Book of Revelation to predict the imminent return ("advent") of Christ in the 19th century. Like their predessors, today’s Witnesses believe that the destruction of the present world system (“Armageddon”) is imminent, and that the establishment of God's kingdom on earth is the only solution for all problems faced by mankind.
Russell rejected or redefined many beliefs of mainstream Protestant theology including the Trinity, the inherent immortality of the soul, hellfire, predestination, the fleshly return of Jesus Christ, and the destruction of the world. Witnesses believe that the entire Protestant bible is inspired and inerrant word as well as scientifically and historically accurate. They interpret much of the Bible literally, but accept some parts as symbolic. The church is directed by a Governing Body, a group of elders based in Brooklyn, New York, which establishes all doctrines based on their interpretations of the Bible and they prefer to use their own translation, the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures.
Witnesses believe that Jehovah is the only true God, the creator of all things, and the "Universal Sovereign" but not part of a Trinity; consequently, the religion places more emphasis on God than on Christ. They believe that Jesus is God's only direct creation, that everything else was created by means of Christ, and that the initial unassisted act of creation is what identifies Jesus as God's "only-begotten Son". Jesus served as a redeemer and a ransom sacrifice to pay for mankind’s sins by dying on a single upright torture stake rather than the traditional cross They believe that the Holy Spirit is God's power or "active force" rather than a person of the Trinity. Jehovah’s Witnesses do not observe Christmas, Easter, birthdays, or other holidays and customs they consider to have pagan origins incompatible with Christianity.
Jehovah's Witnesses emphasize use of God's biblical name, which in English translates as “Jehovah.” The name Jehovah's Witnesses is based on Isaiah 43:10–12 and was adopted in 1931 to distinguish the group from other Bible Student groups and to symbolize a break with traditions established by Russell.
-- Dave Cushing (04/13)
More on how the Catholic Church understands the Jehovah's Witnesses is here: