"Service above self" is a Rotary Motto.
And yet we often forget that the most basic kind of service is not the giving of money so much as doing personal “hands on” service for another person.
Theologians, who have studied the Bible, have prepared lists of works of mercy which believers should consider. These include such things as “Instruct the ignorant”, “Feed the hungry”, “Visit the Imprisoned”, “Bury the Dead”, etc.
Of course, in this connected world the giving of money is the only practical way to help in distant places, but here in St Louis personal involvement is also possible.
Remember when you reach out to perform one of these works of mercy you not only help the needy person but you give those you encounter along the way an opportunity to interact with a person perhaps from a different part of town, perhaps from a different socio-economic class. Additionally, it gives you a chance to more fully understand the life situation of others. This cross pollination of peoples is essential if we wish to build a healthy St Louis community.
If we all lived in small towns this cross pollination would happen more naturally because of physical proximity. But we live in a big city heavily segregated by socio-economic class into diverse neighborhoods. This means we must reach out and make a special effort.
Fortunately we have several people right here in our club who can help each of us find opportunities for a “hands on” service experience. Talk to insert here the names of some of your club members who are connected to volunteer opportunities.
So now let us bow our heads and say .... BLESS US O’ LORD AND THESE THY GIFTS WHICH WE ARE ABOUT TO RECEIVE FROM THY BOUNTY, THROUGH CHRIST OUR LORD. AMEN
(The following complete list of the works of mercy might be made available to attendees)
The Works of Mercy
The Corporal Works of Mercy
To feed the hungry
To give drink to the thirsty.
To clothe the naked.
To visit captives.
To shelter the homeless.
To visit the sick.
To bury the dead.
The Spiritual Works of Mercy
To admonish sinners.
To instruct the ignorant.
To counsel the doubtful.
To comfort the sorrowful.
To bear wrongs patiently.
To forgive all injuries.
To pray for the living and the dead
.... (prepared by Hugh Murray on 7/12/14 )
This essay is a brief explanation of key Catholic facts and concepts designed for readers who already have a belief in Jesus Christ. For purposes of this essay, belief in Jesus Christ requires belief in a person, a) who lived in Judea some 2000 years ago, b) who is one person possessed of two natures human and divine, c) who is the second person of a Triune God, d) who is the person who suffered and died so that mankind might be saved from the consequence of their sins, and e) who rose from the dead to fulfill the Old Testament prophecies and dispel doubt about His role as Savior and Messiah.
This essay is not intended to be argumentative or designed to win converts to the Catholic faith. There will, of course, be statements herein that might conflict with one or more belief statements of one or more other Christian Churches. Again these statements are not being made to be argumentative but simply to illuminate the Catholic view of matters.
This essay is simply intended to convey information and understanding to those who already possess a love of Jesus Christ, their God and savior, and who are simply interested in learning something about how another large Christian denomination, the Catholic Church, celebrates Christ's redeeming, saving acts through its liturgy and practices.
Because of its limited scope, this essay will not attempt to bring the reader a) to a belief in the existence of God or b) to a belief in Christ as man's savior.
II. A CATHOLIC VIEW OF GOD, MAN, AND MAN'S RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD
Catholics view God as the only independent entity in existence; everything else and every other person is dependent for their or its existence on God. Without God's active will holding these things and persons in existence these would cease to exist. God is infinitely possessed of all qualities (e.g. knowledge, good, truth, love, power, etc.) God even uses his infinite power to hold in existence that which is opposed to Him such as fallen angels (e.g. devils) and men possessed of deeply wicked intentions (e.g. Hitler, Stalin, Mao, etc.). God exists outside of any restraint including time. For God all of history is immediately present to him.
Catholics believe God has let man know about his existence by setting before man a creation which attests to God's existence and by sending His son, Jesus Christ to fulfil the prophesy recorded in the Old Testament and to redeem all people giving them a way to deal with their sins.
Man is the only creature created by God who has been given a conscience (i.e. an innate sense of good and evil), a free will (i.e. the ability to choose the good or the evil), an ability to know about birth and death, and the ability to learn acquiring knowledge to increase understanding, etc.
Man's possession of free will combined with his ability to grow in knowledge puts Man in a position of knowing about God and choosing to love God. Of course, man by himself is incapable of steadfastness in his love of God or his rejection of sin. God realizing man's fallen position following the sin of Adam and Eve sent his Son, Jesus Christ, to become a Man and to die in reparation for each man's sins and to set forth a way for God's grace to flow to man so man would have the strength to rise above his propensity to sin.
