Splendor of Truth - What We Believe


What is a mystery?

The word mystery is used by the Church and theologians in a different way than it is used by the world. The name mystery is given to “revealed truths that surpass the powers of natural reason” (Catholic Encyclopedia). An example would be the Trinity. It is a truth that God revealed to us, that we could not have ever known simply with the powers of our reason. He had to tell us. As well, mysteries are truths that can be partially understood by us, but not fully understood. Some, we can understand and explain only with the use of analogies (the Trinity), and some we cannot understand at their inmost depths (the attributes of God).

Why is the Church important? (CCC 758-769, 772)

From the beginning of the Church, Christians have realized that God created the world for the sake of the Church. The Church is God’s final “goal” for mankind. The Church brings about man’s salvation so that he can be united with God, sharing in His life forever. God made man for the intention of sharing His life with him. The Church is the sharing of God’s life with Him. The Church is the Body of Christ, and we receive the Eucharist each week, making us united to Him. It we are part of the Church, we are part of the Body of Christ. This means we are united with Him, and this is the goal of our existence – to share in His life. On earth, we lack full union with Him. We are still too attached to earthly things. The goal of our life is to become more deeply united to the Church and hence to Christ; this is the process of sanctification. As we become more and more sanctified and holy through the Church (for it is also the means by which we are sanctified), we enter more deeply into its reality, and hence share in a fuller way in the life of the Trinity.

Is the Church a physical or spiritual reality? (CCC 771)

Unequivocally both. Equally both. It is both a visible society with visible hierarchy and the mystical Body of Christ. It is both a visible society made of visible people and a spiritual community with unseen members (saints and angels). It exists both on earth and in Heaven. It is endowed with physical means and gifts and heavenly and spiritual means and gifts. Since the Church is the Body of Christ, it mimics Jesus who was both fully God and fully man. This is an extremely important truth, and many heresies have resulted (and still exist today) from trying to give one reality more importance than the other or simply eradicating one all together.

Is there more than one true Church? (CCC 813-822)

No, there is only one true Church. The Church of Christ, in its complete fullness, subsists in the Catholic Church. The Church of Christ is a reality beyond the physical, just like Jesus, who is God, is more than the human body to which He is united. (The same is true for us as well. Possessing immortal souls, we are more than simply a body.) However, the fullness of God the Son resides in and is united to His humanity, His Body. The same is true of the Catholic Church. The fullness of God subsists and is present in the Catholic Church. The Church is the Body of Christ so it makes sense that He would be completely present in His own Body. What does this mean about other religions, especially Christian ones? The Church teaches that there are elements of truth in other religions. When another religion or Christian community shares in any amount of that truth, they are united to and even a part of the Church of Christ. The more truth they share, the more they are united to the Catholic Church. But these other Christian communities and religions do not possess the full truth, the totality of the presence of Christ. In what they share with the Church, we rejoice and celebrate. In fact, this makes them our brothers and sisters. In what they are missing, the Church laments this loss, and prays and desires earnestly for them to possess all and hence be completely reunited to the Body of Christ. But there is only one Christ, one Body, and hence only one Church.

Is the Church perfect and without faults? (CCC 823-829)

This is question that cannot be answered with a simple yes or no. To begin, the Church is “unfailingly” holy because the Church is the Body of Christ, and Christ is perfectly holy. However, her members on earth are in pursuit of holiness and are in constant need of purification. Each member of the Church is a sinner and is constantly being purified. The more a person lives within the graces and the life of the Church, the more they will progress in their own sanctity. If they fall away from the life of the Church, they will fall into a life of increasing sin because the Church is the source of all grace to humanity. To summarize, we end with a quotation from the Second Vatican Council. "Christ, 'holy, innocent, and undefiled,' knew nothing of sin, but came only to expiate the sins of the people. The Church, however, clasping sinners to her bosom, at once holy and always in need of purification, follows constantly the path of penance and renewal” (Lumen gentium 8).

