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What is the Catholic Church?


Most people over the ages have believed in a creator. This creator has a purpose for his creation. In particular for his human creatures. It must be so that we could be happy with him forever. However, intelligent as we may be, we cannot be sure and we cannot know the details.

So, it is our belief that God has revealed some of himself and some of his plan to us. And he has done this bit by bit in types and shadows in so far as we were able to understand and in a way that we could understand. First to a chosen few, then to a whole nation. This revealed knowledge of God has been in simple human terms, often using stories to explain a point. So it was often misunderstood. But though we might KNOW God to some extent and his plan for us and even partly how we could achieve it, ultimately no creature can know God or achieve the perfection of eternal life by himself.

The only one who can know God must be God himself.

God graciously became one of us so that he could teach us and save us.

He is the BRIDGE between God and mankind.

First we believe that God sent different sorts of messengers, (prophets). These taught that God is ONE, unlike so many nations who believed in a multiplicity of gods. Next he gave us a suggestion of his deeper nature which is that God is Three-in One (The Trinity). And this was finally revealed to us by God himself when at last The Second Person of the Trinity came born as a human. His name is Jesus.

Jesus, called The Christ (anointed), being both God and man, was able to forge the essential link, the bridge, between God and all humanity. By his death and resurrection from the dead he has overcome the separation caused by sin between God and man and man and man. He has opened the way for all to be resurrected and live with Him forever.

Now to continue the work for all time, Jesus set up The Catholic Church on twelve apostles with Simon as the leader. Jesus gave him a new name, Peter (the rock). Then God separately converted St Paul. The Church is in fact what we call the Mystical Body of Christ. In other words, the Church is Jesus working today just as he did while on earth though now with a resurrected body. So the Church is not just a human organisation which preaches salvation but is Christ preaching and Christ doing. This work is especially by Word and Sacrament. Sacrament means a sacred sign which actually does what it signifies. Happily this means that salvation for people does not depend on the goodness or cleverness of the ministers or people but of Christ himself. He works through the ministers and people. Sadly many in the Church have sinned grievously and set a bad example. Outside their spiritual remit they have taught wrong things. But since it is Christ who acts, the official acts of the Church and the official spiritual teachings must always be beneficial even in spite of the weakness of her members.

We believe that Christ set up his ministers to teach and to make present his graces through the Mass (The offering of God-made-man to the Father) the Prayer of the Church and the seven Sacraments. He also offers graces through our good works. We also believe that He works through ALL people of good will whether they know him of not. However, since ALL graces must flow from Christ, they must do so in some way from his body, the Church.

Wherever in the early days the gospel was preached in Eastern Europe, Asia Minor and Asia, Christian communities were set up which were called, 'Churches' or gathering. They gathered to hear the Word of God and for the 'breaking of bread'(Eucharist). Peter and Paul both separately went to Rome and were put to their death for their beliefs. Since Peter was the leader in Rome, the then capital of the Roman empire, the Church of Rome became pre-eminent.

In AD 313 the Emperor was converted, so after a period of occasional persecutions Catholicism at last became the official religion of the empire. She was called 'Catholic' since She was to be the means of salvation for ALL people. Bit by bit, usually because of someone questioning a teaching, the Church came to understand more and more about what God wanted for his people and how the Church was to bring it about (Doctrine and Practice). The Bible (Book) was formed by the Church. She wrote the New Testament after the death and resurrection of the Lord and declared which books of the Jewish Old Testament were the inspired word of God.

When the emperor moved his capital to Constantinople the question arose as to which church leader, or bishop, was in future to be the successor of Peter with overall care and authority? Hence though East and West Catholicism was united, there was a certain tension between East and West from time to time. In AD 1472 much of the Eastern Catholic Church sadly broke from the Roman Catholic Church, though she kept all of the practices and 99% of the teachings. They are now called The Orthodox Church. They dispute the position of the Bishop of Rome (Pope).

From AD 1521 others in Europe broke with the Church, coming up with their own doctrines and practices. They are often called as a group, 'Protestants', since they protested against the Church. Sadly Protestants sometimes persecuted Catholics, Catholics occasionally Protestants. By and large Protestants denied the main practice of the Catholics which is the Mass and 5 of the 7 sacraments. They put an emphasis on using The Bible, not the Church or Church leaders as their source of authority.

Happily from the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s, The Catholic Church has taught that, although we still disagree about more or less of the doctrines, we should all work together in mutual respect with all who are baptised.
The Church also taught that whilst not sharing the fundamental unity of baptism and belief we should work with people of other faiths.

Catholics believe that Christ has stayed with his Church in a mystical way. It is through Her that salvation is brought to mankind, whether directly or indirectly. So that we can be ASSURED of this and that we have the correct understanding of the teachings of Christ enough for salvation, Christ set up an infallible Church. Since Christ is infallible his body must be too. That does not mean that Jesus was right in all things, he was a man of his day. But he was right in all things necessary for salvation. Likewise the Catholic Church claims that She must be infallible, but only in those things necessary for salvation. Indeed She is made up of sinners and ignorant people. We believe that this infallibility lies with the Bishop of Rome in conjunction with all his fellow bishops. NB. Bishops and par excellence The Pope are called Pontiffs from the Latin pontifex or bridge. The Pontiff is to be the bridge since he acts for Christ the supreme bridge between God and mankind.

How blessed we are.


Ceop

© Our Lady of Sorrows Catholic Church 2016
A parish of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Southwark.
CIO Registered Incorporated Charity Number 1173050.