Catholic Doctrines In Scripture by Greg Oatis Part 2
In the Catechism of the Catholic Church, we find the following passage: "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.[Cf. Council of Lyons II (1274): DS 856.]" The Catechism also contains this statement: "The Church also commends almsgiving, indulgences, and works of penance undertaken on behalf of the dead: Let us help and commemorate them. If Job's sons were purified by their father's sacrifice, why would we doubt that our offerings for the dead bring them some consolation? Let us not hesitate to help those who have died and to offer our prayers for them" [
2 Sam. 12-14 – Even after David's sin is forgiven, he must undergo cleansing; his child still dies. "Nathan answered David: 'The Lord on his part has forgiven your sin: you shall not die. But since you have utterly spurned the Lord by this deed, the child born to you must surely die.'" So we see that God still disciplines David even after he forgives him. What earthly parent does not do the same? An indulgence is the remission of this residual punishment due the sinner.
Num. 12 – When Miriam rebels – "'Is it through Moses alone that the Lord speaks? Does he not speak through us also?'" – Moses asks God to remove her punishment of leprosy. God answers Moses' prayer, and her punishment is remitted. Moses’ prayer has thus resulted in an 'indulgence' for Miriam.
Mt. 16: 19 – "'Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.'" Jesus tells St. Peter that actions taken by the Church will be respected by – and abided by – God himself.
Dan. 4: 24 – Atonement is necessary: "'...atone for your sins by good deeds, and for
your misdeeds with kindness to the poor...'" Almsgiving has always been associated with the atonement of sins.
2 Mac. 12: 42-46 – "The noble Judas… took up a collection among all his soldiers, amounting to two thousand silver drachmas, which he sent to
Sir. 16: 11 – "For mercy and anger alike are with him who remits and forgives..."
Lk. 7: 44-50 – "'Do you see this woman? When I entered your house, you did not give me water for my feet, but she has bathed them with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but she has not ceased kissing my feet since the time I entered. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she anointed my feet with ointment. So I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven; hence, she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.' He said to her, 'Your sins are forgiven.' The others at table said to themselves, 'Who is this who even forgives sins?' But he said to the woman, 'Your faith has saved you; go in peace.'" The penitent woman's loving act resulted in the remission of her sins – which is the very definition of 'indulgence.' Jesus granted the indulgence based on his authority as Son of God, which of course is the same authority he passes on to his Church.
People tend to think of purgatory as a place, but it is actually a process – one by which those of us who do not reach perfect holiness in this life are cleansed to prepare us for heaven. It is a great gift, for unless we are made perfect, scripture tells us we will have no place in heaven:
Rev. 21: 27 – "...nothing unclean will enter it (heaven)..." For those of us who are not totally perfected in this life, the doctrine of purgatory offers great hope. For until we are perfected, we cannot enter into communion with God.
1 Cor. 3: 15 – "...the person will be saved, but only as through fire." Some sort of purgation takes place even as souls are being saved.
Heb. 12: 14 – "Strive for peace with everyone, and for that holiness without which no one will see the Lord." Those who die without completely achieving such peace need not despair. They will be cleansed, even after death.
2 Sam. 12: 13-14 – "Then David said to Nathan, 'I have sinned against the Lord.' Nathan answered David: 'The Lord on his part has forgiven your sin; you shall not die. But since you have utterly spurned the Lord by this deed, the child born to you must surely die.'" Even after David's sin is forgiven, he must undergo punishment; his child still dies.
Heb. 12: 22-23 – "No, you have approached Mount Zion and the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and countless angels in festal gathering, and the assembly of the firstborn enrolled in heaven, and God the judge of all, and the spirits of the just made perfect..." It's hard to imagine a better three-word summary of the concept of purgatory than that phrase: "spirits made perfect."
Col. 1: 24 – "Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ..." What could Jesus' suffering have possibly lacked? One thing: the free and positive response of St. Paul to the Spirit's call. Jesus could not make that decision for St. Paul – i.e., he could not save Paul against his will – and he doesn't make it for us either.
Mt. 5: 18-30 – Mortal sin, venial sin, purgatory, hell: "'Settle with your opponent quickly while on the way to court with him. Otherwise your opponent will hand you over to the judge, and the judge will hand you over to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison. Amen, I say to you, you will not be released until you have paid the last penny.'"
Lk. 12: 58-59 – "'If you are to go with your opponent before a magistrate, make an effort to settle the matter on the way; otherwise your opponent will turn you over to the judge, and the judge hand you over to the constable, and the constable throw you into prison. I say to you, you will not be released until you have paid the last penny.'" Jesus tells us all accounts must be settled before salvation can be gained. This process – of paying, of learning, of cleansing – the Church calls 'purgatory.'
Rev. 7: 13-14 – "'These are the ones who have survived the time of great distress; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. For this reason they stand before God's throne and worship him day and night in his temple.'" The souls who have survived the time of great distress – their trial on earth – wash their robes in the blood of the Lamb, and as a result are able to enter heaven. The cause-and-effect is quite clear. "They have washed..." and "for this reason, they stand before God's throne." The doctrine of purgatory is unmistakable.
1 Jn. 5: 16-17 – "If anyone sees his brother sinning, if the sin is not deadly, he should pray to God and he will give him life. This is only for those whose sin is not deadly. There is such a thing as deadly sin, about which I do not say that you should pray. All wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin that is not deadly." When we die in sin, but the sin is not deadly, where do we go? What happens to us? We know we do not gain immediate entry into heaven, since nothing unclean can enter there (Rev. 21: 27). And certainly not to hell, since John tells us the sin is not deadly. We must therefore undergo some kind of cleansing, or purgation.
Mk. 9: 49 – Jesus describes purgatory: "'Everyone will be salted with fire.'"
1 Pet. 3: 19 – "...he also went to preach to the spirits in prison..." Where is this "prison"? Not heaven, certainly. But neither can it be hell.
Eph. 4: 8-10 – "...he also descended into the lower [regions] of the earth..."
Mt. 12: 32 – "...'whoever speaks against the holy Spirit will not be forgiven in this age or the age to come.'" Here Jesus clearly implies that expiation can occur after death. Apparently some sins are forgiven in 'the age to come.'
2 Mac. 12: 42-46 – "The noble Judas… took up a collection among all his soldiers, amounting to two thousand silver drachmas, which he sent to Jerusalem to provide for an expiatory sacrifice. In doing so he acted in a very excellent and noble way, inasmuch as he had the resurrection of the dead in view...Thus he made atonement for the dead that they might be freed from this sin." Judas could not have been praying for the dead if they were in hell, since prayer would not have benefited them. And if they were in heaven, prayer would not have been necessary.
The belief in purgatory is not, as some claim, a medieval "innovation." Quite the contrary. This doctrine actually dates back farther in Church history than both the doctrine of the Holy Trinity and the canon of the New Testament. In approx. 210 A.D., we find Tertullian stating: "...if we understand that prison of which the Gospel speaks to be Hades, and if we interpret the last farthing (Mt. 5:25-26) to be the light offense which is to be expiated there before the resurrection, no one will doubt that the soul undergoes some punishments in Hades, without prejudice to the fullness of the resurrection, after which recompense will be made through the flesh also" ('The Faith of the Early Fathers', Vol. 1, Jurgens, p. 145).
THE SACRAMENT OF RECONCILIATION
The act of confessing our sins requires us to acknowledge them as our own. It serves to humble us. We are forced to look our failings full in the face and contemplate the devastating toll our own failings take on the lives of others. By divesting us of our pet illusions and our pestilent vainglory, the act of confessing prepares us for the free gift of God's forgiveness – reconciliation – which permits the restoration and renewal of God's life within us through the sacrament. This sacrament is a great and very precious gift. No one who regularly comes to the Sacrament of Reconciliation remains mired for long in the same patterns of sinful and destructive behavior. And those who do not come to it are often unable to escape those patterns. Even the 12-Step programs recognize the need for us to acknowledge – and ask forgiveness for – our destructive behaviors before we can hope to break out of them. Through the grace and mercy of God, the Sacrament of Reconciliation gives us power over sin. Indeed, it can actually transform our sins into glorious conduits of God's grace in a way that only someone who has experienced the gift of the sacrament can explain. Through Reconciliation, all our tears are wiped away, and death gives way to new life.
Mt. 18: 18 – "'Amen, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.'" This authority which Jesus passes on to his apostles is clear. Thus, when others claim that "only God can forgive sins," we can agree without question, pointing out that he does so through the authority given by Jesus to his Church.
Mt. 16: 19 – "Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven." Again, Jesus' intention – and the authority he passes on to his followers – could not be clearer. Does God forgive sins? Absolutely. But he does not deny this salvific act – the forgiveness of sins – to his Mystical Body on earth.
Jn. 20: 23 – "Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained." Again, this is an explicit bestowal of the authority to forgive sins from Jesus to his apostles. Those who deny the usefulness of this sacrament stand in opposition to the scriptures which, as we see, affirm it again and again. Those who ask why we need men to forgive sins should direct their question to Jesus, who clearly desired his followers to forgive sins.
2 Cor. 5: 18 – The Sacrament of Reconciliation dates to apostolic times: "And all this is from God, who has reconciled us to himself through Christ and given us the ministry of reconciliation." St. Paul could hardly be more specific.
2 Cor. 2: 10 "Whomever you forgive anything, so do I. For indeed what I have forgiven, if I have forgiven anything, has been for you in the presence of Christ..." Clearly, whenever St. Paul forgave sins, it was truly Christ who forgave them. Paul is giving us, in a nutshell, the theology of the Sacrament of Reconciliation. St. Paul is telling us that when he forgave sins he was acting – as the priest acts today – in persona Christi, "in the person of Christ." Again, what could be clearer?
Acts 19: 18 – "Many of those who had become believers came forward and openly acknowledged their former practices." The confessing of sins has been part of the life of the faithful from the beginnings of our faith.
James 5: 15-16 – "Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed." Confession, which requires repentance, plays an integral part in God's gift of forgiveness.
1 Jn. 1: 9 – "If we acknowledge our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from every wrongdoing." Note the condition under which St. John tells us God will forgive us – that we 'acknowledge our sins.' We are not forgiven in advance of any and all sins we might ever commit – regardless of whether we repent – as some Protestant traditions claim.
Mk. 2: 7 – The scribes object to Jesus' forgiveness of sins: "'Why does this man speak that way? He is blaspheming. Who but God alone can forgive sins?'" Protestants who object to the Sacrament of Reconciliation – "Why do you need a man to forgive sins? Only God can do that!" – are in agreement with these scribes who were pitted against our Lord.
Mt. 9: 2-8 – "When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, 'Courage, child, your sins are forgiven.' At that, some of the scribes said to themselves, 'This man is blaspheming.'" Again, those who object to the sacrament are in agreement with the scribes, not the followers of Jesus. The fact is, we humans possess bodies and we live in time, so it makes sense for God to have given us a tangible experience – an assurance that exists in time and space – of forgiveness.
Lev. 5: 5-6 – "...whoever is guilty in any of these cases shall confess the sin he has incurred, and as his sin offering for the sin he has committed he shall bring to the Lord a female animal from the flock, a ewe lamb or a she-goat. The priest shall then make atonement for the sin." Confession, sacrifice and atonement have been a part of our faith tradition since the beginning. The point is repeated in Lev. 19: 20-22.
The Sacrament of Reconciliation was practiced by the ancient Christians. We find a marvelous explanation, both sacramental and psychological, in one of Origen's homilies, dating back to about 245 A.D., some 150 years before the canon of the New Testament: "There is something wonderful hidden in this, whereby confession of sins is commanded. For they are to be confessed, whatever kind they be; and all that we do must be brought forward in public. Whatever we have done in secret, whatever sin we have committed by word alone or even in our secret thoughts – all must be made public, all must be brought forward. It will indeed be brought forward by him who is both the accuser of sin and the instigator thereof. For that one who now incites us to sin is the very one who will accuse us when we have sinned. If, therefore, we anticipate him in life, and become the accusers of ourselves, we escape the malice of the devil, our enemy and accuser... You see, then, that confession of sin merits the remission of sin" ('The Faith of the Early Fathers,' Vol. 1, Jurgens, p. 207-208).
Some Protestant traditions teach that there are no degrees of sin – "Sin is sin." While all sin is undeniably evil, the Bible reveals that there are at least two distinct levels of sin: That which is deadly and that which is not. The Church calls deadly sin, 'mortal,' and non-deadly sin, 'venial.'
1 Jn. 5: 16-17 – "If anyone sees his brother sinning, if the sin is not deadly, he should pray to God and he will give him life. This is only for those whose sin is not deadly. There is such a thing as deadly sin, about which I do not say that you should pray. All wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin that is not deadly."
Jn. 19: 11 – "'For this reason the one who handed me over to you had the greater sin.'" Jesus himself tells us there are degrees of sin.
1 Cor. 6: 9-11 – "Do you not know that the unjust will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators nor idolaters…" St. Paul specifies a number of sins that are deadly – i.e., that cut us off from the life of God. If all sins were considered equal in the eyes of God, then for him to do so would have been meaningless as well as misleading.
It is true that the Bible nowhere states explicitly that infants were baptized. But neither does it say they were not. As we see in Col. 2: 11-12, below, circumcision was a "type" – an Old Testament precursor – of Baptism. In Jewish law, infants were circumcised at eight days. It is impossible to conceive that the New Testament fulfillment would ever be less effective, or more restrictive in its application, than the Old Testament type.
Gen. 17: 12 – "Throughout the ages, every male among you, when he is eight days old, shall be circumcised..." Consent does not alter the fact that all belong to God. The child is a privileged member of God's holy nation. The idea that an individual might opt out of such a remarkable blessing could not have even occurred to the Israelites.
Ex. 13: 13-14 – "Every first-born son you must redeem. If your son should ask you later on, 'What does this mean?' you should tell him..." The fact that the child is not cognizant does not eliminate the dedication of the first-born. God's claim on the first-born is absolute – regardless of whether they realize it or not. Is God's claim on the rest of us, after Jesus' redemptive sacrifice, less strong or less valid today? On the contrary, it is stronger.
