Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ 01)
About the Catholic Church
Why do Catholics Worship Mary?
Catholics DO NOT worship Mary, the Mother of Christ - as though she were a deity. Catholics are just as aware as Protestants that Mary was a human creature, and therefore not entitled to the honors which are reserved to God alone. What many non-Catholics mistake for adoration is a very profound love and veneration, nothing more. Mary is not adored, first because God forbids it, and secondly because the Canon Law of the Catholic Church, which is based on Divine Law, forbids it. Canon Law 1255 of the 1918 Codex strictly forbids adoration of anyone other than the Holy Trinity. However, Catholics do feel that Mary is entitled to a great measure of exaltation because, in choosing her as the Mother of Redemption, God Himself exalted her - exalted her more than any other human person before or since. Catholics heap tribute and honor on Mary because they earnestly desire to be "followers of God, as most dear children." (Ephesians 5:1). Mary herself prophesied: "For behold from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed. Because he that is mighty, hath done great things to me; and holy is his name." (Luke 1:48-49). Catholics know that every bit of the glory they give to Mary reflects to the glory of her divine Son, just as Mary magnified God, not herself, when Elizabeth blessed her. (Luke 1:41-55). They know that the closer they draw to her, the closer they draw to Him who was born of her. In the year 434 St. Vincent of Lerins defended Christian devotion to Mary this way: "Therefore, may God forbid that anyone should attempt to defraud Holy Mary of her privilege of divine grace and her special glory. For by a unique favor of our Lord and God she is confessed to be the most true and most blessed Mother of God."
Why do Catholics Pray to Mary and the Saints?
When Catholics pray to Mary and the other saints in Heaven they are not bypassing Christ, whom they acknowledge as the sole Mediator between God and man. They are going to Christ through Mary and the other saints. They are asking Mary and other saints to intercede for them before the throne of Christ in heaven. "Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man has great power in its effects." (James 5:16) How much more availing is the unceasing prayer of the sinless Mother of Our Lord Jesus Christ! St. Paul asked his fellow Christians to intercede for him: "Finally, brethren, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may speed on and triumph, as it did among you, and that we may be delivered from wicked and evil men; for not all have faith." (2 Thessalonians 3:1-2) And again: "I appeal to you, brethren, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to strive together with me in your prayers to God on my behalf, that I may be delivered from the unbelievers in Judea, and that my service for Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints, so that by God's will I may come to you with joy and be refreshed in your company." (Romans 15:30-32) Christ must particularly approve of our going to Him through Mary, His Blessed Mother, because He chose to come to us through her. And at Cana, He performed His first miracle after a word from His Mother. (John 2:2-11)
It is clear in Sacred Scripture that the saints in Heaven will intercede for us before the throne of Christ if they are petitioned in prayer (Revelations 8:3-4), and it is clear in the records of primitive Christianity that the first Christians eagerly sought their intercession. Wrote St. John Chrysostom in the fourth century: "When thou perceivest that God is chastening thee, fly not to His enemies, but to His friends, the martyrs, the saints, and those who were pleasing to Him, and who have great power." If the saints have such power with God, how much more his own Mother.
Why do Catholics Believe in a Place Between Heaven and Hell Called "Purgatory"?
Purgatory is also called the Final Purification. All who die in God's grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven.
The Church gives the name Purgatory to this final purification of the elect, which is entirely different from the punishment of the damned. The Church formulated her doctrine of faith on Purgatory especially at the Councils of Florence and Trent. The tradition of the Church, by reference to certain texts of Scripture, speaks of a cleansing fire:
"If any man's work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire." (1 Corinthians 3:15)
"In this you rejoice, though now for a little while you may have to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith, more precious than gold which though perishable is tested by fire, may redound to praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ." (1 Peter 1:7)
This teaching is also based on the practice of prayer for the dead, already mentioned in Sacred Scripture: "Therefore [Judas Maccabeus] made atonement for the dead, that they might be delivered from their sin." (2 Maccabees 12:46) From the beginning the Church has honored the memory of the dead and offered prayers in suffrage for them, above all the Eucharistic sacrifice, so that, thus purified, they may attain the beatific vision of God. The Church also commends almsgiving, indulgences, and works of penance undertaken on behalf of the dead:
Why do Catholics Confess their Sins to a Priest?
