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"In the beginning... God." The first words of the Bible (see Gn 1:1) affirm an essential
teaching of the Christian faith: Before all else, God is, It's a reality that seems obvious to most
Christians, yet many people doubt or deny it. Challenges are often issued to other articles of the
Christian faith as well, such as the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and to specifically Catholic beliefs,
such as the unique authority of the pope. For this reason, Christians — and Catholic Christians in
particular — often find themselves defending their beliefs in conversations with non-believers.
The Greek word for "defense" is apologia. Our English word "apology" is derived from it.
In its classical definition, "apology" did not mean an admission of wrong, as the modern English
word suggests. Rather, an apology was a defense or justification of a belief. For example, students of
philosophy or the classics are familiar with Plato's Apology: an account of Socrates' defense of his
In the present context, then, "apologetics" refers to the reasonable defense of the Christian
faith. It is one aspect of what our Lord Jesus talked about when he urged us to love God with all our
mind (see Lk 10:27). Faith is not opposed to reason; in fact, reason, rightly understood, is a support
to faith.
The foundations of Christian apologetics were laid by our Lord himself when he presented
"many proofs" of his resurrection (see Acts 1:3), including his appearance to skeptical, hard-nosed,
"doubting" Thomas and the other apostles (see in 20:24-29). The resulting apostolic proclamation of
the gospel included eyewitness (legal or scientific) testimony as a central feature (see, e.g., Lk 1:1 -4;
Acts 2:32).
St. Paul likewise engaged in apologetics, trying to persuade both Jews and Greeks of the
truth of Christianity. His reasoned style of evangelization is demonstrated in his sermon on the
Areopagus, Mars Hill, in philosophy-dominated Athens (see Acts 17:22-34) and in his
determination to "become all things to all, to save at least some" (1 Cor 9:22). The apostle's
approach to sharing and defending his faith should encourage Catholics today to follow his example.
RELATED SCRIPTURE — Texts cited: Gn 1:1 • Lk 1:1-4; 10:27 • Jn 20:24-29 • Acts 1:3;
2:32; 17:22-34 • 1 Cor 9:22. General: Acts 17:22-34 • 1 Cor 9:19-23 • 1 Pt 3:15
• Jude 3. Biblical Greek terms: Apologia ("apology'/'apologetics'): Acts 22:1; 25:16
• 1 Cor 9:3 • Phil 1:7, 16. Dialegomai ("dialogue"): Acts 17:2, 17; 18:4, 19; 19:8-10.
Suzeteo ("disputing," "debating' about the truth of Christianity): Mk 12:28 (Jesus) - Acts 9:29 (Paul);
15:7 (Church council at Jerusalem). CATECHISM OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH — 31-49 • I56-
In the generations after our first parents disobeyed God, breaking their relationship with him
(see Gn 3), their descendants' knowledge of their Creator seems to have become faded and even
We find in the Book of Genesis, however, that God chooses to reveal himself to a series of
individuals and their families, to begin the restoration of his relationship with humanity. His
revelation to Abraham (see 12:1-9) begins a series of events that leads to the formation of the
Jewish people, and eventually to the birth of God's Son, Jesus Christ, to a Jewish woman.
As "the Word [who] became flesh" (In 1:14), Christ most perfectly reveals God the Father;
the entire divine revelation is perfectly summed up in him. He is not only the Son of God, but also
God the Son: equal in essence and glory with his Father ' in heaven. The Holy Spirit — the Spirit sent
by the Father and breathed on the apostles by the Son — is also a divine Person, and fully God (see In
14:9-11, 16-17; 20:22).
Catholics believe that this revelation of the triune God — who is three Persons in one essence
(or being) — is communicated in the holy Scriptures and through the Churcl-, which authoritatively
and infallibly interprets the Bible according to unbroken apostolic Tradition (see 1 Tm 3:15; 2 Thes
2:15). It is true that individuals can come to know God, even if they have never heard the gospel
("good news") of Jesus Christ, on the basis of nature and what it reveals of the Creator, and through
the laws of their conscience (see Ps 19:2-3; Rom 1:19-21; 2:12-16). Various non-Catholic, Christian
communions also teach a great deal that is true about God. However, the fullness of the Christian
revelation is entrusted to the Catholic Church, the guardian of the apostolic deposit from the
This Christian message, most fully proclaimed by the Catholic Church, with the aid of the
Holy Spirit, who leads the Church into all truth, reveals Cod's nature and character, his love for us, his
mercy, and his holiness and commandments. Revelation is God's message to us about himself and
about how he wants LIS to live. It leaches us what is right and wrong, good and evil. It is passed on
through the generations by the Church through words and deeds that testify to its truth. (See also
"What Is the Holy Trinity?" C-1.)
RELATED SCRIPTURE —Texts cited: Gn 3; 12:1-9 • Ps 19:1-4 • In 1:14; 14:9-11, 16-
17; 20:22 • Rom 1:19-21; 2:12-16 • 2 Thes 2:15 • 1 Tm 3:15. General: In 1:1-5, 14; 14:26; In
15:26; In 16:13 • Acts 2:42; 20:28 • Jude 3. CCC 31-141 • 175 • 198-267 • 737 • 768 • 839-845
• 1718,281 2.
Are the opening chapters of Genesis a literal, scientific description of the world's creation? Or is
their language more figurative, whose essential meaning points to fundamental truths about God and
the world? Christians have debated the matter since ancient times.
Perhaps the sharpest controversy over these passages has to do with human origins, usually
focusing on the scientific theory of evolution. Some believe that Genesis, rightly understood, denies
any possibility that human being have descended in some sense from other species. Others, however,
claims that such evolution is a proven scientific fact.
Catholic tradition provides a different perspective. Following the insights of St. Augustine and
others, it allows that Genesis employs figurative language, so it cannot be cited as a scientific text that
rules out human evolution altogether. At the same time, however, the "proven facts of science"
accepted by one generation may be rejected by later generations because of new evidence. So the
Church warns scientists against presumption in their conclusions. She specifically rejects any scientific
theories (such as that of Charles Darwin) which insist that evolution was the result of random forces
rather than the intelligent design of a personal Creator. Such pretentious claims move beyond the
limited realm of inquiry that is possible to science:
Given divine revelation as a whole, the Church teaches that a few fundamental truths about
human origins cannot be contradicted by scientific speculation:
• The entire universe, including the human race, is not the result of chance, but of God's
purposeful, loving design (see Gn 1:1, 31).
• All human beings share a single, historical ancestor, so they all have the same nature and
origin, and belong to one human family (see Acts 17:26).
• The primordial fall from original holiness of our first human parents was a real event
within time. It left them and their descendants with original sin (see Rom 5:12-14, 18-19; see also
"What Is Original Sin?" A-4).
RELATED SCRIPTURE — Texts cited: Gn 1:1, 26-27, 31; 2:7 • Acts 17:26 • Rorn 5:12-
14, 18-19. General: Ps 139:13 • Lk 3:23-38 • 1 Cor 15:22, 45 • Col 1:16 • Jas
1:18 • Rv 4:11. ccc 33 • 355-406 • 415-417
• 1934.
In Leviticus, chapter 9, we read that God commands Moses, as part of the old covenant, to
ordain a specialized, professional priesthood to offer sacrifices for the people. Later, as part of "the
new covenant in [his] blood" (Lk 22:20), Jesus establishes a new ordained priesthood for the Church
and gives its members the authority and power to offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass (see Lk 22:14-
All Christians share in a common "holy priesthood" offering "spiritual sacrifices" (1 Pt 2:5)
such as prayer, almsgiving (see Heb 13:15-16), and faith in Jesus (see Phil 2:17). But the special
mission that Christ gave his apostles, their successors, and the priests they were to ordain — which
includes, among other functions, presiding at the Eucharist and administering the sacrament of
Reconciliation was not to be shared by all of his followers. "For .., all the parts [of Christ's body] do
not have the same function" (Rom 12:4).
The New Testament refers to three types of permanent ordained offices in the Church: bishop
(in Greek, episkopos), elder (presbyteros, from which we derive the English words "presbyter" and
"priest"), and deacon (diakonos). The term presbyteros, usually translated "elder," appears often in
Scripture (for example, Acts 15:2-6; 21:18; 1 Pt 5:1; 1 Tm 5:17). Nearly all Christians accepted this
ordained ministry for the first sixteen centuries of the Church's history, though certain heretical
groups, such as the Cathari (who taught Gnostic ideas), rejected it.
Non-Catholic Christians sometimes cite 1 Peter 2:5, 9 and Revelation 1:6 to support their claim
that if the Church is "a kingdom of priests," it cannot have a special ministerial priesthood as well.
