Posts Tagged ‘Pope’

Holy Father in Prayer

Let us Pray with the Holy Father:

February 2011

General Intention: That the family may be respected by all in its identity and that its irreplaceable contribution to all of society be recognized.

Missionary Intention: That in the mission territories where the struggle against disease is most urgent, Christian communities may witness to the presence of Christ to those who suffer.

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Today is the feast of Christ the King, a reminder to all of us Catholic Christians of what we daily profess as our Faith at Mass, as we pray:

” Christ has died, Christ has Risen, Christ will come again”.

Through the readings of this feast day, the Church invites us not only  to celebrate Our  Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ  as our King, but to reflect on Jesus kingship and his ultimate sacrifice for our Salvation. Today’s Gospel tells us about the two thieves on their crosses, and so we should feel encouraged to meditate on those so strikingly opposing attitudes of the two thieves, the good one and the unrepentant thief.

Jesus was mocked and challenged to the point of humiliation, on His Cross. His death ‘bed’…

Pope Benedict celebrated the Feast of Christ the King by celebrating the Mass of the Rings, in which he gave the ring of office to the 24 new Cardinals he created on Saturday.

During his homily he reflected on Christ the King, reigning from the Cross.

During a discourse which described in detail the scene surrounding Jesus on the Cross, the Pope mentioned those who mocked him, and called to him to come down from the Cross. He told the Cardinals that the Gospel of the day calls us to be with Jesus and Mary:

“Do not ask him to come down from the cross, but stay there with him.”

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“‘They are a power, a command given by God through Christ to all of Christendom for the retaining and remitting of the sins of men.’”  (Reformer Martin Luther on confession, 1531)

Modern day Protestants, especially  Evangelicals,  have a problem with  many  teachings of the Catholic Church. But most of all, for them the claim that the Catholic Church makes as being the ultimate guardian of the Divine Revelation on earth, can sound not only offensive, but arrogant. The fact is that the Catholic Church indeed claims  to be the guardian of the Truth revealed to the Apostles and that she received such  Authority from Christ Himself. Many secondary issues spring from the protestant rejection of the Catholic claim for her Authority, such as the existence or the need  for Popes,  or simply the authority for a priest to forgive sins. 

Pastors and teachers are in charge of interpretation of the Scriptures to keep doctrine whole and pure among believers (Book 4 . 3. 4 – Reformer John Calvin)    

We admit therefore that Ecclesiastical pastors are to be heard just like Christ himself.  (John Calvin – letter to Sadoleto)

Before I go on discussing this, for the sake of clarity, since many non-Catholics lack some basic understanding of what Catholicism actually teaches; I feel that I need to address some fundamental concepts in order to answer this properly: 

I-Ecclesiastical Authority  
II- Apostolic Succession   

Whenever someone says “this” or “that” teaching/doctrine of the Catholic Church is not Biblical; for the sake of discussion, I must to ask them to consider a couple of important points:      

1- For almost 400 years Christianity had no published Bible, in fact, for the next thousand years after the Bible was compiled, until the printing press was invented, there were scant few Bibles available, in a world almost completely illiterate and impoverished. Needless to say that the few lucky ones who possessed a Bible were a wealthy, privileged and literate minority.      

This surely must prompt any reasonable person to ask themselves: how did the early Christians, especially those living in the first centuries of Christianity, learn the Gospel if there was no Bible?      

History tells us that they HAD to rely on the  Oral Tradition, which was passed onto them by the Apostles and then their elected disciples. This is what the Catholic Church calls Sacred Tradition ( with Capital T), which some Protestants prefer to call man-made tradition.      

2- The Church declares she is Apostolic – this is historically documented and can be proven (for instance, we can refer to the oldest document of Christianity,  The Didache 50 AD, discovered in 1886) – and that therefore, her teachings are infallible.  Since the Church is Apostolic, she proclaims also that her Authority comes from Christ. Why does she say that?      