Accordingly, Catholics believe, Christ created a Church (the Catholic Church) which was to provide a way for God's grace to flow to people via the seven Sacraments, created by Christ, which the Catholic Church exclusively administers through its ordained clergy. (See the section on "the Sacraments" below)
Additionally, Catholics believe man is “made in the image and likeness of God”. This belief stems from the fact that man possess, in an imperfect, partial way, many qualities which God possess in a perfect, infinite way. For instance, man has the ability to love all be it imperfectly, while God’s love for man and all creation is a perfect love.
IIIa. HISTORY - THE FIRST THOUSAND YEARS
Catholics believe that Christ ordained the existence of a Church when he said to Peter "upon this rock I will build my church". This fact lies behind the 2000 year history of the Catholic Church headed by a string of successors to Peter, called Popes.
The Church, in the decades following Christ’s Ascension, had to deal with heresy and questions of morally correct behavior. During the first 400 years there was no New Testament or Bible. There were various writings circulating about Jesus and his apostles. However, these various Gospels and other documents did not provide detail guidance on many things. So during this period the church decided on a system to implement Jesus' plan called the Councilor system where church leaders (e.g. the Pope and bishops) would meet and decide what the Church's position would be on questions of faith (beliefs) and morals (acceptable behavior). For instance the apostles had to deal with the question of whether gentiles could become Christians without first becoming Jews. This had to be decided so the Apostles had a meeting to decide the issue under the guidance of Peter. (Acts 15) In like, fashion heretics were saying Jesus was just a very holy person, not part of a triune God, so there was a need to define the relationship of the three divine persons mentioned in the Gospels, so the bishops, the successors of the apostles, meet in Nicaea and proclaimed the mystery of the Trinity (AD 325).
During this 400 year period, Christianity grow from a few hundred believers in Asia Minor, to a growing, though persecuted, religious sect found in many cities of the Empire, to finally a fully tolerated religion accepted across the Roman Empire. The most significant event in this process occurred in 312 just a few days before the Battle of Milivian Bridge just north of Rome. The attacking force was led by Constantine (b.272 - d.337) who had had a dream in which Christ appeared with a cross and said to Constantine "with this sign, you will conquer". Constantine had his forces place images of the cross on their shields and helmets. At the battle, they defeated a much larger force led by Maxentius. Constantine went on to become the sole emperor of the entire Roman Empire. In 313 he raised Christianity from the status of a persecuted sect to fully tolerated religion.
As the Western Roman Empire began to unravel in the fifth century, a Christian named Benedict of Nursia decided to organize a group of men at a fixed location who loved Jesus Christ and wished to serve God through a life of "work and prayer". These men also wanted stability in the midst of a newly unstable world. More and more of these groups of men living at fixed locations began to appear. These places were called Benedictine Abbeys and the men living there were called Benedictine monks. These places were stable and became the repositories of both Christian knowledge but also of Roman, Greek and other knowledge. Accordingly schools sprang up in these locations. So monks not only grew crops and performed the necessary crafts for daily living but they also become educators of future generations.
This councilor system was augmented by the official certification of a standardized New Testament with 27 books in 393 AD by the Synod of Hippo. This New Testament was then attached to the Jewish scriptures, which Christians call the Old Testament, to create the first Bible. The Pope at the time engaged a great linguist and Latin stylist named Jerome (b.~340-d.420) to translate all the books of the entire Bible into well written standard Latin. Jerome's finished product was called the Vulgate. For the next one thousand years monks carefully hand copied the Vulgate again and again working to provide every church in Western Europe with a copy.
Beyond Jerome, three others deserve particular mention for their contribution in this era. Ambrose, bishop of Milan, (b.340-d.397) was a student of scriptures, he gave scholarly expositions on the scriptures and people came great distances to hear him preach and have conversations with him. One person who came was Augustine of Hippo (b.354-d.430), an unhappy member of the Manichaean heresy, who was seeking knowledge of Christianity. Augustine was highly educated and was a great speaker and debater; he was impressed with Ambrose and after his questions were answered by Ambrose he became a Christian and returned home. In Hippo, North Africa he was not allowed to be a retiring Christian content to pray, study and write. The people understanding his wisdom and speaking ability insisted he become their bishop. In that capacity he gave long enlightening and entertaining sermons and wrote several letters, books, etc. About a century later, a high born Benedictine monk was elevated to Pope this man became known as Gregory the Great (b.540-d.604). He did many important things: a) he made it clear that the Pope was the leader of the bishops and not simply one among equals, b) he established Benedict’s guiding rules, governing the lives of monks, as the standard rule for all monasteries; c) he asked monasteries to encourage some of their healthy monks to leave their monasteries and travel into pagan areas converting the tribes that had conquered the Roman world; d) he standardized the Chants used in Benedictine Abbeys; and e) he arranged for the wide distribution of Jerome’s Vulgate and the ideas in Augustine’s work The City of God. These four Jerome, Ambrose, Augustine, and Gregory are considered by Catholics to be the four early Christians that most shaped the development of western Christianity as it entered the Middle Ages.