Acts 2: 38-39 – "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 will receive the gift of the holy Spirit.’” This is the primary text many Protestants cite in upholding their position against infant Baptism. They feel St. Peter was speaking doctrinally, stating that repentance is required before Baptism can be administered. And of course we all agree that infants cannot repent. But notice the very next verse of Peter's sermon: “’For the promise is made to you and to your children and to all those far off, whomever the Lord God will call.'" Clearly, the promise of Baptism – which is salvation – does not exclude children; indeed, here St. Peter expressly extends it to them. Note too that the phrase, "your children," shows beyond question that St. Peter was not addressing the infants or the children in attendance, but the adults. And adults are required to repent of their sins when they are converted to Christ and baptized. Of course infants, who have not sinned, have no need to repent. Instead, they are welcomed into the community, and the evil one's claim on them – which results from the sin of Adam, or 'original sin' – is washed away in the purifying waters of the sacrament. (See the next section, 'The Saving Nature of Baptism.')
2 Thess. 3: 10 – "...when we were with you, we instructed you that if anyone was unwilling to work, neither should that one eat." If we interpret St. Peter's directive to repent before Baptism as applying to infants (the reference here is to Acts 2: 38, above), then we must apply this command of St. Paul's to them as well. For Paul – like Peter – does not specifically exclude them. Of course requiring infants to work before they are allowed to eat would mean they would starve to death, since babies are as incapable of work as they are of repentance. Yet there is absolutely no logical basis on which to exclude them from one admonition and not the other. For they are equally incapable of both.
Col. 2: 11-12 – "In him you were also circumcised with a circumcision not administered by hand, by stripping of the carnal body, with the circumcision of Christ." Baptism is the fulfillment of circumcision. Babies were circumcised at the age of eight days. How is it possible the New Testament fulfillment, Baptism, would be less saving – and apply less widely – than the Old Testament precursor?
Acts 16: 15 – "After she and her household had been baptized..." In the Bible, there is no mention of any exceptions being made when an entire "household" is baptized, nor will you find reference to any supposed age of consent. Also, remember that the word, "household," is even more inclusive than "family," since "household" includes slaves and servants.
Acts 16: 33 – "He and all his family were baptized..." Again, no exceptions are mentioned. How likely is it that both of these family households (in this verse and the one cited above) included no young children?
Lk. 18: 15-17 – "People were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them, and when the disciples saw this, they rebuked them. Jesus, however, called the children to himself and said, 'Let the children come to me and do not prevent them; for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.'" Jesus is telling us that infants are precisely the type of people – ones with true and simple hearts – who can receive the kingdom of God. When we bar infants from Baptism, we are denying Jesus' own explicit directions to let the children – in the words of scripture, "'even infants'" – come to him. How can the kingdom of God belong to "even infants" if they are not permitted Baptism? Clearly it cannot, according to Jn. 3: 5, where Jesus tells us: "'…no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit.'" The birth of water and Spirit is a clear reference to Baptism.
Lk. 1: 15 – "…for he will be great in the sight of [the] Lord. He will drink neither wine nor strong drink. He will be filled with the holy Spirit even from his mother's womb…" If no one can receive the Holy Spirit without repentance – as Protestants are claiming when they deny Baptism to infants – then we must conclude that infants are able to repent even in utero, since in this passage we see that St. John the Baptist was filled with the Holy Spirit even before his birth. Which means there is no reason to deny infants the Sacrament of Baptism.
Mt. 21: 15-16 – "When the chief priests and the scribes saw the wondrous things he was doing, and the children crying out in the temple area, 'Hosanna to the Son of David,' they were indignant and said to him, 'Do you hear what they are saying?' Jesus said to them, 'Yes; and have you never read the text, 'Out of the mouths of infants and nurslings you have brought forth praise'?'"
The Church has baptized infants from its earliest days. We have the testimony of a number of the early Christian leaders on this point, including Origen, who wrote in the year 244 A.D.: "The Church received from the apostles the tradition of giving Baptism even to infants." ('The Faith of the Early Fathers,' Vol. 1, Jurgens, p. 209.) If, as some Protestants claim, baptizing infants is "unbiblical," then so is not baptizing infants. For nowhere in scripture will you find a passage forbidding the Baptism of infants. And, just as interesting, nowhere in the Bible do we find any reference whatsoever to the supposed 'age of consent' which so many Protestant traditions adhere to in baptizing adolescents. As is so often the case, 'sola scriptura' is less than totally conclusive. We need Sacred Tradition, passed on from one generation to the next, to inform us about apostolic practices. Indeed, which generation could have possibly lost track of whether or not infants were baptized in their midst in years past? Under what circumstances could such worship practices and traditions be lost to the entire community? Such a thing defies logic.
THE SAVING NATURE OF BAPTISM
Despite the fact that many Protestant denominations baptize – most using the Trinitarian formula prescribed in Mt. 28: 19 (below) – many do not acknowledge the clear biblical teaching that Baptism is regenerative and required for salvation. If they did, they would be violating one of their most basic doctrines, 'sola fide,' or salvation by 'faith alone.' Yet the Bible is crystal-clear: Baptism is no mere symbol; it is sacrament, which means it is both symbol and grace-filled reality. Baptism saves. And where Protestant theology posits a dichotomy between faith and Baptism, the ancient Catholic tradition views them as inseparable.
Ezek. 36: 25 – "I will sprinkle clean water upon you to cleanse you from all your impurities, and from all your idols I will cleanse you." No mention is made of any merely symbolic purification here. The sprinkling – Baptism – is the cleansing agent promised by God in the Old Testament. It is nothing short of cause and effect. Note also that the form of Baptism prophesied is not total immersion, but sprinkling.
1 Pet. 3: 18-21 – "…God patiently waited in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few persons, eight in all, were saved, through water. This prefigured baptism, which saves you now." St. Peter is telling us that Baptism saves us now as surely as the flood cleansed the world of sin in the days of Noah. The flood was not just symbolic; how can anyone claim Baptism is? And note that Peter is absolutely explicit about Baptism's saving effect: "…baptism, which saves you now." Peter's statement is simple and clear: Baptism saves.
Zech. 13: 1 – "On that day there shall be open to the house of David and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, a fountain to purify from sin and uncleanness." The text says nothing about a merely symbolic cleansing. This allusion is to the fountain of Jesus Christ, who provides for us the saving waters of Baptism. As Christ is our real and efficacious Savior, so too is the Baptism he instituted for us real and efficacious.
Mt. 3: 16-17 – "After Jesus was baptized, he came up from the water and behold, the heavens were opened [for him], and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove [and] coming upon him. And a voice came from the heavens, saying, 'This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.'" The Bible tells us that it is Jesus' Baptism that causes the Spirit of God to descend upon Jesus. And this is no mere symbolic event, since it is the reality of the Holy Spirit that is present, and it is the Father's actual voice – with real sound – that manifests itself from the heavens. At this moment in time beside the Jordan River, heaven comes to earth – in a real, physical sense, in time and in space, and not merely symbolically. The same thing happens to us when we are baptized. This is the rebirth in 'water and Spirit' which Jesus says we must undergo to be saved. Now, as then, it is an actual bestowal of the Trinity – Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Jn. 3: 5 – "'Amen, Amen, I say to you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit.'" Baptism is the only possible meaning here. The phrase, "water and Spirit" refers to the sacramental aspect of Baptism; it is both physical symbol and spiritual reality. And Jesus tells us that we cannot enter the
kingdom without being 'born again,' or baptized. So when you are asked whether you have been 'born again' by an evangelizing Protestant, assure him that on the day of your Baptism you were indeed 'born again' – of water and the Spirit, as noted by the Lord himself. One more interesting point: This passage takes place as part of a conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus. Immediately after it, we see Jesus going out to baptize – the one and only time the scriptures tell us he does so: "After this, Jesus and his disciples went into the region of Judea, where he spent some time with them baptizing" (v. 22). Coincidence? There are no coincidences in scripture.
Jn. 1: 33 – "'I did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, 'On whomever you see the Spirit come down and remain, he is the one who will baptize with the holy Spirit.''' If the Baptism of Christ were water functioning as a mere symbol, then how could John refer to it as a Baptism of the Holy Spirit? In the scriptures, the Holy Spirit is shown to be an agent – and not just a symbol – of change. Thus, in a real sense, denying the regenerative power of Baptism is to deny the doctrine of the Holy Trinity.
Acts 2: 38-41 – "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 will receive the gift of the holy Spirit.'" St. Peter says nothing of symbols. Rather, he explicitly states that Baptism results in the forgiveness of sins and the imparting of the Holy Spirit. To hold otherwise is to violate the scriptures.
Acts 22: 16 – "'Now, why delay? Get up and have yourself baptized and your sins washed away, calling upon his name.'" The prominent Christian Ananias is telling the Pharisee Paul how to respond to God's call. He is explicit about the saving effect of the sacrament: it results in the forgiveness of sins. From the earliest times, it is clear, the Church has held that Baptism results in a real cleansing from sin, and the incorporation of the individual into the Mystical Body of Christ. It was not until the Reformation – some 1500 years later – that innovations arose in the form of false dichotomies (faith vs. works; faith vs. law; faith vs. Baptism, etc.), and Baptism was thereafter viewed by some as a mere symbol of faith.
Gal. 3: 27 – "For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ." Note that St. Paul did not write, "all of you who believe in Christ." Baptism has a definite effect.
Tit. 3: 4-7 – "But when the kindness and generous love of God our savior appeared, not because of any righteous deeds we had done but because of his mercy, he saved us through the bath of rebirth and renewal by the holy Spirit, whom he richly poured out on us through Jesus Christ our savior…" St. Paul's' reference to "the bath of rebirth" – or, as it's rendered in other translations, "the washing of regeneration" – is quite explicit. That is precisely what the Catholic Church teaches that Baptism is, a rebirth in water and the Spirit. Of St. Paul's many references to Baptism – or to washing and rebirth – there is never even a hint that he is speaking of symbols only. Never, for example, does he say, "a washing that symbolizes rebirth," although he certainly could have. Also, note the definite article, 'the,' which precedes the word, 'bath.' This restricts our focus to a specific act of washing which cannot be anything but Baptism.
Mt. 28: 19 – "'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…'" Jesus' directive is no mere suggestion or proposal. It is unequivocal – cause and effect. Baptism results in discipleship. Through Baptism we become adopted brothers of Christ, and members of his Mystical Body on earth, the Church.
The Early Fathers, in text after text, generation after generation, repeatedly uphold the regenerative nature of Baptism. The idea that the sacrament is merely symbolic is simply not found in Christian literature until the 16th century, when certain of the followers of the Reformers, intent on distancing themselves from the Catholic Church, developed this innovative teaching from a broad interpretation of a limited number of biblical verses. Yet even those verses don't reference Baptism at all, but faith, because the only way one can uphold the Protestant position that Baptism is merely symbolic is to drive a wedge between Baptism and faith. But in the historic Church, faith and Baptism were viewed, not as separate at all, but as integrally related. The fact is, one sees not even a hint in the scriptures that Baptism is anything less than fully regenerative and salvific.
For two thousand years, dating back to the times of the apostles, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass has been the central act of Christian worship. It is the celebration of the new Passover, complete with the unblemished Lamb whose Blood was shed and whose Flesh is to be consumed for the salvation of mankind.
Acts 2: 42 – "They devoted themselves to the teachings of the apostles and to the communal life, to the breaking of the bread and to the prayers." The earliest believers referred to the Eucharist as 'the breaking of the bread.' We see that the Mass was celebrated even in apostolic times.
Acts 20: 7 – "On the first day of the week when we gathered to break bread, Paul spoke to them…" This is a clear reference to Sunday Mass being celebrated by the faithful in apostolic times.
Mk. 14: 22 – "While they were eating, he took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them, and said, 'Take it; this is my body.' Then he took a cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them, and they all drank from it. He said to them, 'This is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed for many.'" The first Eucharist was celebrated by Jesus at the Last Supper.
Mt. 26: 26 – "'Take and eat; this is my body.'" A priest speaks these same words today, whenever Mass is said.
Lk. 22: 14-20 – "…he took the bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them, saying, 'This is my body, which will be given for you; do this in memory of me.'" Again, these are the words spoken today by the celebrant at every Mass.
1 Cor. 5: 7-8 – "For our paschal lamb, Christ, has been sacrificed. Therefore, let us celebrate the feast..." Here St. Paul is referring to the Mass, the new Passover, where the people of God, united with the perfect sacrifice of Jesus through his Body and Blood in the Eucharist, pass over from sin and death into the new life of salvation. Catholics regularly refer to the Mass with all these terms used by Paul: Sacrifice, celebration and feast.
Zech. 14: 21 – "And every pot in Jerusalem and in Judah shall be holy to the Lord of hosts; and all who come to sacrifice shall take them and cook in them." This extended eschatological passage in Zechariah, beginning with 14: 1, describes "the day of the Lord." It may be interpreted variously as either the end times, or the time after the arrival of the Messiah. Either way, the ongoing sacrifice by the faithful ones is clear in the verse quoted above. Thus, the once-for-all sacrifice did not cease on the first Good Friday, but continues. Also note the association between the sacrifice and a meal. The Eucharist is clearly prophesied here.
Mal. 1: 11 – "For from the rising of the sun, even to its setting, my name is great among the nations; and everywhere they bring sacrifice to my name, and a pure offering." Is this a reference to the sacrifices made under the old covenant – lambs, cattle and doves? No, for St. Paul tells us those were of no avail – i.e., they were not pure. Also, "the nations" did not take part in the sacrifices of the Israelites. So we must conclude that this is a reference to the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, offered through the ongoing and eternal priesthood of Jesus.
Rev. 5: 6 – "Then I saw standing in the midst of the throne and the four living creatures and the elders a Lamb that seemed to have been slain." John's vision of heaven includes Jesus' sacrifice, which is eternal and ongoing. Thus, the Mass is the form of heavenly worship that is eternally offered before the throne of the Father. With its vestments and censors, prayers of petition and thanksgiving; its messages of encouragement and admonition; the Presence of the Lamb who was sacrificed; the prostration, adoration and endlessly repeated prayers, the activity described in Revelation is undeniably both a liturgical celebration and a sacrifice – in other words, a Mass. This topic is dealt with in detail in Scott Hahn's book, 'The Lamb's Supper: The Mass as Heaven on Earth,' which is mentioned in the bibliography that concludes this booklet.
