Curious about the Catholic Church?

Here are some Frequently asked questions

The question of the Catholic Church’s origin is not just academic.

Understanding the historical origin of the Catholic Church is not just an interesting question about history. It’s an essential issue for your faith!

After all…

…if it was the will of Christ to found a Church to teach, sanctify, and govern in his name, doesn’t that demand something from each of us?

Gospel evidence:
Jesus founds a Church

Pope Benedict XVI (when he was still Cardinal Ratzinger) teaches us that Jesus’s creation of the Twelve was first clear sign of the Catholic Church’s origin. St. Mark writes in his Gospel, “And he appointed twelve, to be with him, and to be sent out to preach and have authority to cast out demons” (Mk 3:14-15). The Pope comments:

The symbolic value of the Twelve is… of decisive significance: …the number of Jacob’s sons, the …twelve tribes of Israel…. [In doing this,] Jesus presents himself as the patriarch of a new Israel and institutes these twelve men as its origin and foundation. There could be no clearer way of expressing the beginning of a new people, which is no longer formed by physical descent but by ‘being with Jesus’…. (Called to Communion, p.24-25)

After this, we see the first explicit testimony of the Catholic Church’s origin when Jesus chooses Peter to be the rock of the Church’s foundation. Here, Jesus plainly says that he is founding a new Church:

And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. (Mt 16:18-19)

This is important!

Based on this Scripture passage, our faith should account for three things:

The will of Christ was to found a Church, and promised that “the powers of death shall not prevail against it.”
He gave to Peter “the keys of the kingdom of heaven”.
He also gave Peter the power to “bind” and “loose”, a power that is also binding in heaven. (This power is promised first to Peter, in this passage. Later in Mt 18:18, it’s also promised to the Apostles as a whole.)
Catholics take this passage seriously. We trace the Catholic Church’s origin to this point! We believe that Jesus clearly expresses his will here, and that will is to “build my church”, invest it with his own authority, and give Peter a special role as the head of that Church.

But why did Jesus want to do this?

Well, let’s look at Scripture some more…

Mission: the reason behind the Catholic Church’s origin

After the Resurrection, Jesus commissions his Apostles:

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.” (Mt 28:18-20)

In this passage, Jesus tells us the reason behind the Catholic Church’s origin: he’s creating his new Church to teach, sanctify, and govern.

Pope John Paul II put it more simply: “In order to make this ‘encounter’ with Christ possible, God willed his Church.” (Veritatis Splendor [“The Splendor of Truth”], 7) The Pope said the Church “wishes to serve this single end: that each person may be able to find Christ, in order that Christ may walk with each person the path of life” (Redemptor Hominis [“The Redeemer of Man”], 13).

The Apostles carry out their mission

In the New Testament, the Acts of the Apostles testifies to the fact that the Apostles clearly understood the mission Jesus gave them.

On Pentecost, we see the external “birth” of the Church through the work of the Holy Spirit. This is the definitive creation of the Church in all its fullness, the historical date of the Catholic Church’s origin.

On Pentecost, Peter and the other Apostles boldly proclaim the Gospel of salvation:

Peter… lifted up his voice and addressed them: “…Let all the house of Israel therefore know assuredly that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.”

Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brethren, what shall we do?”

And Peter said to them, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you and to your children and to all that are far off, every one whom the Lord our God calls to him.”

And he testified with many other words and exhorted them, saying, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation.” So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls. And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. (Acts, 2:14; 36-42)

This passage is a beautiful example of the Church carrying out her purpose: proclaiming Christ, and bringing others to Christ through Baptism, “the apostles’ teaching and fellowship,” and “the breaking of bread and the prayers.”

This Church still exists!

It’s called the Catholic Church, and we still keep to that very same mission.

That means we each have a choice…

A challenge to each of us

From these passages, we’ve seen how the Catholic Church’s origin is firmly rooted in Scripture and history.

The existence of the Catholic Church presents each of us with an invitation: Do you want to come to Christ? Will you use the means Jesus himself gave us — his Church and his Sacraments — or will you try to go your own way?

I know; it’s a challenging question!

I struggled with it for years before realizing that, just like those who listened to Peter on Pentecost, I wanted to be one of “those who received his word”.

Since the Catholic Church’s origin, it’s been the place where people “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. -www.beginningcatholic.com

For the Catholic, Purgatory is a period of purification after death.

Each man receives his eternal retribution in his immortal soul at the very moment of his death, in a particular judgment that refers his life to Christ: either entrance into the blessedness of heaven — through a purification or immediately, — or immediate and everlasting damnation. (Catechism, 1022).

