Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Is the Mass a Sacrifice?

Do Catholics believe that the Mass is a Sacrifice?  Not just a sacrifice in the sense of praise and worship, but a true and real sacrifice?  What is meant by the Sacrifice of the Mass?

The Sacrifice of the Mass has been a part of our Christian Heritage from the beginning.  Not from the beginning of any particular denomination, but from the beginning of Christianity as a whole.  Why do Catholics consider the Mass a Sacrifice?  Because, our earliest Christian leaders considered it to be just that as well.

Clement of Rome, was ordained into the clergy by St. Peter himself.  This means that he didn't read the Gospel, like us today, he heard it from the lips of the Apostles who were with Christ, definitely Peter but most like Paul as well.  It is also suspected that he may even be the same Clement that is mentioned in Phillipians 4:3, but that is not for certain.  During his time as Bishop of Rome (making him the 4th Pope), he wrote a letter to the church at Corinth.  In this letter, he mentions the sacrifices being offered on the altar by the ministers of the church.

Our sin will not be small if we eject from the episcopate those who blamelessly and holily have offered its sacrifices. Blessed are those presbyters who have already finished their course, and who have obtained a fruitful and perfect release (Letter to the Corinthians 44:4–5 [A.D. 80]). 

Do you remember where the term Christians was first used?  Antioch. Ignatius of Antioch was born around the year 50 and was martyred somewhere between 98 - 117.  Ignatius served as the Bishop of Antioch.  He also, was most likely made the Bishop of Antioch by St. Peter as well.  He was also friends with St. Polycarp.  Ignatius is also one of the first people to use the term katholikos to describe the Church instituted by Jesus Christ.  This is where the term Catholic came from.  On his way to martyrdom, he wrote many letters.  (If you are interested, you can visit Joe McClane's site in order to get all of these letters in MP3 format so that you can listen to them.)  In his letter to the Philidelphians, he mentions the sacrifice and the altar as well.

Make certain, therefore, that you all observe one common Eucharist; for there is but one body of our Lord Jesus Christ, and but one cup of union with his blood, and one single altar of sacrifice—even as there is also but one bishop, with his clergy and my own fellow servitors, the deacons. This will ensure that all your doings are in full accord with the will of God (Letter to the Philadelphians 4 [A.D. 110]). 

Justin Martyr was one of the first apologists.  His work had a very big influence on me and is part of the reason why I am joining the Catholic Church.  Born around 100AD, he was a philosopher and relied heaviliy on logic.  He wrote some great works to the Emperor explaining to him the Christian faith.  If you are ever interested in knowing what exactly the Early Christians believed and how they practiced their faith (this practice given to them by the Apostles, and their successors), Justin's First and Second Apologies would be a great resource to consider reading.  He also wrote Dialogue with Trypho.  In chapter 41, he clearly expresses and explains the Sacrifice of the Mass.

God speaks by the mouth of Malachi, one of the twelve [minor prophets], as I said before, about the sacrifices at that time presented by you: "I have no pleasure in you, says the Lord, and I will not accept your sacrifices at your hands; for from the rising of the sun to the going down of the same, my name has been glorified among the Gentiles, and in every place incense is offered to my name, and a pure offering, for my name is great among the Gentiles" [Mal. 1:10–11]. He then speaks of those Gentiles, namely us [Christians] who in every place offer sacrifices to him, that is, the bread of the Eucharist and also the cup of the Eucharist (Dialogue with Trypho the Jew 41 [A.D. 155]). 

Irenaeus of Lyons was a great champion of the faith.  He spent most of his life battling heresies.  So much so that his greatest work is titled Against Heresies.  Born between 115-125, he most likely did not have a chance to meet the Apostles face to face.  He could have been one of the first leaders of the Church that would have been more than 2 degrees of seperation between himself and Christ.  However, the Spirit of the Lord was definitely with him when he was battling the different schims that were challenging to tear the Church apart at the time.  In his work Against Heresies, he shares again the common theme that is placed on what we know as the Sacrifice of the Mass.