Nevertheless, in these texts, 1 Peter is quoting — and Revelation is echoing — the words of God to the
ancient Hebrews recorded in Exodus 19:6. If the Lord could refer to that entire nation as priests, even
though they had an ordained priesthood, then surely the same is true of the Church.

RELATED SCRIPTURE — Texts cited: Lv 9 • Ex 19:6 • Lk 22:14-20 • Acts 15:2-6; 21:18 •

Rom 12:4 • Phil 2:17 • 1 Tm 5:17 • Heb 13:15-16 • 1 Pt 2:5, 9; 5:1 • Rv 1:6. General: Mt 18:18 • Lk
10:16; 22:19; 24:47 • In 13:20; 15:5; 20:21-23 • Acts 2:38, 41; 5:2-11; 14:23 • Rom 10:15 • 1 Cor 4:1;
5:3-13 • 2 Cor 5:18-20 • Eph 4:11
• 1 Tm 1:18-20; 4:14; 5:23 • Ti 3:10 • las 5:13-15. CATECHISM OF THE CATHOLIC
CHURCH — 877 • 1088 • 1142 • 1461 • 1536 • 1539-1553 • 1564-1568 • 15781587 • 1591-1592.
Much of the language in Genesis' open) chapters is figurative. Nevertheless, the Ca Church
affirms that we find there a reference a real event in time that took place at the ve beginning of the
human race — a tragedy unequaled in history, known as the Fall (see 3:1-24). We know few details, but
the basic ities surrounding that fateful development a clear from the teaching of Scripture (here and
elsewhere) and Tradition:
• God created our first human parents in a state of holiness, an original justice
(righteousness), without sin, and thus without shame (see Gn 2:25). They enjoyed a right and
harmonious relationship with God, themselves, each other, and the world around them (see Gn 1:26-31;
2:8-9, 15, 21-25).
• Through their own free choice, however, they disobeyed God, breaking fellowship with
him (see Gn.2:15-17; 3:1-13; Sir 15:14).
• Their disobedience — a turning away from the Source of all life and order necessarily
brought death and disorder into the world, and above all within themselves. So they "fell" from their
previous condition to a state of sinfulness, misery, and ignorance (see Gn 3:14-24). Their human nature
was deeply wounded, though not totally corrupted.
• Our first parents, having lost their original wholeness, could not pass on to their
descendants what they themselves no longer possessed. This deprivation is consequently inherited by all
human beings and is called "original sin" (see Rom 5:12-19).
• Unlike personal sin, resulting from the wrong choices of individuals, original sin does
not result from our own doing. It is contracted, not committed; we are conceived with it (see Ps 51:7).
• The sacrament of Baptism cleanses us from original sin. It restores us to original
righteousness and fellowship with God (see Acts 2:38; 22:16). But after Baptism we are still left with a
certain moral and spiritual weakness (concupiscence), so that even though our wills are free, we are
inclined to sin an inclination we must continually overcome by God's grace (see Rom 6:19; 7:15-24).
• The only two human beings (after our first parents) to be conceived without original sin
are our Lord Jesus Christ (see 2 Cor 5:21) and his blessed mother, whose immaculate conception was
possible through the merits of her sinless Son (see Lk 1:28; see also "Was Mary Without Sin?" R-1).

RELATED SCRIPTURE —Texts cited: Gn 1:26-31; 2:8-9, 15-17, 21-25; 3:1-24 • Ps 51:7 • Sir
15:14 • Lk 1:28 • Acts 2:38; 22:16 • Rom 5:12-19; 6:19; 7:15-24 • 2 Cor 5:21. General: Ps 14:1-
3; 53:2-4 • Eccl 7:20 • Sir 15:11-20 • Rom 3:9-18, 23 • 1 Cor 15:22 • Heb 4:15. CATECHISM OF
Leviticus and other biblical books show that God himself prescribed numerous religious rituals for the
ancient Israelites. Sacrifices and offerings, ordination ceremonies and priestly behavior, holidays and
festivals — all had their designated rituals (see Lv 1:1-10:20; 16:1-34; 23:1-44). In addition, devout
customs grew up among the people, such as those for mourning the dead (see 1 Sm 31:11-13) and
anointing kings (see 1 Sm 10:1).
Jesus, Mary, Joseph, and the apostles were all faithful Jews, practicing the religious rituals of
their people. Mary and Joseph "fulfilled all the prescriptions of the law of the Lord" (Lk 2:39) with
regard to circumcision, purification, and presentation after Jesus' birth (see Lk 2:21-39). The family
took part in the temple rituals of the great holy days (see Lk 2:41-43), just as Jesus later did with his
apostles (see Lk 22:1-13; Jn 2:13; 7:2-10; 10:22-23).
Our Lord also followed the weekly synagogue rituals (see Lk 4:16-20). At meals — including
the Last Supper — he prayed the ritual blessings customary among the Jews (see Mk 14:22; Lk 22:19;
24:30). In fact, the words of the Catholic Church's Eucharistic rite today still echo the ancient Jewish
table blessing Jesus himself prayed.
The first Christians no longer practiced Jewish rituals that had been rendered unnecessary by
Christ's coming, such as temple sacrifices (see Heb 9:1-28). But they by no means abandoned all ritual,
as New Testament passages indicate: "the breaking of the bread [the Eucharist] and ... the prayers"
(Acts 2:42); the customary three o'clock prayers at the temple (see Acts 3:1); the laying on of hands
and anointing with oil (see Acts 6:6; Jas 5:14); the apparent quotations from the liturgy (see Col 1:15-
20; Phil 2:6-11; 1 Tm 3:16). When Acts says that the Church leaders at Antioch were "worshiping"
(13:2), the Greek verb used is leiturgeo (the root of our English word "liturgy"), which refers to ritual
Why does the New Testament provide no details of these rituals? The earliest Christians
required no written ritual instructions because they worshiped regularly according to an oral tradition.
That unbroken tradition, which reflected both Jewish roots and new Christian realities, eventually
developed into the rich ritual of worship practiced today by the Catholic Church.

RELATED SCRIPTURE — Texts cited: Lv 1:1-10:20; 16:1-34; 23:1-44 -1 Sm 10:1; 31:11-13 • Mk

14:22 • Lk 2:21-39, 41-43; 4:16-20; 22:1-13, 19; 24:30 • Jn 2:13; 7:210; 10:22-23 • Acts 2:42; 3:1; 6:6;
13:2 • Phil 2:6-11 • Cot 1:15-20 • 1 Tm 3:16 - Heb 9:1-28 • Jas 5:14. General: Ex 28:1-30:38 • 1 Chr
23:25-32; 25:1; 29:22 • 2 Chr 5:1-14; 7:6-10 • Mt 13:54 • Mk 16:18 • Acts 8:17-18; 9:17; 13:3; 19:6 • 1
Tm 4:14 Heb 6:2 • Rv 4:2-11; 8:3-4. ccc 1124-1125 1136-1209.
In an effort to avoid being judgmental, some Christians insist that all sins are alike in God's eyes that
no particular sin is worse than another. But the Bible clearly teaches otherwise. Many of God's laws for
the ancient Israelites, along with the punishments prescribed for breaking those laws, are found in
Leviticus. The sanctions God commanded ranged in severity, reflecting the range of gravity in the
various sins they punished. For example, if someone tried to defraud another person, the punishment
was restitution of what had been stolen or unjustly held, plus a portion of the object's value (see 5:20-
24). But if someone committed a grave sin such as incest, adultery, or idolatry, the death penalty was
prescribed (see chapters 18-20).
No doubt Christians are not subject to all of the Old Testament laws. Nevertheless, these and
other biblical passages demonstrate that the degree of guilt incurred through sin can vary — that some
sins are indeed more serious than others. Of course, our modern legal system and even common sense
assume the same reality: The legal consequences of a petty theft are not nearly as severe as those of a
In the New Testament as well, Scripture offers numerous examples of differential reward and
merit, which implies varying degrees of sin (see Mt 16:27; Rom 2:513; 1 Cor 3:8-9; 1 Pt 1:17; Rv
22:12). Jesus, for example, distinguishes between those who "shall be beaten severely" from those
who "shall be beaten only lightly" (Lk 12:47-48).
No sin is ever a good thing, of course. Yet not all sins are equally evil in God's eyes. Otherwise,
we would face an absurd scenario: A momentary pang of lust or jealousy would be the moral
equivalent, before God, of rape or murder.