Even after the Bible was created, the Councilor system continued to provide a means to apply Christ's teachings with appropriate precision to questions of faith and morals. These Councilor statements were binding on Catholics. Additionally there were other statements by the Popes, individual bishops, and scholars which, while important, were not binding on Catholics. Some of these non-binding statements became very important guides for future Church thinking. All these documents, particularly those authored by Popes, comprise the Magisterium, or tradition, of the Catholic Church and provide guidance for all people on hundreds of issues involving faith and morals.
IIIb. THE FIRST BIG HISTORIC SPLIT
In the 700 AD to 1000 AD period differences developed between Rome and Constantinople. There was contention: 1) over which side of the Church, eastern or western, would send missionaries to convert the Slavic peoples located south of the Baltic Sea and north of the Black Sea and Danube River and 2) over the hubris of the western church which had arbitrarily changed the Nicene formulation regarding the Holy Spirit. The original formulation had "the Holy Spirit proceeding from the Father”, the revised formulation had the Holy Spirit proceeding “from the Father and the Son”. Constantinople was the home of the most important bishop in the Eastern Church, and Rome was the home of the successor of Peter. However the Roman emperors had moved the capital of the empire to Constantinople; while Rome, and the western empire, had fallen on hard times due to repeated invasions by pagan tribes. There developed a basic disagreement over what special prerogatives the successors of Peter, the Pope in Rome, would have over all parts of the Church. This came to a head in 1054 when there were reciprocal excommunications of leaders on both sides that split the Church. This split remains in place to this day.
Following this split, the western Church under the successors of Peter went into a period of moral decline. Several Popes were elected who were corrupt, and bishops used their power to feather the nests of their illegitimate children. The Papacy was moved for several decades to Avignon (1309-1377) where it fell under French domination. Additionally, during this period, the population, suffered through the Black Death and the One Hundred Years War between England and France.
There were trends which countered all this disruption and corruption. One was the Crusades which , though it caused much death and dislocation in the Holy Land, bolstered Western Europe's enthusiasm for the faith from the eleventh century to the fourteenth century. The second was the appearance of the two great mendicant orders, the Franciscans, founded by Francis of Asissi (b.1181-b.1226), and Dominicans, founded by Dominic Guzmans (b.1179-b.1221). The men of these orders moved around living lives of self-denial and dedication to the faith. The Dominicans, also called the Order of Preachers, traveled about instructing the faithful, teaching in schools, and debating heretics. Franciscans lived lives of extreme self-denial begging for food and clothing from the rich in the morning and distributing these items in poor neighborhoods in the afternoon. The third was the explosion of beautiful art and architecture (e.g. gothic cathedrals) which helped people raise their minds and hearts to their heavenly Father.
In the middle of the 13th century a heresy,, the Albigensian Heresy (or Catherism), emerged in southern France and northern Italy which held that the all things of this world were bad and all good was located only in heaven. To combat this heresy the Catholic Church first used military campaigns but later Church leaders created a process called the Inquisition. Under this process heretics were called in and subjected to interrogation and, if needed, torture to get them to forswear their error. If the heretic persisted in heresy, they could be put to death. This Inquisition process was even more widely used as Christians completed the re-conquest of the Iberian peninsula (1492) from the Muslims. Once Christians regained control, both Muslim and Jews were subjected to the Inquisition and were given the option to emigrate to Morocco, become Christian, or die. Many Muslims and Jews wanting to keep their homes forswore their former beliefs in public but continued to practice their faiths in private. This left the Inquisition with a multi century task of attempting to identify and deal with these private heretics. The last execution by the Inquisition occurred in the first quarter of the 19 century. It is estimated that about 5000 people were executed by the Inquisition in the period 1525 to 1825 in the Iberian peninsula.
IIIc. THE SECOND BIG HISTORIC SPLIT
However, many bishops and some of the Popes continued their corruption devising schemes to strip money out of the faithful by such things as selling indulgences. These excesses triggered response from such men as Martin Luther (b.1483-d.1546), a priest in Germany, who objected to the corruption. Luther posted his objections on the door of a church in Wittenberg, Germany.
The Catholic hierarchy attempted to capture and punish Luther, but he was protected by the local royalty. He lived in their various castles and during this time he translated the Bible into German and arranged to get his work printed using the new printing press invented by Gutenberg. This allowed Bibles to be in every home rather than every Church as had formally been the case.
