Ecclesiasticus 4:28

"Fight to the death for truth, and the Lord God will war on your side."

Ora pro nobis,

Most Blessed Virgin Mary, St. Francis de Sales, St. Thomas Aquinas, and St. Dominic. Amen.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Melissa's Answer

In light of Chris' very poignant and sincere question, I've decided to hold off on continuing with the posts on the Rosary, at least for a little while, in the hope that some good fruit will result from the discussion.

So, while I've sat and thought and attempted to respond to Chris' question below, trying to craft a logical, air-tight, erudite, and unassailable answer, my beautiful wife reflected on her recent trials, and her own personal life of faith, and wrote a beautiful and wise answer. Out of honour for my wife, I told her I would post it as its own article, rather than hiding it away in the Comments of Chris' post. So without further ado...

What It Truly Means To Be A Catholic!

  • We gather as a community to share our joys and our sorrows.

  • We recognise sorrow and suffering for what it is and unite our sufferings with Christ's -- We don't gloss over this suffering but we embrace it as the thing that made Him truly human and something that we can relate to.

  • We gather to pray, prayers that may not be spontaneous but those which carry great meaning, those which are familiar and so we can say them even when we are weak and faltering. We stand with our brothers and sisters together and pray, and even though our prayers may not be worthy or well-said, our community is praying with us and for us, and so that makes it worth more.

  • We gather and receive the Eucharist and even when we are faltering and unworthy He is still present in it and thereby we receive Him; and so He works inside us and works to change our hearts even when we don't know what to believe anymore. Jesus shows He loves us so much by giving Himself to us again and again even when we aren't always fully able to understand or comprehend it because of our lapses in faith.

  • Being Catholic means an acceptance of others before making judgements about who they are. We understand that we have something unique and special but we don't preach on the street corner and tell people they're going to Hell. We'd rather show you--through the beauty of our churches, the sacredness of our masses, the social justice work that we do--the Gospel of Christ.

  • It is understanding that while God gave us His Word, He knew that it wouldn't be enough for us to try and muddle through it on our own. It is knowing that we have the ability to read and understand Scripture, but that we also have a body of knowledge, love, and learning in the Tradition that binds us together as a community.
Someone once said that the difference between a Saint and a Theologian is that it takes a Saint just a few words to say what it takes a Theologian books to spell out. Thank you, Sweetheart. I love you.

(Category: The Church: The Make-up of the Church)


C.J. said...

Thank you, Melissa. God has given you wisdom in abundance. No doubt about that.

Your description of what it means to be Catholic, is exactly what my stance is on what it means to be 'catholic'. The difference between us is the lack of heirarchy on my end. You see, I dont' think it's necessary to have a string of people between God and myself acting as authoritative intermediaries; it's redundant as a man to move through a man to the God-man. Especially when the veil was torn, and we were all given the option to enter into the Holy of Holies.

I see the political structure of Church as it has become (whether Catholic or Protestant) as a 'mending of the veil' Christ tore: only certain people are allowed to be in certain places, or do certain things.

So I'm left wondering, if Catholicism in its purest sense is as you've described it, why all the steps, legalisms, and power-structures inbetween just to be a community of believers? Just to do what you've layed out in your post?

Take care,

Joni said...

This is so beautifully worded. So simple, yet so true. Thank you!

I guess the answer I would give to your question, re: heirarchy, etc. is that Jesus knew we'd need it. If not for the appointing of the Twelve, and then their successors and those who have followed for centuries, we would be left on our own to stumble through it all, trying to figure it out.

The whole idea of "just Jesus and me" is so wrong. We cannot truly be a community of believers if we're all following along on our own interpretation of Scripture and Church teaching.

Catholicism (big "C") isn't rules and regulations. It's simply God's means of conveying His ways to us.

One thing that has recently caught my attention is the book of Revelation. My whole life as a Protestant, I simply saw it as symbolic and prophetic. Now I see it in a whole new light. God set up liturgy, and it is how He is worshiped in heaven.

He is truly a God of order, as we can see in all of creation. Why would He leave us His church without order?

Just my own humble thoughts, from one who has only been Catholic a mere 6 months.