More specifically, Scripture teaches that not all sins lead to spiritual death — that is,
damnation (see "How Can a Loving God Send People to Hell?" M-4). This is the basic distinction
between mortal (spiritually deadly) sins and venial (lesser) sins: "There is such a thing as deadly sin....
All wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin that is not deadly" (1 Jn 5:16-17). The Church's teaching that
certain conditions may lessen the guilt of even a serious sin (such as ignorance of fault) is rooted in
Scripture as well (see Lv 4:27; Lk 12:47-48).

RELATED SCRIPTURE — Texts cited: Lv 4:27; 5:20-24; 18-20 • Mt 16:27 * Lk 12:47- 48 •

Rom 2:5-13 • 1 Cor 3:8-9 • 1 Pt 1:17 • 1 Jn 5:16-17 • Rv 22:12, General: Mt 5:22-26; 12:32 • 1 Cor 3:11-15;
6:9-10 • Gal 5:19-21 • Eph 5:5. CATECHISM OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH — 1472-1475 • 1852-
1867 • 1873-1876.
Was God's ancient commandment "You shall not kill" (Ex 20:13) understood as an absolute
statement, forbidding any taking of human life? Apparently not, since the same divine law called for
the death penalty (see Lv 20:2-21, 27).
For this reason, the Catholic Church reads the commandment against killing in the light of
other biblical passages that specify its meaning: "The innocent and the just you shall not put to death,
nor shall you acquit the guilty" (Ex 23:7). The commandment thus forbids the taking of innocent life;
execution of criminals may be another matter.
Of course, Christians are not obliged to practice all of the Old Testament laws (see Gal 3:23-
25). Nor, when the contemporary state punishes crimes censured in the Old Testament, must we
demand that it impose as severe a penalty as God required of the ancient Israelites (see In 7:53-8:11).
Nevertheless, the Church has traditionally allowed for the possibility of capital punishment for
extremely serious crimes.
Why? Because societies may legitimately defend themselves — just as individuals may — and
the defense of the common good depends upon rendering an unjust aggressor incapable of harming
others. In fact, such a defense may be not only a right but even a grave duty for public officials who
are responsible to protect the lives of others (see Rom 13:3-4).
Must the aggressor be put to death in order to be rendered incapable of harm? The Catechism
Assuming that the guilty party's identity and responsibility have been fully determined, the
traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty, if this is the only
possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor.
If, however, non-lethal means are sufficient to defend and protect people's safety from the
aggressor, authority will limit itself to such means, as these are more in keeping with the concrete
conditions of the common good and more in conformity with the dignity of the human person.
Today, in fact, ... the cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity "are
vsry rare, if not practically non-existent" (John Paul II, Evangelium vitae 56). [2267, emphasis
RELATED SCRIPTURE — Texts cited: Ex 20:13; 23:7 • Lv 20:2-21, 27 • In 7:53-8:11
• Rom 13:3-4 • Gal 3:23-25. General: Gn 9:5-6 • Dt 32:35 • Mt 5:21-24; 38-40; 4348 •
Rom 12:19 • Heb 10:30. Ccc 22612268 • 2320-2321.
In Deuteronomy, we find the great declaration of the Jewish faith that there is one God (see
6:4), and this affirmation is echoed in Christian teaching (see Jas 2:19). Yet at the same time,
Scripture calls three Persons "God" (the Father; the Son, Jesus; and the Holy Spirit) and describes all
three in ways that pertain to God alone, not to creatures. Nor are these three names simply various
ways of speaking about the same Person: At Jesus' baptism, for example, as he (God the Son) emerges
from the water, a voice(God the Father) speaks from heaven, and a dove (a form taken by God the
Holy Spirit) alights on him (see Lk 3:21-22).
The Church teaches that these two realities of God's "oneness" and "threeness" are not
contradictory. Rather, God is one Being in three Persons; within his very essence, he is one community
of love.
This Trinity in Unity is no doubt a mystery, after all, as human beings with limited intellects,
we can't hope to comprehend fully who God is in himself. Consider this parallel: Someone living in a
one-dimensional world, where there can only be points on a line could not imagine a square. And in a
two-dimensional world, where squares exist, a cube would be incomprehensible.
That's how God stands in relation to us. So we accept what he has revealed about himself,
even though we find it difficult to fathom. We recognize with the biblical character job that when
we try to figure out God, we are dealing "with great things that [we] do not understand; / things
too wonderful for [us], which [we] cannot know" (Ib 42:3). (See also "How Has God Revealed
Himself?" A-2.)
RELATED SCRIPTURE — Texts cited: Dt 6:4 • lb 42:3 • Lk 3:21-22 • Jas 2:19. General: Mt
28:19 • In 10:17-18 (with Rom 8:11 and Gal 1:1); 14:23 (with Rom 8:911 and 1 Cor 3:16-17); 16:7-8;
17:21-23; 20:26-29 • Acts 5:3-4, 9, 13:2-4; 16:6-7; 20:28, 28:25 (with Is 6:8-10) • 1 Cor 8:5-6 • 2 Cor 13:13
• 1 Tm 6:13-16 (with Rv 19:11-13 and In 1:1-5, 14) Heb 9:14; 10:29 • 1 Pt 1:2 • 1 In 5:7-8.
CATECHISM OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH — 202 • 228-267 • 663 • 684-685 • 689 • 731-732 •
• 1066.
The first of the Ten Commandments makes it clear that worship is due to God alone. In
Deuteronomy, the Lord tells his people through Moses: "You shall not have other gods besides me....
You shall not bow down before them or worship them" (5:7, 9).
Catholics affirm this truth. Only the all-mighty Creator of the universe, the one in whom
"we live and move and have our being" (Acts 17:28), is worthy of our worship —of the adoration
that involves giving ourselves completely to him. No saint or even angel should ever be adored in
that sense.
At the same time, however, we obey the biblical instruction to "pay to all their dues, ...
honor to whom honor is due" (Rom 13:7). Though we don't worship the saints and angels in
heaven we do in fact honor (or venerate) them, because they are worthy of great honor. This is a
biblical distinction.
Why do they deserve such honor? Because they now stand before him in heaven face-to-face
and they have become like him (see 1 Jn 3:2). They have become, by God's grace, his glorious image
(see 2 Cor 3:18), partakers in his divine nature (see 2 Pt 1:4). They share in his holiness (see Heb
12:10), his glory (see Rom 8:17; 1 Pt 5:1), his knowledge (see 1 Cor 13:12), and his authority to
judge and rule (see 1 Cor 6:2-3; 2 Tm 2:12; Rv 3:21).
Are we somehow denying God the honor due him when we honor his saints? By no means!
They are his perfected handiwork (see Eph 2:10) and when we praise the craftsmanship, all the
accolades go to the Craftsman. If even "the heavens declare the glory of God; / the sky proclaims its
builder's craft" (Ps 19:2), how much more so do human beings who have been perfected in wisdom
and justice, who "shall shine brightly / like the splendor of the firmament, / and ... shall be like the
stars forever" (Dn 12:3)?
Finally, we should note that, as the old saying goes, "Imitation is the sincerest form of
praise." Of all the ways we can honor God's saints, the best way is to imitate their faith in him (see
Heb 6:11-12; 13:7).
RELATED SCRIPTURE — Texts cited: Dt 5:7, 9 • Ps 19:2 • Dn 12:3 • Acts 17:28 - Rorn
8:17; 13:7 • 1 Cor 6:2-3; 13:12 • 2 Cor 3:18 • Eph 2:10 • 2 Tm 2:12 • Heb 6:11-12; 12:10; 14:7 • 1
Pt 5:1 • 2 Pt 1:4 • 1 jn 3:2 • Rv 3:21. General: 1 Cor 4:16 Phil 332 • 2 Thes 3:7-9 • Heb 11:1-40;
12:22-23 • Jas 5:10-11. CATECHISM OF THE OLIO CHURCH — 828 • 956-957 • 2132 • 2683.
In Deuteronomy, God warns the Israelites against "fashioning an idol to represent any fig-
ure, whether it be the form of a man or of a woman" or of other creatures (see 4:15-18). Joining
biblical 'passages such as these with the divine commandment against idols (see Ex 20:4; "graven
images" in the King James Version), many Christians insist that all statues of religious subjects are
forbidden. We must note, however, that as the rest of the commandment makes clear, God has for
bidden only the making of such images with the intention of worshiping them, as the pagans did.
He has by no means banned the creation of all religious images.
On the contrary, the Lord actually instructed the Israelites to store those very commandments,
carved in stone, within a sacred container (ark) to be decorated with golden images of angelic
beings called cherubim (see Ex 25:10-22). He also commanded the people to decorate the places
where they worshiped with gold, bronze, and wooden images of animals and plants (see Ex 25:33-36;
26:1; 1 Kgs 6:23-7:51; 2 Chr 3:10-4:22).
