Catholic Culture Trusted Commentary
Catholic Culture Trusted Commentary

The Father William Most Collection

Short Catechism

[Published electronically for use in classes taught by Fr. Most and for private theological study.]


Very early, God chose one people, the Hebrews for special help. This does not mean He gave no help to others. He did always take care of others, but in different ways.

First, He called Abraham from Ur near the north end of the Persian Gulf. He do not know the time, perhaps 2000-1700 BC. His family moved north to Haran.

When Abram was 75 years old, God told him to move to Canaan. He did it, with his wife Sarai, his nephew Lot and their followers. God promised Abram his descendants would be as numerous as the stars of the sky. Abraham believed God, and thus became justified, i.e., right with God (Genesis 15). It was his faith in God that made him righteous. This came true even before Abram was circumcised, for God ordered that later (Genesis 17). God also promised he would have a son Isaac, even though Sarai had been sterile and was 90, and Abram was 99. That son Isaac, came the next year. Yet sometime later-not sure how long - God told Abram to offer Isaac in sacrifice, Again Abram believed God, even though it as probably while Isaac was very young, and the promise of a large progeny had not started to come true.

That Isaac married a kinsfolk, Rebekah. Abram left all his possession to Isaac, died at age of 175 (Genesis 25).

Isaac had twin sons, Esau and Jacob, but God changed the name of Jacob to Israel.

Jacob had twelve sons, specially loved Joseph. His brothers became jealous of him sold him as slave in to Egypt. There the wife of his master Potifar wanted sex with Joseph. Joseph refused, and she falsely accused him, and he went to jail. There he interpreted dreams of two former servants of the King. One of them was restored to the court, the other executed.

When the King himself had strange dreams, the courtier whose dreams he had interpreted remembered. Joseph was taken out of prison, and foretold 7 years of great crops, then 7 years of famine. The King made him Vizier.

His prophecy came true. In time even his father Jacob had to send to Egypt for grain, in time of famine. Joseph pretended not to know his brothers, played cat and mouse with them, but finally, dramatically: I am Joseph your brother.

Before dying, Jacob gave a blessing to his sons, and especially Judah:

"The scepter will not depart from Judah until Shiloh comes". It came true: there was always some kind of ruler from the tribe of Judah until 41 BC, when Rome imposed Herod on them as tetrarch, and in 37 as king. So it was time for the Messiah.

God had foretold the Messiah in many prophecies, starting already in Genesis 3. 15: "I will put enmity between you and the woman."

That woman turned out to be Our Lady, mother of Jesus. Isaiah foretold the virgin birth and that the son of the virgin would be even God the mighty. Yet Isaiah also foretold his terrible sufferings, in chapter 53, and his birth in Bethlehem, n Micah 5.

Ten Commandments

Some time passed in Egypt. A king came who did not know of Joseph; He oppressed the Hebrews. One of those children, saved from drowning by being found in the river in a basket by the king's daughter, was Moses. Moses had to flee to Midian after killing an Egyptian. There he had a vision of God in a burning bush. God told him to go back to Egypt and free His people. After ten plagues, they were free. He led them to Mt. Sinai, where God came them the ten commandments. God also made the covenant of Sinai with them: If you listen to my voice and obey, you will be my favored people.

Long after the Exodus from Egypt, God gave them a King, Saul. But he provided unfaithful, was replaced by David, who was a great man, and conquered many of the enemies of the Hebrews. But his son Solomon though he started well, yet fell away from God's will. So God sent a foolish king after the death of Solomon who was Rehoboam. This led to the split of the kingdom into north and south.

Many of the later kings were bad, and people began to hope for a good king, the messiah. That was Jesus

Reasons for our faith

How can we be sure the Church has a commission from Jesus to teach?We start with the Gospels, , but do not at once claim they were inspired- that needs to be proved later on. Two phases in the proof. First, we see that whoever wrote the 4 Gospels wanted to get the facts about Jesus - their eternity depended on it. They also could get at the facts, e.g., Pope Clement I, elected 88 or 82, wrote to Corinth c. 95 AD and said that Peter and Paul had been of his own generation--He or others in Rome had heard them preach. , So they could get the facts. Also St. Ignatius, second or third bishop of Antioch after Peter was eaten by animals in Rome c. 107. In his letter to Rome, on the way, he told them not to get him off even if they could: He wanted to die for Christ. So we know he was not just faking things. One facing the lions does not do that. There are other proofs too. But we ask: Can an incident that happened be reported without subjectivity getting in? It often does get in, but some events are of such simple structure there is no room, e. g, when the leper stood before Jesus asking to be healed. "I will it. Be healed". No room for distorting the report of so simple an event. .

So we can get at least some simple things about Jesus from the Gospels.

We find six things in the Gospels there was a man Jesus - He claimed He was sent from God- he proved that by miracles worked with a tie between the miracle and the claim-- he had a special group with the twelve, and told them to continue his work. Finally, through their testimony and the written reports we learn that He said several times: He who hears you hears me." That means we see a group or church, commissioned to teach by someone sent from God, and promised divine protection on its teaching. We not only may but should believe their teaching.

They can then tell us that the Gospels are inspired, that the messenger is God, that there is a Pope, and what he can do.


We do not know how early it was written, but it contains the essential truths we need. THis Church, with His promise as we saw, of divine protection, can tell us the needed truths. In fact, if the whole Church, people and authorities believe something (accept it as revealed), the Holy Spirit does not allow them to be in error, thanks to His promise.

We can find revelation both in Scripture and in Tradition.

First Article: I believe in God the Father almighty, Creator of heaven and earth.

We call Him Father since everything, including ourselves, comes from Him. He is pure spirit, no body at all, is all powerful, can do anything by merely willing it.

He made everything out of nothing- for there was no material existing before he made it. And he keeps all things in being- if He were to withdraw His hand, things would fall back into the nothing of which they came.

He is unchangeable-- so there is no time with him. And he is eternal, no beginning, no end.

The First Epistle of John says He IS love. For there cannot be duality in Him, He and his Love. To love is to will good to another for the other's sake. He wills good to us for our sake.

Did He use a process of evolution to make our race? Not impossible, but no proof of that either. If he did he made natural laws to bring about the evolution of things. But whenever anything higher appeared, that higher being would have to come from Him especially the human soul of the first humans.

It was not that He needed us that He created us - rather, His generosity wanted to have someone to receive His goodness. so when we read He created for His own glory it does not mean He was trying to gain something- He is infinite, cannot gain at all. Rather, glory as a matter of fact come to Him because He does good to us.

His providence guides everything, even though he leaves us free will in our personal decisions.

He willed all to be saved from the sins they commit in free will. So He sent Hi Son to die for us, to make eternal life possible for us. His Son paid the infinite price of redemption for us- anything done by an Infinite Person is of infinite worth. And so He bound Himself to offer us grace and forgiveness without limit- except for what we reject of course. .

How does this work out? First, He wills all to be saved--He proved His love by sending His Son to such a death. Second, He looks to see who resists His grace gravely and also persistently- so persistently that he throws away the only thing that could have saved him. Sadly then, God decrees to let such a one go to eternal ruin. Thirdly, all who have not been let go in this way He predestines to heaven. But not because of merits, which have not even been mentioned yet, but because in the first place He wanted us to have that, and they who are predestined are not blocking Him. so, see Romans 6. 23:The wages of sin is death; the free gift of God is eternal life.

So we live with the outlook of children-- they know they do not earn the love an care they get-- it come because their parents are good--yet they could earn to lose it.

To come back to free will: in giving it God bought a package-- it would open the way to immense good, and immense evil.

Besides humans, and before them, He created angels, who are mere spirits, no body. They did not at first have the vision of God. If they had had it, they could not have fallen. But many of them did reject God's will and fell. They are the evil spirits, the devils, Since God gave free will to devils when they were angels, He permits them to tempt us. But as a countermeasure, He give also a good angel as a guardian to each of us.

Our souls too are immortal, like the angels, and we too can have reward or punishment after death.

God gave our first parents some command- not sure what it was. they disobeyed, fell from favor or grace. Hence they did not have the grace they once had to pass on to their children. So children arrive in the world without- that state is called original sin.

God had given Adam and Eve - or whatever their names were-- not just human nature, but a special gift making it easy for them to keep all the drives of their nature each in its proper place. He gave them also the divine life of grace. By sinning, they lost, threw away all but the basic humanity. So children arrive without grace, as we just said.