Luther initially thought the Catholic Church would accept his suggested reforms and that he would end his career as a priest restored to full union with Rome. It was not to be, and Lutheranism grew out of this split. Following Luther were John Calvin (b.1509-d.1564) of Switzerland and then King Henry VIII of England (b.1491-d.1547). These splits continued and continued until the world had hundreds indeed thousands of stand-alone denominations and even unaffiliated "single church" communities.
As these splits began to spread there was conflict between Catholics and Protestants. This led to a devestating war that went on for about thirty years until the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648. (To comprenhend the intensity of this war, consider that it is estimated that one third of Germany's population was lost.) This treaty and other later agreements basically allowed people to believe and practice as they wished, but the religion of the monarch would be the official religion of the domain. This led to Lutheranism in northern Germany and Scandinavia. Anglicanism in England, Calvinism or Presbyterianism in Switzerland, Scotland, and Northern Ireland; and so forth
IIId. CATHOLIC CHURCH BEGINS TO REFORM
Following the successful establishment of Protestantism in large areas of Europe, the Catholics got more serious about reform. A new religious order of highly educated Catholic priests was organized in the 1540's by Ignatius Loyola (b.1491-d.1556) to counter the spread of Protestantism. This order, called the Jesuits, established colleges across Europe where young Catholic men could be properly educated in the Faith. Additionally, the Jesuits sent a) missionaries to remote areas where Christianity was unknown and b) great preachers into Protestant areas in Europe to bring people back to the Catholic faith.
Jesuits lacked respect for some local clergy who were poorly educated or used their positions to extract money and favors from the faithful. The presence of Jesuits brought a movement toward greater Catholic reform across Europe.
The final step in this reform process was brought about by the democratizing tendency in various countries. The Church was persecuted and, after some push back, it had to accommodate itself to these new governments. The Church lost its temporal, political control of central Italy and eventually was forced into a small area of a few hundred acres where the Vatican is located today.
The Councilor System of Church governance fell into disuse from 1580 until 1870. During this time the Pope was accommodating to outside events and major political change. However, in 1870 the Pope decided to ask the bishops assembled in a council, called Vatican I, to formally give all Popes the power to declare certain beliefs regarding faith and morals as binding on Catholics. The bishops at Vatican I voted to formally give the Pope this right, even though most Catholics had attributed this power to the Popes for many centuries.
The next council, called Vatican II, was a pastoral council designed to renew the Church. This council was not called to adjust beliefs in faith and morals rather it was designed to engage the faithful in the Church. The only change to faith and morals was a less stringent standard for being saved. Prior to Vatican II, Catholics held that for those who knew about the Catholic Church salvation was only available by joining the Catholic Church. After Vatican II, Catholics believed salvation was available to non-Catholics through their own religious traditions or communities.
IV. THE MASS AND OTHER SACRAMENTS
The Catholic Church teaches that there are seven Sacraments instituted by Christ. Each is signified by an outward sign and which conveys inwardly sacramental grace to the recipient, said grace having been earned for mankind by Christ on the cross.
The Mass, otherwise known as the Holy Eucharist, is the most frequently received sacrament. This sacrament was instituted by Christ at the Last Supper when he required the apostles to "do this in remembrance of me" . The Mass as it has evolved is both a re-enactment of the Last Supper and a bloodless re-enactment of Christ's sacrifice on the Cross.
The Mass is divided into two major parts:
a) The Liturgy of the Word begins with everyone acknowledging orally that they are sinners; then scripture selections from the Old Testament, the New Testament, and always the Gospels are read and commented on by the priest/celebrant or a deacon. This part of Mass ends with the recitation of the Nicene Creed which is statement of belief adopted at the Council of Nicaea in 325 AD.
b) The Liturgy of the Eucharist follows. In this part of the Mass several things occurs. First the priest prepares bread and wine for the coming consecration, and he engages in an outward cleansing of hands as he asks God to make him worthy to say this Mass. Then the congregation asks God to sanctify the coming proceedings. Next the priest consecrates the bread and wine changing them, through the process of transubstantiation, into the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. At this point, the congregation has the most important thing in its midst that they could possibly possess, namely the Body and Blood of Christ. Then the priest makes a non-bloody offering of Christ's Body and Blood to God the Father asking Him to recall Christ's bloody sacrifice on the cross for our sins. The priests then asks God the Father to look not upon the sins of those gathered here but rather on the perfection of Christ which is being offered to Him at this time. The next part of the Mass is the recitation of the Lord's Prayer, and a mutual greeting of people adjunct to each other in the congregation with the term "peace be with you". Finally the congregation, after professing again their sinfulness and unworthiness to receive, goes to Communion. Some receive only the host, others receive under both species. Catholics believe that Christ is fully present in each species.