Why do Catholic churches, schools, and homes display religious statues and other images?
Such images are an aid to remembering and honoring our Lord, his mother, the saints, and the
angels. No Catholic who knows anything about the Catholic faith has ever worshiped a religious
image. Even when Catholics kneel to pray before a statue, or burn candles or place flowers before
it, they aren't worshiping the image. They are simply expressing love and honor for the person
represented by the statue.
Think of how most people display photos of their loved ones in their homes and workplaces or
carry them on their person. They may occasionally even kiss a picture. When they do, are they
worshiping these images? Of course not! The affection they show to the photos is actually directed
toward those the photos portray.
Does venerating saints and angels in this way somehow "steal" honor from God? No. They
are his "handiwork" (Eph 2:10). Our praise of the masterpieces redounds to the glory of the Artist who
created them.
Finally, consider this: If we cherish the memory of statesmen, war heroes, and even sports
celebrities by making statues of them, then what can be our objection to honoring the heroes of the
faith? (See Sir 44:1-15.)
RELATED SCRIPTURE — Texts cited: Ex 20:4; 25:10-22; 33-36; 26:1 • Dt 4:15-18
• 1 Kgs 6:23-7:51 • 2 Chr 3:10-4:22 _- Sir 44:1-15 • Eph 2:10. General: Rom 12:10
• 1 Cor 4:9 • Heb 1:14; 11:1-40; 12:22-24. ccc 2129-2132.
At the end of Moses' life, God gave final instructions through him to the' people of Israel. He
said in part: "Learn then that I, I alone, am God, / and there is no god beside me. / It is I who bring
both death and life" (Dt 32:39).
Life and death are in the hands of God. He is our Creator "who gives to everyone life and
breath and everything" (Acts 17:25). Our days are appointed to us by him from the very beginning
(see Ps 139:16).
To take life and death into our own hands, then, through suicide or assisting someone in
suicide (euthanasia), is to "play God." But that role is not ours to play. For this reason, the Church
opposes the active, direct killing even of those who desire to end their lives.
Why, some may ask, shouldn't we be allowed to do as we wish with the life that is ours?
Because it is ultimately not ours at all. We are stewards, not owners, of the life our Creator has
entrusted to us. We have no "right to die," because our life is not ours to dispose of. (See also "Why
Are Abortion and Embryonic Stem Cell Research Wrong?" 1-1.)
This is true twice over for the Christian, to whom God has given a new life through Jesus
Christ. As St. Paul says: "Do you not know that ... you are not your own? For you have been purchased
at a price" (1 Cor 6:19-20).
Catholic teaching recognizes that there are times when a life that is not innocent must be
taken: for example, in self-defense; within the duties of law enforcement work, to protect
threatened innocents; or in justly waged war. (See "What Does the Church Teach About the Death
Penalty?" B-4 and "What Does the Church Teach About War?" E-2.) But apart from these
circumstances, or other considerations such as insanity on the part of the killer, the deliberate
taking of an innocent human life is murder, even when the killing is self-inflicted.
The Church teaches, and demonstrates in her many health care institutions, that sufficient
palliative (pain-relieving) care can provide a viable moral alternative to suicide. At the same time,
avoiding or discontinuing overzealous or dangerous medical procedures can be legitimate when the
intention is not to cause death, but merely to accept the inability to impede it.
RELATED SCRIPTURE — Texts cited: Dt 32:39 • Ps 139:16 • Acts 17:25 • 1 Cor 6:19-
20. General: Gn 2:7 • Ex 23:7 • Jb 12:10; 33:4 • Mt 5:21 • Gal 2:20. CATECHISM OF THE
CATHOLIC CHURCH — 2261-2269 • 2276-2283 • 2320 • 2324-2325.
The Book of Judges repeatedly speaks of angels being sent by God to his people (see, for
example, 2:1-5). Are we to understand these and similar biblical accounts as references to real
supernatural beings, or simply as accounts of visions?
Both Scripture and Tradition repeatedly affirm that God has in fact created non-human, angel c
beings to be his agents, warriors, and messengers. They are personal and immortal; they have a
rational intellect and free will, yet they are pure spirits, without bodies like ours. (See the scriptural
references below.) They surpass in perfection all visible creatures, as is evident from their splendor
(see Ps 103:20-21). Nevertheless, redeemed human beings will one day be perfected in such a way
that the angels will be subject to them (see 1 Cor 6:3).
Angels have been present since creation, and they have played critical roles in salvation
history, from the fall of man to the present. In various ways they carried out the divine plan for the
ancient descendants of Abraham. When God became man in Jesus Christ, they surrounded and
served him throughout his earthly life, from his conception up to the very moment of his ascension
into heaven. They will also announce his return to earth at the end of time and will serve him as he
judges the earth. (See the scriptural references below.)
Meanwhile, angels are "ministering spirits, sent to serve, for the sake of those who are to
inherit salvation" (Heb 1:14). They join the Church in her worship and ministry; they serve us as
guardians, intercessors, and guides. With the saints in heaven they behold the face of God and enjoy
the eternal life of the Blessed Trinity. (See the scriptural references below.)
Finally, Scripture speaks of various angelic hierarchies and provides the names of three
particular angels: Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael. (See the scriptural references below; also see "Do
the Devil and Demons Really Exist?" 1-2.)
RELATED SCRIPTURE — Texts cited: Igs 2:1-5 • Ps 103:20-21- • 1 Cor 6:3 • Heb
1:'4. General: Gn 3:24 • Ex 3:2; 23:20 • Igs 6:11-12, 20-22; 13:3-22 • 2 Kgs 1:15
Tb 12:12-15 • Jb 38:4-7 • Ps 18:11; 78:49; 91:11; 148:2 • Is 6:2 • Dn 9:21; 10:5-9, 13 •
Vit 2:13, 19-20; 4:11; 13:37-42; 18:10; 25:31 • Lk 1:26-38; 2:9-15; 20:36; 22:43; 24:4-7 •
Acts 1:10-11 • Col 1:16 • Rv 4:6-8; 5:11-14; 8:2-3; 12:7. CATECHISM OF THE CATHOLIC
CHURCH — 148 • 311 • 326-336 • 350-352 • 391-393 • 414 • 525 538 • 559 • 760 • 1023-
1029 • 1038 • 1053 • 1161 • 1352 • 2676,.
Like many biblical characters, the ancient Israelite judge Gideon acted on a personal revelation
he received from God (see Jgs 6:11-40). The stories of such special revelations are now an important
part of what is called the "public" revelation of God to the Church, which includes sacred Scripture and
sacred Tradition — a deposit of faith that we must take as our norm of belief (see 2 Tm 1:14).
"In times past, God spoke in partial and various ways to our ancestors through the prophets;
in these last days, he spoke to us through a son" (Heb 1:1 -2). Jesus Christ, the Son of God made man,
is the Father's one, perfect, definitive Word, which can never be surpassed. In Christ, God has said it
all. So the heritage of faith, given in Christ and contained in Scripture and Tradition, is complete.
We expect no new public revelation until Jesus Christ returns to earth.
Over the course of centuries, however, the Church has gradually come to understand the
meaning of that complete revelation more deeply. From this deposit, handed down by the apostles and
their successors, the teaching office (magisterium) of the Church draws everything that it proposes
to us for our belief as being divinely revealed. Catholics are obliged to accept this public revelation of
Do special revelations still come to individuals from heaven? The Church certainly allows for
that possibility. At times she has even authoritatively recognized such messages, as with the
appearances of our Lady to St. Bernadette at Lourdes. But these "private" revelations, as they are
called, do not belong to the deposit of faith. Their role is not to add to or improve Christ's
definitive revelation, but to help believers live it more fully in a specific period of history.
I-or that reason, though the Church may recommend particular private revelations as worthy
of acceptance, Catholics are not bound to assent to these in the same way they would place their faith
in sacred Scripture and Tradition. At the same time, Catholics should exercise caution toward
alleged "revelations" that have not yet been approved by the Church. And they must firmly reject as
false any that offer "a different gospel"(see Gal 1:6-9), claiming to surpass or correct the deposit of
faith given in Christ.