Heb. 13: 8 – "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever." This is why his sacrifice can be presented for all ages on earth in the Mass, just as it is presented for all eternity in Paradise (see passage immediately above).
Jude 12 – Jude refers to the celebration of the Mass as a "love feast;" he also warns against any desecration of the sacrament: "These are blemishes on your love feasts, as they carouse fearlessly and look after themselves." The earliest community of believers gathered to celebrate a feast, a sacrifice, a meal – all terms in use even today to refer to the Mass.
In his 'Catechetical Lectures,' which date to around 350 A.D., St. Cyril of Jerusalem gives a marvelous description of the Mass as it existed in his time, as well as an account of the sacraments that are received by those newly accepted into the Church. Many of the prayers and responses are nearly identical to those used today, and of course the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist is described in great detail: "Let us, then, with full confidence, partake of the Body and Blood of Christ. For in the figure of bread His Body is given to you, and in the figure of wine His Blood is given to you, so that by partaking of the Body and Blood of Christ, you might become united in body and blood with Him. For thus do we become Christ-bearers, His Body and Blood being distributed through our members. And thus it is that we become, according to the blessed Peter, sharers of the divine nature" ('The Faith of the Early Fathers,' Vol. 1, Jurgens, pp. 360-361). Keep in mind that St. Cyril was writing 50 years prior to the promulgation of the scriptures. So we see that the Mass and the sacraments are older than the Bible itself.
Jesus is clearer and more explicit concerning his real and living Presence in the Eucharist than he is on any other teaching. He is most insistent upon it, in fact:
Jn. 6: 22-71 – "'Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink.'" When many questioned this "hard teaching" and turned away, Jesus did not call them back or correct any misunderstanding they might have had. For there was none. Instead, he insisted that he meant what he said, even if it might mean losing his beloved apostles: "Since Jesus knew that his disciples were murmuring about this, he said to them, 'Does this shock you? What if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before?... The words I have spoken are spirit and life. But there are some of you who do not believe...' Jesus then said to the Twelve, 'Do you also want to leave?' Simon Peter answered him, 'Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.'" Like Peter, we are called to believe, even when we do not understand. The question of symbolism vs. Real Presence is dealt with summarily in Jesus' words, "'...my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink.'" 'True,' as opposed to merely 'symbolic.' The difficulty the disciples had in grasping this teaching stems from the fact that this is not another parable to be 'explained' like the sower and the seed. The Eucharist is Jesus' Body and Blood, just as he says (see also the passage below). It would not have been difficult for his followers to grasp this teaching had Jesus been speaking only in parables or metaphors – if, for example, the 'true food' were really just Jesus' words, as many Protestants claim. There would have been no need for the confused disciples to leave. Author and apologist Carl Olson makes these additional points: "As the passage progresses, the word which Jesus uses for 'eat' actually changes in the Greek from 'phago,' which is a rather ordinary word for 'eat,' to 'trogo,' which means 'to gnaw or chew.' Even Vine's Expository Dictionary (a Protestant reference guide), which holds to the metaphorical view of John 6, remarks: "In John 6, the change in the Lord's use from the verb 'phago' to the stronger verb 'trogo' is noticeable" (p. 192). The word 'trogo' is never used symbolically in either the Bible or in other ancient literature. In addition, when the term, 'eat my flesh,' is used metaphorically in the Bible, it means, 'revile me' or 'destroy me' (see Ps. 27:2; Micah 3:1-4; Is. 9:18-20, Rev. 17:6, etc.). So if Christ were trying to convey a metaphor, he not only made a poor choice, he created a lot of confusion by essentially uttering nonsense." One final observation: It is evident that John is connecting Judas' betrayal with a lack of faith in the Eucharist (Jn. 6: 70-71). One could argue that his rejection of Jesus' 'hard teaching' was what ultimately led Judas to decide to hand Jesus over to the temple authorities. Note also that Judas' betrayal took place immediately after the Last Supper, in which Jesus first gave his followers his Body to eat and Blood to drink (see passage below). Judas' lack of faith in the Eucharist might well have been the very trigger that caused him to act. At the very least, the association is clear.
Mk. 14: 22-24 – "While they were eating, he took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them, and said, 'Take it; this is my body.' Then he took a cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them, and they all drank from it. He said to them, 'This is my blood of the covenant which will be shed for many.'" Jesus did not choose his words carelessly. He is referring to Ex. 24: 4-8, where we see Moses ratifying the old covenant with the blood of peace offerings: "Then he took the blood and sprinkled it on the people, saying, 'This is the blood of the covenant which the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words of his.'" Was the original covenant symbolic only? Hardly, for when the Israelites broke it, they paid a very real price: a covenantal curse. Also, note that here Jesus does not say that the contents of the cup symbolize the blood of the covenant which will be shed. Rather, he says the contents are the blood of the covenant which will be shed. We know that the 'shedding' that Jesus was speaking of would prove to be all too real – not merely symbolic. So how can we assume that the 'blood' that would be shed is less real than the shedding? The facts are undeniable: There is not a single verse in scripture where Jesus, the evangelists, or the apostles refer to the Eucharist as merely symbolic.
Lk. 24: 13-35 – After Jesus' resurrection, two disciples spent time in deep conversation with the Lord on their way to Emmaus. They did not recognize him, even though he was teaching them from the scriptures the passages that referred to him and his passion. However, that night, over their meal, "he was made known to them in the breaking of the bread." This is a telling fact. Although the Lord was obscured to them in the scriptures – apparently 'sola scriptura' was not enough for them to grasp even the Truth that was walking beside them – he was finally revealed in the Eucharistic meal. "The breaking of the bread" is a reference to an action that still takes place in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass today, when the priest breaks the consecrated Host to re-present the broken Body of our Lord, Christ Jesus.
1 Cor. 5: 7-8 – "For our paschal lamb, Christ has been sacrificed. Therefore, let us celebrate the feast..." Paul is referring to the Mass, the new Passover, where the people of God, united with the perfect sacrifice of Jesus through his Body and Blood in the Eucharist, pass over from sin and death into the new life of salvation. The Church teaches that the Mass is both sacrifice and meal.
1 Cor. 11: 26-30 – "...whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup unworthily will have to answer for the body and blood of the Lord." Here St. Paul reinforces the teaching of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Being adjudged guilty of someone's 'body and blood' is a clear reference to murder. How could anyone be guilty of murder for violating a mere symbol? This is also a key passage that affirms the Church's practice of denying the Eucharist to those who are not in full communion with the Catholic Church. St. Paul is warning us that to receive the sacrament without an accompanying faith would be an offense of the most serious nature, akin to the murder of the Lord.
Heb. 13: 10-16 – "We have an altar from which those who serve the tabernacle have no right to eat." The author is differentiating between the Christian community and the Jewish people. He is saying those who continue to worship in the Jewish tradition cannot share in the Eucharistic meal. Again, this passage affirms the Catholic Church's tradition that those who are not members of the community may not share in the sacrament.
1 Cor. 10: 14-17 – "The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because the loaf of bread is one, we, though many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf." Note the word, 'participation.' That is an active word that refers to active exchanges between people, not symbols. St. Paul could have just as
easily written, "is it not a symbol of the body of Christ," but he did not. We do in fact participate in the Body and Blood of Christ, we don't just honor it or think of it.
Gen. 14: 18 – "Melchizedek.. brought out bread and wine..." This mysterious high priest and king is a clear precursor to Christ – our High Priest and King. Catholic scripture scholar, Scott Hahn, notes the importance of Melchizedek in his book, 'The Lamb's Supper.' Hahn observes that the roles of priest and king are only rarely united in one individual in scripture as they are in both Melchizedek and Jesus. Melchizedek's priesthood pre-dates the Levitical priesthood, so it is very ancient. Melchizedek is in fact the first high priest mentioned in scripture. Scripture tells us that Melchizedek was king of Salem – the same place where Jeru-salem – meaning 'city of peace' (Ps. 76: 2) – would later be built. Abraham revisited Salem years later, when he took his son Isaac up to Mount Moriah to offer him as a sacrifice to God (Gen. 22: 2). Israelite tradition, as cited in 2 Chron. 3: 1, associates Mount Moriah with the future site of the temple of Jerusalem. So we see that the spot where Melchizedek offered bread and wine on behalf of Abraham could well have been the very same place that Abraham later went to offer his son as sacrifice to God, and it could have been the same spot from which the Hebrew people offered their sacrifices centuries thereafter. And it could also have been the same place our High Priest, Jesus, offered his sacrifice on Calvary. If true, this would be an astonishing geographical convergence. On another topic, it is important to note that Ps. 110 says of the coming Messiah, "Like Melchizedek you are a priest forever." This verse clearly establishes the Last Supper as a sacrifice, since it is the only time in scripture we see Jesus offering bread and wine. Since the psalm refers to Jesus as a priest 'like Melchizedek', then the Last Supper meal must have also been a sacrifice – which implies both a priest and a victim. This observation reaffirms the Catholic teaching that the Last Supper was in fact the first Mass.
Belief in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist dates back to apostolic times. It is evidenced in the writings of the earliest Church fathers – among them, St. Ignatius of Antioch, who, writing in 110 A.D., states: "Take care, then, to use one Eucharist, so that whatever you do, you do according to God: for there is one Flesh of our Lord Jesus, and one cup in the union of His Blood..." ('The Faith of the Early Fathers,' Vol. 1, Jurgens, p. 22.) Historians agree that Ignatius knew the apostles John and Peter, and was probably ordained by one of them. It is hardly likely that such a great martyr as St. Ignatius would have gone to his death to maintain the purity of the faith, declining to offer even a pinch of incense to Caesar when doing so would have saved him from the lions, yet at the same time would have ignored what he learned from the mouths of the apostles, thus corrupting the faith by propounding novel and absurd notions. This is not just unlikely, it is unthinkable. And when you add to it the fact that all the Church leaders at the time must have simultaneously traveled the same strange path to apostasy, the illogic of the 'Great Apostasy' theory comes clear. Thus, the teaching of the Real Presence had to have come from the apostles, who were present at the Last Supper, and who heard Jesus preaching to the multitudes along the shores of the Galilee. The complete unanimity of the early Church fathers on this teaching allows for no other conclusion. It is also interesting to note that not a single Christian voice was raised to question this teaching for nearly fifteen hundred years.
JESUS' 'ONCE-FOR-ALL' SACRIFICE
Many Protestants believe that, in the Mass, Catholics are "re-sacrificing" Jesus and denying the "once-for-all" saving power of the Crucifixion. They state that when Jesus said, "It is finished," (Jn. 19: 30) from the cross, he was speaking of his perfect sacrifice, and our redemption. However, St. Paul tells us that our salvation is completed only by the resurrection: "...if Christ has not been raised, your faith is in vain; you are still in your sins" (1 Cor. 15: 17). Moreover, the scriptures tell us that Jesus' sacrifice – while it is undeniably a "once-for-all" event – is nonetheless still ongoing. Or, perhaps better put, it exists out of time. For it is referred to in present tense in scripture, as is the need for the faithful to sacrifice on an ongoing basis:
Zech. 14: 1-21 – "And every pot in Jerusalem and in Judah shall be holy to the Lord of hosts; and all who come to sacrifice shall take them and cook in them." This extended eschatological passage in Zechariah describes "the day of the Lord." It may be interpreted variously as either the end times, or the time after the arrival of the Messiah. Either way, the ongoing sacrifice by the faithful ones is clearly prophesied. Thus, the once-for-all sacrifice did not cease on the first Good Friday, but continues. Also note the interesting association between the sacrifice and a meal. The Eucharist, which is known to Catholics as a 'sacrificial meal', is clearly foretold here.
Mal. 1: 11 – "For from the rising of the sun, even to its setting, my name is great among the nations; And everywhere they bring sacrifice to my name, and a pure offering..." Again, the sacrifice by the faithful, through the eternal priesthood of Jesus, is ongoing. And note that this prophecy is fulfilled today. During every second of every day, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is being celebrated somewhere in the world.
1 Jn. 2: 1-2 – "...if anyone does sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous one. He is expiation for our sins, and not for our sins only but for those of the whole world." St. Paul is referring to the expiation of Christ's sacrifice in the present tense, not the past. Christ's role as Victim did not end two thousand years ago; his sacrifice is eternal, as we see in the following verse:
Rev. 5: 6 – "Then I saw standing in the midst of the throne and the four living creatures and the elders a Lamb that seemed to have been slain." John's timeless vision of heaven includes Jesus' sacrifice – once again, not in past time but in the timeless present. Scott Hahn, a former Protestant minister who is today one of the Catholic Church's most renowned scripture scholars, has observed that the Book of Revelation is the description of the Mass – the Paschal sacrifice – which is celebrated eternally in heaven. With its prayers of petition and thanksgiving; its messages of encouragement and admonition to the various communities of the faithful; its acknowledgment of the Presence of the Lamb who was sacrificed; the prostration, the worship, the candles, the incense, the vestments and the endlessly repeated prayers, the scene described in Revelation is unquestionably a liturgical celebration and sacrifice. So when we partake in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, we are merely joining the heavenly hosts in their ongoing celebration as described by St. John in the Book of Revelation..
Ps. 110: 4 – "Like Melchizedek you are a priest forever." This verse clearly establishes the Last Supper – and therefore the Mass – as a sacrifice. Since the Last Supper is the only point that Christ offers bread and wine, the Last Supper, is the sole point of comparison between Melchizedek and Jesus. Which compels us to conclude that Jesus was indeed acting as a "priest" at the Last Supper, and that his sacrifice is "forever." This very important verse is echoed in Heb. 5: 6; 5: 10 and 6: 20.