Anonymous said...

A very accurate statement, in my opinion. The blessed sacrament is Jesus within us. The Lord works silently and effectively, even when we are weak and falter in our faith. There is no sacrament without bishops and priests, who are successors to the apostles. That is why St. Paul laid hands on Timothy, to pass on to him the work of the original apostles. The Lord does not always work within us just when we expect it. Sometimes His work takes a period of suffering or contemplation. It is a mysterious process, understood only by God.

C.J. said...

"There is no sacrament without bishops and priests, who are successors to the apostles."

Sacraments are not dependent on the people dispensing them. The sacraments (whether you believe they're 7, or 3, or 2, or whatever) are entirely dependent on Our Lord.

Your statement gives the impression that God somehow needs human agency to act. He doesn't. He's self-contained, simple, and entirely capable on His own.

'Apostolic succession' is not a passing down of some cosmic power, or metaphysical super-strength. It's simply a recognition of a person appointed to continue on the work of the apostle before him. So multiple generations of successors equals only that: multiple people doing the same work as the apostles. That's it. It doesn't give out some trans-time dwoemer whereby Bishop X can conjure some Copperfield magic, and poof! Bread is now Body; wine is now blood.

Priest's got nothin' to do with it. Enter the cutting, and salient implications of the Donatist controversy, just as a perky example.


Hidden One said...

Vous ne comprendez pas.

You see, a Sacrament is, truly, an act by which grace is given to man from God. The grace itself does not depend on man, which is why the sacraments of marriage and baptism do not require a priest or bishop, they require the act to be done. However, to be done, certain acts require a priest or bishop, and these are the other 5 Sacraments. And so, you see, the Sacraments are not dependent on the people doing them, they are simply dependent on them being done: no layman can consecrate bread and wine, but the grace delivered by that which still appears as bread and wine, consecrated by any priest, is the same, being only dependent on God.

Gregory said...

Chris, I think you rather completely miss the Donatist example. The Donatists weren't saying that only priests could consecrate the host, while the Catholic Church taught that anyone was entitled to do so. Rather, the Donatists said that only good priests could do so--that is, only priests who really lived up to their priesthood. The Catholic Church replied that, no, the Sacraments work because they work, by virtue of what they are (ex opere operato), not because of the morality or faith of those administering them (ex opere operandi).

In other words, it's not the priest that makes the sacrament effective. It's effective because of Christ within it. But it is through the priest that Christ comes into the Sacrament. The Church has never taught anything other than this since the beginning, and, quite honestly, I defy you to show me where it does.

C.J. said...


Go re-read my point. You're defending what I'm saying.

I didn't miss the Donatist example; I know what they were about. They were rigorists, and ultra-purists. They believed the efficacy of the Sacrament was dependent on the standing of the priest before God.

My point was simply to make clear that the priest, like you've affirmed above, has nothing to do with it; it's Christ who works within the Sacraments by His presence and His Word.

Perhaps you mistook me for saying that I think the Donatists had it right? I don't know. My remark was tongue-in-cheek, and meant to highlight their error.

In any case, thanks for supporting me! ;)

C.J. said...

"Vous ne comprendez pas."

Given the future tense of your statement, and the convolutions of your post, I'd have to say, "you're right!"

So, in the spirit of irony, I return to you, Non, Paul. Je crois que tu ne comprends pas.

Gregory said...

After my brief blurb above, I figure it's about time that I try to weigh in on the issue more in depth.

Melissa's answer (which, by the way, I just went through and edited all my typoes out of--sorry about that!) pretty much covers it, so I won't recover ground already trodden.

Your issue, Chris, is with the hierarchical structure of the Church (which you tend to refer to as "political"). You claim that we don't need the hierarchy, that the "veil has been torn" and therefore the priesthood is, at best, redundant, or, at worst, a return to a legalistic, Judaistic form of worship that somehow separates us from God.

It is a very moving sentiment, this idea that Christ's rending of the veil means that we don't need the priesthood to administer the sacraments to us, but that we, individually, can approach God's throne. Yet I don't see that this is borne out in Scripture, nor in the ancient understanding of the Church.