RELATED SCRIPTURE — Texts cited , Id9s 6:11-40 • 2 Tm 1:14 • Heb 1:1-2 • Gal
1:69. General: Ps 119:29 Jer 23:13-32 • Mt 24:4-5, 11 Lk 21:8 • Acts 8:9-25 • 2 Cor 11:4,
13-15 • Eph 4:14 • 2 Thes 2:1-5,,15 • 1 Tm, 1:3-4; 4:1-2, 7; 6:12-16 • 2 Tm 4:3-4
To indicate that he was consecrated to God for a special work, Samson never cut his hair (see
Jgs 13:2-5; 16:17). In similar ways, other men and women in Scripture set themselves apart for God by
taking vows, wearing distinctive clothing, eating a distinctive diet, or living alone in the wilderness.
The ancient nazirites, for example, took vows and promised not to cut their hair, come near a human
corpse, or consume alcohol (see Nm 6:1-21).
In the early centuries of the Church, many men and women who sought to give themselves
completely to God similarly practiced strict spiritual disciplines such as fasting, prayer, and vigils
while remaining part of their local assemblies. Their consecrated lives in some ways resembled that of
Anna, the prophetess present when Jesus was presented in the temple (see Lk 2:36-38).
In time, however, many of these dedicated believers began moving out to the wilderness to
devote their lives exclusively to prayer, penance, and works of charity. They took vows: to remain
single as St. Paul had advised (see 1 Cor 7:32-34); to live in voluntary poverty, as Jesus had
counseled those who wished to become "perfect"(see Mt 19:21); and to obey the spiritual fathers and
mothers who helped them become holy (see Heb 13:17). The sacrificial way of life they practiced
helped to focus and purify them.
These "ascetics," as they were called (from the biblical Greek word for "discipline"), looked
to several scriptural figures as their inspiration and model: in particular, Elijah the prophet (see 1
Kgs 17:1-9); St. John the Baptist and his disciples (see Mt 3:1-4; 9:14-15), and our Lord himself,
who had spent forty days alone in the wilderness, to pray, fast, and do battle with the Devil (see Lk
4:1-13). Over the following centuries, most of these Christians organized into religious orders like-
minded communities with a common life of prayer and discipline. New groups emerged, each with
its own "Charism" (special gift).
Today, a wide variety of Catholic orders serve the Church and the world. Some are more
secluded (cloistered), dedicated exclusively to prayer, meditation, and manual labor. Others give
themselves to works of charity, such as Health care or social work. Still others specialize in
evangelization, teaching, or communications media. Whatever their specific gifts, all share a vocation
from God to serve as men and women set apart for a special task.
RELATED SCRIPTURE — Texts cited: Nm 6:1-21 • Jgs 13:2-5; 16:17 • I Kgs 17:1-9 • Mt
3:1-4; 9:14-15; 19:21 • Lk 2:36-38; 4:1-13 • 1 Cor 7:32-34 • Heb 13:17. General: 1 Kgs 19:1-
18 • Mt 4:1-2 • Mk 1:2-6, 12-13 • Lk 5:33-35 • Acts 21:23-24 - 1 Tm 6:17-19 • Heb 11:37-38 • Rv
14:4. CATECHISM OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH —914-933 • 944-945 • 1672.
The eerie story of King Saul's dealings with the medium at Endor illustrates the dangers of
"necromancy" — the attempt to initiate communication with the dead (see 1 Sm 28:319). Saul
himself had previously driven mediums out of the land, in keeping with God's consistent warning to
the Israelites against adopting this practice of their pagan neighbors. So grave was the crime of
necromancy, and so pernicious its consequences, that God actually prescribed the death penalty for it
(see Lv 20:6, 27).
Why is the matter so serious? Because human beings cannot converse at will with the souls of
the dead. When they attempt to do so, they often open themselves to diabolical deception.
On the other hand, God himself may at times permit a departed soul to appear to the living
(this is called an "apparition") and even to disclose things unknown to them. This would be true
even in Saul's case. If the apparition of the prophet Samuel was indeed genuine, it was not because the
medium had any powers to summon the dead, but simply because God took the opportunity to
rebuke the king through the otherworldly visitor he was seeking out.
The gospel accounts provide much clearer cases of departed souls' being allowed by God (or
even sent by God) to encounter the living. When Jesus was transfigured on the mountain, while Peter,
James, and John watched and listened departed Old Testament saints Moses and Elijah appeared and
conversed with him (see Mt 17:1-9). After our Lord's resurrection, a number of departed saints
returned to Jerusalem "and appeared to many" (see Mt 27:52-53).
When Catholics talk about prayer to the saints, then, or about apparitions of Mary or the
other saints, they are not advocating necromancy. Asking for the saints' intercession is not an attempt
to conjure up the dead; it simply acknowledges that those who are in heaven, perfected in Christ,
are able and willing to help us by God's grace. After all: "He is not God of the dead but of the
living" (Mk 12:27; see also "Why Do Catholics Pray to Saints and Angels?" H-4).
At the same time, genuine apparitions of the saints are typically a startling surprise to those
who experience them, not the result of someone seeking out a contact beyond the grave. Mary or
another saint appears unexpectedly with a message, sent from God, that calls us to repent, believe,
and draw closer to him. Nothing could be further from necromancy.
RELATED SCRIPTURE — Texts cited: I Sm 28:3-19 • Lv 20:6, 27 • Mt 17:1-9; 27:5253 •
Mk 12:27. General: Dt 18:10-12 • 2 Mc 15:11-16 • Wis 3:1-6 • Mk 9:2-8 • Lk 9:28-36.
Second Samuel details the many military exploits of King David (see, for example, 2 Sm 8:1-14),
who was divinely appointed as commander of God's people (see 1 Sm 13:14). Other biblical books tell
how God sometimes gave instructions for the Israelites to go to war (see, for example, Jgs 1:1 -2). In
light of such passages, it is difficult to justify a strictly pacifist position that is, the stance that war is
always forbidden to God's people.
Christian pacifist communities often insist that the New Testament standard replaces the Old
Testament example in this regard. They cite, for example, Jesus' gospel command to "offer no
resistance to one who is evil" (Mt 5:39), and his warning that "all who take the sword will perish by
the sword" (see Mt 26:51-54).
Nevertheless, the New Testament also contains St. Paul's statement that the civil state "does
not bear the sword without purpose; it is the servant of God to inflict wrath on the evildoer" (Rom
13:4). The natural law allows for self-defense, and Scripture commands us to defend and "rescue the
lowly and poor; / [and] deliver them from the hand of the wicked" (Ps 82:3-4). In this light,
Christians have reasonably argued that sometimes war is justifiable in fact, that justice and charity
may demand our engagement in war to defend both our own people and the innocent victims of
aggressors in other nations.
As the Catechism teaches, then, on occasion war can indeed be just, and public authorities can
"impose on citizens the obligations necessary for national defense." But "the strict conditions for
legitimate defense by military force require rigorous consideration" (2310 and 2309, emphasis in the
original). For instance, all other means to resolve the issue must have proven futile (see 2309 for a
summary of all of the conditions).
Meanwhile, the Church urges all people, especially governments, to work for 'I peace — not
just the avoidance of war, or the uneasy balance of power between 'I adversaries, but the creation of
just conditions that lead to social and political tranquility. "Blessed are the peacemakers, / for they
will be called children of God" (Mt 5:9).
RELATED SCRIPTURE — Texts cited: Jgs 1:1 -2 • 1 Sm 13:14 - 2 Sm 8:1-14 • Ps 82:3-4 -
Mt 5:39; 26:51-54 • Rom 13:4. General: Nm 21:14 • Jgs 4:4-16 • Ps 20:8; 29:11; 34:15; 46:9-10;
55:22; 68:31; 120:6-7; 122:6-7; 144:1 • Pry 12:20; 20:18 - Eccl 3:8 * I s 2:4; 9:4-6; 57:19; 60:17 -
Zec 9:10 - M t 24:6 - M k 13:7 - Lk 21:9 - Rom 14:19 • Jas 3:18. CATECHISM OF THE
CATHOLIC CHURCH — 2263-2267 • 23022317 • 2321 - 2327-2330.
Through the prophet Nathan, God confronts King David over grave sins: adultery and murder.
The guilty sovereign responds by confessing his sin to the prophet and to God. Then he humbles
himself by exchanging his royal raiment for humble sackcloth, and for a week he lies on the ground
and refuses all food (see 2 Sm 12:13-17).
David is performing penance in his deep grief for his wrongdoing. His attitudes and behavior
illustrate how genuine penance includes both an interior and an exterior aspect.
Interior penance is a conversion of the heart, a turning away from sin and toward God (see Dt
4:29; Jos 24:23). It involves the penitent's intention to change his life because he hopes in God's
mercy. We see David's change of heart reflected in his prayer of repentance on this occasion, recorded
in Psalm 51.