Catholics confess their sins to priests because as it is clearly stated in Sacred Scripture - God in the Person of Jesus Christ authorized the priests of His church to hear confessions and empowered them to forgive sins in His Name. To the Apostles, the first priests of His Church, Christ said: "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I send you." And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained." (John 20:21-23) Then again: "Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven." (Matthew 18:18) Catholics confess their sins to priests because priests are God's duly authorized agents in the world, representing Him in all matters pertaining to the ways and means of attaining eternal salvation. When Catholics confess their sins to a priest they are, in reality, confessing their sins to God, for God hears their confessions and it is He who, in the final analysis, does the forgiving. If their confessions are not sincere, their sins are not forgiven.
By What Authority does the Pope Rule Over the Catholic Church?
The Pope enjoys, by divine institution, "supreme, full, immediate, and universal power in the care of souls". The Pope is the Bishop of Rome, who exercises universal jurisdiction over the whole Church as the Vicar of Christ and the Successor of St. Peter. Jesus gave Peter special authority among the apostles (John 21:15-17) and signified this by changing his name from Simon to Peter, which means "rock" (John 1:42). He said Peter was to be the rock on which he would build his Church (Matt. 16:18).
In Aramaic, the language Jesus spoke, Simon's new name was Kepha (which means a massive rock). Later this name was translated into Greek as Petros (John 1:42) and into English as Peter. Christ gave Peter alone the "keys of the kingdom" (Matt. 16:19) and promised that Peter's decisions would be binding in heaven. He also gave similar power to the other apostles (Matt. 18:18), but only Peter was given the keys, symbols of his authority to rule the Church on earth in Jesus' absence.
Christ, the Good Shepherd, called Peter to be the chief shepherd of his Church (John 21:15-17). He gave Peter the task of strengthening the other apostles in their faith, ensuring that they taught only what was true (Luke 22:31-32). Peter led the Church in proclaiming the gospel and making decisions (Acts 2:1- 41, 15:7-12).
Early Christian writings tell us that Peter's successors, the bishops of Rome (who from the earliest times have been called by the affectionate title of "pope," which means "papa"), continued to exercise Peter's ministry in the Church.
The term "pope" derives from the Latin for "father," papa (Greek, pappas), also used to refer to bishops and to priests in the Orthodox Churches. The Coptic Patriarch of Alexandria is also known by the title "pope." But in Western Christianity, this term refers exclusively to the Roman Pontiff, called His Holiness the Pope, who governs the universal Church as the successor to St. Peter. "The office uniquely committed by the Lord to Peter, the first of the Apostles, and to be transmitted to his successors, abides in the Bishop of the Church of Rome," who is "head of the College of Bishops, the Vicar of Christ, and the Pastor of the Universal Church," and who possesses "by virtue of his office, . . . supreme, full, immediate, and universal ordinary jurisdiction power in the Church" (Canon 331).
The Pope is assisted in carrying out his office by the bishops, the cardinals and the various offices of the Roman Curia. The Pope also has an enormously important international role, as visible symbol of the unity of the Church and as a universally acknowledged spokesman for justice, for world peace, for morality, for the dignity of the human person and for the transcendent meaning of all life on earth. In recent years, this role has been exercised in particular through pastoral visits to many countries of the world by Popes Paul VI and John Paul II.
The pope is the successor to Peter as bishop of Rome. The world's other bishops are successors to the apostles in general.
Why Does the Catholic Bible have more Books than the Protestant Bible?