He took from among creation that which is bread, and gave thanks, saying, "This is my body." The cup likewise, which is from among the creation to which we belong, he confessed to be his blood. He taught the new sacrifice of the new covenant, of which Malachi, one of the twelve [minor] prophets, had signified beforehand: "You do not do my will, says the Lord Almighty, and I will not accept a sacrifice at your hands. For from the rising of the sun to its setting my name is glorified among the Gentiles, and in every place incense is offered to my name, and a pure sacrifice; for great is my name among the Gentiles, says the Lord Almighty" [Mal. 1:10–11]. By these words he makes it plain that the former people will cease to make offerings to God; but that in every place sacrifice will be offered to him, and indeed, a pure one, for his name is glorified among the Gentiles (Against Heresies 4:17:5 [A.D. 189]).

Do Catholics believe that the Mass is a Sacrifice?  Yes, because that is what Christians have believed since the beginning of Christianity.  God bless...

[1] The Sacrifice of the Mass
[2] One True Faith - Church Fathers

Sunday, January 25, 2009

St. Augustine and Sola Scriptura

For those who have not heard of St. Augustine, he is considered a hero of the Christian faith.  Church history scholars, Catholic and Non-Catholic alike, agree that this man was one of the great champions.  St. Augustine was born around 354 A.D.  He was the Bishop of Hippo and battled many different heresies that cropped up threatening to tear the Church apart.  Catholics and Non-Catholics alike owe a lot to this great man.

In a recent post of mine on another Church Hero Polycarp, one of my readers suggested that many of the Church Fathers believed in Sola Scriptura - including St. Augustine.  This puzzled me, because this was the first time that I had heard someone make an argument that St. Augustine believed in Sola Scriptura.  Needing an excuse to dig deeper into Church history, I started to investigate the claims that he made.

He first pointed me to an article written by William Webster titled, What did the Early Church Believe about the Authority of Scripture.  In this article, William Webster paints a pretty convincing picture of many of the heroes of the Early Church and how they all believed in Scripture Alone as the ruling authority of the Christian Faith.  He also includes citations from two Non-Catholic Church Historians - Ellen Flessman-Van Leer and J.N.D. Kelly.  I completed reading the article, and I was absolutely floored with the information that was presented.  Was this information true?  Is William Webster someone that can be trusted to give an unbiased account of what the Early Church Fathers believed?  Luckily, I did not have to go far in order to find my answers.

By the grace of God, after a brief search online, I was directed to an article written by Joseph Gallegos titled Did the Church Fathers Believe in Sola Scriptura.  This article is a complete refutation of William Webster's article and the claims that he makes in it.  In Gallegos' article, he shows that not only did William Webster mis-represent the Church Fathers, but he also misrepresents that Non Catholic Church Historians - Ellen Flessman - Van Leer and J. N.D. Kelly.  According to the two church historians, they plainly in fact do believe that the Church Fathers appealed to both Tradition and Scripture as being authoritative in the Church.

Further on in my conversation with one of my readers, we decided to focus on St. Augustine, and bypass the article that was written by William Webster as well as the rebuttal by Joseph Gallegos.  He continued to make the argument that St. Augustine did in fact believe in Sola Scriptura.  If you would like to read the complete details of the discussion, you will find it in the comment section of Early Church History - St. Polycarp.  Here is the last comment that I made, which hopefully will show you and all the other readers that St. Augustine would not have subscribed to the version of Sola Scriptura that my reader was suggesting.   My readers comments are in blue, while my comments are in regular type.  The quotations that I use are in bold

...All he says about traditions is that they hold to them, not that they are equal to scripture.
Augustine's appeal to tradition MUST be taken as meaning tradition directly supported by scripture, because of the sheer weight of his insistence that scripture is the final authority, as has been shown.