1 Cor. 11: 24 – "'This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.'" In recent centuries, Protestant thinkers have latched onto the word, "remembrance,” to bolster their view of the Sacrament of the Eucharist as symbol only. However, when an old friend visits – in person – we do a lot of recalling of old times together. This nostalgic sharing could certainly be termed a "remembrance." Loved ones can recall the past together more easily than they can apart. So the word "remembrance" implies nothing about the Real Presence, pro or con. Fr. Mitch Pacwa, a popular author and scholar, says that the Greek word "anamnesis" – which we translate as "remembrance" – is a word that occurs very rarely in scripture and, when it does, is almost always associated with sacrifice. Outside of the context of the Last Supper, the word is found in the New Testament only in Heb. 10: 3, where the "remembrance" is actually equated with the act of carrying out a sacrifice under the Mosaic law: "...in those sacrifices there is only the yearly remembrance of sins..." In the Old Testament, the word occurs in Lev. 23: 24, where we find it translated as "reminder": "...you shall keep a sabbath rest, with a sacred assembly and with the trumpet blasts as a reminder, you shall then do no sort of work, and you shall offer an oblation to the Lord." Notice once again the context of sacrifice. And in Num. 10: 10, we see the translation, "reminder," again: "On your days of celebration, your festivals, and your new moon feasts, you shall blow the trumpet over your holocausts and your peace offerings; this will serve as a reminder of you before your God." Again, the clear reference is to "oblation," or sacrifice. So, if Jesus did not view the Last Supper – or the Mass – as a sacrifice, then he chose a very odd word – this "remembrance" – to instruct his followers to carry on the tradition. For when he says, "Do this in remembrance of me..." he is making a crystal-clear reference to sacrifice, one that his followers could not possibly have overlooked.
Heb. 8: 1-3 – "...we have such a high priest, who has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, a minister of the sanctuary and of the true tabernacle that the Lord, not man, set up. Now every high priest is appointed to offer gifts and sacrifices; thus the necessity for this one also to have something to offer." Again, our high priest, Jesus, is offering sacrifice – present tense – in heaven. When a Catholic priest celebrates the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, he and all present are joining in that heavenly sacrifice, with the heavenly hosts, and with Jesus as High Priest.
1 Cor. 5: 7-8 – "For our paschal lamb, Christ has been sacrificed. Therefore, let us celebrate the feast..." Paul is referring to the Mass, the new Passover, where the people of God, united with the perfect sacrifice of Jesus through his Body and Blood in the Eucharist, pass over from sin and death into the new life of salvation. The Church teaches that the Mass is both sacrifice and meal.
From the earliest times, the community has been gathering to offer sacrifice – the Eucharistic liturgy. In 213 A.D., Tertullian wrote: "A woman, after the death of her husband… prays for his soul and asks that he may, while waiting, find rest; and that he may share in the first resurrection. And each year, on the anniversary of his death, she offers the sacrifice" ('The Faith of the Early Fathers,' Vol. 1, Jurgens, p. 158). This ancient text is an example of the memorial Mass, still offered today by Catholics for loved ones who have died. The reference to 'sacrifice' is explicit throughout both the scriptures and the writings of the earliest believers. Yet most Protestant congregations today offer nothing remotely resembling a sacrifice.
God ordained a seven-day cycle for our lives – six days of work, followed by a day of rest. But nowhere in scripture is that cycle tied to any calendar system, let alone our own, which was not in existence until more than a thousand years later. God commands us to rest after a series of six days – not to rest on the specific day we now know as 'Saturday.' Indeed, during the time of the apostles, when the entire Church made the transition to worshiping on the Lord's Day rather than the Jewish Sabbath, not a single dissenting voice was raised among either the apostles or the early Church fathers. This fact alone validates the move.
Rev. 1: 10 – St. John makes reference to the Lord's day, which proves that the focus shifted from ‘the seventh day’ to ‘the eighth day’ in apostolic times: "I was caught up in spirit on the Lord's day..."
Acts 20: 7 – The Sunday Eucharist is referred to in the scriptures: "On the first day of
the week when we gathered to break bread..." The very earliest believers went to the Jewish temple on the seventh day, then gathered as Christians on the next day, "the Lord's day," to break bread. As their sense of being people of the new covenant was refined, it became clear that they should dispense with the Mosaic law (see Gal. 4: 10, below) and so they naturally transitioned to Sunday sabbathing. The fact that this took place in apostolic times, and that none of the apostles objected, means it was done through the authority of Jesus, who proclaimed himself lord of the sabbath (Mt. 12: 8).
Gal. 4: 10 – Paul exhorts the faithful to leave the Jewish observances behind: "You are observing days, months, seasons and years. I am afraid on your account that perhaps I have labored for you in vain."
1 Cor. 16: 1-2 – "On the first day of the week each of you should set aside and save whatever he can afford..." St. Paul was collecting money for construction of a church in Jerusalem. Naturally, he requested that collections be taken up during the Eucharistic celebration which took place on 'the first day of the week' rather than on the seventh. There is no question that the transition to Sunday sabbathing took place quite early and that the apostles sanctioned it.
Mt. 12: 1-12 – The Pharisees object to the disciples breaking the sabbath. Jesus corrects them: "'I say to you, something greater than the temple is here... the Son of Man is Lord of the sabbath.'" The Lord is linking the Jewish Sabbath observance with the Jewish temple, and making a clear distinction between himself and the temple, between the old covenant and the new.
Lev. 23: 7; 23: 16 – The Israelites actually celebrated the sabbath on 'Sunday,' or "the eighth day," twice during the year. So even in Moses' time, it was accepted that under certain circumstances, the sabbath could fall on a day other than the seventh.
Lk. 6: 1-11 – The Pharisees protest that Jesus' followers desecrate the sabbath; Jesus corrects them: "'The Son of Man is lord of the sabbath.'" To celebrate the sabbath on the Lord's Day is simply an acknowledgment of the fact that, since our salvation by Jesus, we are newly created participants in the new covenant. As the original sabbath honored God's creation of the universe as described in Genesis – the very creation that was stained by the sin of Adam and Eve – so Sunday sabbathing honors the new creation conceived through the death and resurrection of Christ. Denying the Sunday sabbath celebration is to deny Christ his rightful place as Redeemer of the universe, because it denies the new creation which he instituted.
Lk. 13: 10-17 – "'Does not each one of you on the Sabbath untie his ox... This daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has bound for eighteen years now, ought she not to have been set free on the sabbath day from this bondage?'" Again, Jesus corrects a lack of understanding concerning the sabbath. Clearly, Jesus' authority extends to the sabbath.
Jn. 5: 9-18 – "...the Jews began to persecute Jesus because he did this on a sabbath. But Jesus answered them, 'My Father is at work until now, so I am at work.' For this reason the Jews tried all the more to kill him..." Jesus earned the enmity of Jewish authorities by reframing and redefining traditional sabbath laws.
Ex. 16: 1-30 – The sabbath was instituted, not in reference to any specific day of the calendar, but in reference to a seemingly random day upon which the Israelites were grumbling against Moses and Aaron. "The Lord has given you the sabbath. That is why on the sixth day he gives you food for two days. On the seventh day everyone is to stay home and no one is to go out." This is the inception of the sabbath; no mention is made of the calendar, only of the cycle of six days of labor followed by a day of rest. The Jewish people themselves linked the sabbath to the calendar, presumably for the sake of convenience. There is simply no biblical passage – and no divine injunction – that commands us to do so. Assigning the observation of the sabbath to Saturday is a tradition instituted by men, not by God.
Ex. 35: 1-3 – When Moses gives the people the sabbath commandment, there is again no mention of any calendar system – only a cycle of six days' work, followed by one day's rest: "Moses assembled the whole Israelite community and said to them, 'This is what the Lord has commanded to be done. On six days work may be done, but the seventh day shall be sacred to you as the sabbath of complete rest to the Lord.'"
Ex. 12: 1-2 – The denominations that require Saturday sabbathing – despite the fact that there is no explicit command in scripture to do so – at the same time fail to follow this utterly explicit commandment which is categorically tied to the calendar: "The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt, 'This month shall stand at the head of your calendar; you shall reckon it the first month of the year.'" This passage is referring to the month in which Passover falls, which of course is in the spring. Nonetheless, those denominations begin their annual count of months with January – not March, April or May – and in doing so ignore a commandment of the Lord that actually is about the calendar. Yet, as noted, by tying the cycle of six workdays followed by a day of rest to the calendar, they perceive a commandment where there is none.
Ezek. 20: 10-12 – The Lord gave the sabbath to the people in the desert after their exodus from Egypt, not immediately after creation week: "Therefore I led them out of the land of Egypt and brought them into the desert... I also gave them my sabbaths to be a sign between me and them, to show that it was I, the Lord, who made them holy." Again, there is no indication here that sabbathing is to be tied to a specific day of the week.
Mt. 20: 19 – "'...and he will be raised on the third day.'" If we are to interpret the Old Testament's command regarding sabbathing on "the seventh day" as being definitively tied to the calendar week, then must we not conclude that Jesus was here prophesying that his resurrection would take place on "the third day" of the week – or Tuesday? The resulting conclusion would be that Jesus was a false prophet, since the resurrection clearly did not take place on "the third day" of the week, but rather on "the first day." One interpretation is no more farfetched than the other.
Is. 1: 13 – The letter of the old law gives way to the law of Jesus, which is written on our hearts: "New moon and sabbath, calling of assemblies, octaves with wickedness: these I cannot bear."
Around the year 110 A.D., St. Ignatius, the third bishop of Antioch who was very likely instructed in the faith by the apostles Peter and John, confirms the fact that the early Christians no longer gathered with the Jewish community on Saturday, but instead celebrated the resurrection by worshiping on Sunday: "If, then, those who walked in ancient customs came to a new hope, no longer sabbathing but living by the Lord's Day, on which we came to life through Him and through His death..." ('The Faith of the Early Fathers,' Vol. 1, Jurgens, p. 19.) If Sunday worship is the sign of apostasy, as some denominations claim, then how is it that the entire community fell into sin almost instantly, contrary to Jesus' promise that the gates of the netherworld would not prevail against his Church (Mt. 16: 18), and how is it that the Holy Spirit worked through apostates to reveal to them precisely which books ought to be included in the canon of scripture and which should not? And where are the writings of those who remained faithful to the practices taught by the apostles? No, it is too much to believe that the entire Church simultaneously and spontaneously apostatized en masse, and that those who were instructed in the faith by the lips of the apostles themselves were the authors of this mass apostasy. (See the 'Great Apostasy' section below.)
Even non-Christian faith traditions recognize the value to a soul of submitting to a spiritual authority greater than oneself. Yet the Protestant doctrine of 'sola scriptura,' which gives ultimate spiritual authority to each individual's interpretation of scripture, makes such submission unnecessary. It also guarantees that there will be an ongoing proliferation of denominations and sects, as each new and different subset of interpretations seeks to assert itself. In short, 'sola scriptura' makes schism inevitable. Yet the Bible clearly reveals that schism is against God's will:
Acts 17: 30 – "God has overlooked the times of ignorance, but now he demands that all people everywhere repent because he has established a day on which he will 'judge the world with justice' through a man he has appointed, and he has provided confirmation for all by raising him from the dead." The times of ignorance are over; God has shown us the way through his Son, Jesus Christ. We have no excuse for not following him and the Church he founded.
Rom. 13: 1-2 – "Let every person be subordinate to the higher authorities, for there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been established by God. Therefore, whoever resists authority opposes what God has appointed, and those who oppose it will bring judgment upon themselves." St. Paul could scarcely be clearer. When we submit to the spiritual authorities ordained by God, we are in truth submitting to God himself.
Jer. 14: 15-16 – "Therefore, thus says the Lord: 'Concerning the prophets who prophesy in my name, though I did not send them... by the sword and famine shall these prophets meet their end. The people to whom they prophesy shall be cast out into the streets of Jerusalem by famine and the sword. No one shall bury them, their wives, their sons, or their daughters, for I will pour out upon them their own wickedness.'" It is a bad thing to follow a false prophet, and worse yet to be one.
Mk. 13: 21-22 – "'False messiahs and false prophets will arise and will perform signs and wonders in order to mislead... Be watchful! I have told it all to you beforehand.'" We must always ask by what authority spiritual leaders lead.
2 Pet. 2: 1-2 – "...there will be false teachers among you, who will introduce destructive heresies and even deny the Master who ransomed them, bringing swift destruction on themselves. Many will follow their licentious ways..." All of the great heretics of history have come from the ranks of the clergy of the Catholic Church. This fact fulfills Jesus' prophecy, that the false teachers who introduce destructive heresies will be 'among' the faithful.
Mt. 7: 15-20 – "'Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing, but underneath are ravenous wolves.'" The false prophets will not necessarily be readily identifiable. Some may appear learned or pious or educated in the scriptures.
Ezek. 22: 28 – There are false prophets who invoke the name of God: "...pretending to visions that are false and performing lying divinations, saying, 'Thus says the Lord God,' although the Lord has not spoken."
Rev. 2: 15-16 – "'...you also have some people who hold to the teaching of [the] Nicolaitans. Therefore, repent. Otherwise, I will come to you quickly and wage war against them with the sword of my mouth.'" The Lord himself will assail those who adhere to error.
Tit. 3: 10-11 – Heretics are to be avoided: "After a first and second warning, break off contact with a heretic, realizing that such a person is perverted and sinful and stands self-condemned."
1 Jn. 2: 19 – "They went out from us, but they were not really of our number; if they had been, they would have remained with us. Their desertion shows that none of them was of our number." St. John is telling us quite clearly that it is submission to apostolic authority that is the chief hallmark of faithfulness – not, it is worth pointing out, one's own deftness at interpreting scriptures.
1 Jn. 4: 6 – "...anyone who knows God listens to us, while anyone who does not belong to God refuses to hear us. This is how we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of deceit." The ultimate sign of truth is apostolic authority. Those whose beliefs depart from the teachings of the apostles – which we discern through both the scriptures and through Sacred Tradition, as defined by the Magisterium of the Church and the testimony of the early Church fathers who themselves learned the faith from the lips of the apostles – do not belong to God.
Deut. 17: 8-12 – "Any man who has the insolence to refuse to listen to the priest... shall die." Submission to spiritual authority ordained by God has always been a requirement – indeed, a hallmark – of the chosen. Proclaiming ourselves – or our own interpretations of scripture – as the supreme authority of faith places us in mortal danger.