What does “catholic” mean? (CCC 830-835)  

“The word ‘catholic’ means ‘universal,’ in the sense of ‘according to the totality’ or ‘in keeping with the whole’” (CCC 830). Calling the Church catholic means two things. First, it means that the Christ is fully present in the Catholic Church. The Church is the Body of Christ, and therefore, if Christ is present so is His Body. Christ does not reside less in the body than He does in the Head. Where Christ is the Church is. Consequently, the Catholic Church possesses the fullness of Christ and the full means for the salvation for all man. There is nothing of God missing in the Church. Secondly, the Church is catholic because it is for all mankind, and is meant to include all mankind. Her mission is the union of the entire human race in Christ. There are no exclusions.

Who belongs to the Catholic Church? (CCC 836-838)

All mankind is called to belong to the one, united Church of Christ. Fully incorporated to the Church are those that accept all the means of salvation that the Church offers and that accept her entire organization; they are all those that are joined to the visible structure of the Church through the sacraments, the profession of faith, the Church government, and communion with one another; they are all those who willingly put themselves under the leaderships of the bishops and pope. This is what comprises being fully incorporated into the Church. However, there are many people that partially belong of the Church, and they belong to the extent that they share in these things. All men are ordered to the Church, meaning they are created to belong to it; all share the same desires of happiness and fulfillment that are promised (and given) to those belonging to Christ and His Church.

What does the Church think about non-Christian religions? (CCC 839-845)

First of all, the Church recognizes whatever is true and good in other religions. In other words, if another religion says that God is good and loving, the Church wholly agrees and accepts this part of their belief. However, if this same religion were to claim that this love God wants us to sacrifice our firstborn children to Him, the Church would not accept this tenant of this religion’s beliefs. The Church recognizes that all men are seeking God and the happiness that comes from knowing Him. Unfortunately, it also realizes that many people and religions have been deceived by the Evil One as to who God really is and what He desires for us and from us. The Church considers these common desires and the goodness and truth present in other religions as preparation for the Good News of Christ that brings all men life, peace and truth. Dialogue with people of other religions and beliefs necessarily begins with these basic desires and truths that are shared by all men.

Can a person go to Heaven if they are not part of the Church, in other words, if they are not Catholic? (CCC 846-848)

“Outside the Church there is no salvation.” This statement is a truth of our faith. It is also highly misunderstood and misinterpreted. Many people believe that this means there is no salvation to anyone except Catholics. This is not true. How do we interpret this statement?

The Church is the Body of Christ, and Christ’s presence in the world is through His Body the Church. “Christ dwells on earth in his Church” (CCC 669). All grace given to the world comes from Christ, and more specifically His Body. Therefore, all grace comes to the world through the Church. In order to attain salvation, one needs to be baptized and proclaim the faith. Baptism is the door through which we enter the Church. Therefore, anyone who understands this necessity of the Church and Baptism, and who refuses to enter it or remain in it, will not be saved.

However, there are many, through no fault of their own, that do not know the Gospel of Christ of His Church. Nevertheless, these people can achieve eternal salvation if, moved by grace, they seek God with a sincere heart and try with their actions to do the will of God as they know it through the dictates of their conscience.

In simplicity, God judges each man according to what he has been given. We all have a conscience that speaks to us in our hearts as to what is right and what is wrong. Therefore, regardless of what a person knows about the Church, he is able to lead a life pleasing to God. However, those who deny their consciences, and know the Church, but reject it willingly are responsible for what they have known and what they have been given.

Only God knows the inmost intentions of men. In order to know our own standing before the Lord, it is essential to be a person of prayer, honesty, humility, and pure intention. We need to be open to the truth, confident in God’s mercy when we are confronted with our sins, and willing to change ourselves in conformation with His will. If we have this attitude of heart, we have little to be worried about.

How does the Church want us to act toward those who are non-Catholics? (CCC 849-856)

The Lord has called us to go to all nations, preaching the Gospel, and baptizing in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit (Mt 28:19-20). He calls all men to Himself, to salvation, and to be part of His Body the Church. Therefore, the Church and each of its members are necessarily missionaries. This makes perfect sense if we believe with our hearts that only God and His ways are the perfect fulfillment of all human desires. If we truly love our fellow man, we want everyone to be as peaceful and happy as possible. We know this is possible only through the presence of God and the way of life he dictates to us through the tenets of the Church. Therefore, we must be missionaries of this truth to all men. How are we missionaries, especially to non-Catholics?