Because Christ founded His Church upon one of the Apostles, Simon Peter or Cephas, who was the first  *overseer of the early Church ( *episcopos in Greek or bishop in English) and thus a Pope (which means father – 1 Cor 4: 14-15), and also because of Jesus’ promises to the Apostles:          

“Then Jesus also said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matt 28:18-20).      

Before I give further evidence to this, let us stop here to analyze what his last sentence (in Matt 28:20) means:      

Why would Jesus say: I am with you always, to the end of the age? Surely Jesus knew that the Apostles, like the rest of us, would expire (die) one day. This is because His promise applied not only to the Apostles themselves, but also to the disciples or successors that He, Jesus, had commanded them to make in all nations.  Obviously Jesus, in His Divine wisdom, was foretelling the history the Apostolic Succession in the Church.     

Then we see Jesus promising the Apostles the necessary wisdom to teach the Truth:      

“I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit comes, he will guide you into ALL TRUTH.” (Jn 16:12-13)  

“This things I have spoken to you, ABIDING with you. But the Paraclete, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things, and bring all things to your mind, whatsoever I shall have said to you… When the Paraclete comes, whom I will send you from the Father, the Spirit of Truth, who proceeds from the Father, he shall give testimony of me. And you shall give testimony, because you are with me from the beginning. ( Jn 14:25-26 ; 15:26-27)      

This is where the Catholic & Apostolic Church takes her assurance for her Authority, as well as the comfort for the accuracy of her teachings. Because the truth of the Gospel was received without error by the Apostles, who in turn, transmitted it without error to their disciples (2 Tim 2:2), who are the successors who later formed the Catholic Chuch in the 1st century – As, for instance, St Ignatius of Antioch, who was a disciple of the Apostle John and became the Catholic bishop of Antioch. The Catholic & Apostolic Church has preserved the Apostolic teachings throughout the centuries, and her discernment on dogmas and doctrines comes from the Holy Spirit as per Jesus’ promise, and are, therefore,  free of error.      

Furthermore, Jesus said: As the Father has sent me, I also SEND you. ( Jn 20:21). After giving the Apostles authority and reassurance of wisdom, Jesus makes it clear that His Church, which He founded upon Cephas, His Rock, is to be no less of a teacher than He Himself was.      

Our brothers Protestants may argue that Jesus was giving His authority to the whole body of believers, which was going to become His Church, not only to the Apostles. Well, this is not what Scriptures tell us. Jesus was talking to His chosen disciples not to the crowds. Had He meant that the Teaching Authority of the Church was to be given to the whole body of believers, Jesus would have either told it to all believers or commanded the Apostles to do so. He did neither.  

Furthermore, we can clearly verify how the Apostles embraced this Teaching Authority given to them in the Scripture themselves. Paul talks about this in his letters, when he says that only some have been placed in the Church as TEACHERS, not all (1Cor 12:28-29).      

For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. I am your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel. (1 Cor 4: 14-15)    

3- Confessing to a Priest

Having discussed the issues of Authority as well as Succession, I would like to reiterate that all priests in the Catholic Church are anointed in the Spirit and are, in their priestly ministry, successors of the Apostles.

But why does the Church declare the need for Confession?      

Because Jesus instituted it Himself:      

Those whose sins you forgive are forgiven, and he whose sins you retain, are retained (Jn 20:22-23)      

Jesus gave the Apostles authority to forgive sins just as He had authority given by the Father to forgive sins on earth as the Son of Man (Matthew 9:6), not as Son of God.  Jesus forgave sins while He was in the world in spite of the Pharisees’ contempt for His authority, because up until that point only God could forgive sins!      