2 Cor. 6: 14-15 – "Do not be yoked with those who are different, with unbelievers. For what partnership do righteousness and lawlessness have? Or what fellowship does light have with darkness?"
Num. 12: 1-15 – Miriam rebels: "'Is it through Moses alone that the Lord speaks? Does he not speak through us also?'" Miriam is rendered leprous for her sin. Her complaint sounds remarkably like the sentiments of many Christians today who dispute the authority of the Church hierarchy. Of course we know that the Bible refers to the 'kingdom' of God, not the 'committee' of God, nor the 'co-op' of God.
Num. 16: 1-35 – The ancient scriptural account of the revolt of Korah contains this rallying cry that could have been written by the 16th century Reformers as they railed against the authority of the Catholic Church: "They stood before Moses and held an assembly against Moses and Aaron, to whom they said, 'Enough from you! The whole community, all of them, are holy; the Lord is in their midst. Why then should you set yourselves over the Lord's congregation?' ...So they withdrew from the space around the Dwelling... And fire from the Lord came forth which consumed the two hundred and fifty men..." The Lord’s wrath is unleashed against those who would question the authority of the leaders he ordains.
Rom. 10: 3 – "...in their unawareness of the righteousness that comes from God and their attempt to establish their own [righteousness], they did not submit to the righteousness of God." Submission is one of the keys to the spiritual life – submission to God and to his ordained authority on earth, the Church. People who try to find their own way, trusting to their own understanding of God's revelation rather than to the collective wisdom of centuries, run the gravest of risks.
The 2000 edition of the World Christian Encyclopedia, published by Oxford University Press, estimates that there are 33,820 Christian denominations. And these separate groups do not all agree on a single tenet of faith, with the possible exception of heaven (although they strenuously disagree on who will gain entry). This cannot be the unity Jesus petitioned from the Father before he died (see John 17).
THE 'GREAT APOSTASY'
Mormons, Seventh Day Adventists and various other non-Catholic groups claim that in the days immediately after Jesus' Ascension, the Catholic Church apostatized en masse. One problem with this theory is that, if it is true, then Jesus' promise not to let the netherworld prevail against his Church (Mt. 16: 15-19) was false – which we know cannot be the case. Another problem is that the early Church fathers are nearly uniform in their understandings of the faith. If their teachings are non-apostolic, then where are the writings of those who remained firm in the faith of the apostles and disputed these false teachings? There are no such writings. No, for more than a thousand years after Jesus, the understanding of Christian believers on so many of the questions that are now in dispute – infant Baptism, Jesus' Real Presence in the Holy Eucharist, Sunday worship, Mary's role in salvation history, etc. – were uniformly adhered to in the Church Our Lord founded. There were simply no voices in the early Church that questioned them. It is impossible to conceive of these early believers undermining the faith which they received from the apostles’ own lips by developing their own doctrines. After all, in so many cases, their commitment to their faith was absolute and unwavering. Rather than compromise its purity by offering even a few grains of incense to the Roman gods, they chose instead to suffer torture and death as martyrs to their faith. It is difficult to imagine a more resolute commitment to the truth than what these holy men and women demonstrated, even at the cost of their lives.
Acts 20: 29-30 – "'I know that after my departure savage wolves will come among you, and they will not spare the flock. And from your own group, men will come forward perverting the truth to draw the disciples away after them.'" Many point to this passage as a prophecy of 'the great apostasy' of the early Catholic Church. However, in no way does this passage predict the apostasy of the entire early Christian community. For the 'wolves' are said to come 'among' the believers. So many must have remained faithful to Jesus' authentic teachings for there to have been 'believers' for the wolves to come among. Indeed, this prophecy arguably was fulfilled when two Catholic clergymen left the Church to become the two greatest heresiarchs of history – Arius, and Luther. Both men originated from 'among' the faithful, since both were Catholic clergy before their apostasy. This applies to many of the other schismatics of history as well – Marcion, Calvin, Lefebvre, etc.
2 Pet. 2: 1-2 – "...there will be false teachers among you, who will introduce destructive heresies and even deny the Master who ransomed them, bringing swift destruction on themselves. Many will follow their licentious ways and because of them the way of truth will be reviled." Again, this cannot be a prophecy of the entire Church apostatizing, since the 'false teachers' will be found 'among you' – which is to say, among the true community of believers. Thus, the teachers are false, not the community. Again, Marcion, Arius and Luther would each seem to qualify quite nicely as fulfilling this prophecy, for each was definitely 'among' the faithful, having been a member of the Catholic clergy before having become a schismatic.
Mt. 28: 18-20 – "'All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go,
therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them... teaching them to
observe all I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the
end of the world.'" Jesus promised to be with his Church until the end of time, so we can be assured it will never fail.
CALL NO MAN 'FATHER'
This command of Jesus, found in Mt. 23: 9-10, is not about vocabulary. If it were, the New Testament writers wouldn't have repeatedly used the word 'Father' to refer to human beings. Instead, Jesus is warning us against putting our complete faith and trust in a human being rather than God. We must never submit our innermost being to anyone other than God himself. No prophet, no guru, no teacher should garner our total trust, only God. If simply using the word, 'Father,' to refer to a human being were wrong, we would not find the word used that way throughout the scripture. But of course we do – again and again:
Lk. 16: 24 – Jesus himself refers to "Father Abraham" in the parable of Lazarus the beggar. Would he have failed to follow his own command?
1 Cor. 4: 14-15 – "…I became your father in Christ through the gospel..." St. Paul refers to himself as a spiritual father. In doing so, he defines the way in which Catholics use the term, "father," in referring to a priest – as a "father in Christ through the gospel."
Acts 7: 1-2 – St. Stephen, the first martyr, says to the high priest and the elders and scribes: "'My brothers and fathers, listen. The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham…'"
Rom. 4: 17-18 – St. Paul refers to Abraham as "... the father of us all..." and "the father of many nations."
1 Thess. 2: 11 – "...we treated each one of you as a father treats his children..." Again, St. Paul describes himself as a spiritual father to the faithful.
1 Jn. 2: 13-14 – "I write to you, fathers..." St. John also appears to disobey Jesus' directive – an impossibility, of course. So we see that the vocabulary-based interpretation of Jesus' words cannot be correct.
Mt. 23: 8 – Actually, "father" is not the only word which the passage in question appears to forbid us from using: "'As for you, do not be called 'Rabbi.' You have but one teacher, and you are all brothers.'" "Rabbi" means "teacher." Yet the same people who object to priests being called "father" don't blink an eye when they refer to their Sunday school "teachers."
There is no indication in scripture that Jesus planned for his followers to be divided into separate denominations, divided by different traditions and beliefs, divided on virtually every single Christian doctrine including the divinity of Jesus himself. Instead, we see the Lord praying that his followers be united in their faith. The Protestant notion that the Church referred to in the New Testament is 'invisible' – in fact, imaginary – is found nowhere in the scriptures. It is another innovation, a 'tradition of men.'
Jn. 17: 11-23 – "'I pray not only for them, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me.'" Jesus is upholding the union of all believers in the communion of saints, saying we are one in the same way he and the Father are one. What an awesome, profound prayer this is, and glorious will be the day when it reaches its ultimate fulfillment.
Phil. 1: 27-28 – "…standing firm in one spirit, with one mind struggling together for the faith of the gospel, not intimidated in any way by your opponents. This is proof to them of destruction, but of your salvation." The divisions that plague the 'sola scriptura' congregations – on matters as basic as the nature of Jesus himself – are convincing evidence that the Holy Spirit is not guiding them.
Phil. 2: 2 – "...complete my joy by being of the same mind, with the same love, united in heart, thinking one thing." The idea of multiple denominations would not been appealing to St. Paul.
1 Jn. 2: 19 – "They went out from us, but they were not really of our number; if they had been, they would have remained with us. Their desertion shows that none of them was of our number." Submission to apostolic authority is the hallmark of faith.
THE ROSARY/VAIN REPETITIONS
When we Catholics pray the Rosary, Protestants accuse us of disobeying Mt. 6:7, which states, "'In praying, do not babble like the pagans, who think that they will be heard because of their many words.'" But the Rosary is scripture-based, and in praying it we are not emulating pagans, but the heavenly hosts:
Rev. 4: 8 – "Day and night they do not stop exclaiming: 'Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God almighty, who was, and who is, and who is to come.'" St. John’s vision of heaven revealed that the angels and saints pray repetitively. So obviously Jesus was objecting not to repetition, but to the insincerity and emptiness of the pagans' words.
And of course the prayers of the Rosary, the 'Hail Mary' and the 'Our Father,' are both scripture-based. If we are wrong to pray the 'Hail Mary,' then so was the Angel Gabriel who first 'prayed' it (see Luke Chapter 1).
The word, 'graven,' means cut, chiseled, or engraved. God's commandment against graven images refers to the worship of idols shaped by human hands, in the style of the pagans. It clearly did not mean that all images are inherently evil – neither statues in churches, nor photos in wallets. In fact, on many occasions God himself specifically directs the Israelites to fashion images of various types. So clearly it is the worship of such images that is an abomination, not the images themselves:
Ex. 25: 18 – God directed the Israelites to decorate the ark of the covenant with images of angels: "Make two cherubim of beaten gold for the two ends of the propitiatory, fastening them so that one cherub springs direct from each end. The cherubim shall have their wings spread out above..."
Ex. 37: 7-9 – “Two cherubim of beaten gold were made for the two ends of the propitiatory... They were turned toward each other, but with their faces looking toward the propitiatory."
2 Chron. 3: 10-13 – 'Graven images' of angels were constructed for the temple as well: "For the room of the holy of holies he made two cherubim of carved workmanship which were then overlaid with gold. The wings of the cherubim spanned twenty cubits..." This could never have been permitted if images were forbidden by God.
2 Chron. 4: 4 – Figures of twelve metal oxen stood in temple: "It rested on twelve oxen, three facing north, three west, three south, and three east, with their haunches all toward the center…"
1 Kings 7: 29 – There was a large assortment of images visible in the temple: "On the panels between the frames there were lions, oxen, and cherubim; and on the frames likewise, above and below the lions and oxen, there were wreaths in relief."
1 Kings 6: 23 – Under his own volition, Solomon had cherubim made for the temple; God did not command it, but neither was their presence offensive to him: "In the sanctuary were two cherubim, each ten cubits high, made of olive wood." Also, it is quite clear that any images of wood must have been 'graven.'
Ezek. 41: 17-18 – "...on every wall on every side in both the inner and outer rooms were carved the figures of cherubim and palm trees..." There seem to have been many 'graven images' in the Temple.
Heb. 9: 5 – In the New Testament as well, images of angels were said to have adorned the temple: "Above it were the cherubim of glory overshadowing the place of expiation." They could scarcely have been offensive to God.
Ex. 26: 31 – Embroidered images were also fashioned for the sanctuary of the ark: "You shall have a veil woven of violet, purple and scarlet yarn, and of fine linen twined, with cherubim embroidered on it."
Num. 21: 8 – "...the Lord said to Moses, 'Make a saraph and mount it on a pole, and if anyone who has been bitten looks at it, he will recover.' Moses accordingly made a bronze serpent and mounted it on a pole..." This is, prima facie, a violation of the supposed injunction against fashioning images of creatures, yet God himself commands it. So clearly the literalist interpretation – that any fashioning of images of creatures is offensive to God – must be faulty. And note the New Testament reference to this event:
Jn. 3: 14-15 – "And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life." The Israelites were saved after Moses followed God's directive and fashioned a figure of a snake and held it up before the people. It is thus quite obvious that the commandment did not forbid all images of physical beings.
Is. 45: 20 – "They are without knowledge who bear wooden idols and pray to gods that cannot save." It is the worship of false gods that is forbidden, not the simple fashioning of images. Nowhere do the scriptures actually forbid us from fashioning images, graven or otherwise. They merely forbid us from worshiping images, which of course no Christian could ever conceive of doing.
The understanding that certain objects became holy through their proximity with God or with a holy person predates Jesus by centuries. Witness the power associated with the ark of the covenant, and the reverence accorded it. We also see holy objects venerated in the New Testament as well.
2 Kings 13: 21 – "Elisha died and was buried. At the time, bands of Moabites used to raid the land each year. Once some people were burying a man, when suddenly they spied such a raiding band. So they cast the dead man into the grave of Elisha, and everyone went off. But when the man came in contact with the bones of Elisha, he came back to life and rose to his feet." This is an example of the relics of a holy man actually bringing the dead to life.
Acts 19: 11-12 – Scripture tells us that, through the grace of God, material items can convey his power. For example, objects which St. Paul touched actually healed the sick: "So extraordinary were the mighty deeds God accomplished at the hands of Paul that when face cloths or aprons that touched his skin were applied to the sick, their diseases left them…"
Mt. 9: 20 – "A woman suffering hemorrhages for twelve years came up behind him and touched the tassel on his cloak. She said to herself, 'If only I can touch his cloak, I will be cured'..." The cloak did not have power in its own right, but through the One who was wearing it. Yet 'faith alone' did not succeed in healing the suffering woman – for faith was what inspired her to touch the cloak. She had to step forward in faith and touch. It was her faith in Jesus, combined with her action, that yielded the cure.
Mt. 14: 35-36 – "People brought to him all those who were sick and begged him that they might touch only the tassel on his cloak, and as many as touched it were healed."
The earliest detailed account we have of martyrdom outside that of Stephen in Acts 7 is that of the venerable saint, Polycarp, in 155 A.D. Even at this early date, we see the faithful preserving and revering the relics of this beloved man: "When the centurion saw the contentiousness caused by the Jews, he confiscated the body and, according to their custom, burned it. Then, at last, we took up his bones, more precious than costly gems and finer than gold, and put them in a suitable place. The Lord will permit us, when we are able, to assemble there in joy and gladness; and to celebrate the birthday of his martyrdom, both in memory of those who have already engaged in the contest, and for the practice and training of those who have yet to fight" ('The Faith of the Early Fathers,' Vol. 1, Jurgens, p. 31). Note also the very ancient practice of celebrating feast days.