God calls some people to far away lands to preach His Gospel. However, these people are few. Most people he calls to be missionaries in their daily lives to the people they encounter, live with, and work with each day. This witness to truth is first and foremost in our actions. We need to live what we believe so that people can see the effects in our lives. If we do not live what we preach, it is obvious to others that we don’t believe what we say – otherwise, we would be living it. The words we say are important, but secondary to our actions. As well, it is essential to pray for those that lack the fullness of life in Christ because in this way, we bring grace to their hearts and lives.

What does it mean to say that the Church is “apostolic”? (CCC 857-860, 863)

The Church is apostolic because she is founded on the Apostles, which means three things. First, she was built on the foundation of the Apostles, whom Christ entrusted with the mission of leading, sanctifying, and teaching His Church. Second, because the Holy Spirit dwelling in her, the Church continues to keep and hand on the same deposit of faith given to her by the Apostles. Third, she continues to be lead, sanctified, and taught by the Apostles by their successors the bishops. Finally, all the faithful share in the mission of the Apostles and their successors (though we do not possess in its fullness like the bishops), in that we are called to be missionaries of the faith to the world by our words and deeds.

Who are considered to be the successors of the Apostles? (CCC 861-862)

The bishops are the direct successors of the Apostles. They have been anointed with the same Holy Spirit in an unbroken line from the time of the Apostles until today. The Cardinals and the Pope are also bishops. Though priests share in many of the sacred ministries as the bishops, they are not considered successors of the Apostles.

What are the different roles to play in the life of the Church? Is one more important than the others? (CCC 871-873)

To begin, all people are called to participate in the priestly, prophetic and kingly missions of Christ. All are called to individual holiness, to be missionaries by their words and deed; all are called to participate in building up the Body of Christ – the mission of all is singular. However, each person has a unique role or ministry within the Body as a whole. God calls each individual to build up the Body in a special way. There are three main groups in the Church in which the faithful can be a part.

The Hierarchy – These are the ordained ministers entrusted in a special way with teaching, governing, and sanctifying the members of the Church. It includes the Pope, cardinals, bishops, priests, and deacons.

Consecrated Life – those who are consecrated to God and serve His mission in a special way by their profession of the evangelical counsels of chastity, poverty and obedience. Some common titles of the consecrated life are nuns, monks, religious brothers, and religious sisters

The Laity – all other members of the Church not part of the hierarchy or consecrated life.

Who are the members of the hierarchy of the Church?

The hierarchy includes the Pope, cardinals, bishops, priests, and deacons.

Why do we need a hierarchy in the Church? (CCC 874-879)

To begin, "Faith comes from what is heard” (Rom 10:17). Our faith is not something that we can acquire on our own. Faith is a gift that is offered and then received. This presupposes a need for a minister of grace, one who proclaims the faith. Someone only has the authority to do this because has been given this authority of Christ. In the Gospels, we see that Christ would send out the Twelve or the seventy-two to preach the coming of the Kingdom. Giving the Church a hierarchy, or people that have been anointed with the Holy Spirit, is a safeguard for the people of the Church. It is very easy to distort truth – human beings are experts. The existence of many religions in the world shows us the variety of truth which we have managed to invent. Knowing that the hierarchy of the Church has been given the specific grace of Christ to perform the actions of teaching, leading and governing gives us the comfort of knowing we can trust in their judgments. This gift that Christ gives to His ministers is more a gift for our own security and protection than a gift to the ministers themselves. God loves us so much that He wants us to be assured of knowing the truth always. He does this by promising the presence of His Holy Spirit to the Church and her ordained ministers.