External acts of penance, as David demonstrates, include such actions as fasting, prayer, and
giving to those in need. These behaviors can have several purposes: demonstrating the penitent's
intention to change; detaching him from the things he loves too much; drawing him closer to God;
repairing some of the damage caused by his sin; and participating in the reparation to God
(satisfaction) for sin made by Christ through his death on the cross.
David's acts of penance are self-imposed, but Scripture shows us that sometimes God himself
imposes penances on the guilty some sort of labor or adversity, often connected to the natural
consequences of the sin, that can serve a redemptive purpose if the sinner responds in the right way.
For example, the disobedient Israelite people are forced to wander in the desert for forty years (see
Nm 14:2635). St. John the Baptist's father, Zechariah, is temporarily struck mute when he won't
believe God's message to him through an angel (see Lk 1:20, 62-64).
Voluntary penance is at the heart of the seasons of Lent and Advent, when Catholics
traditionally make at least small sacrifices in the hope of becoming more like our Lord. In the
sacrament of Reconciliation, the priest assigns a penance on God's behalf to help the penitent grow in
RELATED SCRIPTURE — Texts cited: Nm 14:26-35 - Dt 4:29 - Jos 24:23 - 2 Sm 12:13-17
• Ps 51 - Lk 1:20, 62-64. General: Ex 32:15-20 - Nm 5:5-7; 14:19-23 - Is 58:6-7 • 111:13-14 • Jon
3:1-10 • Zech 7:5-10 - Mt 6:16-21; 10:38; 16:19, 24; 18:18 -Lk 18:9-14 - Jn 20:23 • Rom 8:13, 17 -
1 Cor 5:1-5 - 2 Cor 4:10; 11:23-30 • Gal 6:1
• Phil 3:10 • Col 1:24. CATECHISM OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH — 953 • 1420-
1498. 2043.
Bathsheba was the mother of King Solomon of Israel (see 1 Kgs 1:28-30). As any loving son
would do, he obeyed God's command to honor his mother (see Ex 20:12). So even though the highest
officials of the kingdom bowed when they came before his throne, Solomon himself stood and bowed
before her when she entered the court. Once he sat down again on his throne, "a throne was provided
for the king's mother, who sat at his right" (1 Kgs 2:19), the highest place of honor he could give her.
Then, when she interceded there with the king for his subjects, he gladly granted her request (see 1 Kgs
Why did Bathsheba have her own throne at her son's right hand? Why did she receive such
exalted honor at court? After all, she herself had not been born in a palace. Nevertheless, Bathsheba had
borne this magnificent royal son. That made her the queen mother of the land, despite whatever humble
circumstances from which she herself may have come.
Now consider this: Solomon may have been one of the most illustrious and powerful kings in
biblical history. But his splendor pales to nothing beside the radiant glory of his descendant Jesus
Christ, the "King of kings and Lord of lords," ruler of all the nations (see Rv 19:16; 15:4). Jesus fulfilled
the prophecy that from David's throne would rule a Prince of Peace whose kingdom would be universal
and everlasting (see Is 9:5-6). That throne is now "in the heavens, far above every principality,
authority, power and dominion" (Eph 1:20-21).
If Solomon honored Bathsheba so highly as his queen mother, how much more must Jesus honor
Mary as his own? How much more exalted must be the woman — however lowly her original state (see
Lk 1:48) — who bore the Son of God, Sovereign of the universe? No doubt her throne, too, is at the
right hand of her Son's throne in heaven. And no doubt, just as Solomon was eager to grant his mother's
requests, so Jesus gladly responds to her intercession for his subjects.
Mary's exalted role among the saints also reflects her extraordinary position as our great
exemplar of faith, the prototype of the Christian disciple! With St. Elizabeth, we say to her: "Blessed
are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled" (Lk 1:45).
In St. John's vision of heaven, the "woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet,
and on her head a crown of twelve stars," bore a son "destined to rule all the nations"(Rv 12:1, 5). Is it
any wonder that in such a portrait, Catholics see Mary, Queen of Heaven?
RELATED SCRIPTURE —Texts cited: Ex 20:12 • 1 Kgs 1:28-30; 2:19-20 Is 9:5-6 Lk
1:45, 48 -Eph 1:20-21 • Rv 12:1, 5; 19:16; 15:4. General: 2 Kgs 10:13 Est 5:1-5 • Ps 45:14 • In 2:1-
12 • Rv 20:4. CATECHISM OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH — 964966 • 972 • 974-975.
After the prophet Elisha died, he was buried in a cave. Sometimes later, the body of another
dead man had to be cast in to the same cave hastily so those burying him could avoid a band of
marauders. Then, “when the man came in contact with the bones of Elisha, he came back to life and
rose to his feet” (2 Kng 13, 20-21).
This story from 2 Kings provides a biblical example of a "relic," which is an object
connected with our Lord or a saint. Throughout biblical and Church history, relics have been
venerated and have often demonstrated a capacity to convey the power of God through miracles,
especially miracles of healing.
The Church divides relics into three classes. A first-class relic is a part of a saint's body, as in
the case of Elisha's bones. A second-class relic is something a saint used during his life on earth, such
as clothing. The Bible also records an instance of such a relic and its power: Elijah's mantle, which
parted the Jordan River after the prophet had gone to heaven: 'Wielding the mantle which had fallen
from Elijah, [Elisha] struck the water.... When Elisha struck the water it divided and he crossed over"
(2 Kgs 2:14).
Third-class relics are objects that have been touched to a first-class relic. The Bible notes an
example of this kind of relic, too, and the miracles it may Work: "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 and the evil spirits came out of them" (Acts 19:11-
We must keep in mind that the miraculous power conveyed through relics is not some kind
of magic. It is simply God's power acting through material means, analogous to the way he acts
through the matter of sacraments and sacramentals or, for that matter, the way he sometimes works
miracles through the touch of a saint's hands long before the saint's death (see "Why Are Sacraments
Necessary?" R-4).
Why would a saint's relics be venerated? We might just as well ask why a woman would carry
a lock of her beloved's hair in a locket around her neck. The affection and honor shown a relic
overflow from the affection and honor shown to the saints themselves, who are dear to us as
exemplars of God's grace, love, and holiness
• RELATED SCRIPTURE —Texts cited: 2 Kgs 2:14; 13:20-21 -Acts
1 9 : 1 1 - 1 2 . G e n e r a l : Ps 91:15; 112:1-9 • Mt 10:8 • Mk 16:17-18 -Acts 2:43; 3:1-13; 5:12-16;
8:1-8; 9:3242; 14:3, 8-15; 16:18; 20:9-11; 28:8-10 • 1 Cor 12:28. ccc 828 • 1674.1 1417
The Second Book of Kings tells how the prophet Elijah was taken up bodily into heaven (see
2:1-12). Scripture notes, in fact, several unusual departures from this world to the next after a life
lived close to God. Not only Elijah, but also Enoch and those who came out of the tombs at Christ's
death were all received bodily into heaven before the final, universal resurrection of the dead that is
still to come (see Gn 5:24; Heb 11:5; Mt 27:50-53).
Mary's bodily assumption, as it's called, into the glory of heaven was a singular privilege,
reserved for the mother of our Lord, far beyond what these others experienced. Nevertheless, in the
biblical record of these earlier events we see that there's nothing "unbiblical" about the claim that
God has chosen to take a holy person to himself in a special way.
Is Mary's assumption described in the Bible? No, but that doesn't mean it didn't happen. The
death of St. Joseph isn't described in Scripture, either, though it's certain that this important event
took place within the years chronicled by the gospels. In fact, many events even from the life of our
Lord himself were not recorded in Scripture (see Jn 21:25). The assumption of Mary is only one of
many significant events in the life of the early Church that have been remembered and witnessed to
by ancient Tradition.
According to an ancient account of the life of St. Theodosius, the feast of our Lady's
assumption was already being celebrated in Palestine in the 400s. This indicates that by the fifth
century the Assumption was already a well-established conviction of Christ's followers in the land
where he and his mother had lived. In 1950,' after many centuries of Christian testimony to this
reality, Pope Pius XII defined it as a dogma of the Church.
The Assumption is consistent with Mary's role as the Theotokos ("God-bearer") and
immaculate sinless one, who was granted a singular divine grace to bear God himself in her body. If
indeed she was free from sin, then it follows that she would not have to undergo the decay of death,
which was the penalty for sin (see Gn 3:16-19). If not for the fall of the human race, no one would
have died. Mary is the exception, for very good reason, and the forerunner of the resurrection that
all who belong to Christ will experience (see 1 Cor 15:12-23).