It is said our mind is darkened and will weakened- not that a part of its powers are taken away- no, but without that special gift making it easy to keep all of them in place, some of them at times get out of order, emotions cloud our judgment and we are pulled to sin.

We mentioned that he might have used a process of evolution, guided by himself and enriched at many points to produce our race. Did he really do that? We do not know. Scientists who speak of evolution really think things could lift themselves by their shoelaces to higher and higher being- they did not notice: where would the extras, the higher things come from. So it is foolish. and the evidence they offer is almost nonexistent. Darwin thought there were many forms in between fish and birds, for example. But the fossil record does not show such things. so a meeting of 160 top scientists in Chicago in 1980 recognized this fact and said it was not the way Darwin thought. They said instead: a species might stay the same for millions of years, then by a fluke, suddenly jump up to something higher in the same columns But they offered no proof-just imagination. They say that IF they suppose that, it explains many other things. But such a possibility is no proof.

Second article: the Incarnation

The Redeemer promised long ago to Adam and Eve in Genesis 3. 15 was the only Son of God. He took on a human nature. This does not mean that the Second Person of the Holy Trinity was changed- no, He merely took on the human nature. And so Jesus is still only one Person, the Divine Person, but He has two natures, a divine nature, and a human nature. The word Christ means the anointed one. The corresponding Hebrew word would be the anointed one, the Messiah, promised for so many centuries.

His human nature is like ours except hat He was without sin. He became man to redeem us from our sins by suffering and dying.

During the first centuries of His Church there was much discussion about Him. First, was He divine. The Council of Nicea in 325 said yes, which should have been clear all along. Then the Council of Ephesus in 431. had to say there is only one Person in Him, a divine person. Nestorius had said there were two persons, a divine person, a human person. Then Mary would have been the Mother only of the human person, and so the title Mother of God would not be right. But it was right.

The clarification that He was one Person with two natures each staying distinct came most clearly at the Council of Chalcedon in 451.

From the first instant of His conception His human mind saw the vision of God, in which all knowledge is present. The Church taught that repeatedly, starting with the Mystical Body Encyclical of Pope Pius XII in 1943. Really, we could reason to that answer ourselves. Any soul will have the vision if it has grace, and if the divinity joins itself directly to that human soul or mind. Of course Jesus had grace. And the divinity joined itself not just to His human mind, but to His whole humanity- so closely that there was just one person.

In Luke 2. 52 we read that He advanced in Wisdom. But that meant only that He began to show what always had been there. Later, in Mark 13. 32 He Himself said He did not know the day of the end. But as Pope Gregory the Great explained, that really meant only this: He had that knowledge in His human mind, but the knowledge did not come from His humanity.

The incarnation is a marvelous mystery. Plato in his Symposium said no god associates with men-- he believed in one great god, and many lesser gods. But they were all too high to associate with us. Aristotle said that there could be no friendship of a man with a god, distance too great. Yet it is true, the Divine Person did take on a human Person. What would these great philosophers think if they read that, and if they also heard He was willing to die horribly to redeem us!

Third Article: He Was Conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary

When we call Mary Mother of God we do not, of course, mean that she produced the divine nature. But she did give birth to the God-man. Suppose Mrs. Jones has a son John. She did cooperate with God in making his human body, but not in making his human soul. Yet we do not say she is the mother of the body of John, but is the mother of John. Similarly we say Mary is the Mother of Jesus, who is God, and so she is the Mother of God.

The conception took place when the Archangel Gabriel came to her and asked her to consent to be the Mother of the Redeemer. She did consent, she said: Be it done to me according to your word. Then at that very instant the son of God was conceived. She was a living tabernacle of the divinity for nine months!

Since He had no human father we speak of the virginal conception, that is a conception without the work of a human father. Immaculate conception means something else: it means from the very first instant her human soul had sanctifying grace, and never had original sin.

The Gospels speak of the brothers and sisters of Jesus. But Hebrew had few words for various relatives and so used the words brother and sister for almost all kinds of relatives. Yes, the language of the Gospels, Greek, did have such words, but the writers very naturally followed the pattern of speaking of their own original language. So the Church was not wrong in teaching that she was a virgin in conceiving Jesus, in giving birth, and ever after so the Creed speaks of her as ever-virgin.

The Gospel calls her "full of grace". That is the best translation of the Greek. To say "Favored one" is to neglect the language picture.

The Church also since the second century has spoken of her as the new Eve: just as the fist Even really contributed to bringing the damage of original sin, so she, the new Eve, really contributed to removing that. She gave the Second Person of the Holy Trinity the very body in which He could die for us. That is clearly a great cooperation. Further the Church in our times, led by the increasing light of the Holy Spirit, tells us that she even had a role in the sacrifice of Calvary itself. She continued what she had said at the start: Be it done to me according to your Word. At that hour, the will of the Father was that He should die, die then, die so terribly. She was asked to agree that it be so. That is what St. Paul calls the obedience of faith, the obedience that faith is. For any soul, when it knows the will of the Father, ought to positively will what the Father wills. She knew then, she obeyed, even though her immense love for Him would want it otherwise.

We are not surprised, then, that after sharing in earning all graces at such suffering to herself, she should also a role in distributing all graces. So she is the Mediatrix of All graces.

At the end of her life, she was taken up to heaven, not just in soul, but also in body. This is called the Assumption. It was defined in 1950 by Pius XII. Then she became the Queen of the Universe, by the side of Her Son, the King of the Universe.

In line with this, Pope Paul VI on the floor of Vatican II, declared her Mother of the church. For the members of the Church are members of her Son, in being His Mother, she became also the Mother of all His members, which we are.

Fourth Article: "Suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried" crucified, died, and was buried"

How did the Redemption bring about its effect? It was a new covenant. At Sinai God told the people: if you obey, you will be my favored people. In the Upper Room before He died, Jesus began the new Covenant. The condition then was His obedience to the Father, who called on Him to die. On the next day He carried out that pledge, and she, as we said, joined with Him in obeying the Father.

Calvary was also a sacrifice. In a sacrifice there are two things - outward signs, and interior dispositions. The outward sign on Holy Thursday was the seeming separation of body and blood-- two species separate. On Friday it was the physical separation. In the Mass there is again the same outward sign as on Holy Thursday. But in all these the interior, which is the most essential, was His heart obeying the Father. She as we saw, joined in that obedience.

The death of Jesus meant He gave up in suffering and dying, more than all sinners together had taken away from the scale of holiness. Then it, like a two pan scale, was finally rebalanced. She too, as we saw, share in giving up more than we can calculate, and so joined with Him.

At the Last Supper He said: Do this in memory of me. He wanted that firstly, so we could join our obedience to the Father to His as He comes again on the altar. Secondly, the Mass provides the title, as it were, for giving out all graces. No more title was strictly required, but the Father loves to have everything as full as possible: hence the Mass. The Mass is a sacrifice because it has the two elements- the outward sign (same as He used on Holy Thursday) and the interior disposition of obedience, continued from Holy Thursday. She joins now in both just as she did at the original sacrifice.

Fifth Article: "He Descended into Hell, on third day He rose from the dead."

Hell does not mean the hell of the damned, it means just the realm of the dead. There were the souls of the just who died before His death, but who were not admitted to the vision of God until after His death. Souls then had no regular means of knowing what went on on earth, nor could they join in the grand liturgical praise in the temple, nor did God exercise the covenant there. Nor did they do any work there.

Jesus came to take them out of that drab existence.

We can say either that He rose form the dead-- by His own power-or that the Father raised Him. One refers to His humanity, the other to His divinity.

Many saw Him after that resurrection, There are two things about His appearances: 1) He ate with them and let them touch Him, to prove He had real flesh; 2) His body was no longer subject to the limits of our bodies. He could come and go instantly, could go through a locked door without opening it. After the resurrection, if we are faithful to Him now, our risen bodies will be like His.

Sixth Article: "He Ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of the Father"

After 40 days of appearances He finally left this world, rising in the air. This was a way of making clear that He no longer would operate within the conditions of this life. It did not mean that heaven was somewhere above the clouds.

He went up to receive the glory of the conqueror of sin and death, and to be our Mediator with the Father, and to send the Holy Spirit, to lead us into all truth.

He ordered the Apostles to preach to all nations. They were slow to grasp the import of this- since the Old Testament prophecies seemed to mean all gentiles would become Jews. It did not mean that. It meant that gentiles and faithful Jews were together to form one People of God: Ephesians 3. 6.