On what evidence is Augustine's appeal to the tradition only supported by Scripture when you read this:

As to those other things which we hold on the authority, not of Scripture, but of tradition, and which are observed throughout the whole world, it may be understood that they are held as approved and instituted either by the apostles themselves, or by plenary Councils, whose authority in the Church is most useful,"
Letter of Augustine to Januarius 54,1,1, 400 A.D.

The argument that Augustine is only talking about the tradition that is supported by Scripture doesn't make sense in this writing. It is in fact the tradition that is not supported by Scripture that he is finding authoritative.

Did you even read the definition of what Sola Scriptura is not and what it is at my blog? I think not.

Sole rule of faith...The Church does not add revelation or rule over Scripture...All that one must believe in order to be a Christian is found in the Scriptures and in no other source...that not founded in scripture is not binding upon the Christian conscience...

Yes...I have read it. I think that Jim White did a fantastic job of explaining one version of Sola Scriptura. Now, in talking with you, I am assuming that this is the same version of Sola Scriptura that you subscribe to, and therefore, the only one that matters for our conversations. Now applying that criteria to St. Augustine, would he pass as someone who held to this definition of Sola Scriptura?

Is there anything that he believed that is contrary to what Jim White has just explained to be the definition of Sola Scriptura? Our conversation revolved around the Early Church Fathers, whether or not they subscribed to your definition of Sola Scriptura. You have taken the time to define what that means, I have taken the time to show where I think that he would fail the test.

Did Augustine believe that Scripture was the sole rule of the faith? Did he believe that things that are not found in scripture is not binding? If I show proof against any of these statements, then by your definition, he must not believe in Sola Scriptura. All I have to show is an instance where he relates tradition with scripture. If he shows that scripture, as it relates to tradition is the binding authority, and tradition is not, then your position is the correct position. If instead, I show that tradition as it relates to scripture, is binding, even if the tradition is not mentioned in Scripture, then my position, the Catholic position on St. Augustine's position, is the correct position.

"As to those other things which we hold on the authority, not of Scripture, but of tradition..."
Letter of Augustine to Januarius 54,1,1, 400 A.D.

Holding onto the authority of something that is not found in scriptures is against your definition of Sola Scriptura. He goes on to say...

" it may be understood that they are held as approved and instituted either by the apostles themselves, or by plenary Councils, whose authority in the Church is most useful,"

According to St. Augustine, the Councils add rule over what is found in the Scriptures. Remember, he just said that the tradition that is authoritative, that was not found in the scriptures regardless if it came from the apostles themselves or councils...This is in fact adding rule above the scriptures. Then he goes on to say that the authority that the apostles and the councils hold in the Church is a good thing. A useful thing. A beneficial thing.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Daily Prayer for the Conversion of Sinners

I found this prayer at Owen's blog.  It touched me and I wanted to share it with you.
Daily Prayer For Conversion Of Sinners
Dear Lord, I pray for the Conversion of Sinners
for all of us who require daily conversion
for those who are dearest to me, my family and friends
for those not following You, but themselves
for those inside and out of Your church, ignorant of Your truths
for those who are falling away from Your truths,
for all who are considering or following a false religion
for those trying to earn their way to Heaven
for the ones who do not even consider You
Please Lord, convert their minds and hearts, to truly
know You, love You and always be obedient to Your Word,
and then bring them home to live with You for all Eternity.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The Real Difference Between Catholics and Protestants

I have had many, many, many different conversations with Catholics and Protestants alike, and I have found, what I believe to be the one true difference between Catholics and Protestants.

Is it that Catholics believe in the Immaculate Conception or the Communion of Saints?  Is it that Protestants believe in once saved always saved, or the total depravity of man?  Is it that Catholics do not believe in Sola Scriptura or Sola Fide?  Is it that Protestants do not believe in Purgatory or confessing their sins to a priest?  Is it that Catholics have added books to the Bible?  Is it that Protestants have removed books from the Bible?