RELATED SCRIPTURE — Texts cited: Gn 5:24 • Gn 3:16-19 • 2 Kgs 2:1-12 • Mt 27:50-53
• In 21:25 • 1 Cor 15:12-23 • Heb 11:5. General: Ps 16:10 • Lk 1:28-31 (with Zep 3:14-17) • 2 Cor
12:2-4 • Heb 2:14-18 • Rv 12:1, 5, 17. CATECHISM OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH — 966 •
Second Kings tells how Naaman, an Aramean general, suffered from leprosy. When he sought
help from the Israelite prophet Elisha, the prophet instructed him to bathe seven times in the Jordan
River. Once the general complied, he was miraculously healed (see 5:1-14).
Did that muddy water possess some kind of magic? Of course not. Instead, it was a rather
ordinary vehicle of God's extraordinary power. As on so many occasions recorded in Scripture, the
Creator used a natural element of his creation to work a supernatural result.
This divine principle lies at the heart of the Catholic Church's sacraments (see "Why Are
Sacraments Necessary?" R-4). It also gives rise to the use of "sacramentals," which are, as the
Catechism (1667) explains, "sacred signs which bear a resemblance to the sacraments. They signify
effects, particularly of a spiritual nature, which are obtained through the intercession of the Church.
By them men are disposed to receive the chief effect of the sacraments, and various occasions in life
are rendered holy' (SC 60, cf. CIC, can. 1166; CCEO, can. 867)."
Some sacramentals are actions, such as blessings, exorcisms, or the Sign of the Cross (see also
"Why Do Catholics Make the Sign of the Cross?" 0-1) others are objects that have been blessed, such
as ashes, palm branches, or crucifixes (see also "Why Do Catholics Put Ashes on Their Foreheads?" 1-
3 and "Why Do Catholics Have Crucifixes?" P-1). "Sacramentals do not confer the grace of the Holy
Spirit in the way that the sacraments do, but by the Church's prayer, they prepare us to receive grace
and dispose us to cooperate with it" (Catechism 1670). While the number of sacraments instituted by
Christ is fixed (seven), the number of sacramentals varies according to the pastoral judgment of the
Water is an ancient symbol of life and purity, used in many scriptural rituals and analogies (see
Ex 40:12; Is 12:3). Holy water is thus a sacramental that recalls the sacrament of Baptism and its
cleansing effects. Catholics bless themselves with it while making the Sign of the Cross whenever
they enter or exit a church. It may also be sprinkled on objects when they are being blessed.
Do Catholics think there is some kind of magic in holy water? Of course not. But they know
that even ordinary water, when joined to the prayers of the Church, can be a powerful source of
divine blessing, just as God healed Naaman in the Jordan waters.
RELATED SCRIPTURE — Texts cited: Ex 40:12 • 2 Kgs 5:1 -14 • Is 12:3. General: Ex
23:25 - Lv 14:5-7 • Nm 5:17; 8:7 • Ps 1:1 -3 • Is 55:1 • Mt 3:13-17 • Jn 7:37-39 - Eph 5:25-27 •
Rv 21:6; 22:1-2, 17. CATECHISM OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH — 16671673 • 1677-1678.
Solomon was the most glorious and powerful king the nation of Israel ever knew. Not only
his subjects, but foreign visitors as well would have knelt whenever they came into his presence. In
the ancient world, that was the universally recognized posture of reverence and submission.
According to 2 Chronicles, however, when Solomon entered the temple he had built, this great
king himself knelt down before God's altar (see 6:12-13). He recognized that he was in the presence
of the King of kings, the all-powerful, all-glorious Ruler of the universe.
Today our culture tends to scoff at the notion that anyone should ever kneel. To many, the
gesture is a quaint leftover from medieval times, an act that is somehow beneath our modern dignity.
But Catholics recognize that God is still God, and that "every knee should bend, / of those in
heaven and on earth and under the earth, / and every tongue confess that / Jesus Christ is Lord" (Phil
2:10-11). So Catholics count it a privilege to kneel before him, because he is worthy of our reverence
and submission.
Jesus is present in his Body and Blood, soul and divinity, in the Eucharist (see "Is the
Eucharist Truly the Body and Body of Christ?" T-1). So when Catholics come before the tabernacle in
a church, where the Eucharist is reserved, they genuflect that is, they bend the right knee to the
floor and rise again. In this way they imitate the faith of the holy women when they encountered
Jesus at the empty tomb and "did him homage" by falling at his feet (Mt 28:9). Their gesture gives
glory, not only to God the Son, but to God the Father as well (see Phil 2:11).
RELATED SCRIPTURE — Texts cited: 2 Chr 6:12-13 • Mt 28:9 • Phil 2:10-11. General: Ps
95:6-7 • Mt 2:1>, 8:2; 9:18; 15:25; 20:20 • Lk 24:52 • Jn 9:38 • Rv 5:8. CATECHISM OF THI
In the Book of Nehemiah, Ezra the priest reads aloud to the people of Jerusalem from "the book
of the law of Moses" (8:1) sacred texts that now comprise the first five books of our Bible. Where did
these and the other books in Scripture come from?
The Bible didn't fall from heaven, whole and entire. It's actually a collection of divinely
inspired (literally, "God-breathed" — see 2 Tm 3:16) books produced over hundreds of years by
human authors and editors. We can identify the writers of some of these texts (see, for example, Lk
1:1 -4; 1 Cor 1:13). But for many others, the identity of the composers has been lost to history.
Numerous ancient books claimed to be divinely inspired. But only seventy-three were chosen
for inclusion in the scriptural "canon" (literally, the "measuring stick" by which all else is judged). So
who had the power to discern and the authority to declare which books belong in the Bible?
Ultimately, that role was played by the"magisterium" (authoritative teaching office) of the Catholic
Church, acting in light of the broader apostolic Tradition.
Though there was broad agreement among early Christians about which books belonged in the
Bible, the agreement was not absolute. Some important Church fathers regarded as unscriptural certain
books that are currently in the canon of the New Testament. Others (equally eminent) thought that
certain books not now in the New Testament canon were part of the inspired revelation. The first Church
father to list the currently accepted twenty-seven New Testament books was St. Athanasius in 367.
Who settled the issue? Several regional Church councils in the latter part of the fourth century (in
387, 392, and 393) listed the books of the canon as we now know it. Their pronouncements were
universally accepted until the Protestant Reformation challenged them more than eleven centuries later.
In response, the ,anon was reaffirmed by the Catholic ecumenical Council of Trent in 1546.
This historical reality presents a difficulty for those who believe that Scripture alone (so/o
Scripture) is the ultimate authority for Christian faith and life. Clearly, the Church and apostolic
Tradition are equally necessary; without them, we would not even know which books belong in the
Bible. (See also "Why Do Catholic Bibles Have Seventy-three Books?" N-1 and "Why Don't Catholics
Believe in the Bible Only?" N-2.)
RELATED SCRIPTURE — Texts cited: Neh 8:1 • Lk 1:1-4 -1 Cor 1:1-3 • 2 Tm 3:16.
General: Jn 20:30; 21:25 • Acts 2:42 • 2 Thes 2:15; 3:6 (with Gal 1:9 and 1 Thes 2:13) • 2 aTm 1:13-
14; 2:2. CATECHISM OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH — 80-82 • 101107 • 119-127 • 131 • 135-141 •
304 • 572 • 688 • 702.
The people of ancient Judah were conquered by the powerful Babylonian Empire, and nearly
all of them were exiled from their land. The city of Jerusalem and the 1, great temple within its
gates were ruined.
No longer able to worship there as their ancestors had done, the Jews were forced to live in a
faraway pagan culture that knew nothing of their God.
Only many years later were the surviving exiles and their children allowed to return home at
last. The books of Ezra and Nehemiah report what happened upon their arrival in Judah.
Not surprisingly, those who were serious about their faith made it their priority to rebuild
the temple so they could worship there again. They wept and shouted with joy at its restoration.
Having been deprived so long of the freedom to worship God as he had instructed them, they had
learned to treasure their sacred assemblies in the house of the Lord (see Ezr 3:1-13).
These ancient events illustrate why the Catholic Church requires attendance at Mass on
Sundays and certain annual holy days. Worship is a primary duty owed to God by his creatures,
who receive from him not only their very existence, but every other good gift as well. Worship is
also a privilege, a precious opportunity to encounter the great King of the universe who loves his
people beyond all telling.
The ancient Jews who recognized this awesome duty and privilege made every, effort to come
to the temple to offer their sacrifices of grain and animals. How much more, then, should Catholics
be eager to attend Mass, where the glorious sacrifice of the Lamb of God himself is offered on the altar
(see Heb 9:13-14)!