So He is now forever King of the Universe, with His Mother at His side, as Queen of the Universe.

There is some confusion today about His presence today. In a sense He is present where two or three are gathered together; in sense He is present in the liturgy, especially the Sacraments. But by far the greatest presence, entirely in a class by itself is His physical presence in the Holy Eucharist, a sense that far surpasses all the others.

Seventh Article: "From there He will come again to judge the living and the dead"

At once after death each soul receives its particular judgment, assigning it to heaven or hell, with a possible stopover in purgatory. At the end there is a general judgment. We do not know the precise form it will take, but it will makes clear to every human how just every one of His judgments were.

The fact of this particular judgment of course rules out another earthly life in reincarnation.

Hell is basically the pain of losing God. Now we can go easily without thinking of Him. Then the soul will know -- even if it does not see Him directly-- what He is like, will intensely long for Him. After the resurrection the body too will suffer, as the Doctrinal Congregation said in 1979: There will be a repercussion on the whole being of the sinner. It will be a pain in every way comparable to that of being in the kind of fire we know in this life.

If a soul has not all its bills paid (rebalancing the objective order for its own sins) and if its ability to see God is not yet sufficiently refined, then there is purgatory. We are grateful for that, for without it there could be no vision of God for such a soul. We know this fact from the teaching of the Church. but we also can look at 1 Cor 13. 12 which says we will see God face to face. Now He has no face, the soul has no eyes, but it means we will see him as directly as I see you now - really, more directly. For I do not take you into my head, I take in an image of you. That works, for even though images are finite, so are you. But no image could represent the infinite God. So it must be that He joins Himself directly to the soul, without even an image in between. But then we thin of Malachi 3. 2:He is like a refiner's fire: who can stand when He appears?" If a soul would try to join with Him when it is not yet fully pure, that fire would burn it, and if the soul is so corrupt as to be in mortal sin, it would be hell. Otherwise, purgatory.

The chief suffering of purgatory is the temporary loss of God. Is there also something like fire? The western part of the Church believes that, but the Eastern part, which is also part of the Catholic Church, has no such tradition. So we are left at sea.

We do not know how long a particular soul may spend in purgatory. So we should never stop praying for those dear to us. St. Augustine in His confessions, 10 to 15 years after the death of his mother, asked for prayers for her.

Eight Article: "I believe in the Holy Spirit"

The presence of the Holy Spirit in souls makes them holy, that is it gives them the basic ability for the face to face vision of God in the next life. It is in this sense we say He is present, a for a spirit does not take up space, is present wherever He causes an effect.

He brings the Seven Gifts. They are: wisdom, understanding, knowledge, counsel, fortitude, piety and fear of the Lord. They each perfect certain basic virtues: Four of them perfect the intellectual virtues. Understanding gives an intuitive penetration into truth. In order to judge divine things, wisdom perfects charity; knowledge perfects the virtue of hope; the gift of counsel perfects prudence.

The other three perfect virtues of the will and appetite. The gift of piety perfects justice in giving to others that which is their due. This is especially true of giving God what is His due. Fortitude perfects the virtue of fortitude, in facing dangers. Fear of the Lord perfects temperance in controlling disordered appetites.

The gifts given to the Apostles on Pentecost included these seven, but also the charismatic type of gifts, e.g., the ability to speak in strange tongues.

Ninth Article: "The Holy Catholic Church, the Communion of Saints"

The Church came into being when Christ died on the Cross. It was formally inaugurated on Pentecost. .

All Christians are members of Christ, that is, of the Mystical Body of Christ. We call it mystical for want of a better word. It is not the kind of unity found in a business corporation, or in a physical body- it is in a class by itself. We become members of that Body by Baptism,

On this earth the Mystical Body is called the Church Militant, because it must struggle against the world, the flesh and the devil. The Church Suffering are the holy souls in purgatory. The Church Triumphant is those in Heaven.

By virtue of this union we can help the souls in purgatory and they can pray for us. The souls in heaven can also pray for us.

The word saint in St. Paul's Epistles does not mean high moral perfection: it means one has come under the new covenant.

There are four marks of the Church: one, holy , Catholic and Apostolic. We do not mean they are clear enough to prove the Catholic Church is the true Church, though it actually is.

It is one, since Christ established only one Church. It is holy not that all members are holy, but that Christ gave it all the means of holiness. It is Catholic in that it is universal. God wills all to be saved, and to come to the knowledge of the truth in the Church. It is apostolic, because it goes back to the Apostles. The Pope and Bishops have their authority in succession from the Apostles.

Just as Peter and the Apostles formed a body or college, so in a similar (not identical) way, the Pope and the Bishops form a college. The Pope is always able to act alone, without the college, but he usually does work with it in the solemn things.

The Church is also called the People of God. God invited the Jews to be His People in Exodus 19. 5: "If you really hearken to my voice and keep my covenant, you will be my special people." You will get favor if you obey. But God also intended that all people should become part of that People, as St. Paul wrote in Ephesians 3. 6.

The Church has a teaching authority, the Magisterium, i.e., the Pope and Bishops. Whenever they present something as definitive, or final, that teaching is infallible, if directed to the whole Church. Even teachings not presented as definitive deserve internal acceptance - the track record of the Church over the centuries even on this level is marvelous.

It is said there is no salvation outside the Church. That is true, but we must understand the official texts the way the Church means them. Several times- Pius IX in 1863, Pius XII, in Mystical Body Encyclical, Vatican II in Lumen gentium 16, and John Paul II in Mission of the Redeemer 10-- all teach that a person can reach heaven even if he does not formally enter the Church, if he keeps the moral law known to him interiorly with the help of grace. But this is true only if he could not help it or if he does not know that the Church is from Christ. Then he may be excused as long as that situation lasts . But even if he does not formally put his name on a parish register, he may be a member of Christ.

St. Justin. c 145-50 said that many in the past centuries were Christians, because they followed the Divine Word, which was within them. St. Paul in Romans 2. 14-16 tells us that the gentiles read what the Spirit of Christ writes on their heart, telling them what they need in moral matters. If they follow that, they are following the Spirit of Christ, and so, even if they do not know it, are Christian. Further, because they follow the Spirit of Christ, as St. Paul said in Romans 8. 9, they belong to Christ -- which means they are members of Christ, which means members of His Church, substantially, even if not formally.

The fact that this is true does not mean we should not try to bring in those outside: they have richer graces there and greater safety, and it is the will of Christ that we try to do this.

The Church is of divine origin, the state, of human origin. In Romans 13. 1-2 St. Paul says we should obey higher authorities, and in v. 4 says they even have the right of capital punishment.

But just as each individual needs to worship God for his own needs, so also the state as a state really should worship God, in the way He has made known, if it can find that.

Vatican II in Decree on Religious Liberty said each one has a right to freedom from coercion (jail, fines etc.) to hold his own beliefs, even if they are in error. He has the right to act on them individually or in groups, within due limits.

The Council also taught that the state must provide due custody for public morality, and keep the other Churches from improper persuasion aimed at the less intelligent or the poor.

Tenth and Eleventh Articles: "The forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the Body"

Forgiveness is offered us without limit, because of the infinite price of redemption. Yet individuals may reject these offers, and in rejecting, may be eternally lost.

There is a general resurrection at the end of time. The risen body will then be incapable of dying again. If the person has been faithful to Christ, his body will be similar to His, it will be real flesh, yet no longer subject to the limits of flesh as it is now: the spirit, the soul, will dominate and control all, even that body.

Twelfth Article: "And Life everlasting. Amen"

We spoke of purgatory and hell above.

What is heaven like? By grace we become sharers in the divine nature (2 Peter 1. 4), which means we get the basic ability to see God face to face, with not even an image in between. That is, He joins Himself directly to the soul and by that means the soul knows Him.

When we die the lights go on, that is the power of our spiritual soul to know is freed from the limits imposed by the material brain. Then it intensely desires God, knowing what He is like even before reaching that vision. The happiness coming from that is beyond description. It can never get dull, for God is infinite.

We will have the joy of seeing our dear ones there and all the Saints, and especially the Blessed Mother.

Our bodies will then be freed from all limits, pain, death, and corruption. If a person wishes he can go instantly to any part of the universe.