Purgatory is this period of purification before heaven.

It’s not always well understood by today’s Catholics but Purgatory is still very much a part of Catholic doctrine.

It is not a “second chance”

Don’t think that Purgatory is anything like a “second chance” for those who have not won the reward of heaven!

During our human life, we either accept or reject God’s offer of divine grace. Once we die, our choice is definitive. We cannot change our mind after death. (Catechism, 1021)

Heaven and hell are real. They’re part of a viewpoint that’s fully Catholic and Purgatory is simply a transitional state for those who have merited heaven but still have aspects of their souls that are not yet fully purified. Purgatory is where that purification happens after death.

The souls in Purgatory are assured of salvation. They’ve died in God’s grace and friendship, and will end up in heaven. But they’re not yet in a full state of holiness — the holiness that’s necessary to behold God “face to face” in heaven. (Catechism, 1030)

Basis in Scripture and Tradition

The Catholic Church is often accused of inventing the concept of Purgatory out of thin air. Not so!

You don’t hear about it from many who aren’t Catholic but Purgatory does have deep roots in Sacred Scripture as well as Catholic Tradition — the full, living faith of the Apostles as received from Christ.

First, it’s based on the ancient Jewish practice of prayer for the dead, as mentioned in Scripture: “Therefore [Judas Maccabeus] made atonement for the dead, that they might be delivered from their sin.” (2 Macc 12:46)

The early Christians continued this practice: “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.” (Catechism, 1032)

Inscriptions on the walls and tombs of the Catacombs testify to the belief of many early Catholics in Purgatory.

The words of the Apostles in the New Testament also clearly tell us about being “tested by fire” (1 Pet 1:7). St. Paul warns us that if someone builds on the true foundation of Christ but doesn’t take care to build well, “the person will be saved, but only as through fire” (1 Cor 3:15).

Finally, the Catechism quotes St. Gregory the Great:

As for certain lesser faults, we must believe that, before the Final Judgment, there is a purifying fire. He who is truth says that whoever utters blasphemy against the Holy Spirit will be pardoned neither in this age nor in the age to come. From this sentence we understand that certain offenses can be forgiven in this age, but certain others in the age to come. (Catechism, 1031)

(It’s worth reading the Catechism’s brief section on Catholic Purgatory to see the straightforward teaching of Catholics about Purgatory.)

Purgatory: part of the Good News

Part of the faith of Catholics is that Purgatory is a good thing!

Purgatory reveals the depth of God’s mercy: even those who are not yet perfect can attain the fullness of heaven.

For Catholics Purgatory helps us hope in perfection even when we can’t completely achieve it in this life. -www.beginningcatholic.com

Many people ask, “When was the Bible written?” It’s a common question, and the answer shouldn’t be so hard to find!

This article contains the likely dates of composition for the various books of the Bible.

Of course, the Bible contains many different books, written at different times by different people. This means that sometimes there isn’t a straightforward answer to the question when was the Bible written.

The theology faculty at the University of Navarre, Spain, put together an outstanding Bible commentary called the Navarre Bible. These volumes also contain a number of excellent introductory essays about the Bible. I’ve used a number of sources for this article, but the bulk of this information can be found in the essays “General Introduction to the Bible” and “Introduction to the Books of the New Testament”, both found in the Gospels & Acts volume of the Navarre Bible.

The Old Testament

It’s hardest to answer the question, “When was the Bible written?” for the Old Testament books. In fact , their authorship spans a period of about twelve centuries!

The individual books of the Old Testament were written at different times. Scholars say that some of the earliest individual books were written down probably beginning near the end of the thirteenth century BC — perhaps 1200 BC or so.

The last Old Testament book to be written was 1 Maccabees, probably written around 100 BC.

The New Testament

It’s easier to answer, “When was the Bible written?” for the New Testament books.

The New Testament was written within a much shorter timespan, more or less in the years between 50 AD and 100 AD. While none of the books contains a specific date of composition, scholars have managed to assign dates that are fairly accurate. Some are quite exact, while others are more approximate.

This chart shows likely dates of composition for the New Testament books. A question mark indicates that there is significant uncertainty about the actual authorship or the exact date of composition.