Now, Jesus gave the Apostles the authority to forgive sins, but He did not confer to them the ability to read the minds of the sinners. How could we expect the Apostles to be able to exercise their authority to forgive without accepting that the believer would have to verbally express their sins and repentance to the Apostles?    As we can see in St. Paul’s epistoles  the Apostles did take their role seriously:

[…] ‘What I have forgiven, if I have forgiven anything, has been [forgiven] for your sake in the presence of Christ.’ (2 Cor 2:10)     

There are plenty of evidence in the writtings of the ealry Christians that the new-believers, just as the Jews would confess publicly their sins, they embraced this Sacred Tradition and confessed their sins. The problem is that many Sola Scriptura Protestants will not accept any historic document that can prove this fact, because they are ruled only by what is explicitly written in the Sacred Scriptures.

Jesus Christ arranged things so that the Sacramental forgiveness would come through the ministry of the priest. If someone argues against that he is not so much arguing with the Catholic Church, but with Christ Himself.  (P. Madri)    

Catholics are members of an Apostolic Church and for this reason we take the Apostolic character of the Church very seriously because the Lord said  to the Apostles:    

“Whoever listens to you, listens to me. Whoever rejects you, rejects me“. (Lk 10:16).     

Lastly, I is important to point out that whenever a Catholic confesses to a priest, he is confessing to Our Lord Jesus through a priest, just as St Paul tells us in (2 Cor2:10). The forgiveness comes from God, not from the priest, who is acting as a ‘alter Christus’ because of the Scriptural authority given by Jesus.   

In spite of private confession, Catholics preserve an ancient Tradition, as the Jews of the OT would do, to admit our sins  at   Mass everyday, when we recite a public Penitential Prayer:      

I confess to almighty God, and to you, my brothers and sisters, that I have sinned through my own fault in my thoughts and in my words, in what I have done, and in what I have failed to do; and I ask blessed Mary, ever virgin, all the angles and saints, and you, my brothers and sisters, to pray for me to the Lord our God.      

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Why do Catholics cross themselves three times  before the  Gospel Reading (in the Liturgy of the Word)?

At Mass, in what we call the Gospel Acclamation, all stand up and sing the ‘Alleluia’. The deacon or the priest anouces the Gospel reading, we respond with “Glory to you, Lord” and make three little signs of the cross. We then cross our forhead, Mouth and heart, this means: May I keep the word of the Lord in my mind, in my mouth and in my heart.

Why do Catholics pray seven daily prayers?

This is an ancient tradition that comes for the Old Testament, following King David, who said  ” seven times a day I shall praise your name, O Lord”. This catholic tradition is observed mainly by ordained religious, but also by lay members of the Church. Read more about this here on this blog.

Why do Catholics get ashes on our foreheads on Ash Wednesday?

To ancient Jews, wearing sackcloth and covering themselves or sitting in ashes showed repentance and humility, and acted as a penance. Thus, the early Church adopted the practice of wearing ashes at the start of Lent to show repentance too. The ashes today remind us to “Turn away from sin and remain faithful to the Gospel” and that our time on earth will pass away but our life in Heaven will last forever.

Why do Catholics use Holy Water?

The use of  Holy water in the Catholic Church has a biblical origin,  we read in Numbers 5:17 about a ritual that  is being described,  the text says, “[A]nd the priest shall take holy water in an earthen vessel and take some of the dust that is on the floor of the tabernacle and put it into the water.”

This shows that holy water not only has a basis in the Bible, but that it has been around since the days of Moses. Holy water was used for numerous Old Testament ceremonies that involved ceremonial sprinklings and washings. Today we are not bound to perform those ceremonies, but the fact holy water was used at all proves that it is not a superstitious or invalid practice invented by the Church.

Why do we believe that the Pope is head of the Church on earth?

The Church is the body of Jesus Christ. Where Jesus is the Head and we are the members. Jesus gave Peter his name, which means Rock, and declared that he will build his church on the Rock. Jesus also gave Peter “the keys to the kingdom of Heaven” (Matthew 16:19). In Jesus’ day, the person who held the keys to the kingdom represented the king, and only the king could entrust the keys to whoever he decied. When Jesus gave the keys to Peter, he was making a symbolic reference to what King David did when he gave the keys of his kingdom to his Prime minister. This was an act of trust, but it also signaled to the other ministers that the one holding the keys was the leader and could act in his authority. So Jesus was signaling that Peter was given a special role of leadership. Catholics believe that the authority given to St Peter did not end with his death, but is passed to his successors who also become head of the Church.

