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The One True Church?
Q. Why do we believe that the Catholic Church is the true Church?
M.S., via email
A. Here’s a reply from our TCA columnist Father Ray Ryland, Ph.D., J.D.
There are various ways of answering this question. Here’s one approach, centering on the person of St. Peter.
Jesus Christ founded only one Church. Only one scriptural passage reports how Jesus founded His Church: Matthew 16:13-20. In this passage, we see that Jesus established Peter as earthly head of the Church. In giving Peter the “keys of the kingdom,” as we know from Isaiah 22:15-24, Jesus was putting Peter in complete charge of the Church, Christ’s kingdom on earth. Before His death, Jesus gave Peter the task of strengthening (leading, guiding) the members of the Church (see Luke 22:31-32).
After His death and resurrection, Jesus commanded Peter to “feed” Christ’s sheep, and also to “tend” (direct, superintend, rule) His sheep (John 21:16). This is the meaning of the Greek word poimane in Jesus’ second command to Peter.
Having given Peter this special role of leading His Church, Jesus’ parting words to His apostles endowed them with his authority (see Matthew 28:18-20). At the first gathering of the apostles to deal with a doctrinal question, Peter stated what must be their decision, and the apostles concurred (see Acts 15).
Jesus intended that all His followers should be intimately united with Him and with one another (see John 17:11, 20-21). Apart from communion with the successor of Peter, groups of Christians always remain disunited. Among Protestants today, there are more than 35,000 separate denominations, and the number of new denominations grows steadily.
The Eastern churches, which have preserved the apostolic succession and therefore valid sacraments, are themselves divided. The term “Eastern Orthodoxy” is a generic term for a dozen or more totally independent ethnic national churches that have no overarching unity. Some Eastern Orthodox apologists claim that the Eastern Orthodox churches are “the one true Church.” But how can this be, when they are not even one Church?
In retrospect, note this. The two basic issues in the Gospels with regard to Jesus himself are His identity and the extent of His mission. Both issues were settled for all time by special divine revelation to Peter (see Mt 16:19 and Acts 10).
Until the Eastern churches finally went into schism in the ninth or tenth century, the popes as successors of Peter were acknowledged throughout the Church as the guardians of, and ultimate spokesmen for, the authentic Catholic faith. Today, when many Christian traditions succumb to cultural pressure and surrender basic Christian doctrine and moral teaching, only the Catholic Church continues to speak Christ’s truth with a clear voice. By Christ’s own promise (see Mt 16:18), she will speak that truth until the end of time.
These are some of the Church’s credentials as the one true Church.
Q. The issue of the Sabbath was recently brought up in conversation with family members connected with the messianic movement. A book they cited states that the fourth-century Roman emperor Constantine was the one who changed the Christian holy day to Sunday. How early in Church history was Mass celebrated on Sundays? Isn’t Sunday “the Lord's Day” due to the Resurrection? Can you please enlighten me about this?
K. N., via email
A. You’re correct that the early Christians began meeting for worship on Sundays instead of Saturdays because that was the day on which Jesus rose from the dead. They called it “the Lord's Day.”
Two early Christian writers who referred to Christians meeting on Sunday provide sufficient evidence that this change took place long before the Emperor Constantine became involved in Church affairs in the fourth century. One of them was St. Ignatius of Antioch. Writing not long after the composition of St. John’s Gospel (sometime between the years 98 and 117), he declared: “We are no longer keeping the Sabbath, but the Lord’s Day” (Epistle to the Magnesians, 9, 1).
The other writer was Origen, who reported in the late 100s: “The Word [Christ] has moved the feast of the Sabbath to the day on which the light was produced and has given us as an image of true repose, Sunday, the day of salvation, the first day of the light in which the Savior of the world, after completing all his work with men and after conquering death, crossed the threshold of heaven, surpassing the creation of the six days and receiving the blessed Sabbath and rest in God” (Commentary on Psalm 91).