These are really a code of basic morality. God did not give them because He liked to exercise authority - no, it does Him no good if we obey. He gave them for two reasons: 1) He loves all that is right and good, and that means creatures should obey their Creator, children their father. 2) He intensely wants to give us good. But that is useless if we are not open to receive - the commandments really tell us how to be open. At the same time they steer us away from evils that lie in the very nature of things, e. g, a hangover after getting drunk, or a high risk of a loveless marriage after much premarital sex.

As a result, the Old Testament tells us that the law is wisdom, for it tells us what is beneficial to us.

First Commandment: You shall not have other gods before me.

This of course forbids worshipping idols. The prohibition of

images means only that we must not adore them. God Himself ordered Moses to make an image of a bronze serpent, and those who looked at it got well. God also ordered that there be images of two angels on the top of the ark of the covenant.

We should also avoid superstition, that is, offering worship in an improper manner, e.g., prayers that if said for a set number of days will have an infallible effect. Sadly there is even worship of satan today.

Sacrilege is also forbidden which is scornful treatment of a person, place or thing dedicated to God. To receive Holy Communion in a state of sin is sacrilege, another mortal sin.

Second Commandment:Do not take the Name of God in vain

This means we must not use the name of God, or Jesus, in an empty way. Ordinarily this is no more than venial sin, but much to be avoided.

Blasphemy means any speech, thought or act that shows contempt for God. It is very grave.

People sometimes confess cursing or swearing and mean merely that they said damn or hell at times. Of course, to wish evil to anther is very wrong. But to use these words without meaning that, is not sinful, just very bad taste.

If we make a vow , a promise to God, we must carry it out. How grave the sin of violating the vow is depends on the intention of the one who made the vow - to make it bind under mortal sin, or only venial.

It is lawful to take an oath if there is good reason. But a false oath is perjury.

Third Commandment: Keep holy the Sabbath day

By the authority of Christ- whatever you shall bind on earth, is bound also in heaven; whatever you loose on earth is loosed also in heaven-- the Church has transferred the observance from Saturday to Sunday.

Then we are required to take part in the Mass unless a grave reason excuses us. To take part does not strictly require making the answers and singing, though in general these are good. The essential is to join our obedience to the Father to that of Christ on the altar. He expresses His continued obedience by the seeming separation of body and blood in the two species of bread and wine - which stand for death, which the Father had ordered Him to undergo.

Sunday should also be a day of rest. The New Code of Canon Law in canon 1247 said: they must also keep from such work or business as would inhibit the worship to be given to God, the joy proper to the lord's day , and the due relaxation of mind and body. So, much latitude is given. But to merely do all day Sunday the same as on other days would surely be wrong.

Fourth Commandment: Honor your Father and Mother

Jesus Himself gave the example of honoring His Father and Mother. He went down to Nazareth and was obedient to them, even though He was and is God Himself. That obedience binds strictly only until one reaches legal age. After that it calls for real respect. Children who treat their parents - in teenage-- as if the parents do not know anything - sin gravely on this matter.

The word honor meant especially financial support of parents when in old age they fall into need. It is the divine social security system: when we are small, they provide everything, and put up with much. When they are old, it is our turn.

If they do not need financial, support, they surely need psychological support - to merely put them in a nursing home and then never or seldom call is very wrong.

After the death of parents, there is an obligation to pray for their souls. Since we do not know how long that may be needed, we should never give it up.

Fifth Commandment: Do not kill

This does not forbid capital punishment. St. Paul in Romans 13. 4 says that it is not without cause that the civil authority bears the sword. It is a minister of God's anger. We could still consider capital punishment undesirable- but to say it is wrong is to contradict Scripture.

Anger, since it leads in the direction of murder, is sinful. If it is only a little more than the situation calls for it is venial. Normally it is not mortal unless it goes to extreme excess, e.g., getting and acting as if you were out of your mind in anger. To desire revenge is easily mortal - though in some cases that is only an idle thought not really meant.

Our Lord called for love of even enemies. But to love is to will good to another for the other's sake. Hence if we at least include others in our prayers in general, we can comply with this requirement.

There is a double effect principle: At times we do one thing, and it has, equally directly, two effects, one moral, the other immoral. This can be permitted if: 1) one does not intend the evil; 2) the good and evil are at least in balance. This can apply to bombing a military target by the side that is fighting justly in a just war.

We are obliged to take ordinary care of our lives -- but not extraordinary.

To take drugs or alcohol to the extent that it seriously damages one's ability to think and make judgments is mortally sinful. It does not seem we can excuse smoking from all sin - on the one hand, there is no benefit to be gained - on the other, there is a serious risk to ourselves, and to others who may be affected by passive smoke.

As to medical treatments, we are obliged to use what is ordinary. The Doctrinal Congregation in 1980 said to decide what is extraordinary we must consider: the type of treatment, its complexity or risk; its cost, both in money and in physical suffering - and compare these things with the result that can be hoped for, considering the state of the sick person and his/her physical and moral resources.

Risky experimental means may be used with the consent of the patient if there are no safer and sufficient remedies. To intend to kill directly is gravely wrong.

An organ transplant can be permitted if the loss of the organ does not kill the donor or cause a disproportionate risk.

Direct abortion is always a grave sin. But surgery to correct imminent danger to the life of the mother from a pathological condition if an organ which is removed will indirectly cause the death of the fetus, can be permitted. But a condition that is merely the result of pregnancy would not justify this indirect killing.

Direct sterilization is gravely wrong.

Suicide is always gravely wrong - though a person who commits it may be so far mentally confused as to diminish the responsibility.

War can be permitted only under the double effect principle: to correct some grave evil when all other means fail; when the good effects are foreseen to at least balance the evil (which includes a well-founded hope of winning; there must be no direct killing of noncombatants except where the double effect principle warrants it.

To have in place intercontinental missiles that would destroy a whole city or large area, so as to go beyond the range of the double effect principle is still permitted. But it would not be permitted to use them even in retaliation.

Citizens have a duty to aid their country unless the cause is manifestly unjust. St. Augustine wrote to a soldier Boniface: Do not think that no one can pleas God who is a soldier... . when you arm yourself for battle, think that even your bodily strength is a gift of God.

Sixth and ninth commandments: Do not commit adultery or covet your neighbor's wife.

To seek sexual pleasure outside of marriage is morally sinful. To accept it when it offers itself, outside of marriage is also mortally sinful.

So not only external acts which by nature are apt to arouse sexual pleasure themselves are forbidden outside of marriage, but also thoughts and desires that are deliberately aroused or accepting them when they come on their own - these are forbidden.

If a thought offers a sinful pleasure and the person simply accepts it and takes it in to enjoy it, that is gravely sinful. But if he/she tries to get rid of it, even if it take a dozen tries before it settles, even if the feeling hangs around during that interval, there is no mortal sin, more likely much merit. There is also a tricky pattern good to know about: if one is occupied with something that holds attention partly, then one of these thoughts may crawl into the back of the head, unroll itself like a movie, run for some time until there is a wakeup point; Oh Oh, I should not be having that. - If then the person gets busy against it, there is never a mortal sin up to that point.

Masturbation is in itself gravely sinful. Because of the powerful effect of the feeling on one's judgment in the case of someone addicted to it from childhood, there can be a diminished responsibility - how far diminished only God can judge.

Having the homosexual appetite is a disorder, but is not sinful in itself. But to indulge it is always mortally sinful.

Contraception is really only mutual masturbation. But Natural Family Planning is using the principles God Himself has built into us. If done for sufficient reason, there is nothing wrong. NFP, as studies show, strengthens a marriage.

Premarital sex as was said above brings with it a grave danger of a loveless marriage, for the partners are not then seeking the wellbeing of each other (love would do that) but are just using each other for sinful pleasure, putting each other into a state such that if death happened along, one or both would be wretched forever. That is not love, it is more like hate. It is evident that real love cannot develop in such a situation - though it may feel like real love, for the chemistry is the same both when there is love and when there is not.

To separate the two functions of marriage, procreative and unitive, is wrong. So test-tube babies are wrong.

Marriage lived according to the Fathers' plan is even a means of sanctification. In the courtship period, the differences of male and female psychology are papered over. Later they appear. Each then could say honestly: I need to give in most of the time to make this work. To do that is the opposite of selfishness, and promotes spiritual growth. Generosity to children and proper raising are also sanctifying. To get up at 3 AM to care for a baby for an indefinite time, if intended as part of God's plan, could be called a holy hour.

To train self for sexual control, mortification, giving up legitimate things, is a great means. Of course much prayer, especially the Rosary, is important too. But at a time of great temptation it is more helpful to say at intervals short prayers - instead of a long prayer that as such is very open to distractions. The distractions will be the temptation itself.