Second, on the natural level, we can see that no community can exist without organization. No company, group, or organization exists without some hierarchal structure of its members. It is necessary for its function. God is a God of order and He always works and builds on our nature. He is not out to destroy it. His Church is human, which means it will have natural characteristics. However, it is always fully divine, which means this humanity is fully elevated with supernatural grace. This is the reason we can look to our leaders (bishops, Pope, etc), not as mere leaders, but those entrusted with a supernatural grace to be able to lead the Church and its members. The key to understanding this more is to understand that this grace is primary for our benefit, and it is not an issue of who possesses the power. The hierarchy is first a servant of the people, in imitation of Christ, whom each one represents.  

Is the office of the Pope a human invention or is it an office that Christ mandated? (CCC 880-882)

The office of the papacy was directly instituted by Christ. In the Gospel of Matthew we hear Jesus’ words, “you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church… I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Mt 16:18-19). As well, in the Gospel of John, Jesus asks Peter to feed His flock. Jesus established the Twelve in a special way to lead His Church, but among these, He designates Peter as the head. Just like all bishops are successors of the Apostles, the Pope is the successor of Peter, and he is the head of the bishops and the whole Church. His supremacy is not a human invention, but a Christ-given mandate that will continue until the end of time. This understanding allows us to have trust in the Pope as our head because we understand that His authority and his office are not due to his own initiative or ability, but instead come directly from heaven. Because of this, we are able to trust him and his leadership with divine trust instead of human trust.

Is it possible for any one person or group of people to contradict or overturn a decision of the Pope? (882-887)

No. The Pope is the Vicar of Christ, meaning he represents Christ on earth. Because they represent Christ, Jesus has given His Vicars a share in His own infallibility. Therefore, he is infallible in his declarations on faith and morals. He has supreme and universal power over the entire Church, and he can exercise this office unhindered. The college of bishops (the bishops as a group) only share the same infallibility if they are in union with the Pope and one another.

Should we really put so much trust in the infallibility of the Pope? Doesn’t this put too much power into the hands of one man?

Again, with the wisdom of men, this cannot be understood. We must see his infallibility with the eyes of God. It is a safeguard for our protection. Christ gives the Pope infallibility because He wants to give us the surety that we will always know the truth about God. Through the Pope, the Lord is promising that His Vicars will represent His truths accurately, and we will always be sure that we are following His truths and mandates. We cannot look at the papacy as a position of “power,” but one of divine service. Most truly good Popes have embraced the office because they believed it is God’s will for them, not because they were seeking to be infallible or powerful. These men understand the burden and responsibility with which they have been entrusted.

It is easy to see that human beings give many interpretations to events, to Scripture, to the life of Christ, to history, etc. How are we to know what to believe? This is why God grants infallibility to His Vicars, the Popes. He wants to make sure we, the faithful, always have access to the truth. Infallibility is not a gift He gives the Pope because of the pope’s unique holiness. In fact, there have been Popes that have not been very holy at all. Despite this however, God is so powerful that His Spirit has never allowed a Pope to teach something untrue in regards to faith and morals. This is truly amazing. They key to this concept is understanding that infallibility is a gift of God to His Church because of His love for us; it is not a matter of power or personal holiness.

What does it mean to be infallible? (CCC 889-890, 2035)

It is a gift that Jesus grants its successors to be able to teach the true faith free from error. Infallibility extends to matters on faith and morals.

What people in the Church are infallible? (CCC 891-892)

The Pope, when teaching as supreme pastor of all the faithful on matters of faith and morals, is infallible. The body of bishops, when united together with the Pope (above all in an Ecumenical Council), are also infallible.

Does infallibility mean that the Pope is sinless? (CCC 891)

No. There are no men, including the Pope, who are sinless. There have saintly Popes and, unfortunately, un-saintly Popes. All of them, however, have been infallible. Again, infallibility is a gift to the Church more than a gift for the Pope himself.

What are the responsibilities of the bishops and priests? (CCC 888-896)

They have three primary duties – to teach, to govern, and to sanctify. They are responsible for teaching the faith to the people. They are responsible for sanctifying themselves and the people to whom they minister. They do this by their prayer and work, by their ministry of the word and the sacraments, and finally by their example. Last, they are responsible for governing their particular churches under their care by their counsels, exhortations and example. Their authority is sacred and from Christ, and they are govern as to edify and serve, just like their divine Master. They should govern in union with one another and the Pope.