You will, I am sure, object to this by citing Hebrews 4:16 and 1 Peter 2:9, saying, on the one hand, that Jesus' High Priestly sacrifice allows us to approach the Throne of Grace with confidence in order to receive His Mercy, and, on the other hand, that we are ourselves each priests of the New Covenant--a royal priesthood and a holy nation. Therefore, obviously, we must have direct access to God's Throne--particularly through His Sacraments.

But is this in fact what these texts mean?

Peter's reference to the Church as a nation of priests and kings does not, of itself, mean that we are, by virtue of baptism, each consecrated to participate fully in the priestly ministry (that is, in the consecration of the Sacraments). This has never been the Church's understanding. Rather, the Church, from biblical times, has appointed Bishops, Priests, and Deacons specifically for the administration of the Sacraments, the proclamation of the Gospel, and the works of service.

In truth, the Laity can certainly participate in the proclamation of the Word and the Works of Service--but it is in the Sacraments, especially the Eucharist, that the priestly function comes into play.

The Eucharist is, after all, a Sacrifice--the Sacrifice--and it is priests who offer sacrifice. Christ, the High Priest and Victim, makes His sacrifice present to us, through the priest who offers Him back to God--before the Throne of Grace. It is, then, in the Eucharist that we enter boldy before that Heavenly Throne with confidence, because Our High Priest, Jesus, in the Sacrament, draws us there.

So then, if we are all priests according to St. Peter, why can we not all consecrate the Host so as to make Jesus present in it? Let us look, then, at the text: "But you are 'a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of his own, so that you may announce the praises' of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light" (1 Pt. 2:9).

Peter here quotes from Exodus 19:6: "You shall be to me a kingdom of priests, a holy nation. That is what you must tell the Israelites."

To whom does God say to tell this? The Israelites as a whole, not just the priestly Levite tribe. It is all of Israel who were to be a priestly kingdom. And yet, this does not contradict the fact that there was still a Levitical priestly caste, and, further, One High Priest over them all.

So what I can't figure out, then, is why, when we come to the New Covenant Church, Protestants want to read 1 Peter 2:9 as though it in effect abolishes the priesthood? Peter is appropriating God's call to the Old Covenant Israelites and applying it to the New Covenant Church. But if the Old Covenant had a High Priest, a priestly class (which was subdivided into various levels of service), and the people of Israel--the Kingdom of Priests--why do we expect something different now?

Christ is our High Priest, and all of us are the Kingdom of Priests, but it stands to reason that that middle level of priesthood still exists, in Bishop, Priest, and Deacon--especially since these offices existed in biblical times and from the earliest ages of the Church down to the present. And that priesthood has always been seen as the administers of the Sacraments--as St. Jerome indicates in his 51st letter, as he describes the ordination of a particular priest by his hands. Jerome writes: "For a year before I had heard many of them complain that they had no one to celebrate for them the sacraments of the Lord. All then agreed in asking him to undertake the duty, pointing out how great his usefulness would be to the community of the monastery." (Jerome, Letter 51.1)

Not only were these lay people, but monks in particular! If "just anyone" can administer the sacrament, surely these brothers would have been able to! But no, the Tradition of the Church has always held that it is only the Bishop, or the priest deputised by him, who has this authority.

In the past, you have clung to the words of Jesus, when He said, "Where any two or three are gathered in My name, there I am in their midst" (Matt. 18:20), saying that this is the Church, and all that is needed for the Church. But if this is so, then why does the Bible specifically give instructions for the Ordination of Bishops and Deacons? Why does Jesus Himself specifically choose Twelve out of all His many disciples to be Apostles--and then give to these 12 the command to "Do this in remembrance of Me" with regard to the Eucharist; or again, "As the Father has sent Me, so now I send you...Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, whose sins you retain are retained"? Why does James specify the presbyter for the anointing of oil in the Sacrament of the Sick? In sum, if we ourselves are all we need, why does St. Paul tell us that Christ has given us Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, Pastors and Teachers, for the building up of the Body, etc., etc. (Eph 4:11)?