No, no, no, no, no.  Now I am sure that I am going to say some things that may warrant correction, but I am going to say them anyways.  I have met plenty of Catholics who do not believe in Papal Infallability or the Immaculate Conception.  I have also met plenty of Protestants who do not believe in once saved always saved, or total depravity.  There are as many different types of Catholics as there are Protestant denominations.  Some Catholics have abortions, contracept, and go completely against many of the moral teachings of the Church that they professed was instituted by Jesus Christ.  Shame on us.

So what is the real difference?  The real difference is access to the Sacraments.  Plain and simple.  Catholics have access to all of the Sacraments, and Protestants do not.  The 7 Sacraments are Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist (Communion), Reconciliation, Holy Matrimony, Holy Orders, and Annointing of the Sick.  Catholics can sin with the best of them, and unfortunately we often do.  However, the Catholic Church is the only qualified institution on Earth who has the means to administer the Sacraments to it's people. 

The Sacraments were instituted by Christ Himself, and do not only belong to Catholics, but they belong to the whole Christian people.  All of the followers of Christ should partake in all that Christ had in store for us.  The funny thing about it is, as far as I see it, there is absolutely nothing standing in the way of a Non Catholic experiencing the Sacraments.  The Catholic Church is full of Catholics who have trouble with many of the Church's teaching, the only difference is that they are struggling with the teachings from inside, where they do have access to God's Grace through the Sacraments, while our Non-Catholic brothers and sisters are struggling with teachings outside of the faith, without access to the Sacraments.

What would Christian Unity look like? What kind of Holy Force would that be to the world?  I don't know what that would look like, but I do know that it would be awesome.  Let us all pray, Catholics and Non Catholics, for the day when the Body of Christ, the Family of God is no longer torn apart.  Let us pray for the day when all of us, brothers and sisters in Christ, reunite as a family, come together to the one table and celebrate God together.

God bless...

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Thank you Monk Charlie....

Have you ever heard of Monk Charlie?  Really?  You have never heard of him?  Well, let me tell you a little bit about Monk Charlie...

Monk Charlie lived somewhere between the time that the Apostles walked the Earth and the invention of the printing press.  He was a good sort of fellow, that had no intention of devoting his life completely to God - but that is exactly what he did.

Monk Charlie, had many dreams as a young child.  He wanted to be a farmer and raise a family.  He also had dreams of becoming a knight fighting for damsels in distress and gaining fame and honor.  But God had a different plan for him.  After years and years of being a Jonah, running away from God and His divine plan, he decided to co-operate with it.  Monk Charlie enlisted in the Christian Army as a monk.  His life was going to be one devoted to Christianity and the spread of the gospel.

He was very excited.  He spent many hours in prayer preparing to spread the Gospel to far away lands.  He would imagine conversations that he would have with non-Christians and how exactly he would use logic and reasoning to bring them to the faith.  After spending quite a bit of time preparing to spread the Word of God, he was called by his abbot.  He knew deep within his soul that this was going to be the day that his abbot would let him know his mission and where he was going to be sent.  Where would it be?  Europe?  Asia?  Africa?  Almost giddy, he skipped to the abbots quarters, entered and awaited his instruction. 

The abbot told him that he had the most important work for Monk Charlie.  This work to be done, was of critical importance of the spread of Christianity.  Without it, Christianity may not even survive.  Monk Charlie was so excited that he could hardly contain himself.  What was this most important mission?  Where was he going to go?  The abbot told Monk Charlie that he was to commit his entire life to transcribing the Holy Scriptures, word for word.  He would spend day after day, night after night for the rest of his life copying the Word of God. 