The crucifix is a symbol of the Paschal mystery, which tells us that, to share in the victory of the resurrection, we must unite our suffering with that of the Lord in his Passion. We are reminded – vividly – that there is no birth to new life without a death to the old. This is a difficult message for us to accept, of course, which is why we need it constantly before us.
Num. 15: 37-41 – This command from God shows that the sight of a physical object can turn one's heart toward holy things: "The Lord said to Moses, 'Speak to the Israelites and tell them that they and their descendants must put tassels on the corners of their garments, fastening each corner tassel with a violet cord. When you use these tassels, let the sight of them remind you to keep all the commandments of the Lord, without going wantonly astray after the desires of your hearts and eyes. Thus you will remember to keep all my commandments and be holy to your God.'"
2 Tim. 2: 11-12 – "If we have died with him we shall also live with him; if we persevere we shall also reign with him." The crucifix is a reminder of this supremely important fact. Our salvation depends utterly on the cross of Jesus, just as the blood on the lintel – a precursor of the cross, according to the early Church fathers – was the salvation of the firstborn of Israel at the first Passover.
Mt. 10: 38 – "'...whoever does not take up his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me.'" Jesus himself repeatedly reminds us of his cross. Will we turn away from it, or will we embrace it? This is the question posed by every crucifix we see.
Gal. 6: 14 – "But may I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world." Christians who display the crucifix are doing nothing more than following the example of St. Paul and boasting – visually – in the cross of our Lord.
Unfortunately, many who decide to convert from Protestant denominations to the Catholic faith suffer abuse from well intentioned, but misguided, family and friends. Jesus tells us that following him entails a price. Anyone who suffers persecution for his sake is in a very real sense a martyr for the Lord.
Mt. 5: 11-12 – "'Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you [falsely] because of me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven.'"
Mt. 10: 21-23 – "'Brother will hand over brother to death, and the father his child; children will rise up against parents and have them put to death. You will be hated by all because of my name, but whoever endures to the end will be saved.'" Some of the worst examples of persecution occur within families, as Jesus said would occur.
Mt. 10: 25-33 – "'If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more those of his household!… Everyone who acknowledges me before others I will acknowledge before my heavenly father. But whoever denies me before others, I will deny before my heavenly father.'" It is no accident that many characterize the Catholic Church as the Antichrist and the 'whore of Babylon.' They said the same kinds of things about her founder and head, Jesus. When people say these things, they are merely fulfilling Jesus' own prophetic words. And when we have the opportunity to stand firm for our faith in the face of strong opposition – or even persecution – we will be acknowledged by our Savior in heaven. So, difficult though it may be, we should be grateful when we are attacked for our faith.
Mt. 10: 37-39 – "'Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.'" Those who are persecuted for their faith are the most fortunate of Christians, for they are able to prove beyond question their love for Jesus.
Jn. 15: 18-16: 2 – "'If the world hates you, realize that it hated me first… the hour is coming when everyone who kills you will think he is offering worship to God. They will do this because they have not known either the Father or me. I have told you this so that when their hour comes you may remember that I told you.'" Jesus warns us to expect opposition and hatred – and, on occasion, death.
Many people feel guardian angels are like fairies and unicorns – a harmless fiction told to children. Yet the teaching about guardian angels has a solid biblical foundation.
Mt. 18: 10 – "'...do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that their angels in heaven always look upon the face of my heavenly Father.'" Here Jesus himself upholds the existence of guardian angels who watch over children.
Ps. 91: 11-12 – "For God commands the angels to guard you in all your ways. With their hands they shall support you..."
Heb. 1: 13-14 – "...to which of the angels has he ever said: 'Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies your footstool?' Are they not all ministering spirits sent to serve, for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation?"
Ps. 34: 8 – “The angel of the Lord, who encamps with them, delivers all who fear God.”
Dan. 6: 23 – "'My God has sent his angel and closed the lions' mouths so that they have not hurt me.'"
Acts 5: 19 – "...during the night, the angel of the Lord opened the doors of the prison, led them out, and said, 'Go and take your place in the temple area, and tell the people everything about this life.'"
Since apostolic times, divisive influences within the community were summarily expelled. This practice is both advocated and practiced in the Bible.
1 Tim. 1: 20 – "...Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan to be taught how not to blaspheme." St. Paul himself expelled evildoers from the community.
Mt. 16: 19 – "Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven." Jesus promises that whatever approbations or condemnations are issued by the Church will be honored in heaven.
Mt. 18: 17-18 – "'If he refuses to listen even to the church, then treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector. Amen, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven...'" Jesus instructs his followers to eject stubborn offenders from their midst.
1 Cor. 16: 22 – "If anyone does not love the Lord, let him be accursed."
DIETARY LAWS & ALCOHOL AS SIN
The Protestant communities that forbid alcohol consumption claim to uphold the principle of 'sola scriptura.' Yet nowhere do we see the scriptures forbidding consumption of alcohol. Indeed, as we know, Jesus' first miracle was the changing of water into wine. There is an important distinction between forbidding drunkenness, which the Bible does, and forbidding alcohol, which the Bible does not.
1 Tim. 5: 23 – "Stop drinking water, but have a little wine for the sake of your stomach..." Would St. Paul have made this recommendation if drinking alcohol were an offense to God?
1 Tim. 4: 3 – "They forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving..." We can conclude from this statement of St. Paul's that the very fact that certain groups outlaw the eating of certain foods is an indication that they are not of the true faith.
Col. 2: 20-23 – "...why do you submit to regulations as if you were still living in the world? 'Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!' These are all things destined to perish with use; they accord with human precepts and teachings. While they have a semblance of wisdom in rigor of devotion and self-abasement and severity to the body, they are of no value against gratification of the flesh." One of the signs of a faith tradition that is unbiblical is the prohibition of certain kinds of food and drink.
Some Protestants claim that 1 Tim. 4: 1-3, which condemns those who forbid marriage, refers to the tradition of priestly celibacy within the Latin Rite of the Catholic Church. But this is false, since the Church does not coerce anyone to be a priest or a sister. Anyone is free to choose the married life as a vocation. Nonetheless, St. Paul is definite about the efficacy of the celibate state (below). For those able to conquer their natural desires, celibacy is the preferred lifestyle of one who seeks to commit his or her life to God. When Luther decried celibacy on the grounds that it was too difficult, he contradicted scripture's clearly stated position.
1 Cor. 7: 32-35 – "An unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how he may please the Lord. But a married man is anxious about the things of the world, how he may please his wife, and he is divided. An unmarried woman or a virgin is anxious about the things of the Lord, so that she may be holy in both body and spirit. A married woman, on the other hand, is anxious about the things of the world, how she may please her husband." St. Paul is definite: For the spiritual person who is able to manage it, celibacy is the preferred way of life. It allows one's commitment to the Lord to remain undivided.
Mt. 19: 12 – "'Some are incapable of marriage because they were born so; some, because they were made so by others; some, because they have renounced marriage for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Whoever can accept this ought to accept it.'" Jesus himself holds up celibacy – the renunciation of marriage for the kingdom of heaven – as admirable.
1 Cor. 7: 37-38 – "The one who stands firm in his resolve, however, who is not under compulsion but has power over his own will, and has made up his mind to keep his virgin, will be doing well. So then, the one who marries his virgin does well; the one who does not marry her will do better."
Jer. 16: 1-2 – Jeremiah was commanded by God to live a celibate life: "This message came to me from the Lord: Do not marry any woman; you shall not have sons or daughters in this place…"
Ex. 19:15 – God commanded his people to abstain from intercourse during great and holy events, in this case the coming of the Lord down from Mt. Sinai: "…[Moses] warned them, 'Be ready for the third day. Have no intercourse with any woman.'"
1 Sam. 21: 4-5 – The priest Abimelech stipulates that the holy bread which he gives to David may be eaten only by men who have abstained from intercourse.
ASH WEDNESDAY/LENTEN DEVOTIONS
Fasting and penance were used by the ancients to express contrition, and to assist them in controlling their natural urges. This message of humble self-abnegation runs counter to our culture's emphasis on satisfying any and every desire we might feel. The Church's penitential traditions are intended to help us become more conscious of – and more contrite about – our sins, as well as to help us conquer our impulses and desires as the holy ones did in ancient times.
Gen. 18: 27 – "Abraham spoke up again... 'I am but dust and ashes.'" The Ash Wednesday devotions are intended simply to remind us of this fact.
2 Sam. 13: 19 – "Tamar put ashes on her head and tore the long tunic in which she was clothed..."
Esther 4: 1-3 – "When Mordecai learned all that was happening, he tore his garments, put on sackcloth and ashes..."
Dan. 9: 3 – "I turned to the Lord God, pleading in earnest prayer, with fasting, sackcloth, and ashes. I prayed to the Lord, my God, and confessed..."
Job: 42: 6 – "Therefore I disown what I have said, and repent in dust and ashes."
Jon. 3: 6-10 – "When the news reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, laid aside his robe, covered himself with sackcloth and sat in the ashes. Then he had this proclaimed throughout Nineveh... 'Neither man nor beast, neither cattle nor sheep, shall taste anything; they shall not eat, nor shall they drink water.' …When God saw by their actions how they turned from their evil way, he repented of the evil that he had threatened to do to them; he did not carry it out.
Mt. 3: 1-6 – "In those days, John the Baptist appeared, preaching in the desert of Judea [and] saying, 'Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!'... John wore clothing made of camel's hair and had a leather belt around his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey..." Throughout the scriptures, we see the holy ones undergoing great self-denial. Lent is an opportunity for all of us to examine our lives and take steps to cleanse our hearts and our lives of distractions and impediments.
Mt. 4: 2 – "He fasted for forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was hungry." Jesus himself denied his bodily appetites.
Lk. 10: 13 – "'Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty deeds done in your midst had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would long ago have repented, sitting in sackcloth and ashes.'" Doing penance has always been a part of repentance.
Mt. 11: 21 – "'Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty deeds done in your midst had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would long ago have repented in sackcloth and ashes.'" Scriptures repeat the above passage in which Jesus acknowledges – and thus endorses – the practice of doing penance for one's offenses.
Ezek. 9: 1-11 – The foreheads of the just ones who recoil at the evil of the world are marked with the sign of the Lord. The evildoers are killed, but the ones whose foreheads are marked are spared.
THE DIVINITY OF JESUS
Some faith traditions, including Jehovah's Witnesses, have revisited the ancient Arian heresy, denying Jesus' divinity and viewing him as a created being, an exalted figure whose nature is somewhere between man's and God's. They point to verses such as, "…the Father is greater than I" (Jn. 14: 28); "…I am going to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God" (Jn. 20: 17) and, "…Christ is the head of every man, and a husband the head of his wife, and God the head of Christ" (1 Cor. 11: 3). These – and other – passages seem convincing, at least until one examines the verses that flatly contradict this interpretation, several of which are represented below. How can we reconcile these two pictures – Jesus as clearly subject to the Father, and Jesus as One with the Father? Easily, for even though any human father is in a certain sense "greater" than his son, they are also co-equals in terms of their nature and substance. In addition, Jesus is both man and God. Certainly, in his human nature, he is created and is thus subject to the Father. But to focus solely on his human nature to the exclusion of his place in the Godhead is a complete mischaracterization of Jesus' true nature – and an express denial of another entire set of Bible verses. In addition, many of the passages cited by the opponents of the Trinity – including Mt. 3: 17, where we find the Father saying, "'This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.'" – illustrate only that Jesus is God's Son, and not that he is inferior at all. In fact in Jn. 5: 18, we find that being God's Son actually means being equal to God: "For this reason the Jews tried all the more to kill him, because he not only broke the sabbath but he also called God his own father, making himself equal to God." The fact is, Jesus was quite explicit about who he is and why he came. If he was wrong – or if he was lying – then the temple leaders were totally justified in executing him.
Acts 20: 28 – "…you tend the church of God that he acquired with his own blood." In this passage, "God" is the only possible antecedent of the pronoun, "he." Thus, St. Paul is clearly stating that Jesus is God, for Jesus is the one whose blood was shed.
Jn. 1: 1-3 – "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be." Jesus, the Son, is the Word. In the beginning he was both "God" and "with God." This is a simple, poetic statement of the relationship of the Trinity: "God with God." Also, the fact that all was created through the Son – and that "without him nothing came to be" – is a clear statement that Jesus is himself not a creature. Since all of creation – including each and every creature – came to be through him, we must conclude that Jesus himself is not a creature, or it would mean he had to have created himself, an obvious impossibility.
Rev. 3: 14 – "To the angel of the church in Laodicea write this: 'The Amen, the faithful and true witness, the source of God's creation…" Again, we see that Jesus was the source of all creation. Therefore – by definition, even – he cannot himself be a creature.
Jn. 8: 58 – Jesus makes his nature clear: "'Amen, amen, I say to you, before Abraham came to be, I AM.' So they picked up stones to throw at him; but Jesus hid and went out of the temple area" The great "I AM" was the sacred name given to Yahweh. Jesus is stating his nature in terms so clear and strong that, if wrong, they would totally justify his execution. Which is why those present immediately tried to stone him. They were very clear on the divine nature he was claiming.
Acts 7: 59 – In scripture, we see the faithful actually praying to Jesus: "As they were stoning Stephen, he called out, 'Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.'" Again, this is a clear indication of Jesus' divinity.
1 Cor. 1: 2-3 – "…to you who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be holy, with all those everywhere who call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours. Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ." St. Paul is definite about whose name the faithful are to call upon.
2 Pet. 1: 1 – "…to those who have received a faith of equal value to ours through the righteousness of our God and savior, Jesus Christ…" Peter could scarcely be more explicit about the divinity of Jesus.
Jn. 10: 30-33 – "'The Father and I are one.' The Jews again picked up rocks to stone him. Jesus answered them, 'I have shown you many good works from my Father. For which of these are you trying to stone me?' The Jews answered him, 'We are not stoning you for a good work but for blasphemy. You, a man, are making yourself God.'" The Jews knew the significance of Jesus' statements about his nature. They were absolutely right about his claims. His only possible defense, of course, was that his claims were true.