Who makes up the laity? (CCC 897)

The laity includes all the faithful, baptized into Christ, except those included in Holy Orders (deacons, priests and bishops) or part of a religious institution approved by the Church.

What are the primary duties of the laity? (CCC 898-913)

The laity have a special vocation in the Church, as they are able to reach and be part of sectors of society that are often not accessible to priests and religious. In fact, it is in these places where they have the greatest obligation to bring the message of Christ. The primary duty of the laity is to take temporal matters and affairs and direct them toward Christ and the will of God. Simply, they are to take their ordinary, everyday affairs and divininize them, directing all to Christ. They are to bring the Kingdom of God and the love of Christ to everything they do and everyone they meet. This means they are to conduct all of their affairs according to the love of Christ and the principles of the Catholic faith. Most of the time, this is very simple. Some examples will be helpful: Restraining anger and holding back unkind words, and acting with patience instead. Offering up everyday sufferings and inconveniences and uniting them with the sufferings of Christ. Not cheating or overcharging in business affairs. Giving someone who displeases us a kind and genuine smile instead of a scowl. Working hard and ethically without complaint. Performing the duties of our lives with love, joy and simplicity. In these ways and many more, we bring the love of Christ into the world and into the lives of others. Essential to understanding the role of the laity is understanding that they do not simply belong to the Church, but that they are the Church. They are the presence of Christ – His hands, feet, and face – to all those in the world.

What are the evangelical counsels and who professes them? (CCC 914-927)

The three evangelical counsels are poverty, chastity and obedience. All people are called to be poor, chaste and obedient according to their state in life. However, there are some people who Christ calls to “sell everything and follow Him.” This is the core or the consecrated or religious life. Consecrated religious (commonly called religious brothers, religious sisters, monks, nuns, hermits, and consecrated virgins or widows) take these vows, professing to completely devote themselves to living out poverty, chastity and obedience to their perfection.

Poverty – The vow of poverty means to give up the right to possessions. Everything they use is the property of the institute to which they belong.

Chastity – This vow is a promise of celibacy of body, mind and soul. Those that profess this vow promise that their love will not be divided. God alone will suffice; their hearts, minds, bodies and souls are His and His alone.

Obedience – Obedience is always due to God, but with the vow, one is professing obedience to the superiors and the rule of his of her institute. They consider the rule of the community and direction of their superiors to be the will of God for them on earth. In taking this vow, they pledge to follow the rule of the community and the mandates of their superiors.

What do we mean when we profess belief in the “communion of saints”? (CCC 946-953)

The communion of saints refers to two things. First, it refers to the common goods and graces we share because we are part of one Body. The good of one is the good of all. Second, it refers to a communion of people, in other words, a family. We are all united into one family, in which we can communicate with one another, pray for one another, and help one another along on our journey. There are three “states” in the communion of saints, but it is important to realize that we are all connected and we can always intermingle and serve one another regardless of where we are. The exchange of spiritual goods crosses over and is in constant interchange among the three states of the Church.

Church militant – These are the members of the Church still on earth. It is called militant because we are still engaged in the battle for salvation. We are not finished fighting and struggling yet.

Church suffering – These are the souls in Purgatory. They are being purified in order to enter Heaven. These souls need our constant prayers. Not only does it help them, but it also makes their intercession for us more effective. They will intercede for us greatly when they reach Heaven due to our prayers.

Church glorified – These are the souls in Heaven who see God exactly as He is. They are in the state of perfect happiness, communing with God in Heaven. However, this does not separate them from those still suffering on earth and in Purgatory. In fact, these men and women are constantly interceding for us before the throne of God. They are some of our greatest advocates and friends. St. Therese (the Little Flower) said that she wished to spend her Heaven doing good on earth. We should constantly beg the saints in Heaven for their intercession and aid.

Are those who have died also a part of the Church? (CCC 954-959)

Yes. As we see in the previous question, those who have died in God’s grace, whether in Purgatory or Heaven, are part of the Body of Christ, the Church. Therefore, they, along with those on earth, share in the common goods and graces that Christ bestows on His beloved Bride, the Church.




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