As you can imagine, this is not exactly what Monk Charlie had in mind.  His immediate reaction was to get up and walk right out of the monastary, and leave his vocation behind.  Hey, there is still time, maybe he could be that farmer or that knight that he always dreamed of becoming.  In the few moments that he heard this news from his abbot, he had already seen himself tilling the land with a huge family.  His wife Sally and their 4 beautiful boys.  They had a wonderful life together, and it was all waiting for him, all he had to do, was get up and walk away.  Then, God's grace came to him.  Hadn't he prayed for long hours for God to use him to spread the Gospel?  Hadn't he prayed that he would be able to share the Gospel with far away lands?  Wasn't this work of copying the Holy Scriptures, going to be able to do just that?  Wasn't this God answering his prayers.  Yes it was. Monk Charlie happily accepted his mission in Christianity.  80 years he spent copying the Word of God, word for word in order for it to be preserved for you and me to enjoy. 

Was there really a Monk Charlie?  I am sure that there was.  Let us thank Monk Charlie for his work.  It is the fruits of his labor that we enjoy today.  Let us thank Monk Charlie, and all of the other people who dedicated their lives to copying the Scriptures, by reading something out of the Bible today.  Let us not let their sacrifice be wasted.

God bless...

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Early Church History: St. Polycarp

One of the reasons why I know that Christ is real is because we have so many witnesses who have come before us to testify to Him.  Think about it.  Christianity didn't use to be such an easy faith.  Today, we really do take for granted the freedom to practice this faith that we have now.  Do we ever consider that people died for Christ?  Do we ever consider the times of the Early Church, where it was a crime under penalty of torture / death for being a Christian?  These martyrs are our heroes.  Why?  It is to them and their example and the price that they were willing to pay, their very lives, which is part of the reason why we have the faith now.  There are truly some unsung heroes of the faith, that I knew nothing about and cared nothing about until recently.  One of them, is Polycarp.

Here is a great video that I happened upon regarding the life and death of Polycarp, one of our Church Fathers.  It must be said that I do not agree with everything that this site says, but they did a wonderful job with the life and death of St. Polycarp.

The video does not share it, but here is the official account of Polycarp's Martyrdom.  Also, here is the prayer that St. Polycarp offered to God before he was executed:

O Lord God Almighty, the Father of your beloved and blessed Son Jesus Christ, by whom we have received the knowledge of You, the God of angels and powers, and of every creature, and of the whole race of the righteous who live before you, I give You thanks that You have counted me, worthy of this day and this hour, that I should have a part in the number of Your martyrs, in the cup of your Christ, to the resurrection of eternal life, both of soul and body, through the incorruption [imparted] by the Holy Ghost. Among whom may I be accepted this day before You as a fat and acceptable sacrifice, according as You, the ever-truthful God, hast foreordained, hast revealed beforehand to me, and now hast fulfilled. Wherefore also I praise You for all things, I bless You, I glorify You, along with the everlasting and heavenly Jesus Christ, Your beloved Son, with whom, to You, and the Holy Ghost, be glory both now and to all coming ages. 

Thank you St. Polycarp for your sacrifice and your example.  You are a role model for us all.

God bless...

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church

Wow!!!  I am such a Catholic newbie.  If you didn't know, there is a great resource in Question and Answer style for the Catechism of the Catholic Church.  It is called the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.  This is a great resource for any of the teachings of the Catholic Church, along with references to paragraphs of the Catechism.

If you find it difficult to wade through the Catechism (I know that I do) this is a great resource for you.

God Bless.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Understanding Catholic Teaching :- Faith and Works

There is a lot of mis-understanding and mis-representation of what the Catholic Church teaches regarding faith and works.  There is plenty of mis-information on this very topic that is circling the internet, shared in Protestant circles, and unfortunately in Catholic circles as well.  This is going to be my attempt at sharing with you the official Catholic Teaching on Faith and Works...therefore, as you can imagine, I will be using a lot of sources, just to make sure I get this right.  As always, please feel free to correct this young Catholic Candidate that will be joining the Church this Easter.

Justification, the process by which God declares us to be righteous before Him, is a gift from God.  It can never be earned.