Seventh and Tenth commandments: Do not steal or covet anything of your neighbor

Theft is the secret taking of anything against the reasonable wishes of the owner. If taken openly, it is robbery. If something is stolen by deception or fraud it is cheating. All are wrong of course.

Not only those who do these things are guilty, but those who advise or help them, who buy, sell or keep stolen goods knowing they are such.

All these things can be mortal sin if the amount taken is equal to a day's wages for the person from whom it is taken. If it is taken from a very rich person in a day, if extremely large, there can be grave sin. The same can be said of stealing from a business firm.

These sins require restitution. To retain the stolen property is an extension of the sin. The one who did it can never be forgiven until he actually gives it back or prepares to do so.

Gambling is sinful if one risks more than he/she can really afford, risks money needed to support the family. Betting is similar. They can be an addiction.

It would be wrong for an employer to offer an inadequate wage and say: If you do not like it, go elsewhere, when really there is nowhere to go.

All have an obligation to help the poor. There is a sort of scale: in one column we list the degrees of need, from desperate need which if not met means death, to minor degrees of want. In the other column we list the degrees of difficulty in helping. If one would otherwise really starve, he may take what food is strictly necessary. At the other end of the scale, where there is just ordinary need, we cannot normally specify that a particular person must help, when there are others who could help.

We have set out what is needed to avoid sin. Real charity is apt to give more, of course.

We should practice detachment, that is, not let material things get a hold on us such that they lead us to even venial sin. Greed makes it hard to see spiritual things. So Jesus said it is harder for a camel to go through a needle's eye than for a rich man to enter heaven.

Eighth Commandment: Do not bear false witness

A lie is any statement, which when properly interpreted, is known by the speaker to be false. Notice "when properly interpreted." It is normal in all speech to pay attention to the context, for that affects the meaning. So if Mother sends the child to the door to tell the salesman she is not home, that is not a lie. It means: "Maybe she is here, maybe not. But if she is she does not want to see you." Again, to have in place mass destruction missiles at first sight seems to say: "If you shoot, I will shoot." But the context is that of a nation in international policy. Clearly, no one should expect a nation to give away its international secrets. So in reality, it gives no information.

A lie is usually venial, if it does little or no harm.

Hypocrisy is acting out a lie. Flattery is insincere praise in the hope of gaining something.

Modern media have great power. It is known they often slant the news. Even a news broadcast can slant while appearing to be honest, if it gives senator A a chance to give his reasons, but merely mentions Senator B is opposed.

Advertising is normally exaggerated, and since we expect that, moderate exaggeration is not a lie.

There are four levels of secrets: 1) natural secrets-- by nature should not be revealed. 2) promised secrets -- after the item is revealed, a promise of secrecy is asked and given 3) Committed secrets are those revealed only after an advance promise of secrecy. The promise may be explicit, or implicit, coming from the nature of the case as in professional secrets. The common good demands that these be kept. 4) Confessional secrecy is the most absolute. No reason at all could justify revelation.

With the fist 3 kinds of secrets a proportional reason could justify revelation for the public good, that of civil society or the Church, or even the individual whose secret is revealed.

The term "uncharitable speech" can mean one of three things; 1) slander-- making a false charge. Always grave sin, and retracting is mandatory. 2) Detraction- revealing the true fault of another without proportionate reason. Here we must consider both the reason and how much damage is done. Most people tend to underestimate the damage. We consider also other factors: if someone said he saw a sailor drunk, it is less than saying the Bishop was drunk. 3) Uncharitable speach is talk between two who already know the facts. Then: what reason do they have for talking?

Rash judgment is not had when we say for example that murder is wrong - but it is rash when we say we know the interior dispositions of the one who does it.


Latin sacramentum first meant an oath of allegiance to a military commander. Christians soon referred this to Christ, but also broadened the word to mean anything religious and mysterious. But more precision was desired, and so by 12th century it was limited to meaning a sacred sign, established by Christ to give grace.

Only baptized persons can receive the other sacraments validly, so that they count. Also, an adult needs the intention to receive. For valid and fruitful reception of Baptism, Penance and Anointing, faith, hope and at least imperfect sorrow for sin is required.

Sacraments give or increase sanctifying grace, that is, give or increase the ability of the soul to see the direct vision of God in the next life. They also give sacramental grace, that is, a title or claim to receive actual graces as needed to carry out the obligations imposed by the sacrament received.

In addition, Baptism, Confirmation and Holy Orders produce a character in the soul, which cannot be erased. Hence they cannot be repeated.

Baptism and Confirmation

Baptism removes all guilt of every sin and cancels all punishment do to sin. Penance can also forgive all sins after baptism, but a liability to punishment may still remain.

The infused virtues of faith, hope and love are given along with grace at Baptism, and a beginning of the Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit.

Baptism is necessary for salvation, though when a person without any fault does not know of it, he can still be saved by faith, which includes belief in what God teaches, confidence in His promises, and obedience to His commands. It is certain that unbaptized infants do not go to hell, from the teaching of Pius IX. Can they reach the vision of God? Probably, but the Church has not settled the question.

Confirmation is the second stage of Christian initiation. It is especially intended to give strength to hold firm in the difficulties of life especially in a world hostile to Christ.

Eucharist and Mass

The Eucharist gives not only grace but the Author of all grace. Christ is present in different ways to us - where two or three are gathered together, and in His word in Scripture. But only the Eucharist gives the physical presence of Christ, body, blood, soul and divinity. That presence continues as long as the appearances of bread are still present in the recipient. So there should be some time spent in thanksgiving after receiving.

Obviously the Eucharist was instituted at the Last Supper. Jesus said if one does not receive His body and blood he does not have life. But as with Baptism, there can be an excuse in those who have no chance and do not even know of the Eucharist.

The Mass is a true sacrifice. For a sacrifice needs two things- outward sign, and interior dispositions. The outward sign in Mass is the same as on Holy Thursday -- seeming separation of body and blood, standing for death. On the Cross there was the physical separation. But in all, the interior is the disposition of obedience to the will of the Father. Jesus said: "Do this in memory of me", providing for the Mass so we could join our obedience with His.

All grace is bought and paid for by His death - yet in His love of good order, the Father wills the Mass: 1) so we may join our obedience to His, as we said. We are saved and made holy only in as much as we are His members and like Him. Cf. Romans 8. 17: "We are heirs together with Christ, provided we suffer with Him, so we may also be glorified with Him." 2)in his love of good order He loves to provide a title for giving out the fruits of the Cross.

The people can offer in the Mass in two senses: 1) the priest goes to the altar in the Person of Christ, whose members they are; 2) They join their dispositions of obedience, adoration, contrition, thanks and prayer to that of the priest, and that of Christ on the altar. Vatican II spoke of spiritual sacrifices (On the Church 10 and 34) which means offering up the difficulties of ordinary life along with Him.

At Mass it is good to recall the participation of His Mother. She joined in the sacrifice on Calvary by her obedience to the will of the Father. In the Mass, her interior disposition is still the same. And the body and blood offered came from her.

The sacrifice itself is complete when the double consecration is completed. All else is not essential to the sacrifice. Yet Holy Communion follows and is required. Lack of preparation for it, and lack of thanksgiving after it may result in no gain in grace at all, perhaps even a spiritual loss.

Sacrament of Penance

Jesus established this on His very first appearance to the Apostles after His resurrection, as told in John 20:"Whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven them; whose sins you shall retain, they are retained." The priest cannot forgive without knowing what he is to forgive. Hence confession of all mortal sins is required as minimum. Doubtful mortal sins need not be confessed, but it is good to confess them, as doubtful. It is also helpful to confess even venial sins. The priest will also assign a penance, to help make up for the temporal punishment left over even after sins are forgiven.

Sorrow for sins is required of the penitent. Best is sorrow for having offended God who is so good in Himself, not only good to us. Even sorrow out of fear of hell will suffice if there is at last some bit of the higher contrition, for offending God who is so good to us.

If a mortal sin is committed, one must go to confession before receiving Holy Communion. In an emergency pressure case -- one must receive to avoid giving away the fact he is in sin -- one may spend a few minutes thinking over the reasons for contrition. Then he may receive, but should get to confession as soon as reasonably possible.