And of course, regardless of uncertainty about dates or even about exact authorship, the Catholic Church affirms that all texts of the Bible are divinely inspired and teach “solidly, faithfully and without error that truth which God wanted put into sacred writings for the sake of salvation.” (Vatican II, Dei Verbum, 11)

Date composed Book Author
51-52 AD 1 and 2 Thess Paul
50-55 [early version of Gospel of Mt in Aramaic] Matthew
50-60 Jas James
54 Gal Paul
57 1 Cor Paul
57-58 2 Cor Paul
57-58 Rom Paul
60-70 Mk Mark
62? Phil Paul
62 Col, Philem, Eph Paul
62-70 Lk Luke
63 Acts Luke
64? 1 Pet Peter
64 2 Pet Peter?
65 1 Tim and Tit Paul
65? Heb Paul?
66 2 Tim Paul
68-70 Mt Matthew
70? Jude Jude Thaddeus
85-95 Rev John
95-100 1,2, and 3 Jn John
98-100 Jn John
(This information is mainly drawn from the Navarre Bible, “Introduction to the Books of the New Testament”)

Another good page answering when was the Bible written is available on the Website of St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church in Mississippi. (They also have an excellent online Catechism of the Catholic Church.)

Now… Read the Bible!

I hope that this brief article has helped to answer the question of when was the Bible written. It’s important to know that the Biblical texts are deeply anchored in historical facts.

But it’s more important to read the Bible! Not only is it a literary treasure, but it contains the living Word of God. Your life depends on it!

“Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.” (St. Jerome) –www.beginningcatholic.com

Understanding conscience is essential for the life of faith. A solid grasp of Catholic teaching about conscience makes it possible to live a moral life. And sadly…

…a defective understanding can destroy your moral life.

This is important!

For the beginning Catholic, this is an essential issue to understand properly.

And I’ll tell you plainly: conscience may be the single most misunderstood issue among Catholics today!

A natural facility to judge

Conscience is a natural facility of our reason that does three things:

  1. Reminds us always to do good and avoid evil.
  2. Makes a judgment about the good and evil of particular choices in a specific situation.
  3. Bears witness after the fact to the good or evil that we have done. (I.e., having a guilty conscience.)

Conscience is a powerful and remarkable facility that is distinctly human.

Understand that conscience is a judgment of reason. It uses the objective principles of the moral law to judge the morality of acts in specific circumstances. Conscience is not itself the source of the moral law.

    • This is a common point of misunderstanding. Many who reject Church teaching will say, “I’m just following my conscience.” What they usually mean is that they’re looking to their conscience as the source of moral principles, which is a serious error.
    • I’ll be blunt: it’s likely that some other Catholics will challenge you on this point, and you’ll have to defend it. (I know, it’s not fair! It’s a long story, but a lot of people have been taught weak or bad doctrine for many years….)
    Use the Catechism to defend this point. This article will help you read the Catechism’s section on conscience accurately. Also see the excellent article on conscience on the Catholics United for the Faith (CUF) Web site. Beyond that, Pope John Paul II’s Veritatis Splendor contains a definitive discussion about conscience in sections 54-64; number 64 particularly speaks to this point.

Everyone has a duty to form their conscience. Formation of conscience simply means educating and training it. We do this by learning and taking to heart the objective moral law, as found in Scripture and the authoritative teachings of the Catholic Church. This forms conscience in objective moral truth as taught by Christ and his Church.

Catholics believe that worship is due to God alone. Catholics do, however, venerate Mary. In other words, we honor our Blessed Mother with great reverence and devotion because she is the Mother of God. Mary is the model of perfect love and obedience to Christ, God preserved Mary from sin, and she conceived our Lord by the power of the Holy Spirit, bringing Christ into our world.

Catholics can’t help but honor the Blessed Virgin Mary, who is full of grace, the mother of God and our Mother, for her “yes” to God that made the incarnation possible. And without the incarnation, we would not have salvation. Mary is the most beautiful model of total submission to the will of God. Catholics do not view Mary as equal to Christ, but rather venerate Mary because of her relationship to Christ.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains, “Mary’s role in the Church is inseparable from her union with Christ and flows directly from it”.

As Catholics, we pray that we can respond to God’s call to holiness for our lives in the way that Mary did. Mother Theresa prayed to emulate Mary’s devotion to Christ .

“Mary, Mother of Jesus, give me your heart so beautiful, so pure, so immaculate, so full of love and humility that I may be able to receive Jesus in the Bread of Life, love Him as You loved Him, and serve Him as You served Him…” – www.catholicscomehome.org

Some of my Protestant friends have asked why Catholics go to confession. What would you say?