Christ came to build a Church, and He built it upon people: Specifically, Peter (Matthew 16:18), and then the Apostles and Prophets (Eph. 2:20). That Christ is the Chief Cornerstone does not therefore negate the truth that the Church is built upon these men. As St. Ignatius of Antioch said (writing c. 100), "See that ye all follow the bishop, even as Jesus Christ does the Father, and the presbytery as ye would the apostles; and reverence the deacons, as being the institution of God. Let no man do anything connected with the Church without the bishop. Let that be deemed a proper Eucharist, which is [administered] either by the bishop, or by one to whom he has entrusted it. Wherever the bishop shall appear, there let the multitude [of the people] also be; even as, wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church. It is not lawful without the bishop either to baptise or to celebrate a love-feast; but whatsoever he shall approve of, that is also pleasing to God, so that everything that is done may be secure and valid" (Epistle to the Smyrneans, Chapter VIII).

Hidden One said...

Actually, CJ, my French was in the present tense.

C.J. said...


Comprehend in French present tense is: vous comprenez. The future tense is: vous comprendrez.

Since it was either a matter of an extra 'd' or a missing 'r', I thought it was funny to assume it was future tense. That allowed me to have fun mocking your explanation.

And, dude: lighten up. This brooding angst thing is getting old.


C.J. said...

Alright, Gregory. Two things:

1) I know your post glossed over the history of Church practice for the benefit of your readers;
2) Keep in mind that I'm not an ignoramus.

Given that most of what you've posted is simply a recitation of the way the Church does things today, I'm going to skip past a large section of your post. I hope you don't find that disingenuous. It's certainly not meant to be.

"So what I can't figure out, then, is why, when we come to the New Covenant Church, Protestants want to read 1 Peter 2:9 as though it in effect abolishes the priesthood?"

Your paint-brush isn't a Kolinsky Sable, I see. It's lost some of its rigidity, and widened out inappropriately. Most Protestants (and I'm sure you can recall this from your days as one) affirm a difference between the royal priesthood, and the appointed/ordained one.

I think isolating a Scripture on behalf of Protestants in order to bolster your argument might not be the best tactic at this point. Especially given that you were tacitly stating that you were against that practice when you assumed I would cite Hebrews 4:16, and 1 Peter 2:9. And to be honest, I don't know if I would've. There's a lot more Scripture in the NT that addresses this issue. I hadn't taken the time to make a list.

"But if the Old Covenant had a High Priest, a priestly class (which was subdivided into various levels of service), and the people of Israel--the Kingdom of Priests--why do we expect something different now?"

I think because things changed, Gregory. That's not to be sarcastic, but take a good look at our common Scripture: it wasn't only the sacrificial system that changed when Christ died, and rose again. Slightly before that, the temple veil was torn in twain (that word so rocks!), which as you noted, opened up the sanctuary of God to all. No more sacrifice was needed to come before God. There was only Christ to go through to get to the Father. That's it; no-one else. Hence the entire ecclesial structure changed.

This doesn't invalidate the work of the apostles; it affirms it. They were the ones who spoke the gospel, and wrote our Scripture. And in so doing, pointed people directly to Christ, and made no requirements that anyone come to them first. They didn't act as a veil, they spoke the praises of Christ as people approached His throne. As it is, people were carried along by their teaching as they moved toward the Author and Founder of our confidence, and faith.

However, I understand that you are trying to affirm the middle-level of the priesthood (those that are appointed to stand between believers and God; priests, bishops, deacons). And given that you have stated that Peter was appropriating the levitical priesthood into the New Covenant Church, my question back to you is: why aren't we appropriating the levitical laws that undergird that priesthood? I was under the impression that Christ fulfilled those.

"Not only were these lay people, but monks in particular! If "just anyone" can administer the sacrament, surely these brothers would have been able to! But no, the Tradition of the Church has always held that it is only the Bishop, or the priest deputised by him, who has this authority."

I'm not trying to be a jerk here, but your statements above are illogical. It's not an acceptable premise to suggest that because many people believed something, it must therefore be true. We have a flat-earth society, but we don't take them very seriously. We look back in wry amusement at the notion that the earth is sandwiched between heaven and hell. We're fairly certain that digging too far into the earth won't land us in hell, or that if we cross the ocean we won't fall off the edge of the world. Lots of people believed that for quite a while, and there's even historical documents that quote quite authoritatively about the issues.