The Church can draw on its treasury of what is earned by Jesus, His Mother, and the Saints, and can pass it out in cases it judges suitable. A plenary indulgence, if received, gives cancellation of all punishment due to sins. To gain it, one must do the prescribed work, and also receive Holy Communion the same day, and go to Confession within a few days on either side. He must also be free of all attachment to venial sin. Thus if one had the policy: I will not commit every sin, but I make a reservation, e.g., if it gets hard to keep up a conversation without indulging in some detraction, I will do that. This sort of thing is a clamp on the heart, as it were -- no progress spiritually beyond that point is possible until the clamp is removed.

Prayer for the intentions of the Holy Father is also required: an Our Father and Hail Mary or equivalent can suffice.

Plenary indulgences are not so common today as they used to be. One can be had for, e.g., adoration of Blessed Sacrament for at least a half hour; reading Scripture for at least half an hour; making the Way of the Cross; reciting the Rosary in a Church or in a family group.

The Church also gives a plenary indulgence at the moment of death even if a priest is not to be had, if the person is in the state of grace, has been in the habit of reciting some prayers during his life, and has the intention of gaining it.

In a partial indulgence, the Church as it were doubles what would otherwise be the satisfactory value of some good work we perform.

Sacrament of Matrimony, Marriage

God Himself established marriage in paradise. Jesus raised it to the dignity of a sacrament. Not clear just when He did so, perhaps at the wedding of Cana or else in Mt 19. 9 when He made it indissoluble.

The ministers of the Sacrament are the two parties. The priest or deacons is only the official witness. However unless the Bishop dispenses, Catholics must marry before a priest or deacon or it is invalid.

Since it is a sacrament, it gives an increase of sanctifying grace, and also sacramental grace - the grace o carrying out the obligations the marriage imposes.

Marriage is in the form of a contract. Cf. especially 1 Cor 7. 1-4.

The proper use of marriage is morally good as Vatican II taught in Church in Modern World #49. So to take all the difficulties in it, which are so common, as something in accord with the Father's plans, is sanctifying. Pope Paul VI wrote that, "Marriage is a long path toward sanctification". (cf. on this W. Most, Our Father's Plan pp. 145-49). Since the psychology of male and female are so different, even though it does not show during courtship, it does show later. Then each one can honestly say: I need to give in most of the time to make it work. That is the opposite of selfishness, is sanctifying. And care of children if taken as part of the Father's plans is also so. And if there is need to take care of baby at 3 AM with this intention, it could be called a holy hour.

The indissolubility of marriage is needed by the nature of things for the sake of the children.

Sadly we must fear some parties today grow up as psychological infants - they do only what feels good, as long as it feels good, and then stop. They are hardly in shape for the permanent commitment and the give and take that marriage must be.

It used to be said that the primary purpose of marriage is procreation and rearing, and the secondary, mutual love and support. Vatican II changed the language, but said the same thing in Constitution on Church in Modern World §§49 and 50.

St. Paul in Ephesians says that marriage is an image of the union of Christ with the Church.

The Church by the authority of Christ has set up certain impediments to marriage. We must observe these.

The Sacrament of Holy Orders

The Council of Trent defined that at the Last supper when Jesus told the Apostles: "Do this in memory of me," He ordained them priests. On Easter Sunday night He gave them the power to forgive sins: John 20-22-23.

There are three degrees of the Sacrament of Orders: Deacon, Priest, and Bishop. The Holy Spirit is received in each. A character is imprinted, which makes it impossible to repeat the sacrament.

So all three are members of the hierarchy , a word that does not mean higher-archy , but sacred government.

This sacrament conforms them to Christ. But more important still is the personal holiness that this sacrament calls for. Even in speaking of His Mother when a woman in the crowd said: "Blessed is the womb that bore you", He replied; "Rather blessed are they who hear the word of God and keep it." He was comparing two dignities, that of the Mother of God, that of hearing and keeping the word of God. She is of course at the peak in both categories.

The Anointing of the Sick

The Council of Trent defined that Jesus instituted this Sacrament. It said it was insinuated in Mark 6. 13, but promulgated in James 5. 14-15.

The anointing with oil stands for strengthening the one anointed. So it is to strengthen the sick person for his last illness and death. But it need not and should not be put off until almost the very end. Special aid is needed against the assaults of satan that are apt to come near the end.

If the sick one cannot confess, this anointing can remit even mortal sins, provided that the sick person had, in faith, been sorry for sins with at least imperfect contrition. It can also remit to a certain extent the temporal punishment remaining after sins are forgiven. Sometimes it gives a physical improvement, if God so wills.

It may be received by anyone who is in danger of death from illness or who is aged enough to be weakened.

It can be given even when the person is unconscious or when he has lost the use of reason, provided that he/she would likely have asked for it while in possession of their faculties, and probably had at least imperfect contrition.

In any doubt of whether the person is still alive, it may be given conditionally. There is sometimes an interval between seeming and actual death, especially in sudden death.

It can be given before surgery if the illness in itself is serious.

If the person gets better and then falls again into danger the Sacrament may be repeated. It may also be repeated if the illness gets notably worse.

The oil is blessed by the bishop on Holy Thursday. But in a case of need, any priest can bless just enough for the occasion. If olive oil cannot be had, any vegetable oil may be used.

The sick person should be encouraged to offer his sufferings in reparation for sins, in union with Jesus and His Mother. We should help those who are dying by being at their side , and by whispering short prayers with or to them. It is good to offer them a crucifix to hold and venerate if they can do so.

The Sacramentals

The generosity of Our Father is so great that it seems He never can do enough for us. He made the Redemption itself as rich as possible, by going beyond infinity - an Incarnation in a palace, without death, would have been infinite. He added to that the cooperation of Our Lady. He gave us the Mass and the Sacraments. In addition, He gives us a real wealth of what we call sacramentals.

Sacraments were instituted by Christ; sacramentals were instituted by His Church. Sacraments have the power within them to as it were automatically give grace, if only the one who receives does not place an obstacle. Sacramentals do not do that. Yet they have great power, from a twofold source, from the prayer of the Church, which is His Mystical Body, and from the good dispositions of the one who receives. It is evident that we need to work at receiving the sacramentals. (We need also to work to get the best from the Sacraments. Pope John Paul II (Redemptor hominis § 20) said if one does not try hard, he could even take a loss from frequent Holy Communion).

There are many kinds of sacramentals: they may be actions, words, or objects to which the Church either gives a ritual blessing, or by which the Church teaches we can obtain certain graces.

Examples of sacramental actions are the gestures, postures, bodily movements that are officially associated with the Eucharist and the other sacraments. Genuflecting and kneeling, folding hands, making the sign of the cross, bowing the head or the whole body -- these are all examples.

There are also sacred words, such as indulgenced prayers. We notice too there is a difference between private prayers, and those which are said in the name of the Church, by those appointed to do so, the Liturgy of the Hours. Vatican II spoke of the Divine Office as "the voice of the Church, or of the whole Mystical Body publicly praising God."(On Liturgy § 99)

Objects that are sacramentals can include buildings, blessed food or drink, clothing, medals, vestments, religious habits, rings for marriage, Rosaries, medals and Scapulars. Holy Water is found at the entrance to our Churches, and is used by the faithful entering and leaving. It is also good to have a bottle of it in the home, as an aid against the temptations of satan, and for other purposes.

Of course we cannot take up every kind of sacramental, the list is much too long. But we can comment on some specially important sacramentals.

Fast and abstinence are sacramentals of great importance, yet they are often neglected today, since the Church no longer specifies very much in this category. In the early Church there were two days of fast each week with very little or no food. In 1966, Pope Paul VI greatly mitigated the law of fasting. The Bishops of many nations have dispensed from Friday abstinence. However not even the Pope can dispense from the basic obligation of penance for sins. Hence the U. S. Bishops in their document on Fridays, pointed out that if one eats meat on Fridays, he must do something equivalent instead. Many err today saying: Let us just be positive, do nice things and forget the negative. However, the negative has a special kind of value. If someone were to eat only one food element, even the best, there would soon be deficiency diseases. Similarly, even though love is the greatest virtue, it is not enough to just be nice to people: negative mortification is indispensible for spiritual eyesight, which is improved when we cut down the pulls of creatures upon us, by giving up things. Those pulls, if we let ourselves be strongly gripped by them, make it just so much less easy for our hearts and thoughts to rise to the divine level (cf. Matthew 6. 21:"Where your treasure is, there is your heart also").