The Mass ends with the priest's blessing and his command sending the faithful forth "to love and serve" God and your neighbor. For centuries all Masses were said in Latin. In Latin the verb "to send" is "missa"; this is the source of the English word Mass.
The other sacrament are Reconciliation (Penance), Baptism, Matrimony, the Anointing of the Sick, Holy Orders, and Confirmation.
The most important of all seven Sacraments is Baptism which initiates a person into the Christian life. It is the sacrament that is most widely shared among all Christian Churches. Catholics believe Baptism can be performed, on infants or adults, by pouring water on the forehead by a baptized person, not necessarily a priest or deacon, saying "I baptize thee in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.". It should be noted that in non-emergency situations this Sacrament is administered by a priest or deacon at the family's parish church.
The sacrament received most frequently by Catholics following Communion at Mass is Reconciliation which grows out of Christ's instruction to his apostles "whose sin you shall forgive they are forgiven, whose sin you shall retain they are retained". This instruction requires that the priest know what sins are being confessed. Thus the need for privacy as the penitent discloses his sins. The priest then reviews the sins asking for appropriate clarifications and making suggestions on how sins, particularly repetitive sins, might be avoided. The priest might also point out that a sin can't be forgiven until some act of restitution is performed. If all the sins are ready for forgiveness the priest will ask for an oral statement of contrition that must include sorrow for offending God and the statement that the penitent intends to reform their life avoiding these sins in the future. Following that the priest, acting under Christ's injunction, forgives the penitent's sin(s) and assigns a penance (usually the saying of certain prayers for a number of days or performing some charitable act). . A practicing Catholic usually receives this sacrament 3 or 4 times per year. The Church teaches there are mortal and venial sins and that Communion may be received worthily if the communicant has only unconfessed venial sins, but that Reconciliation is required before receiving communion if the communicant has an unconfessed moral sin. A mortal sin involves a) the full engagement of the will, b) a serious matter, and c) a willful disregard of the offence given to God by the sinful act. Moral sins are not easy to commit.
The Sacrament of Matrimony is administered by the couple to each other with this process generally following a proscribed format, in an approved place, before witnesses including a priest or deacon.
The sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick is conducted for individuals facing a serious medical procedure or about to die or even those who have died within an hour or two. The sacrament is also given in group settings were several people are gathered that have serious chronic conditions that might cause sudden death or where people are already diagnosed as being beyond medical help, (e.g. in a hospice).
The sacrament of Confirmation is administered by a bishop (or his priest designee). The reception of this sacrament requires that the person possess considerable knowledge of the Catholic Church its history and its doctrines. The baptized person that receives Confirmation becomes a solder for Christ, that is someone who is prepared to defend the Catholic faith.
The sacrament of Holy Orders is administered by a bishop and it empowers the selected person, always a man, to perform the Sacraments particularly say the Mass and hear confessions. The sacrament of Holy Orders is dispensed in two steps: first the candidate receives the right to perform only five sacraments, leaving out Holy Orders and Confirmation. Later if a priest is selected to become a bishop he receives, through his second ordination, the right to perform the other two Sacraments.
V. APOSTOLIC SUCCESSION
Catholics believe that Christ, selected from his many followers, 12 apostles who became the first bishops and that he identified one of the 12, Peter, to be the first Pope. The process of picking additional bishops began, after Judas disqualified himself, when Matthias was selected by the remaining eleven to be the thirteenth apostle.
This process of picking successors has continued over the years until today there are several thousand bishops serving in nearly every corner of the globe. Every priest and bishop can trace his ordination back through the centuries to one of the twelve apostles and thus to Christ. (This statement is also true for every Orthodox priest. This is why a Catholic in an emergency can go to confession to an Orthodox priest and vice versa. )
VI. THE SPECIAL ROLE OF MARY
Catholics assign to Mary a special place of honor. Catholics believe that Mary herself was conceived without the taint of original sin so that her womb would be a fit home for Jesus before his birth and that her body was taken up to heaven immediately after her death so she might take up her duties as Queen of Heaven. Since Christ possessed two natures, human and divine, in one person; and since Mary was the Mother of the one person, Jesus Christ, she has to be considered the Mother of God. Finally, because Jesus said to John shortly before his death to consider Mary his Mother, by extension, Catholics feel Mary should be considered everyone's Mother as well.
The Rosary has been a very popular devotion for Catholics for the last thousand years. This devotion involves the saying of five decades each decade includes one Our Father followed by ten Hail Marys. Each of the five decades said are dedicated to a different but related set of events. For instance the Five Sorrowful Mysteries are in order: the Agony in the Garden, the Scourging at the Pillar, the Crowning with Thorns, Christ Carrying the Cross, the Crucifixion. The idea is to say the mystery first visualizing the scene, then saying one "Our Father" followed by the ten "Hail Marys".