Another ancient text is called the Didache; some scholars believe it’s as old as some of the New Testament books, though other scholars would say it was written a few decades later. Either way, this book is quite early, and it also says that Christians should meet together on “the Lord's Day” to celebrate the Eucharist. In addition, a document known as the Epistle of Barnabas, written about the year 130, plus a work by St. Justin Martyr, about the year 205, make similar references but are even more explicit that the day is Sunday, not Saturday.
Of course, we also have the biblical evidence: St. Paul talks about how the first believers came together on the first day of the week (1 Corinthians 16:2), as does the Book of Acts (20:7), the latter noting that it’s the day on which believers came to “break bread,” which was how the early Christians described the Eucharist. The Book of Revelation also refers to “the Lord’s Day” (Revelation 1:10).
Not only was Our Lord Jesus raised from the dead on Sunday, the first day of the week (see Matthew 18:1; Mark 16:9; Luke 24:1; John 20:1, 19); all His recorded appearances after His resurrection occurred on Sunday as well (see John 20:19, 26), including His last recorded appearance, to St. John on the Isle of Patmos (see Revelation 1:10). In addition, when Christ sent His promised Holy Spirit to the Church on the Day of Pentecost, that too was a Sunday.
By choosing the first day of the week for His resurrection and His post-resurrection appearances, not to mention the “birthday” of the Church, Jesus Christ made the first day of the week forever the “Lord’s Day.”
What’s a Crosier?
Q. Our diocesan newspaper referred to something called the bishops crosier. What’s that?
T.K., via email
A. First, let me confirm for those who might still be wondering: Yesterday’s Q&A was of course an April Fool’s Day spoof. But it had a few kernels of historical truth.
According to some reports, in the Middle Ages religious scam artists actually did try to convince the gullible that they possessed as a sacred relic a bottle of darkness from the ninth plague of Egypt, and even a feather from the wing of the Holy Spirit.
Banias really is an ancient Hellenistic city whose ruins stand within what’s now the Golan Heights. Pan was indeed worshipped there (Pan being, by the way, the Greek god of mischief. For some of you, that should have been an early clue.)
The archaeologist’s name is German for “Silly Hoax.” The name of his academic institution means literally “University of Ignorance.”
Now, on to today’s question.
The bishop’s crosier is a staff, made of either metal or wood, with a curved crook at its top. It recalls the staff used by ancient shepherds to tend their flocks. Remember how King David, who was once a shepherd himself, says in Psalm 23 that the Lord is his caring “shepherd” (verse 1), whose “rod” and “staff” comfort him (verse 4).
The crosier reminds both bishops and their flocks that he stands among them representing Christ, the “Good Shepherd,” who “lays down His life for His sheep” (John 10:11).
This staff is held by the bishop when in procession; during the proclamation of the Gospel and the homily; when receiving religious vows and promises or a profession of faith; and when bestowing a blessing, except when the blessing includes the laying on of hands.
I can’t resist telling another tale (this one is true!) from several years ago, when Pope John Paul II was lying in state at the Vatican before his funeral. A news story from the International Herald Tribune, written by a reporter for The New York Times, declared that “tucked under his left arm was the silver staff, called the crow’s ear, that he had carried in public.”
They meant to say, of course, the crozier. The remarkable fact that neither the reporter assigned to this major story, nor even the editors and proofreaders who reviewed it, had a clue that “crow’s ear” was an error, tells us volumes about how ignorant the secular press can be about Catholic matters. (I am not making this up—for the original story, which still carries the error uncorrected, click here.)
That gaffe should serve as a comic reminder that we can’t rely on the secular media for accurate reporting and competent analysis when the subject matter is Catholic faith and practice.
Q. I just heard from an archaeologist friend about rumors that a sensational ancient relic was recently discovered. She says it had been buried within a secret compartment in the ruins of some pagan temple in the Middle East. Have you heard anything about this?
D.H., Loki, N.D.
A. As the editor of a bimonthly magazine, I rarely get to publish breaking news. But in this case, I think we can say that we’ve actually scooped the newshounds of the daily press in the U.S. Yes, I can confirm the rumors. Here’s the scoop.