But less cryptically: simply holding to the tradition that the holy offices generate the right to consecrate the Host, doesn't validate the veracity of the practice. That, and your argument amounts to circular reasoning: they weren't allowed because they weren't allowed; they didn't do it because they didn't do it; it was the tradition because they believed it, and they believed it because it was the tradition. But, umm, so what?

Do you see any reason why God wouldn't be pleased with me if I baptised my own child? Are you able to state honestly that a gifted minister who isn't ordained by the Catholic Church is somehow thwarted from invoking the presence of Christ in a love-feast? Do you really think that God just can't operate if an historical lineage isn't in place?

"In sum, if we ourselves are all we need, why does St. Paul tell us that Christ has given us Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, Pastors and Teachers, for the building up of the Body, etc., etc. (Eph 4:11)?"

Well, the answer is within your question: those are the people that we ourselves need. But they're not needed to the exclusion of those who aren't gifted in those ways. And those who aren't gifted in those ways are not excluded from receiving Christ's body, and blood, or (dare I say) in administering it, "For God shows no partiality" (Romans 2:11, ESV).

Anyway, if you're not already red in the face, and feeling a sharp warmth in your veins, I think I'll leave things there for now.

I'm interested in what you have to say next, and I hope you don't mind crossing swords (and I don't mean Scripture) with me.

Cheers, bro!

Anonymous said...

It's interesting to read all this, but could it possibly be taken to an e-mail forum or something?

Your readers miss seeing new posts. You two obviously have some issues to deal with together.

Gregory said...

Hey Chris,
I must say, I have to agree with our Anonymous friend (whoever he or she is--I don't suppose you're willing to leave a name at all, Anon? :) ).

Obviously, we can discuss this at your own blog, or in email, or even continue discussing it here, but in all honesty, it's time to press on with my posts on the Rosary.

That said, I would still like to make a reply to your last comment:

As far as my use of the two particular Scripture references as a summary of your position, I did so honestly because you've never actually bothered to give a sound, rational defence of your position. Those are really the only passages that I could really think of that would present a non-sacerdotal view of Christianity on their surface, and, as I tried above to demonstrate, they really don't.

But as you state, there are other passages that you would use. Well, really, what are they?

This has been the nature the whole discussion about Catholicism between us so far. You have challenged the Church's hierarchical structure without actually offering a solid case against it. You have simply dismissed any and all defences for it without demonstrating why they are dismissable, and have never once provided an adequate, rational, biblical alternative to be critiqued.

I don't necessarily think that "skipping past" a large part of my post is being disingenuous. I do, however, think that your overall methodology so far, as I've perceived it, has been.

Further, I quoted from two very early Church Fathers about how Church was done. The last one, St. Ignatius, was living and writing (and Bishop-ing) while and shortly after the Bible itself was being written, let alone canonised. Yet you say that my descriptions of Church practices was basically a recitation of how it does things today, as though I'm anachronistically reading it back into the Early Church.

It's a nice claim, but since you fail to demonstrate it as the case, and have instead disregarded two of the many sources that I could have drawn on to make my own case without actually interacting with them, I do, yes, consider that disingenuous.

You seem to have specific objections to the priesthood and the hierarchy of the Church, and so want an explanation and defence of them. But without actually knowing what your specific issues with them are, I am just shooting the wind in trying to defend them.

So please, Chris, give me something to work with, here, Aspiring Cynic, or in email.

And seriously, Paul, could you and Chris get along in a discussion for two sentences?

C.J. said...


I'd be more than happy to take this debate up with you by email. I'm sure it'll be quite fun!

As for whether Paul and I can get along for more than two sentences... I don't know.


Anonymous said...

Thank you.

Sorry no name. Just an interested reader. :-)

Gregory said...

Hey Anon.

I'm okay with you not having a name. I'm just happy to know people read this!

Expect a new post by Monday at the latest!
God bless

I LOVE YOU said...