Jn. 5: 18 – "For this reason the Jews tried all the more to kill him, because he not only broke the sabbath but he also called God his own father, making himself equal to God." If Jesus' divinity was nothing more than a misunderstanding perpetuated by his followers years after his death, then why did he not correct the same idea held by the temple authorities in the passage above, and thus avoid a wretched and painful death?
Lk. 10: 18 – "Jesus said, 'I have observed Satan fall like lightning from the sky Behold, I have given you the power 'to tread upon serpents' and scorpions and upon the full force of the enemy and nothing will harm you.'" Jesus tells us he is the one who imparts these supernatural powers upon his followers. He does not ask the Father to impart them; he does not need to. He is God. Not one of the prophets, kings and judges of the Bible – not Abraham, not Moses, not David -- ever made a similar claim.
Phil. 2: 6-7 – "…Christ Jesus, who though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself…" This is an explicit statement that Jesus was consubstantial – or "One in Being," as the ancient Nicene Creed puts it – with the Father.
Mt. 11: 27 – "'All things have been handed over to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and any one to whom the Son wishes to reveal him.'"
Jn. 14: 6-10 – "'Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I speak to you I do not speak on my own. The Father who dwells in me is doing his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else, believe because of the works themselves.'"
Jn. 17: 3 – Jesus' prayer reveals his true nature: "'Now this is eternal life, that they should know you, the only true God, and the one whom you sent, Jesus Christ. I glorified you on earth by accomplishing the work that you gave me to do. Now glorify me, Father, with you, with the glory that I had with you before the world began.'"
Rev. 22: 13 – "'I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.'" Christ refers to himself with the very phrase spoken by God in scripture to describe himself (Is. 41: 4 and 44: 6; Rev. 1: 8 and 21: 6). Jesus' meaning could scarcely be clearer.
As evidence of Jesus' divinity, the New Testament writers make explicit parallels between Jesus and various Old Testament texts and prophecies that apply to Yahweh. Here are a few of many such examples:
Ps. 16: 8-11 – "I keep the Lord always before me; with the Lord at my right, I shall never be shaken…" See Acts 2: 25-28.
Ps. 68: 19 – "You went up to its lofty height; you took captives, received slaves as tribute…" See Eph. 4: 8.
Joel 3: 5 – "Then everyone shall be rescued who calls on the name of the Lord…" See Rom. 10: 13.
Is. 6: 10 – "You are to make the heart of this people sluggish, to dull their ears and close their eyes; else their eyes will see, their ears hear, their heart understand, and they will turn and be healed." See Jn. 12: 40.
Is. 45: 23 – "To me every knee shall bend; by me every tongue shall swear..." See Phil. 2: 10-11.
Deut. 10: 17 – "For the Lord, your God, is God of gods, the Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome…" See Rev. 17: 14, 19: 16.
If the Jehovah's Witnesses are correct about Jesus' nature – and he is not actually God at all, but only a creature – then not only would his death not be redemptive (since only God could pay the price for mankind's covenantal curse), but the high priests would have actually been quite correct in calling for his execution. For if he is not God, then he was an impious blasphemer who got precisely what he deserved.
THE HOLY TRINITY
Jesus draws a clear distinction between himself and the Father. Indeed, he refers to himself and the Father in the plural, as "we." He is equally definite about the Holy Spirit, the Advocate, whom he promised to send to guide us.
Jn. 14: 23 – "Jesus answered and said to him, 'Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words; yet the word you hear is not mine but that of the Father who sent me.'" Jesus here distinguishes between himself and the Father by using the pronoun, "we." Some claim that the Father and Son are just different forms – or different roles – occupied by the same single being who is God. If this were so, it would make no sense for Jesus to refer to himself and the Father together as, "we." I would never think of referring to myself in my various roles – as U.S. citizen, as father and as employee, say – as "we." There is no clearer evidence possible than this simple pronoun in the mouth of Jesus.
Jn. 17: 3 – Jesus' prayer reveals the distinction between Father and Son: "'Now this is eternal life, that they should know you, the only true God, and the one whom you sent, Jesus Christ. I glorified you on earth by accomplishing the work that you gave me to do. Now glorify me, Father, with you, with the glory that I had with you before the world began.'" Jesus and the Father shared in glory even before Creation; there is a clear distinction expressed here.
Jn. 14: 25-26 – "'I have told you this while I am with you. The Advocate, the holy Spirit that the Father will send in my name – he will teach you everything and remind you of all that [I] told you.'" In this passage, Jesus is referring to the entire Holy Trinity – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. And the distinctions he makes between the three Persons are quite definite. The Father sends. The Son comes to earth. The Spirit teaches and inspires. The core theology of the Trinity is present in this one brief passage.
Jn. 6: 44 – "'No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draw him, and I will raise him on the last day.'" Who but God can raise the dead? Even the Old Testament prophets who raised the dead prayed for God to act through them. Yet here Jesus says that he, not the Father, will raise the dead. And in the case of Lazarus of Bethany, Jesus himself commanded Lazarus to "come out." He did not call upon Yahweh here, or in any of his other miracles. In every case, he was acting on his own authority – which is not that of creature, but of Creator.
Rom. 8: 14 – "For those who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God."
Acts 2: 3-4 – "Then there appeared to them tongues as of fire, which parted and came to rest on each one of them. And they were all filled with the holy Spirit and began to speak in different tongues, as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim." The Holy Spirit is an active agent of inspiration and change, not simply an attitude or a reflection. He is key to the establishment of the Church on that first Pentecost. Without the Holy Spirit, the apostles would have never had the power or the perseverance to carry out their mission.
Mt. 3: 16-17 – "After Jesus was baptized, he came up from the water and behold, the heavens were opened [for him], and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove [and] coming upon him. And a voice came from the heavens, saying, 'This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.'" This is a clear reference to the Holy Trinity. Each of the divine Persons is described in vivid terms. Each is present, and together they act in perfect concert.
Acts 8: 14-17 – When they were baptized in Jesus' name alone, the Samaritans did not receive the Holy Spirit. This indicates a clear differentiation between the Person of Jesus, and the Holy Spirit: "Now when the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent them Peter and John, who went down and prayed for them, that they might receive the holy Spirit, for it had not yet fallen upon any of them; they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then they laid hands on them and they received the holy Spirit."
JESUS NOT AN ANGEL
Some teach that Jesus was not God at all, but an archangel. This teaching is based, as so many errors are, on a few scripture passages taken out of context, and it dates back to the early centuries of the Church. Of course this position ignores another entire set of scripture verses which contradict the idea most decisively:
Heb. 1: 5-13 – "For to which of the angels did God ever say: 'You are my son; this day I have begotten you'? Or again: 'I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me'? And again, when he leads the first-born into the world, he says: 'Let all the angels of God worship him.' Of the angels he says: 'He makes his angels winds and his ministers a fiery flame'; but of the son: 'Your throne, O God, stands forever and ever; and a righteous scepter is the scepter of your kingdom.' …to which of the angels has he ever said: 'Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies your footstool'? Are they not all ministering spirits sent to serve, for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation?" This passage is an altogether explicit response to the ancient heresy that Jesus was merely an angel. The author is addressing the issue head-on and showing its error.
Dan. 10: 13 – "...finally Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me." Michael is only 'one' of many. John 1, of course, tells us that Jesus is alone and unique, 'the Word' of God through whom all of creation – including the heavenly hosts – came to be.
Jude 1: 9 – "Yet the archangel Michael, when he argued with the devil in a dispute over the body of Moses, did not venture to pronounce a reviling judgment upon him but said, 'May the Lord rebuke you!'" Michael refers judgment to God. But unless he is quoting scripture, Jesus himself never addresses God directly with the term, 'Lord,' for that is a word we creatures use to address our Creator and Master. But Jesus is not a creature, he himself is in fact 'Lord.'
Col. 1: 16 – "For in him were created all things in heaven and on earth, the visible and the invisible, whether thrones or dominations or principalities or powers; all things were created through him and for him. He is before all things." Angels, too – including Lucifer himself – were created through the Son.
Col. 2: 18 – "Let no one disqualify you, delighting in self-abasement and worship of angels, taking his stand on visions, inflated without reason by his fleshly mind, and not holding closely to the head, from whom the whole body, supported and held together by its ligaments and bonds, achieves the growth that comes from God." We are created to adore God. Jesus, being God, is the object of our adoration. But in this passage, St. Paul clearly forbids the adoration of angels. So if Jesus were an angel, we would be forbidden to adore him – a clear contradiction of 1 Pet. 4: 11, where we find, "…in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belong glory and dominion forever and ever."
1 Thess. 4:16 – "For the Lord himself, with a word of command, with the voice of an archangel and with the trumpet of God, will come down from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first." This is one of the primary texts used by those who claim Jesus is an archangel. However, if Jesus were really an archangel, then "the voice of an archangel" would be the last phrase St. Paul would think of using to describe the sound of Jesus' voice. For who would ever describe the sound of an attacking lion with the sentence, "The vicious beast came at me with the roar of a lion"? If the Lord himself is an archangel, then what sense would it make to point out that he has the voice of an archangel?
Rev. 19: 10 – "I fell at his feet to worship him. But he said to me, 'Don't! I am a fellow servant of yours and of your brothers who bear witness to Jesus. Worship God.'" The angel here makes a major distinction between himself and God. He, an angel, is not worthy of worship. Yet the scriptures tell us that our Lord Jesus Christ is in fact worthy of our adoration: "…in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belong glory and dominion forever and ever" (1 Pet. 4: 11).
See also the above section, 'The Divinity of Jesus.'
MARY, THE MOTHER OF GOD
Mary as Ark of the New Covenant
Catholics do not adore Mary, for the simple reason that she is not God. Indeed, some members of the early Christian community who actually did worship Mary – for example, the Collrydians who offered sacrifices to her – have in fact been excommunicated from the Church. No one who adores Mary can be a Catholic. Yes, we do certainly love Mary, and we are grateful to God for the gift she represents to humanity. For it was through Mary – quite literally – that salvation came into the world. She is shown by scripture to be the ark of the new covenant. As such, she is due greater esteem than the old ark, which was viewed by the ancient Israelites as the most precious and revered object in creation apart from the Creator himself. So we see that treating her as 'just another Christian' is unbiblical, since even an angel of God pays homage to her in a remarkable and unprecedented manner, praising her as one would a royal personage (Lk. 1: 28). In truth, when we venerate Mary we are fulfilling her clear New Testament prophecy:
Lk. 1: 48 – "'...behold, from now on will all ages call me blessed.'" For two thousand years now, Mary's prophecy has been in a state of constant fulfillment.
Lk. 1: 43 – Elizabeth's greeting, "'…how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?'" isn't just unusual, it is absolutely radical. Elizabeth was "well advanced in years," far older than Mary. For her to address a younger relative in this way would have been completely unheard of in a culture with such rigidly hierarchical family customs. Further, Elizabeth's greeting clearly establishes Mary as the new ark of the covenant, since the phrase Elizabeth uses refers to the following Old Testament verse:
2 Sam. 6: 9 – David asks, "'How can the ark of the Lord come to me?'" This passage parallels Elizabeth's greeting in Lk. 1: 43 (above). Thus, Mary is shown to be the new ark of the covenant, the bearer of God, or 'Theotokos.' When David, in fear, sent the ark to the house of Obededom, it stayed there three months (2 Sam. 6: 11). Mary remained with Elizabeth for the same period of time – three months (Lk. 1: 56). These parallels, which the New Testament writers knew would be obvious to the early Christian community which was steeped in the Old Testament scriptures, are not mere coincidences.
Rev. 11: 19 – 12: 1 – The ark of the covenant, described as being visible in the sanctuary of Heaven, refers to Mary, who is the new ark, being present in body. For heaven is about perfected New Testament fulfillments, not imperfect Old Testament types: "Then God's temple in heaven was opened, and the ark of his covenant could be seen in the temple... A great sign appeared in the sky, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars." The ark of the covenant parallels this queenly personage who can only be Mary, since her offspring is said to be "…destined to rule all the nations with an iron rod" (12: 5). Note that the division of the Bible into chapters was not undertaken until the thirteenth century ('Where We Got The Bible,' Henry Graham, TAN Books, p. 58). So the separation between chapters 11 and 12 is an arbitrary device. To get an accurate understanding of John's words, we should read the verses as a unified whole.
Ps. 138: 2 – "I bow low toward your holy temple..." How much more appropriate to bow toward the living temple of Jesus' own loving mother, within whom dwelled God-among-us, in both Body and Spirit.
Lev. 19: 30 – "...reverence my sanctuary. I am the Lord." Again, which is the greater sanctuary, a temple of stone, or the womb which actually sustained the God-man and gave him life? We are commanded to reverence the stone; then how can we then fail to reverence the woman through whom our Savior received his existence as a man, and who nurtured him, taught him and loved him?
Lk. 1: 35 – Gabriel tells Mary: "'The holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.'" The Greek word for 'overshadow' is 'epischiadze,' which is the same word used in reference to the ark of the covenant in the following passage. There it is translated as 'settled down upon.' Thus, once again, Mary is shown to be the new ark:
Ex. 40: 34-35 – "The cloud covered the meeting tent, and the glory of the Lord filled the Dwelling. Moses could not enter the meeting tent because the cloud settled down upon it and the glory of the Lord filled the Dwelling." This verse clearly parallels Lk. 1: 35 (above), since the unusual and very specific verb form, 'epischiadze,' is used. Mary is associated with the old ark to show she is the ark of the new covenant. Since she is the fulfillment of the old ark, Mary is due all the homage paid to the old ark, and more. Also, just as Moses could not enter the Dwelling while the Spirit of the Lord was within, so no mere man could 'enter' Mary. Such a thing would have been an unimaginable defilement.
Lk. 1: 38 – Mary's assent was required before God would fulfill his Word. Think about this for a moment: God deigns to ask a humble human being's permission before he redeems the world. Also think about this: She had the power to say no. Of course, she does not say no. Instead, she utters her beautiful 'fiat', which is an exquisite one-phrase summation of the ultimate meaning of faith: "'May it be done to me according to your word.'" The initiation of our redemption can be traced to this moment, for this is the moment that signaled Christ's entrance into humanity. And the ark fulfilled its purpose.