Why do we sing carols at Christmas? The word “carol” means song of joy. St. Francis of Assisi first introduced the joyous spirit of caroling to Europe in the 13th century. He created nativity plays in which actors sang the story of Christ’s birth in the language of the audience. St Francis encouraged the listeners to join in. In time, the carols traveled from Italy to the rest of Europe and then to the United States. Today’s custom has carolers go from house to house singing Christmas songs of joy.

Why do Catholics do that?

What is Canon Law? Canon Law is the official body of laws for the Catholic Church that govern faith, morals, and discipline.  These laws assist the Church in carrying out her mission to the world and direct the various relationships between persons, offices, and groups within the Church.  Only a pope or an ecumenical council has the authority to create canon law or interpret it for the universal Church.  The legal system of the Catholic Church is the oldest such system continually operating in the world.

Why do Catholics say “Amen” at the end of some prayers? In Hebrew, the word “Amen” shares the same root as the word “believe.” This root also expresses trustworthiness and faithfulness. When you read the gospels, you’ll see that Jesus sometimes used the word “Amen” twice in a row to emphasize the trustworthiness of his teaching. He wanted his listeners to pay special attention. So when we say “Amen” at the end of a prayer, we reinforce our faith in what we just said. We also express our confidence that God will hear our prayers.

Why do Catholics give the Sign of Peace during Mass? The first words Jesus said to his apostles after his Resurrection were : “Peace be with you” (John 20:21). After that their fear disappeared. By offering each other the Sign of Peace at Mass, we share that peace with the entire Body of Christ. Jesus also told us to reconcile with one another before approaching the altar of God (Matthew 5:23). Thus, the Sign of Peace is a gesture of Reconciliation with those around us before coming to the altar to receive Holy Communion. Note  that records from as early as around A.D. 155 by Justin Martyr show that early Christians would exchange the kiss of peace at celebration of Mass, when prayers were concluded; this tradition seem to have persisted and evolved to the hand-shake of today.

Why do Catholics make the Sign of the Cross?  Back in the second century when this practice began, it was common to honor a ruler with a gesture of respect.  Whether bowing down on one knee or touching the forehead, such gestures were ritual ways to show humility before a person of great power.  The Sign of the Cross became one such devotion to the Holy Trinity, and acted as a sign of recognition between early Christians who were sometimes forced to worship in secret.  Now a prayer in itself, each time we make the Sign of the Cross we express respect for God and call down his blessings on ourselves.

Why do Catholics bless themselves when entering and leaving church? Old Testament Jews washed with water before entering the Temple precincts.  Building on a ritual familiar to the Jews, John the Baptist used water to represent repentance of sin and purification. So when we cross ourselves with holy water entering and leaving the church, we recall that history.  But we also refer to our Baptism when the priest used water to symbolize the washing away of our sins and to protect us from evil.

Why do Catholics use rituals?  Our everyday awareness of God comes to us through our senses: Sight, sound, smell, touch, and taste.  They are the pathways to the deepest parts of our imagination and understanding.  Some rituals of the Church go back to the times when few people could read or write—but they could be drawn to Jesus by using their senses.  Now we use sacred music, bells, incense, poetic prayers—they all plant our faith deep in our body and bones as Catholics. It is important to point out that many of these symbols refer to ancient Jewish practices, such as the use of incense , which is to this day used in the Catholic Church during the incensing of the Altar, the Sacrificial Table at Mass and the Book of the Holy Scripture, the ringing of the bell during the celebration of the Eucharist and so on. These are practices that were familiar to the first Christians, who were mostly of a Jewish background.

You may also want to read this related article: Understanding what you see at Church

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