Jesus entered this world to forgive sins. Recall the words of our Lord: “God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him may not die but may have eternal life.” (Jn 3:16) During His public ministry, Jesus preached about the forgiveness of sins: remember the parables of the Prodigal Son (Lk 15:11ff) or the Lost Sheep (Lk 15:1ff), and His teaching that “There will likewise be more joy in heaven over one repentant sinner than over 96 righteous people who have no need to repent.” (Lk 15:7) Jesus Himself forgave sins: remember the story of the woman caught in adultery (Jn 8:1ff) or the woman who washed His feet with her tears. (Lk 7:36ff) He also taught us to pray for forgiveness in the “Our Father:” “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” His mission of reconciliation would climax in His passion, death and resurrection: Jesus suffered, died and rose to free us from sin and death.

However, Jesus never trivialized sin or rationalized it. No, for Jesus, sin is sin, a violation of love against God and neighbor.

However, in His divine mercy, Jesus called the sinner to realize the sin, to repent of it, and to be reconciled with God and neighbor.

Jesus wanted this ministry of reconciliation to continue. On the first Easter Sunday evening, Jesus appeared to His Apostles, “breathed on them,” and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive men’s sins, they are forgiven them; if you hold them bound, they are held bound.” (Jn 20:21-23) Only twice in Sacred Scripture do we find God breathing into human beings. First, in the Genesis account of creation, God breathes the life of a soul into the man He has created. (Gen 2:7) Now, Jesus, the Son, breathes His life into His Apostles His priests, so that through them He will “breathe” life into the souls of contrite sinners. In this scene, Christ instituted the sacrament of penance and made His Apostles the ministers of it.

At the ascension, Jesus again charged His Apostles with this ministry: “Thus it is written that the Messiah must suffer and rise from the dead on the third day. In His name penance for the remission of sins is to be preached to all the nations, beginning at Jerusalem. You are witnesses of this. (Lk 24:46ff) Clearly, Jesus came to forgive sins, He wanted that reconciliation to continue and He gave the Church a sacrament through which priests would continue to act as the ministers of this reconciliation.

Perhaps many Protestants do not see the need for confession because most Protestant denominations do not have sacraments or at least the understanding of sacraments as efficacious signs through which the Lord gives us grace. (However, traditional or “high” Episcopalians have confessions. The Lutherans also have a ritual for reconciliation.)

Nevertheless, we see this ministry of reconciliation lived out in the early Church. St. Paul wrote, “God has reconciled us to Himself through Christ and has given us the ministry of reconciliation.” (2 Cor 5:18) The Didache (or Teachings of the Twelve Apostles), written about 80 AD, stated, “In the congregation you shall confess your transgressions” and “On the Lord’s Day, come together and break bread…having confessed your transgressions that your sacrifice may be pure.” St. Cyprian in his de lapsis concerning the reconciliation of Christians who had succumbed to offering pagan worship rather than face martyrdom, wrote, “Let each confess his sin while he is still in this world, while his confession can be received, while satisfaction and the forgiveness granted by the priests is acceptable to God.” At this time of persecution, when local “parishes” were small, individuals publicly confessed their sins at the beginning of Mass (as mentioned in the Didache) and received absolution from the bishop or priest.

After the legalization of the Church by Constantine, the Church fathers continued to emphasize the importance of confession. St. Ambrose wrote, “It seemed impossible that sins should be forgiven through penance; Christ granted this power to the Apostles and from the Apostles it has been transmitted to the office of priests.” (de poenitentia) Similarly, St. Athanasius asserted, “As the man whom the priest baptizes is enlightened by the grace of the Holy Ghost, so does he who in penance confesses his sins, receive through the priest forgiveness in virtue of the grace of Christ.” (contra novatus) By the mid-400s and the pontificate of Leo I, private confession under the seal of secrecy becomes the norm to safeguard the reputation of the penitent and to attract others to the sacrament.

Therefore, we go to confession because it is a sacrament given to us by Christ, and it has always been a practice of the Church.

This sacrament is so important in our sharing in the life of Christ, the Church has even mandated its practice. To prevent laxity, the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215 required that “every faithful of either sex who has reached the age of discretion should at least once a year faithfully confess all his sins to his own priest. He should strive as far as possible to fulfill the penance imposed on him, and with reverence receive at least during Easter time the sacrament of the Eucharist.” This rule is still a precept of the Church. The Council of Trent in 1551 in its (doctrine on the sacrament of penance) asserted that since mortal sin “kills” the life of God in our souls, these sins must be confessed and absolved through the sacrament of penance (a principle repeated by Pope John Paul II in veritatis splendor). Trent also said “it is right and profitable” to confess venial sins.

