Friday, April 25, 2008

Christ and His Church – Salvation History Part Two
(CCC 85-87; 748-962; 1113-1134; 2030-2051)

Catechism Class Eight

Before our dear Papa came to visit, we were discussing the question of Jesus Christ, whom faith informs us is consubstantial with God the Father, and who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

Now, Jesus not only taught, He established the sacraments, assuring that He would be with us to the end of time. By His Holy Spirit, Jesus provides us graces, both sanctifying and actual. It is Christ who acts in the sacraments and communicates the sanctifying grace they signify. The efficacy of the sacraments does not depend upon the personal holiness, or lack thereof, of the minister. However, the fruits of the sacraments do depend on the dispositions of the one who receives them.

By Baptism, which initiates us into the Church, the Holy Spirit is sent by Jesus, and the stain of original sin is wiped away. In Confirmation, the Holy Spirit descends upon us, completing and bringing an increase and deepening of baptismal grace. Just as when the Spirit descended upon the faithful at Pentecost, we too are given the strength and grace and perseverance to go out and spread the Good News and even endure persecution. If even only as a seed, the Holy Spirit, if you accept Him, will dwell within you and graces will grow within you, and, like the Apostles, disciples, martyrs, and saints, you will be able to do that which is impossible to do on your own. The water and chrism oil of these sacraments are sanctified by Jesus and the Cross. The very being of recipient is radically altered as he or she is anointed and joined with the Christ, which means “anointed one.”

By the Sacrament of Holy Orders, instituted by Jesus calling His apostles, the Church is passed on to the generations throughout time, while, in the Sacrament of Matrimony, Jesus is present to unite not only husband and wife, two into one, but to unite that one in marriage with God.

And by the Crucifixion, through the Sacrament of Penance, our sins are forgiven, and grace is given, if we accept it, to avoid further sin. Meanwhile, the Anointing of the Sick prepares us for the final journey in order to join Christ in heaven.

In the most obvious sense, Jesus is with us in the Eucharist. The Blessed Sacrament is His Real Presence, Body and Blood. Through the one Mass, according to his Word, Jesus is with us, not merely theoretically or as a philosophy, but physically, such that we, as bodily creatures who experience things through our senses, can be united with Him bodily, as well as spiritually. (The word communion means “in union with.”) In a profoundly intimate way, we take His body into our bodies.

Jesus also said that He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, that no one could come to the Father except through Him. (Jn. 11:25-26; 14:6) Accordingly, He established the Church as His Bride, two become one, and He gave the sacraments to the Church so that we could be with Him. Accordingly, we see that Christ and the Church are absolutely necessary for salvation.

In establishing the Church -- an “ecclesia,” an assembly set apart -- Jesus called certain men as apostles, who later appointed successors, whom we know as bishops, and assistants, such as priests, who have the power of administering the sacraments in persona Christi, as well as religious sisters who dedicate themselves to the Lord, like Mary and Martha. He told his apostles and disciples to spread the Good News and convert all nations, and He sent the Holy Spirit at Pentecost to guide and protect this apostolic Church always, so that not even the gates of Hell would prevail against Her -- One Holy Church that exists universally, that is, "catholic" -- not only horizontally, throughout time and across nations, but vertically, a communion of the faithful in this world with God and interceding saints in heaven above. The Church is also Mater et Magister (Mother and Teacher), where the successors of Peter (the pope) and the apostles (bishops) are guided by the Holy Spirit, and the Faith is protected from error.

The Church, as Bride of Christ, who abides with us always, is protected by the Holy Spirit and is necessarily perfect, just as Her Spouse, Jesus, is perfect. And like Jesus, the Church does not hate; She has only love for all, including sinners. Members may and do sin, and in doing so, they may cause scandal, leading others to question the Faith or the Church, or to fall away from the Church. As members of the Body of Christ, we must be very careful in our words and actions, so that we do not reflect poorly on the Church and cause scandal.

Because She was founded by Christ, we are not free to change the Church as we wish. Not even the pope is free to change the Church to suit his own tastes. Faith and Truth are not arbitrary, and they are not matters of opinion to be decided by majority vote. She is the One Universal Church of Christ, not the “Church of do your own thing.”

Jesus conveyed authority upon the Apostles and their successors, and He commanded them to go and preach the Good News, while promising that the Holy Spirit would continue to guide and protect His Bride, the Church, from error. The Magisterium is the teaching office of the Church. The teachings of the Magisterium, be they on matters of faith or morals, are not the personal opinions of the pope, and they are not the “policy positions” of the Church, although they are often erroneously described as such in the media. Because God is Love and Truth, the pope and the Church are bound in their teachings by love and truth. The Magisterium provides the authoritative interpretation of Divine Revelation by use of right reason, i.e. truth, as guided and protected by the Holy Spirit, so as to remain consistent with Love and Truth, on either a point of dogma or as applied to a given moral situation. That is, the Magisterium assures the truth of the faith.

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