A specially great sacramental is the Rosary. There is an ancient tradition that St. Dominic received the Rosary from Our Lady in an apparition at Prouille in 1206 A.D. as a weapon against the Albigensian heresy. What is entirely certain is that in one way or another, numerous Popes have spoken of St. Dominic as author of the Rosary, without pronouncing on the authenticity of the Prouille vision. They have strongly recommended the Rosary. Vatican II in its Constitution on the Church § 67 wrote that whatever the Church has ever recommended in Marian devotion should still - in spite of updating - be considered of great importance. Not long after, Pope Paul VI in his Encyclical Christi Matris Rosarii pointed out that that statement obviously included the Rosary. Countless are the favors individuals have experienced through the Rosary. The whole Church benefited especially when in October 1571, Pope St. Pius V announced that the Christian fleet had won a decisive victory over the Muslim fleet at Lepanto in the Gulf of Corinth. The Muslims were trying to take over all Europe. The Pope explicitly attributed that victory to Rosary processions being held the day of the victory. Our Lady at Lourdes and at Fatima called for a great increase in the prayer of the Rosary, declaring it one of the conditions needed for world peace and the conversion of Russia.

High on the list of sacramentals is also the Brown Scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. There are many Scapulars, all valuable, but this one is eminent among them. There is a very ancient tradition that St. Simon Stock, Superior of the Carmelite Order in England in 1251, after imploring the help of Our Lady, was favored with a vision in which she gave him the Scapular, saying: "This will be a privilege for you and for all Carmelites, that he who dies in this will not suffer eternal fire." The historical evidence for this vision is very impressive, and gives at least some degree of moral certitude that the vision really did take place. To gain this promise one must be enrolled in the Confraternity of the Scapular. Pope Pius XII, on the 700th anniversary of this vision, wrote to the Major Superiors of the Carmelites, clearly showing his belief in it: "For not with a light or passing matter are we here concerned, but with the obtaining of eternal life itself, which is the substance of the Promise of the Most Blessed Virgin which has been handed down to us." However, the Pope warned that the mere physical wearing of the Scapular is not enough: "May it be to them a sign of their Consecration to the Most Sacred Heart of the Immaculate Virgin, which in recent times we have so strongly recommended." If one then uses the Scapular as the outward sign of living such a Marian consecration, then faith in the fulfillment of the promise is well justified. In fact, Pope Pius XI said (Explorata res, Feb. 2, 1923): "Nor would he incur eternal death whom the Most Blessed virgin assists, especially at his last hour. This opinion of the Doctors of the Church, in harmony with the sentiments of the Christian people, and supported by the experience of all times, depends especially on this reason: the fact that the Sorrowful Virgin shared in the work of the Redemption with Jesus Christ." In other words, a solid Marian devotion will assure one of reaching salvation, even if the vision to St. Simon Stock might not be authentic. Also, when Vatican II said that all things recommended by the Magisterium of the Church towards her should still be considered matters of great importance, the Scapular was clearly included, for numerous Popes have recommended it strongly.

There are many religious medals that are sacramentals. One of these is the Scapular medal. It may be used in place of the cloth scapular, although the cloth is to be preferred. It needs to be blessed before use, while the cloth Scapulars that replace the original one blessed in the enrollment need not be blessed.

It is important to notice that some Scapular medals are incorrect. On one side there must be the image of Our Lord, pointing at His Heart (this Heart is sometimes omitted), on the other side, any image of Our Lady.

Specially well known is the Miraculous Medal. In 1820 The Blessed Virgin appeared three times in the chapel of the motherhouse of the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul in Paris, to Catherine Labouré, then a novice. It is a medal in honor of the Immaculate Conception. St. Catherine was canonized in 1947. Her body was found incorrupt, and attracts many pilgrims to the original shrine.

Sacred places are also sacramentals. Especially important of course is the church building itself, in which the Mass and Divine Office are celebrated and in which the Real Presence in the Eucharist is found.

The sites of important things in the history of salvation in the Holy Land, are of course preeminent.

Countless shrines throughout the world are also sacred places, and numerous miracles are reported to take place at many of these locations. Specially famous among these are Montserrat in Spain, Assisi in Italy, St. Anne de Beaupré in Canada, the North American Martyrs' Shrines in both the United States and Canada, Knock in Ireland, Banneux in Belgium, Czestochowa in Poland.

In our own day, Lourdes and Fatima attract pilgrims by the thousands. Our Lady appeared 18 times at Lourdes, in the Pyrenees mountains in southern France, in 1858, to Bernadette Soubirous, a fourteen year old peasant girl. A spring appeared there which feeds the baths at the shrine today. Many miraculous healings are reported from bathing in the waters. The fact that there is no spread of infection, even though no sanitary precautions are taken when people with all sorts of diseases take baths there, is a marvel in itself. Many miracles take place when the Blessed Sacrament passes in procession during the great pilgrimages. In passing, we notice that this fact testifies to the Real Presence there, a Presence which only the Catholic Church has, and only the Catholic Church teaches.

There is a medical bureau there, to which any qualified M. D. can come to check alleged cures. Early in this century, Dr. Alexis Carrel came to scoff, was converted instead. The Church's demands for checking and proof of alleged miracles are so stringent that in the more than a century since 1858 only a few more than 60 miracles have been approved. Madame Biré in 1908 came there, blind because her optic nerve was withered, regained her sight when the Blessed Sacrament passed. But when the Doctors inspected her eyes, they found she was able to see even though the nerve was still withered - arranged, doubtless, to keep anyone from saying it was a case of suggestion. The nerve did recover within a few weeks.

On December 9, 1531 an Aztec Indian, Juan Diego, saw the Virgin Mary near Mexico City. She put her image on his cloak, a cloak still to be seen in the great shrine of Guadalupe. The fiber of the cloak should have disintegrated in about 30 years, is still sound. Scientific checks find that the process of impressing the image is nothing known to science. And there are images in the eyes of the picture of several persons, who probably were present there. The images are threefold, just as they would be found in a living eye (following the Purkinje Sanson Law).

The little town of Lanciano, Italy, is a most remarkable shrine. Around the year 700 A.D. a priest saying Mass there began to doubt the Real Presence: then the outer part of the host changed to flesh, the wine changed to 5 clots of blood. In November 1970 the Church authorities gave permission for a team of biologists and medical scientists to take small samples of both the flesh and the blood. They found the flesh is human heart tissue, with type AB blood in it, the same as in the clots of blood at the base of the monstrance in which the relics are preserved. There is no trace of any preservative in either the flesh or the blood. Hence they should have decayed centuries ago. They are still to be seen in the church there. A further investigation was made in 1980, revealing even nerves and blood vessels in the flesh.

Momentous for our own times is the shrine of Fatima, where Our Lady appeared 6 times to three small children, each less than 10 years of age. She asked for penance, the Rosary, and Immaculate Heart devotion, saying that on these conditions, God would keep Russia from spreading her errors throughout the world - this was said at at time when Russia was still greatly religious, under the Czar. The great miracle of the sun dancing on Oct 13, 1917 was seen by thousands, including nonbelievers. The clothing of all had been drenched from heavy rain, yet when the sun settled down again, all clothing was found to be dry. Hallucinations do not dry clothing.


Scripture is inspired:inspiration really means that God Himself is the chief author of the Scriptures. He uses a human agent, in so marvelous a way that the human writes what the Holy Spirit wants him to write, does so without error, yet the human writer is free, and keeps his own style of language. It is only because God is transcendent that He can do this--insure freedom from error, while leaving the human free. To say He is transcendent means that He is above and beyond all our human classifications and categories. A poetic Portuguese proverb says: God can write straight with crooked lines!

Relation of Scripture and Tradition

Let us take a minute to see how the Gospels developed. Then we can see better what is the relation of Scripture and Tradition.

First came the teaching and acts of Jesus. Of course, He, like any good speaker, would adjust His wording to the audience. Second, the men Jesus sent out, the Apostles, would preach what He had said and done. They too would adjust their wording to the audience, but of course would be careful to keep the same meaning. Third, some individuals, inspired by the Holy Spirit, would write down part of this basic preaching; that became the Gospels.

So the Gospels are really part of the original ongoing teaching of those commissioned to teach by Jesus. So the Church has something more basic than even the Gospels--its own ongoing teaching! This living, ongoing teaching is really what we mean by Tradition.