The "Canon" (derived from the Greek word for rule) of Scripture comprises books of the Bible received in the Church as authentically inspired and normative for the Faith. The Catholic Church, through her Popes and Councils, gathered together the separate books that early Christians venerated; formed a collection (drew up a list or catalog of inspired and apostolic writings); and declared that only these were the Sacred Scriptures of the New Testament. The authorities responsible for settling and closing the "Canon" of Holy Scripture were the Councils of Hippo (393) and of Carthage (397 and 416) under the influence of St. Augustine (at the latter of which two Legatees were present from the Pope), and the Popes Innocent I in 405, and Gelasius, 494, both of whom issued lists of Sacred Scripture identical with that fixed by the Councils. The Church never admitted any other; and at the Council of Florence in the fifteenth century, and the Council of Trent in the sixteenth, and the Council of the Vatican (Vatican I) in the nineteenth, she renewed her anathemas against all who should deny or dispute this collection of books as the inspired word of God.
The Protestant Bibles have deliberately excluded seven complete Books that were in every collection and catalog of Holy Scripture from the fourth to the sixteenth century. Their names are Tobias, Baruch, Judith, Wisdom, Ecclesiasticus, I Maccabees, II Maccabees, together with seven chapters of the Book of Esther and 66 verses of the 3rd chapter of Daniel, commonly called "the Song of the Three Children". These were deliberately cut out of the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament started in the third century B.C. in Alexandria, Egypt and completed around 100 B.C.), based on the criticisms and remarks of Luther, Calvin, and the Swiss and German Reformers. Were it not for the resistance of the more conservative Reformers, Luther would have excluded the Epistle of St. James (which he called "an Epistle of straw"), the Epistle of St. Jude, the Epistle to the Hebrews, and the Book of Revelation from the Protestant New Testament as well.
When did the Church established by Jesus Christ get the name Catholic?
Christ left the adoption of a name for His Church to those whom he commissioned to teach all nations. Christ called the spiritual society He established, "My Church" (Mt. xvi, 18), "the Church" (Mt. xviii, 17). In order to have a distinction between the Church and the Synagogue and to have a distinguishing name from those embracing Judaic and Gnostic errors we find St. Ignatius (50-107 A.D.) using the Greek word "Katholicos" (universal) to describe the universality of the Church established by Christ. St. Ignatius was appointed Bishop of Antioch by St. Peter, the Bishop of Rome. It is in his writtings that we find the word Catholic used for the first time. St. Augustine, when speaking about the Church of Christ, calls it the Catholic Church 240 times in his writings.
What must I do to be saved?
To be saved, you must believe in the Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 16:31). However, that's not all. Sacred Scripture clearly shows other things you must also do to be saved:
The only Church that meets all the requirements of Salvation is the Holy Catholic Church.
Aren't all those statues in the Catholic Church the same as worshipping graven images?
First, one must understand what a graven image is in the context of the Old Testament. To make a graven image is to create an image out of some medium, such as clay or wood, and worship it as a God. The statues or pictures of Mary are not worshipped as a God. If a Catholic worships a statue of Mary as a God, they are guilty of idolatry.
The Lord did not forbid the making of images. In fact, God commanded Moses to shape a brazen serpent. This serpent was able to cure the people of the serpent bite, if they looked upon it (Numbers 21:8). Later, when the people turned to idolatry of the serpent, Hezekiah had it destroyed (II Kings 18:4). Here you see the balance. Images are good, if they are helpful, but not if they encourage idolatry.
Moreover, the Lord commanded that the image of two Cherubim be constructed on the top of the Ark of the Covenant on either side of the Mercy seat. Was this the sin of idolatry? I think not.
Mary is the mother of God and the saints are the friends of God. If keeping their pictures or statues helps to inspire us to a more holy life, then it is a good thing. Don't you have pictures of your family in your home? Is this idolatry? Or when someone dies, should you destroy all images or pictures of them, lest you be guilty of worshipping them?
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