The Rosary is generally said by the person holding a set of Rosary beads, simply called "A Rosary" by Catholics, which has a bead for every Hail Mary as well a dividing bead that separates the five decades one from the other. These prayer beads are dominated by an attached crucifix that signifies the starting point.
All Christians are familiar with the "Our Father" but the "Hail Mary" is a prayer created by merging the words of Gabriel at the time of the Annunciation and the words of Elizabeth to Mary at the time of Mary's visit.
The exact reasons for its great popularity of the Rosary are not really known. It seems to have four elements: a) the special relationship Mary has with Jesus and her special place in salvation history, b) the opportunity that each mystery affords the faithful to think deeply about a key event in salvation history, c) the repetitive saying ten times a short prayer, the "Hail Mary", allows a meditative feeling to develop in the mind of the person saying the rosary, and, d) the tactile feel of beads moving through fingers prayer by prayer calls forth the calming spiritual feeling that mankind has attributed to the handling of beads for several millennium. The combination of meditation and contemplation together with the touching of beads in one prayer experience is compelling.
Over the years there have been instances where Mary has appeared to people on earth. For instance, in 1531 she appeared to Juan Diego outside of Mexico City asking that a church in her honor be built; this location now has a church dedicated to Our Lady of Guadalupe which attracts more visitors than any other religious location in the Americas. In 1858 she appeared to a 14 year old girl named Bernadette in southwestern France at Lourdes; this location has attracted thousands who are seeking cures for their ailments; many have been cured as their discarded canes, crutches and wheelchairs attest. In 1917 she appeared, calling herself the Lady of the Holy Rosary, to three children at Fatima in Portugal; she gave the children predictions and requests regarding the need to pray for the conversion of godless Russia and the coming of the Second World War.
VII. THE ROLE OF THE SAINTS
The Catholic Church has a process called canonization by which certain deceased people lives are investigated and a) if they are found to have lived an exemplary life and b) if miracles are rightly attributed to the deceased person's intercession with God, then the Pope may proclaim that deceased person a saint. Once proclaimed a saint, faithful Catholics are encouraged to pray to the saint asking that they take up specific requests with God in heaven. Since there are nearly 5000 canonized saints no individual Catholic is familiar with them all.
Saints are never adored or prayed to with the expectation that the saint can do anything on their own. Prayers directed to saints are always intercessory in nature. It is true the prayer might thank the saint for the good example they provided the faithful by living a laudatory life or mentioning their particular area of patronage. For instance, the evangelist Luke is the patron of doctors, Thomas More is patron of lawyers, Joan of Arc is the patron of France, the Apostle Jude is the patron of hopeless cases, etc.
VIII. RELIGIOUS ORDERS, CATHOLIC INSTITUTIONS, THE DIOCESAN STRUCTURE.
In the brief history included in this short paper, four religious orders are mentioned: the Benedictine, Dominicans, Franciscans, and Jesuits. These four are large and have played a particular historical role in the Church's development but there are several hundred other orders which have been authorized by the Vatican to address other specific needs. These orders have included orders for men, orders for women, and orders for lay people.
Some of the larger traditions, like the Franciscans, have branches that operate with different names but follow the same rule which, in this case, would be the Franciscan Rule or rule of St Francis of Assisi. There are male Franciscans like the Franciscans of the Eternal Word (that can be seen on the EWTN cable network), the female Franciscans like the Franciscan Sisters of St. Mary (who run several hospitals in the St Louis area) , and there are Third Order groups, attached to many Franciscan orders, composed of Catholic laymen and women, that help with the work of the order.
Diocese is a word taken from a Greek word meaning administrative district. The Catholic Church adopted it to describe an area administered by a bishop. Much later the Church began to organize a few dioceses by function. For instance, all priest that serve on US military installations belong to a Catholic military diocese.
In a normal diocese, one that covers a geographic area, the bishop has many functions: assigning priests to parishes, establishing or disestablishing parishes, running diocesan charitable functions, running canon law tribunals that adjudicate such things as requests for annulments, running vocation offices that provide information to young adults who are considering a consecrated life, supporting Catholic educational institutions, arranging for the education of candidates for the diocesan priesthood, arranging financial support for parishes in poorer neighborhoods, providing means of communicating diocesan news to the faithful (e.g. newspapers, magazines, newsletters, letters read at Sunday Mass in the Parishes, etc.), visiting parishes every year or two to administer the sacrament of Confirmation, etc. Additionally a bishop is expected to participate in meetings of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops and serve on other committees as requested by the Vatican.