Vatican II, in its Constitution on Divine Revelation (Dei Verbum), §9, tells us:

Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture are closely connected with each other. For both coming from the same divine font, in a way coalesce into one, and tend to the same goal. For Sacred Scripture is the word of God inasmuch as it is set down in writing, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit; Sacred Tradition takes the word of God entrusted by Christ the Lord and the Holy Spirit to the Apostles and hands it on to their successors to be transmitted in full purity. Hence, the Council added, "It is not only from Sacred Scripture alone that the Church draws its certainty about all revealed things." Its own ongoing teaching, which is called Tradition, is also a place where revelation is to be found, and also interpreted, since the Gospels are really part of that Tradition, written down under inspiration. Section 10 of the same Dei Verbum adds, logically: "The task of authoritatively interpreting the Word of God, whether written or handed on [Scripture or Tradition] has been entrusted exclusively to the living teaching office of the Church, whose authority is exercised in the name of Jesus Christ."

The Protestant Way vs. the Catholic Way

This, then is the critical difference between Protestant and Catholic. Both will start with the sources of revelation. In them there are some things whose meaning is quite obvious, such as we saw in our six points. But there are other things not so obvious. The Yellow Pages in the telephone book prove it, if we look under the word, "Churches." Each of numerous churches claims to know the meaning. Clearly, not all can be right. Further, the second epistle of St. Peter warned us (2 Peter 3:16), speaking of the Epistles of St. Paul, "In them there are many things hard to understand, which the unlearned and the unstable twist to their own destruction."

Sadly, not a few Catholics today are doing their thinking in a Protestant way: they look to their own opinion, not to the teaching of the Church.

The Deposit of Faith and Development

Hence there is a deposit of faith which is not to be changed, for "the Christian regime, as the new and final covenant will never pass away, and now no new public revelation is to be expected before the glorious manifestation of our Lord Jesus Christ" at the end (DV 4).

This does not mean there should be no progress in the doctrine of the Church: At the Last Supper, Jesus promised to send the Holy Spirit to lead the Church into all truth (John 14:26; 16:13). He did not mean there would be new public revelations. He did mean the Church would be led over the centuries to an ever deeper understanding of the truths contained in the original deposit of faith (which was complete when the last Apostle died and the New Testament was finished).

Hence it happened, for example, that the Immaculate Conception, which was not explicitly mentioned in the fist centuries, and was even denied by some great theologians in the Middle Ages, finally, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, emerged to be defined by Pope Pius IX in 1854.

Gradual Understanding of Which Books are Inspired: The Canon

So it is not strange that the process of developing a complete formal list of all inspired books stretched over some time. (There was rather general informal agreement even earlier. ) On February 20, 405 A.D., Pope Innocent I wrote to Bishop Exuperius of Toulouse, and sent him at his request, a list of the books that are part of the Bible (DS 213). The Ecumenical Council of Florence, on February 4, 1441, for the sake of reconciliation of Copts and Ethiopians gave a complete list (DS 1334-35). The Council of Trent made the matter entirely final, giving the same list as Pope Innocent I had given centuries before.

When Luther and others broke with the Church, they tried to find a base from which to stand up against the Church. They chose Scripture. But at once they had a great problem: Which books are Scripture? Luther said that if a book preached justification by faith strongly, it is inspired. But he never proved that was the standard.

This failure was pointed out keenly when a Baptist professor, Gerald Birney Smith, gave a talk at a national Baptist convention in 1910. In it he went through every way he could think of to know which books are inspired. He found only one way that could work: if there would be a teaching authority to assure us. He did not believe there was such an authority--which left him not knowing which books are part of the Bible! How then could he appeal to the Bible as a divine source? Very illogical of him! Professor Birney Smith admitted that Luther "never applied this test applied this test [preaching justification by faith] minutely or critically." It could not be done. Really, Luther could have written a book to preach that, but it would not be inspired. So Luther failed. Calvin in his work called Institutes I. vii wrote: "The word will never gain credit [belief] in the hearts of men till it is made certain by the internal testimony of the Spirit." But this is sadly subjective. So Calvin, too, failed.

What Professor Birney Smith thought did not exist actually does exist. For we proved above that there is a group, a Church, commissioned to teach by a Messenger send from God, and promised protection. That Church has told us which books are part of the Bible, are inspired.

So we see a most astounding fact: Those who want to contradict the Catholic Church cannot even know what Scripture is unless they lean on the authority of the Catholic Church to tell them what books are Scripture! Small wonder many Protestants have given up trying to solve the question of which books are inspired.

Much more recently, a Lutheran professor, Gerhard Maier (The End of the Historical Critical Method, Concordia, 1977, pp. 61 and 63), wrote: "Only Scripture can say in a binding way what authority it claims and has.... Scripture considers itself as revelation." That is a most blatant vicious circle.

Suppose someone asks: Where in the Bible do you find the Immaculate Conception? The best answer would be: How do you know what books are part of the Bible? Only by the authority of the Church, which it received from Jesus, can anyone know. So the questioner would, without realizing it, be leaning on the teaching authority of the Catholic Church. As we said, the Church has something more basic than the Gospels--its own ongoing teaching. It is that ongoing teaching that can assure on this.

The Analogy of Faith

The Church has not made a definite statement on many texts of Scripture. However, the analogy of faith helps us very much in addition. It means this: we should compare any interpretations of Scripture we think up with her own teaching; we can tell definitely which teachings are false. So, as we saw above, the Vatican II Council wrote: "The work of interpreting, with authority, the word of God--whether written or handed on--has been entrusted only to the living teaching office of the Church, whose authority is exercised in the name of Jesus Christ." If we think over each group of words in that sentence, we find it is just the logical windup of the six points we saw earlier in our sketch of apologetics.

Claims of Errors in Scripture

Some people today say there are a lot of errors in the Bible. But the Church says there are not. On the authority of Christ, we believe what she says.

But even working on our own we can see for ourselves there are no errors. We mentioned just in passing a while ago that it is important to check on the literary genre, that is the kind of writing we have on hand in each of the old works. Working this way helps us to solve many things that seem like difficulties in Scripture, cases in which there seems to be an error or contradiction. Of course there are no errors or contradictions in Scripture, since the Holy Spirit is the chief author. But we like even so to see how to handle these difficulties.

For example, when we consider the pattern or genre, we are rescued from some crude interpretations of Genesis 1-11. Pope Pius XII, in Humani generis, 1950, said that the genre of these chapters is not the same as the way we write history today, or the way ancient Greeks and Romans wrote it--but yet they "pertain to history" in some way, which needs further study. If we follow up on that here is what we could find: The inspired author made use of a story form, to convey certain things that really happened, and so do pertain to the pattern of history writing. For example, the story makes clear that God created all things and that He in some special way created the first humans (the Church not mind if we consider bodily evolution as a possibility, if only we do not make it atheistic, or claim more for it than the evidence shows). We see that He gave them some kind of a command--it may or may not have been about a fruit tree. We see that whatever the command was, they violated it and fell from His favor. As a result, their children were born without His favor or grace, which is what we mean by original sin. We do not have to take crudely the 6 days of creation, so as to say that they must mean 6 times 24 hours. Nor do we say God acted like a sculptor, and made a statue, and then breathed on it. Nor do we have to say God physically took a rib from Adam, and built it up into Eve. Pope John Paul, using this genre approach, said that when Genesis says God put Adam to sleep, it stands for a sort of return to the moment before creation, so Adam could reemerge in his double unity, male and female. In other words, that episode is just a way of teaching the unity of the human race. Again, some of the years given in the book of Daniel do not seem to fit with what we know of secular history. But no problem, we know there was a pattern of writing in use in those early centuries in the ancient Near East in which they used a story (like the Assyrian story of Ahiqar) to give a spiritual life--so not all details in Daniel would have to be factual. The story would have the same relation to strict history as science fiction has to science.

And so on for countless other cases. Today we can solve problems that were insoluble to people even as close as the start of this century. Those early scholars were men of faith. They could not always find the answer to some difficulty but they said to themselves: Even if we cannot find it, we know there must be an answer, for Scripture, the work of the Holy Spirit, cannot be in error. They were quite right. Today, we are privileged to know how to solve numerous problems earlier times could not handle.

Something very strange is going on today--just at the very time when we have discovered how to solve these problems by the approach through genres, and other new methods. some scholars, who know the right methods, are throwing up their hands, saying they cannot find the answer, and even saying Scripture is full of errors. Instead of being men of faith, they have a sort of faith in reverse that Scripture must be wrong!

We should thank God for giving us Scripture, and His Church to interpret it for us.



To Most Collection home page