We could end the answer here. However, regular confession is a healthy spiritual practice. Each sincere Catholic needs to periodically—every month or two—do a good examination of conscience holding himself to the standard of Christ. Each person should reflect on how well he has lived a “Christ-like life” by following the commandments and the teachings of the Church.

Perhaps one’s failures are not so much commissions as they are omissions. For all of these, we bring our soul to the Lord and receive forgiveness. The healing grace of the sacrament of penance washes away sin and give us the strength to avoid that sin again. The more we love the Lord, the more we are aware of the smallest sins and the more we want to say, “I am sorry. Please forgive me.” I am sure this is why Mother Teresa and Pope John Paul II go to confession weekly. As we continue our Easter celebration, may we take full advantage of this beautiful sacrament which draws us closer to the Lord.

This article is taken from the April 7, 1994 edition of the “Arlington Catholic Herald.” Provided courtesy of EWTN.

The term Jew is used in at least two senses in Scripture: to refer to those who are ethnically Jews and to those who are religiously Jews. Jesus was a Jew in both senses. In fact, he completed the Jewish religion by serving as the Messiah (Christ) whom the prophets had long foretold.

The completed form of the Jewish religion is known as Christianity, and its adherents are Christians or “followers of the Christ.” Unfortunately, many people who were ethnically Jewish did not recognize Jesus’ role as Messiah and so did not accept Christianity, the completed form of Judaism. Instead, they stayed with a partial, incomplete form of Judaism. Other Jews (the apostles and their followers) did recognize that Jesus was the Messiah and embraced the new, completed form of Judaism.

Shortly thereafter it was recognized that one could be a follower of Christ even if one did not ethnically join the Jewish people. Thus the apostles began to make many Gentile converts to the Christian faith. It is thus possible for a person to be a Jew religiously (because he has accepted Christianity, the completed form of the Jewish faith) but not be a Jew ethnically. This is the case with most Christians today.

It is this difference between being a Jew ethnically and religiously that lies behind Paul’s statement in Romans 2:28-29: “For he is not a real Jew who is one outwardly, nor is true circumcision something external and physical. He is a Jew who is one inwardly, and real circumcision is a matter of the heart, spiritual and not literal.”

Christians are those who Paul refers to as being inwardly (religiously) Jewish, while non-Christian Jews are those who he refers to as being outwardly (ethnically) Jewish. The former condition, he stresses, is the more important.

Unfortunately, over the course of time some Christians broke away from the Church that Jesus founded, and so a name was needed to distinguish this Church from the ones that broke off from it. Because all the breakaways were particular, local groups, it was decided to call the Church Jesus founded the “universal” (Greek, kataholos = “according to the whole”) Church, and thus the name Catholic was applied to it.

That is why Jesus was a Jew and we are Catholics: Jesus came to complete the Jewish religion by creating a Church that would serve as its fulfillment and be open to people of all races, not just ethnic Jews. As Catholics, we are those who have accepted the fulfillment of the Jewish faith by joining the Church that Jesus founded.– (www.catholics.com)

The Catholic religion is the religion of the Catholic Church—i.e., that group of churches in communion with the pope. If a group isn’t in communion with the pope, it isn’t part of the Catholic Church.

Within the Catholic Church there are a number of individual churches, sometimes called rites. One of these is the Roman rite or Roman church. It includes most of the Catholics in the Western world. A Roman Catholic is a Catholic who is a member of the Roman rite.

There are many Catholics in the East who are not Roman Catholics, such as Maronite Catholics, Ukrainian Catholics, and Chaldean Catholics. These are all in communion with the pope, but they are not members of the Roman rite, so they are not Roman Catholics.

The Roman rite is not stricter than these other rights. They are equal. They all teach the same faith; it is only local customs that are different among them. -www.catholic.com

How do I become Catholic?

Have you been quietly considering becoming a Catholic?

  • Do you identify with this community of faith but have not been able to participate fully in the sacramental life of the church? Please contact Carol Collins or visit our parish office in preparation of adults who would like to become a full member of our community.

You are invited to join the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults(RCIA) programme which welcomes new members into the Catholic Church. This includes spiritual formation, community awareness, getting involved, and understanding the beliefs, teachings and practices of the Catholic Church. 

The RCIA caters for the following adults:

Baptised non-Catholics who wish to become Catholics.
Baptised Catholics who have not received the Sacraments of Eucharist and Reconciliation.
Baptised Catholics who have not received the Sacrament of Confirmation.
Baptised and fully initiated Catholics who have lapsed from the practice of their faith.

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