Lk. 1: 42 – Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, makes this radical, almost blasphemous statement: "'Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.'" She applies the same word, 'blessed,' both to I AM, the divine Creator of the universe, and to a mortal human creature, Mary. And, just as surprising, she actually pays homage to Mary first. In a culture so steeped in hierarchy and position, and so sensitive to desecration, this cannot have been an accident, either of St. Elizabeth's, of the Holy Spirit's, or of St. Luke's. This is not, of course, blasphemy, but a measure of the tremendous love and esteem in which the Holy Spirit holds his beloved spouse.
Please note: For some of the passages in the Marian sections of this booklet, the Douay-Rheims translation of the Bible is used. The Douay-Rheims version is more literal than our contemporary translations, so it captures nuances of the writers' intentions that broader translations do not. Incidentally, the Douay-Rheims Bible was one of those consulted by the translators of the original King James Bible. The two versions actually have much in common.
Mary as the New Eve
Judg. 5: 24 – "Blessed among women be Jahel..." Mary is twice described as being "blessed among women" – once by Gabriel, in Lk. 1: 28, and again by Elizabeth, in Lk. 1: 42. Their words are a reference to this Old Testament verse which describes an incident in which Jahel, a woman of Israel, entices the leader of the opposing army into her tent, lulls him to sleep, then pierces his skull by pounding a tent peg into it. This reference to Jahel speaks of the fulfillment of the following divine prophecy:
Gen. 3: 15 – "'I will put enmities between thee and the woman, and thy seed and her seed: she shall crush thy head, and thou shalt lie in wait for her heel.'" The Hebrew pronoun is indefinite as to gender. The passage could be translated, "she shall crush," referring to Mary, or "he shall crush," referring to Jesus. Jerome, in translating his Latin Vulgate, used the form, "she." Most modern translators use, "he." However, even the fact that it is not definite is of interest. Luke's dual references to Jahel make his intention clear. Mary is the fulfillment of the Genesis prophecy. Like Jahel, Mary has crushed the head of evil. The 'enmity' between Mary and Satan becomes all too clear in Revelation 12: "And the serpent cast out of his mouth after the woman, water as if it were a river, that he might cause her to be carried away by the river... And the dragon was angry against the woman..." (verses 15, 17). Eve and Jahel are types, and Mary is their fulfillment. All of these astonishing passages of the Old Testament are reconciled and fulfilled, St. Luke is telling us, in the person of Mary.
Jn. 2: 3-4 – Jesus refers to his mother with the word for 'woman,' rendered in the Greek Septuagint as "gune," a term of high rank. Some feel that Jesus is admonishing his mother by using this word: "'Woman, how does your concern affect me? My hour has not yet come.'" However, we know that Jesus could not have possibly been so disrespectful as to admonish his mother in public. That would have been a sin punishable by stoning. No, the term, "gune," was a title of honor, for the same word which was used by God in his speech to Eve in Gen. 3: 15 (see above).
Jn. 19: 26 – Greek word, "gune," as above, again used in reference to Mary. Clearly, the word 'woman' in scripture is hardly a rebuke, however it may sound to modern ears.
Gal. 4: 4 – Greek word, "gune," as above, used to show great honor to Mary: "…when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law..."
Devotion to Mary
As we saw in the previous section, the scripture writers are clear about the status of Mary: She is the queen who stands at the right hand of the Messiah; she is the ark of the new covenant, for her body held the Person of Jesus Christ. In a unique and marvelous way, she was the Dwelling of the Lord, his sanctuary. Now, if the old ark was the archetype of the new ark, we need only examine the way the Israelites regarded the old ark to discern how we should view the new ark:
1 Chron. 16: 4 – "He (David) now appointed certain Levites to minister before the ark of the Lord, to celebrate, thank, and praise the Lord, the God of Israel." Priests 'ministered before' the ark, showing it a special reverence. And it was a mere object. Mary is far more deserving of our veneration.
1 Chron. 16: 37-38 – "Then David left Asaph and his brethren there before the ark of the covenant of the Lord to minister before the ark regularly according to the daily ritual; as he also left there Obed-edom and sixty-eight of his brethren, including Obed-edom, son of Jeduthum, and Hosah, to be gatekeepers." More than seventy people specially assigned to 'minister before' and protect the ark – an impressive display of devotion.
1 Chron. 29: 20 – "...David besought the whole assembly, 'Now bless the Lord your God!' And the whole assembly blessed the Lord, the God of their fathers, bowing down and prostrating themselves before the Lord and before the king." Those who bow while addressing Mary are simply bowing down and prostrating themselves before the Lord and before the queen.
Lk. 1: 28 – Gabriel praises Mary: "Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women." This is a royal greeting. The Vulgate's salutation, "Ave," was the word used to greet Caesar, as in "Hail, Caesar!" It was also the word which the soldiers used to mock our Lord before his crucifixion. Of course to give their cruelty the greatest sting, they would have been sure to use the term of highest praise. "Kecaritomene," the Greek word translated as, "full of grace," is actually a verb construction meaning, "one who has been perfected in grace." Nowhere else in scripture does an angel pay homage to a human in this way. Indeed, in Rev. 19: 10, even the great apostle John falls on his face in adoration before an angel because he is so overwhelmed by its presence: "I fell at his feet to worship him. But he said to me, 'Don't! I am a fellow servant of yours...'" And John repeats the same blunder just three chapters later, in Rev. 22: 8, and has to be corrected again by the angel. Incredibly, Mary, a young and simple country girl, makes no such mistake. Instead, the angel is the one who pays homage to her – homage that reflects her status as Queen Mother to our Lord! This is more than astonishing – it is unparalleled in salvation history. (See the passage that follows:)
1 Kings 2: 13-25 – In ancient Middle Eastern kingdoms, the kings had many wives. So the person who assumed the role of queen was actually the queen mother – the king's own mother. In this passage, we see Solomon the king paying homage to his mother, Bathsheba. In fact he himself acknowledges that he cannot refuse her requests: "Then Bathsheba went to King Solomon to speak to him for Adonijah, and the king stood up to meet her and paid her homage. Then he sat down upon his throne, and a throne was provided for the king's mother, who sat at his right. 'There is one small favor I would ask of you,' she said. 'Do not refuse me.' 'Ask it, my mother,' the king said to her, 'for I will not refuse you.'" This is a striking image of the place of the royal mother. The king pays her homage at her appearance. He provides her with a throne. And she is seated at his right side, a vivid demonstration of her place and her power. And the king approves her request even before it is expressed. Another interesting note: on this occasion Bathsheba is in fact lobbying for Solomon's enemy and rival, Adonijah, who has tricked her. But even knowing this, the king cannot refuse his mother's request. Indeed, rather than deny his mother's request, Solomon instead has Adonijah killed – his only way out of the situation. Would Jesus, the fulfillment of all royalty in salvation history, treat his own mother with less respect than the flawed Solomon showed Bathsheba – even to the point of offering her a throne? And if Jesus accords Mary this level of honor, acknowledging her as Queen of Heaven (see above, Rev. 11: 19-12: 1, in 'Mary as Ark of the New Covenant'), then how could we ever honor her less – we who are infinitely less worthy than our Lord?
2 Kings 11: 1-3 – The King's mother actually ruled in the king's place after he died, until the succession was established.
Ps. 138: 2 – "I bow low toward your holy temple; I praise your name for your fidelity and love. For you have exalted over all your name and your promise." We are instructed to 'bow low' before the temple, which contains the old ark. How much more ought we reverence the new ark herself. Thus we see that 'bowing down' before Mary is not only acceptable, it is expected of those who are subject to the new covenant – that is, Christians. In other words, if we were to refuse to venerate Mary, it would be as if the Israelites, in professing their love of Yahweh, nonetheless refused to pay homage to the Dwelling of the Lord. But of course, such a thing would have been totally unthinkable.
Lev. 19: 30 – "Keep my sabbaths, and reverence my sanctuary. I am the Lord." Mary is the sanctuary of the Lord in a sense far truer and far more intimate sense than Solomon’s temple ever was. It was through Mary that Jesus received his human nature and it was through her that he was sustained in his human life. So to reverence Mary is entirely scriptural.
Ps. 134: 2 – "Lift up your hands toward the sanctuary, and bless the Lord." We are directed to take a worshipful posture before the 'sanctuary' – i.e., before Mary. Also, we see that when we bless Mary – 'the sanctuary' – we are in reality blessing the Lord. This fact is key to understanding Catholics' devotion to Mary.
Gen. 27: 29 – "'Let peoples serve you and nations pay you homage.'" Here Isaac is saying that his son, Jacob, is deserving of the praise and homage of entire nations. How much more worthy is Mary, who carried God himself in her womb, who nourished him from her own body, who taught him to walk and talk and live according to the law.
Gen. 49: 8 – "'You, Judah, shall your brothers praise – your hand on the neck of your enemies, the sons of your father shall bow down to you.'" Jacob's prophecy about his son, Judah, includes his brothers bowing down before him. Since this is an occasion of great praise, it can in no way be offensive to God. Judah's brothers are not prostrating themselves in adoration, but are instead showing him the reverence he deserves. And how much more deserving of our reverence is Jesus' holy Mother, who carried God in her womb in a far closer and more intimate fashion than the ark of the covenant carried God's tablets. Yet God demanded such profound reverence for the ark that the slightest unauthorized touch was punished by death.
Gen. 33: 3 – When Jacob was reunited with Esau, he "went on ahead of them, bowing to the ground seven times, until he reached his brother." There is no indication that Jacob's homage to his brother – bowing seven times – is at all offensive to God. So how can it be offensive to God when we bow to Mary, who is far more worthy of our veneration than Esau?
Josh. 5: 13-15 – "While Joshua was near Jericho, he raised his eyes and saw one who stood facing him, drawn sword in hand. Joshua went up to him and asked, 'Are you one of us or of our enemies?' He replied, 'Neither. I am the captain of the host of the Lord, and I have just arrived.' Then Joshua fell prostrate to the ground in worship, and said to him, 'What has my lord to say to his servant?' The captain of the host of the Lord replied to Joshua, 'Remove your sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy.' And Joshua obeyed." Some non-Catholic Christians are at times scandalized by the honor Catholics extend to Mary, including old texts and translations which use the word, "worship" in reference to her. However, the meaning of the word, "worship," has changed. To our modern ears, it denotes adoration, which all Christians agree must be given to God alone, and not to any of his creatures. However, only a hundred years or so ago, "worship" meant "honor" and "respect" – as in the title, "your worship," a term used in English literature of the 19th century. Commoners use it as an honorific in addressing their social superiors. The point is, Joshua was not offering adoration to the angel, nor are Catholics who invoke Mary's intercession adoring her. The Church has always taught that Mary is a creature.
1 Sam. 28: 14 – King Saul bows down to the spirit of the deceased Samuel: "…he bowed face to the ground in homage." Note that the holy prophet Samuel does not rebuke him for this action, so we must conclude that bowing to Samuel was not offensive to God.
Lk. 2: 51 – "He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them." Mary delays the initiation of Jesus' ministry. Although still a boy, he was in the process of revealing himself to the temple elders through his masterful and authoritative interpretation of the scriptures (v. 47). However, at Mary's direction he left the temple and returned home with Mary and Joseph. (Also see passage below.)
Jn. 2: 4 – "Jesus said to her, '…My hour has not yet come.'" Yet he accedes to her request that he reveal himself by turning the water to wine. Thus, Mary determines when Jesus' ministry actually begins. (See passage above.)
Jn. 19: 26-30 – Mary also shares in the end of Jesus' ministry. His final act before dying is to place John into her care: "'Woman, behold your son.' Then he said to the disciple, 'Behold your mother.'" Then, "...aware that everything was finished..." he gave up his spirit.
Rev. 12: 17 – Mary is referred to as the mother of all the faithful: "...her offspring, those who keep God's commandments and bear witness to Jesus." This passage reaffirms the fact that from the cross Jesus gave his mother to all of us, not only to the apostle John (Jn. 19: 26-30, above).
Lk. 2: 34-35 – The prophet Simeon definitively ties Jesus' suffering – and his revelatory power – to Mary: "'Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted (and you yourself a sword will pierce) so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.'"
Ps. 45: 7-18 – In this exquisite Messianic prophecy, we see a queen standing at the right hand of the Anointed One. This mysterious woman can only be Mary: "Your throne, O god, stands forever; your royal scepter is a scepter for justice... a princess arrayed in Ophir's gold comes to stand at your right hand... In embroidered apparel she is led to the king... I will make your name renowned through all generations; thus nations shall praise you forever." Of course we know this prophecy refers to Mary, if only because in her Magnificat (Lk. 1: 48, cited in the first verse above), the Evangelist has Mary herself proclaiming: "'...behold, from now on will all ages call me blessed.'" Again, this reference cannot be a mistake. Luke is letting us know, in terms that any Jew of his day would have instantly recognized, that Mary is the fulfillment of this beautiful prophecy of the princess arrayed in gold.
1 Sam. 4: 22 – "'Gone is the glory from Israel.'" Eli's daughter-in-law makes this astonishing statement after the army of the Israelites is defeated, and the ark of the covenant is captured by the Philistines. Note that the glory of God departed when the ark was captured. To our minds, this sounds strange. God is everywhere, isn't he? And isn't God himself the glory of Israel rather than just the box containing the tablets, the staff that budded and the manna? Wouldn't all this fuss about a golden box detract from the people's devotion to God? Obviously not. God, in his mysterious and inscrutable way, gave himself to the nation through the ark. He used the ark to display his power and his Presence. When the ark was taken, Israel's glory was gone. This is the mystery and majesty of the Incarnation: That physical existence – including our own humanity – has real and tangible meaning. Thus, reality is not a mere reflection or illusion, as Buddhism propounds, but it is the arena where the struggle between good and evil takes place, where eternal souls are either lost or saved. It is here that we praise Immanuel – 'God with us' – that is, God sharing our physical reality. And Mary was the first Tabernacle of that awesome reality. Mary, as the new and living ark, is glorious in ways the old ark – the precursor – could never be. In a real and marvelous sense, Mary is the glory of the new Israel, the covenant sealed between God and man through the saving blood of her divine Son. The fact that a person – a creature – could be honored by God in this way is an awesome gift to each one of us.