In a typical Catholic diocese there will be a wide variety of Catholic institutions that perform a wide array of services for the sick, the troubled, the ignorant, and the poor. Some of these institutions are run by religious orders, some by lay groups, and some by the diocese. In the St Louis area, for instance, Catholics have established four universities, about a dozen high schools, around 100 grade schools, seven hospitals, over a dozen nursing homes, several homeless shelters, etc.
There are in St Louis representative groups from over two dozen religious orders that range from Discalced Carmelites who spend their lives in contemplative prayer offering the public a quiet chapel to visit and pray quietly with the nuns who are sequestered behind a curtain, to the Benedictines who run a high school and pray as a group six times daily raising their voices in a prayerful chant to God almighty, to Mother Theresa's Missionary Sisters from Calcutta who run a house from which six nuns serve the poorest of the poor in St Louis' inner city, to a lay group, called Birthright, which advertises and urges girls and women with difficult pregnancies to call for help and financial support so the child might be brought to term and perhaps placed in an adoptive home.
IX. RECENT ISSUES AND QUESTIONS
There are a number of Catholic practices and teachings that have drawn significant comment in the news. These include the requirement of priestly celibacy, the condemnation of abortion, the teaching against artificial birth control, and the insistence that marriage be between one man and one women.
Priestly celibacy only became a firm requirement in the Western Church after the split in 1054 with the Eastern Church. This requirement was formally instituted at the Second Lateran Council of 1139. The Eastern Orthodox have retained the system that existed in earlier times. Under this system the normal parish priest is allowed to be married provided he is married at the time of his ordination. However, order priests like monks and bishops must be unmarried. Under this system most orthodox people interact with a married clergy; however, most of the bishops are selected from the ranks of the order priests and monks. In the seventeenth and eighteenth century many bishops in the Orthodox world decided to join the Roman Church. They joined on the provision that they retain their liturgy and practice of having married parish priests. Rome agreed so there has been a married priesthood loyal to Rome for centuries.
Additionally certain married ministers from Protestant Churches have become priests at Catholic parishes and, of course, remained married. Additionally, several entire Anglican churches, following the ordination of women priests in the Anglican Communion, have asked the Vatican to transfer as congregations to Rome. Benedict XVI accommodated these groups by creating an ordinariate which has its own liturgy (a slightly re-written version of the traditional Anglican liturgy), its own rules regarding priestly celibacy, its own bishop (like the military diocese mentioned above), etc. This ordinariate will be another source of married priests, particularly in English speaking countries.
All the forgoing tends to lead to the conclusion that priestly celibacy at least at the parish level will gradually disappear. This should gradually increase the number of married priests in parishes; and it should reduce the number of abuse cases, while increasing the overall number of qualified candidates for seminary training. In fairness it must be acknowledged that the additional cost associated with supporting both a priest and his family will be an additional burden.
However, it should be noted that priestly celibacy remains the norm for most of the Roman Church and this is not likely to officially change anytime soon.
On issues involving marriage and sexuality the Church depends on Natural Law analysis and a close reading of Christ's words. Here the Church looks to the design God gave human beings. If God wanted one man and one woman acting together with Him to create new human life then that creative act should be protected by the marriage vow just as a new human life thus created should be protected from abortion or infanticide. From this logic it is easy to see why the Church opposes artificial birth control. Such drugs or devices block the possibility of God acting with the couple to create new life. Also it is easy to see why the term "marriage" would be totally inappropriate for homosexual unions because such unions are unnatural and against the Natural Law and because such unions give God no opportunity to work with the couple to create new life. This logic extends easily to a logical condemnation of "test tube" babies and sperm banks.
Divorce and remarriage is very common today. However, the Catholic Church remains committed to the indissolubility of marriage because the Natural Law which argues for the creation of the family unit that protects and nurtures child development and because Christ's teachings indicate that marriages should be permanent and free from adultery. The Church realizes that marital separation is, on occasion, justified because of such things as alcoholism, financial irresponsibility, abuse, etc. But the Church does not equate legal separation with a right to remarry.
The Church teaches that a first marriage must be declared a nullity, because of some impediment at the time of the marriage, before a new marriage is allowed. An annulment proceedings requires a formal church hearing with a person appointed by the bishop to investigate and present material to the tribunal supporting the validity of the marriage. Although annulments are more common today than they were in the time of Henry VIII, many annulment petitions are not granted. A legally separated Catholic has not committed a sin and is therefore still eligible to receive communion at Mass. However, a Catholic who is divorced and remarried is living in a state of sin, his life situation indicates he is not attempting to reform his life, and he is not eligible to receive communion.
