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The Nicene-Constantinople Creed of 381 AD, which we recite each Sunday morning during the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, says, “We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.”
To be Catholic is to hold that the Pope is the Vicar of Christ, with divine authority to lead and teach all humanity. The Church’s Latin motto is, Ubi Petrus, Ibi Ecclesia. As Peter, so the Church.
CCC 837 “Fully incorporated into the society of the Church are those who, possessing the Spirit of Christ, accept all the means of salvation given to the Church together with her entire organization, and those who -- by the bonds constituted by the profession of faith, the sacraments, ecclesiastical government, and communion -- are joined in the visible structure of the Church of Christ, who rules her through the Supreme Pontiff and the bishops. Even though incorporated into the Church, one who does not however persevere in charity is not saved. He remains indeed in the bosom of the Church, but “in body” not “in heart.”
A Catholic is a person united with the Pope in every matter of faith (love God) or morals (love one another). There is no such thing as a “dissident Catholic.” If a vice-president of the NAACP were suddenly found under a Ku Klux Klan bedsheet he would not be called a dissident civil rights leader. He’d be called into the president’s office, fired on the spot, and kicked out the door. We Catholics are called to treat with kindness those who oppose us, but in the end a Catholic is defined by his beliefs.
The most prominent among these beliefs is the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist. Catholics united with the Pope in every matter of faith and morals receive this sacrament of Christ’s body and blood, which we call Holy Communion, every day if possible, or at least every Sunday. It is called Holy Communion because we are in holy communion with the living Christ through His vicar, each Pope in his time.
This does not mean we are free from sin. Rom 3:23 “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” It does mean that we try our best to be mirrors of Christ, to reflect His glory back to God and to one another.
We sometimes hear the phrase, “cultural Catholic.” It reminds me of the “kosher style” restaurants in certain Jewish neighborhoods. The food looks and tastes kosher, but it is not kosher, and no observant Jew would eat in one. A person who insists on claiming Catholic identity while proclaiming any doctrine inconsistent with Catholic faith is a heretic.
Christ’s parable of the Mt 13:24 wheat and weeds tells us to keep even those who obstinately remain in the state of mortal sin among us, except in the most extreme cases. We hope in charity that Christ will lead them home, and seek to keep the path home as short and straight as possible through the Sacrament of Penance.
We are to protect the integrity of the Holy Eucharist. 1 Cor 11:27 “Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord.”
Holy Mother Church protects the Holy Eucharist through Canon 915, which states: “Those upon whom the penalty of excommunication or interdict has been imposed or declared, and others who obstinately persist in manifest grave sin, are not to be admitted to Holy Communion.” Archbishop Burke, currently Prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura, and therefore, under the Pope, the Church’s highest authority on Canon Law, explains Canon 915.
If a person believes that the Pope is not the Vicar of Christ, he is in protest against Catholic teaching authority, or Protestant. That is not pejorative; millions of Americans today proudly describe themselves as Protestant. However, it does mean that he is not CCC 837 “fully incorporated into the society of the Church through … acceptance of her entire organization.”
The Scriptural basis for the Catholic faith is this: Jesus said, Jn 10:11 “I am the good shepherd.” He promised His apostles continuing guidance,Jn 16:12 “I have yet many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of Truth comes, He will guide you into all the truth….” The Good Shepherd established His vicar on earth by directing Peter, Jn 21:15 “Feed My lambs … Tend My sheep … Feed My sheep,” and promised, Lk 10:16 “He who hears you hears Me.” Jesus gave His apostles a worldwide mission, hence successors, with the command: Mt 28:19 “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations…” He guaranteed the teaching of the apostles and their successors, Mt 28:20 “I am with you always.” The apostles’ authority to appoint successors, and the successors’ to appoint other successors, is clear from Paul’s letter to Titus, 1:5 “This is why I left you in Crete, that you might … appoint elders in every town as I directed you … For a bishop, as God’s steward, must … hold firm to the sure word as taught.” The apostles enrolled Matthias Acts 1:25 to replace Judas and appointed deacons Acts 6:6 as assistants. The descended Holy Spirit immediately highlighted the Church’s worldwide mission; Peter and the other apostles spoke in their own language to the devout Jews of Jerusalem who had come from every nation under heaven, yet each Jew heard in his own native language. Acts 2:7 “And they were amazed and wondered, saying, ’Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language?’”
A person united with the Pope in every matter of faith or morals is Catholic. Holding that the Pope is the Vicar of Christ with divine authority to teach all the world is what makes Catholics unique among those with very similar doctrines.
The Pope is the Bishop of Rome. Jesus told Peter, Jn 21:15 “Feed My lambs … Tend My sheep … Feed My sheep,” promised, Lk 10:16 “He who hears you hears Me,” and Mt 28:19 “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations…” Peter obediently established his see in Rome. Ever since then, the Bishop of Rome has been the Pope, the Papa, father of the Church.
During Jesus’ visit with us only the twelve were called apostles. All His other followers were called “disciples,” students. Then Acts 11:26 “ in Antioch the disciples were for the first time called Christians.” Jesus was the teacher par excellence; the Christians who saw and heard him were all in accord on what he taught. But during the next generation a few groups broke away and went into schism, claiming to be the real Christians. The Church then began to call itself in Greek katholike, from kataholos (kata according to holos the whole), the church of the whole truth that speaks with one voice to the whole world. The descended Holy Spirit immediate performed a miracle to highlight the Church’s worldwide mission. Peter and the other apostles spoke in their own language to the devout Jews of Jerusalem who had come from every nation under heaven, yet each Jew heard in his own native language. Acts 2:7 “And they were amazed and wondered, saying, ’Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language?’”
St. Ignatius of Antioch used the phrase katholike ekklesia, Catholic Church, the unity of all churches, in letters he wrote during his journey as a prisoner from Antioch to Rome around 107 AD. His use of katholike ekklesia in several letters suggests that it was already in widespread use by then.
The proper name is Catholic Church, not Roman Catholic Church.
Roman Catholic is a unitary term that describes the Latin Rite branch of the Catholic Church, a counterpart to Eastern Catholic which describes the Greek Rite branch. Both of these submit faithfully to papal authority.
However, many people imagine that Roman is an adjective modifying Catholic and therefore falsely conclude that there can be other kinds of Catholics who do not accept papal authority, and therefore use Roman Catholic to describe Catholics who do. Catholics therefore speak of the Catholic Church. “Anglican Catholics,” “Old Catholics,” “Liberal Catholics” and others who do not accept papal authority are not Catholic.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church, 830-856.
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