A team of researchers, working under the German archaeologist Dr. Albern Schabernack, has for several years been excavating the ruins of a third-century-B.C. temple in Banias, a Hellenistic settlement near the foot of Mount Hermon, about 150 kilometers north of Jerusalem. Located in what’s now called the Golan Heights, the city was known in the New Testament as Caesaria Philippi.
Greeks who settled the town (during the years of Hellenistic occupation of the land) worshipped the god Pan and built a temple in his honor there. A great spring in the vicinity, named for the god, gushes from a cave to form one of the sources of the Jordan River.
Last week Dr. Schaberback, sifting through the long-buried debris, came across what had once been a hidden compartment in a wall of the temple. In it was a small glass vial with an inscription in ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs. He had to consult a colleague at the University of Beschränkheit (Austria) for a translation.
The translation indicated that he had located an exceedingly rare relic from Old Testament times whose existence was known to historians from references in several medieval texts, but whose whereabouts had long been unknown. Just this morning the website of the Jerusalem Post confirmed the find. The inscription on the bottle reads:
“A vial of the darkness from the ninth plague of Egypt.”
Check the dateline on this Q&A. Then, if you’re still eager to know more about this relic, let me tell you about another one that was also widely touted in the Middle Ages: a feather from the wing of the Holy Spirit …
“Medieval Marriage Theme”?
Q. Our daughter is getting married by a justice of the peace in a ceremony with a “medieval marriage theme.” We hope she will later go through the Catholic Church to have it blessed. A family member talked to a priest, and he said they should not participate in the wedding, but that it would be OK to attend.
My daughter is heartbroken. We are Catholics, but her boyfriend is not. What should we do?
F.C., via email
A. Here’s a reply from our TCA columnist Father Francis Hoffman, J.C.D.
What should you do? First, pray. A situation such as this is difficult and laden with a good deal of emotion.
If your daughter is a Catholic and gets married before a justice of the peace without the proper dispensation from “canonical form” (which normally would not be given in this case), then the marriage will be invalid. Additionally, since the boyfriend is not Catholic, they would need a dispensation from “disparity of cult” if he is not baptized, or permission for a “mixed marriage” if he is a non-Catholic Christian. For these reasons the priest correctly indicated that you should not participate in the wedding, although it might be appropriate to attend the wedding.
What’s the difference between participating and attending? This might be confusing for some people, so let’s explore it more carefully.
Technically speaking, the word is not “participate,” but “assist.” The person who typically assists at the wedding is the parish priest, along with the two official witnesses, “best man” and “bridesmaid” (or “matron”). Canon law specifically prohibits Catholics from assisting at marriages they know are invalid. So if one were prohibited from assisting at a marriage, why might it be advisable in some cases to attend it?
The best reason to attend it would be to keep open the lines of communication with your daughter and her husband in the hope that one day they might get their marriage regularized and recognized by the Church. If your absence from the wedding would antagonize them, they might unjustly hold a grudge against you, project that bitterness toward the Church and then drift away from Christ.
On the other hand, your attendance at the wedding could scandalize some people by leading them to think that you condone their actions. So if you attend, you need to make it clear to those concerned that you do not approve of their marrying outside of the Church.
You should take this opportunity to speak with your daughter and her fiancé about the benefits and blessings of following the Church’s indications about marriage. The grace that would come to them from the Sacrament of Matrimony, and the docility they would be showing toward Christ and His Church, would only strengthen their fidelity to each other.
She says she’s heartbroken? That must make you feel downright awful and maybe even guilty. I suppose her reaction is due to a poorly formed conscience and perhaps also to an incomplete catechesis during her formative years. Unfortunately, this is not uncommon.
Still, I don’t think it’s right to make you feel guilty for your decision to be faithful and follow your conscience. Without getting into an emotional tug-of-war, you could tell them that you, too, are heartbroken that they refuse to marry in the Church.
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