X. THE CATHOLIC TEACHING ON PURGATORY
The Catholic Church, unlike most Protestant Churches, teaches that there is a place, or a state of being, for the souls of deceased people who have died without having performed adequate penance for their earthly sins. This place is called purgatory and it is a place of both deprivation and anticipation. Deprivation because the soul is unable to be in the presence of God enjoying the intense joy of that heavenly state. Anticipation because the soul realizes that in the future, at some point, their time of purgation shall end, and they shall be admitted to heaven.
The Church teaches that certain holy people have experienced so much suffering on earth that they are immediately admitted to heaven. For example, John Paul II suffered a long illness before his death. This lengthy period of suffering combined with his exemplary life caused him to be declared a saint within a few years of his death.
The Biblical support for this teaching is found in 2 Maccabees (28:43-46) which urges people say prayers for their deceased friends and relatives asking God to have mercy on their souls. There would be no purpose for such prayers of petition to God if the fate of these souls was totally settled. (It should be noted that Maccabees is not found in many Protestant Bibles.)
XI. CATHOLIC VIEW OF GRACE
Catholics believe there are two kinds of grace, actual grace and sanctifying grace. Sanctifying grace flows to anyone who worthily receives one of the seven sacrament. Actual grace goes to any baptized Christian who prays, or otherwise raises his heart and mind, to God and who is free from any unforgiven mortal sin(s).
Going further, Catholics believe there is no salvation for a person who dies with an unconfessed, unforgiven mortal sin. Normally a mortal sin is forgiven through the reception of the sacrament of Reconciliation. In an emergency a mortal sin can be forgiven by the recitation of a perfect act of contrition which is a statement of sorrow for personal sin(s) because such sin is offensive to God who is all good and deserving of all our love.
XII. CATHOLIC VIEW OF FAITH AND GOOD WORKS
Catholics believe that faith in God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirt, is necessary for salvation. Further, Catholics believe that faith in God can't be arrived at through human effort alone, God's grace and help is necessary for a man to come to belief in God.
For Catholics, good works are an outward sign that God's grace is active in the believer. In other words, while good works are not needed for salvation, their presence is a good outward sign of an inner reality.
At the time of the Reformation some Catholic leaders held that good works were necessary for salvation, this position has been changed to a teaching that good works, while not needed for salvation, are useful: a) for helping our fellow man in this life, and b) for reducing the punishment for sin that the believer will have to endure in Purgatory during the next life.
XIII. OF CARDINALS, MONSIGNORS, AND OTHER CATHOLIC TITLES
In the Catholic Church there are over a dozen titles. Some are honorific, some designate a temporary transitional status, and others a permanent, or long term appointment.
Cardinals and Monsignor are basically honorific titles. There are sometimes special, occasional duties to be performed by these . For instance, Cardinals are called upon to elected a new Pope when the office falls vacant. The addition of the prefix "arch" to the word bishop is essentially honorific as well. While bishops have real duties, archbishops are simply bishops performing the same duties in a more populous place.
There are a welter of titles that are temporary or transitional. An usher, acolyte, or lector is a name given to a lay Catholic who is performing certain duties at Mass. Titles, such as sub-deacon or transitional deacon, are given to seminaries as they approach their time of ordination. In religious orders titles, such as novice, or scholastic, are used for members in transition to final vows or ordination. Finally, there are titles, such as brother, which can be transitional or permanent.
Of course there are a few titles that designate permanent positions with important regular duties. Parish priests run parishes, bishops run dioceses, and of course, the Pope runs the whole church. Since Vatican II, parish priests have been assisted in their duties by permanent deacons who assist at Mass and deliver communion to sick parishioners at their homes.
ON UNIQUE CATHOLIC PRACTICES AND SACRAMENTALS
Catholics over the last two millennia have developed a wide array of practices and physical things that remind Catholics of their ever present relationship with and need for God.
To mention a few practices: 1) making the sign of the cross 2) morning and evening prayers, 3) grace before a meal, 4) genuflecting upon entering a Church, and 5) developing the habit of saying a short prayer, called an ejaculation, several times a day, examples might include “Lord have mercy on me a sinner” or "all for the greater honor and glory of God", etc. All these done to focus the mind on God.
To mention a few physical sacramentals (i.e. physical things that call God to mind): 1) taking up some Rosary beads and saying the prayers, 2) blessing oneself by taking holy water (i.e. water that has been blessed by a priest) on the tips of the fingers before making the sign of the cross, 3) hanging crucifixes or crosses on the walls in the home or placing a statute of Jesus, or one of saints on a table top, etc. In these examples, the sacraments involved are the "Rosary" beads, the holy water, and the various statues or items on walls. Sacramentals are often blessed by a priest just before they are placed into service. Once blessed a Sacremental maybe be given, but not sold, to someone else.