Justification has been merited for us by the Passion of Christ who offered himself on the cross as a living victim, holy and pleasing to God, and whose blood has become the instrument of atonement for the sins of all men.(CCC 1992)

Do Catholics believe that justification can be earned or merited?  No.  That was part of the Pelagian heresy, that the Catholic Church fought against in the 5th Century:

In short, humanity has full control, and thus full responsibility, for its own salvation in addition to full responsibility for every sin (the latter insisted upon by both proponents and opponents of Pelagianism). According to Pelagian doctrine, because humanity does not require God's grace for salvation (beyond the creation of will), Jesus' execution is devoid of the redemptive quality ascribed to it by orthodox Christian theology. (Wikipedia Pelagianism)

So then do Catholics believe that we are justified by faith?  Yes.  Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, justifies man before the throne of God.  Do Catholics believe that we are justified by faith alone?  To be fair, let us first come to a common understanding of what is meant by faith alone.  According to Wikipedia:

The doctrine of sola fide or "faith alone" asserts God's pardon for guilty sinners is granted to and received through faith or belief alone, to the exclusion of all human efforts or works...Faith is seen as passive, merely receiving Christ and all his benefits, among which benefits are the active and passive righteousness of Jesus Christ. (Wikipedia: Faith Alone)

Note:  This definition in no way does a fair job in defining all of the various levels of Protestant beliefs when it comes to faith alone, but for the topic of this post, I think that it will suffice.

Catholic teaching tells us that works are a part of our justification, because it is what completes the faith (James 2:22).  Faith without works is dead (James 2:14-17).  Catholic teaching also says that we are justified by faith and works (James 2:24).  The two operate together in harmony.

Recently, Pope Benedict XVI, gave a general address, The Doctrine of Justification: from Works to Faith.  This document serves as a great source for Catholic Teaching regarding Faith and Works.

I just recently came across an interview from Catholic convert, Francis Beckwith, who served as the President of the Evangelical Theological Society (an association of over 4,300 Protestant Theologians).  In this interview, he is asked a question about justification.  Here is his reply:

Then when I read the Fathers, those closest to the Apostles...To be sure, salvation by grace was there. To be sure, the necessity of faith was there. And to be sure, our works apart from God’s grace was decried. But what was present was a profound understanding of how saving faith was not a singular event that took place “on a Wednesday,” to quote a famous Gospel song, but that it was the grace of God working through me as I acquiesced to God’s spirit to allow his grace to shape and mold my character so that I may be conformed to the image of Christ. I also found it in the Catechism...

Catholicism does not teach “works righteousness.” It teaches faith in action as a manifestation of God’s grace in one’s life. That’s why Abraham’s faith results in righteousness only when he attempts to offer his son Isaac as a sacrifice to God.

Then I read the Council of Trent, which some Protestant friends had suggested I do. What I found was shocking. I found a document that had been nearly universally misrepresented by many Protestants, including some friends.  

I do not believe, however, that the misrepresentation is the result of purposeful deception. But rather, it is the result of reading Trent with Protestant assumptions and without a charitable disposition.

For example, Trent talks about the four causes of justification, which correspond somewhat to Aristotle’s four causes. None of these causes is the work of the individual Christian. For, according to Trent, God’s grace does all the work. However, Trent does condemn “faith alone,” but what it means is mere intellectual assent without allowing God’s grace to be manifested in one’s actions and communion with the Church. This is why Trent also condemns justification by works.  

Another great source of what the Catholic Church teaches by faith and works is from an article titled, Aren't we Saved by Faith Alone.  This is a very light read and is in the form of a conversation between two people.  It does a much better job of explaining the Catholic position than I could ever hope to do.

For a long time now, the Catholic teaching of faith and works has been misunderstood.  Unfortunately, for most of my life as a non-Catholic, I have been a source of the confusion as oppose to having a better understanding of what the Catholic Church actually teaches.  Regardless if you believe what the Catholic Church teaches or not, please take the time to get a better understanding of what She actually teaches before sharing it with others, forming an opinion about it, or attacking it completely.

God bless you all...