In the time of Moses, God had commanded his people "to keep holy the [weekly] sabbath
day" by setting it apart for worship and rest (see Ex 20:8-11 The Church now applies what we
might call that "Sabbath principle" to Sundays and holy days of obligation, when Mass attendance
is an obligation. just as under the Old Covenant God required proper observance of the Sabbath,
under the New Covenant the Church requires proper observance of Sunday, "the Lord's day" (Rv
1:10), the day of Resurrection. In fact, among the formal "precepts" (rules) of the Church, this one
is the very first. (See also "What Does the Church Teach About Work on Sundays?" t-3.)
RELATED SCRIPTURE — Texts cited: Ex 20:8-11 - Ez 3:1-13 • Neh 1-13 • Heb 9:1314 •
Rv 1:10. General: Dt 5:12-15 • 2 Chr 36:21 • Ps 27:4; 69:10; 84:1-13; 122:1-9 - Mt 28:1 • Mk 1:21;
2:27-28 • Jn 20:19 • Acts 2:42-46 • 1 Cor 11:17 • Heb 10:1-25; 12:22-23. CATECHISM OF THE
CATHOLIC CHURCH — 2042-2043 • 2168-2195.
Nehemiah was a Jewish layman who was devoted to God and who longed to see God's law kept
by his people. Through Moses, the Lord had commanded the ancient Israelites "to keep holy the
Sabbath day" — that is, to set aside a particular day each week especially for worship and rest (see Ex
20:8-11). So Nehemiah rebuked the residents of Jerusalem for treating this sacred day like any other by
working at their normal business (see Neh 13:15-22).
Scripture suggests that a regular day of rest is actually part of the "rhythm" of creation. In the
poetic language of Genesis, God himself is pictured as "resting" on the seventh day (Saturday) after
creating the world, an example we are to imitate (see Gn 2:1-3; Ex 20:11). Just as importantly, the
Lord insists that we should give the same privilege of rest to family members, employees, guests, and
even laboring animals (see Ex 20:10; 23:12).
Today the Church continues to call us to a weekly Sabbath. But in honor of Jesus'
resurrection on a Sunday, this first day of the week is now our time for rest and worship — what the
early Christians named "the Lord's day" (see Acts 20:7; 1 Cor 16:2; Rv 1:10).
Those who take the Sunday Sabbath seriously have found it a welcome respite. In a society
often driven by a compulsion to work, produce, and succeed, a weekly day when we stop all that
("Sabbath" comes from a Hebrew word meaning "to cease") provides a humbling reminder: We're not
the ones who keep the world turning. God is.
What should we avoid doing on the Sabbath? "On Sundays and other holy days of
obligation," the Catechism teaches, "the faithful are to refrain from engaging in work or activities
that hinder the worship owed to God, the joy proper to the Lord's Day, the performance of the works
of mercy, and the appropriate relaxation of mind and body (cf. CIC, can. 1247)" (2185).
Isn't work on Sunday sometimes unavoidable? The Catechism continues: "Family needs or
important social service can legitimately excuse from the obligation of Sunday rest. [But the] faithful
should see to it that legitimate excuses do not lead to habits prejudicial to religion, family life and
health" (2185).
RELATED SCRIPTURE — Texts cited: Gn 2:1-3 • Ex 20:8-11; 23:12 • Neh 13:15-22 - Acts
20:7 • 1 Cor 16:2 • Rv 1:10. General: Ex 23:12; 31:15-17 • Lv 16:29-31; 23:3, 24, 26-38 • Dt 5:12-15 •
Is 56:2; 58:13-14 • Mt 12:5; 28:1 • Mk 1:21; 2:27-28; 3:4; 16:12 • Lk 24:1 • in 7:23; 9:14, 16; 20:1 •
Acts 2:42-46 • Heb 4:9. CATECHISM OF THE
CATHOLIC CHURCH — 345-49 • 2042 • 2168-2195.
The writer of 2 Maccabees praises the offering of prayers and sacrifices for the dead (see
12:38-46). Why do the departed need such assistance from us? So that their sins "might be fully blotted
out" (12:42).
The final destiny of the redeemed is to live in heaven eternally with God, where "we shall be
like him, for we shall see him as he is" (1 Jn 3:2). Since God is holy, to be like him we, too, must be
holy (see Mt 5:48). Without that holiness, "no one will see the Lord" (Heb 12:14), for "nothing unclean
will enter" the glory of heaven (Rv 21:27).
Nevertheless, few people, even among devout Christians, are fully cleansed of sin and its
effects when they die. And God will not reject any penitent sinner, even one who has been
notoriously wicked yet repents at the last moment before death (see Lk 23:39-43). How, then, can
we enter heaven immediately at death if we aren't yet perfected in holiness?
St. John tells us that everyone who hopes to be holy as God is holy, and to see him at last
face-to-face, "makes himself pure, as he is pure" (1 in 3:3). That process of purification begins in
this life as we submit in faith to the dealings of God that help to make us whole. "Purgatory" is
simply the name given to that process of purification as it continues after death. (Like "the Holy
Trinity," "purgatory" is a term not occurring in Scripture; but the reality it refers to is implied by
scriptural truths.)
God doesn't purify us instantly in this life by waving a magic wand, bypassing the
cooperation of our free will. So we shouldn't we expect him to do so at our death, either. And since
his work to heal us of the effects of sin is usually painful now — just as surgery for our bodily
health is painful — the purgatorial process will likely be painful as well.
The traditional image of cleansing purgatorial fire comes from such biblical passages as 1
Corinthians 3:11-15, which speaks of those who '401 be saved, but only as through fire" (3:15). The.
Bible also speaks of God's holiness in this regard as "a consuming fire" (Heb 12: 29). Yet just as the
physician's cauterizing fire burns in order to heal, so does any pain we might experience in
purgatory. In the end, it is a work of God's mercy.
RELATED SCRIPTURE — Texts cited: 2 Mc 12:38-46 • Mt 5:48 • Lk 23:39-43 • 1 Cor
3:11 -15 • Heb 12:14, 29 • 1 In 3:2-3 • Rv 21:27, General: Lv 11:44; 19:2 • Dt 4:24 Mal 3:2-4 • Mt
5:48 • 2 Cor 7:11 • I Pt 1:16. CATECHISM OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH —1030-1032 • 1472.
When Ezra the priest led his people in confession of their sins as a nation, the resulting list of
wrongdoing was extensive: idolatry, rebellion, disobedience, pride, ingratitude, stubbornness, murder,
injustice, and more. Again and again, God extended them mercy; again and again, they slid back into
sin. If God hadn't been long-suffering, the people would have perished many times over (see Neh 9:1-
Today, God's people receive bountiful graces through our Lord Jesus Christ that weren't
available in Ezra's time. Most importantly, we have the sacraments of the Church to make us holy. Yet
even though such sacraments as Baptism and Reconciliation cleanse us of sin, we are still left with
"concupiscence" a certain weakness of the soul that inclines us to sin, so that the road to holiness is a
continual struggle (see also "What Is Original Sin?" A-4).
Consequently, Scripture confirms, the Church is composed not just of saints in the making,
but also sinners. We see this reality most indisputably in certain parables of Jesus about the
kingdom of heaven (the Church). In the parable of the wheat and the weeds, for example, Jesus
teaches that both will grow together until harvest time, the final judgment (see Mt 13:24-30; compare
Mt 3:12). He also compares the Church to a fishnet that draws good and bad fish, which must be
separated, but not until the end (see Mt 13:47-50). From the very beginning, the Church has been a
mixed bag: Even the thief and traitor Judas was one of the apostles, chosen by Jesus himself (see Mt
10:1, 4; Mk 3:14; Jn 6:70-71; Acts 1:17).
Since we too are sinners, we must not let the presence of other sinners in the Church scandalize
us. The good news is that God's mercy in Christ is extended to us all. For that reason, we should
maintain a lively hope for the salvation even of those whose sins disturb us most (see Rom 2:1-8; 5:8,
19-21). In the meantime, only God knows who will finally end up as "wheat" and who as "weeds."
We must leave it to him to sort us out (see Mt 13:28-30).
RELATED SCRIPTURE —Texts cited: Neh 9:1-37 • Mt 3:12; 10:1, 4; 13:24-30, 47-50
• Mk 3:14 • In 6:70-71 • Acts 1:17 • Rom 2:1-8; 5:8, 19-21. General: Mt 7:14, 21-23;
9:37; 24:10 • Lk 13:23-24 • Acts 20:17, 28, 30 • Rom 14:10-12 • 1 Cor 3:1-4; 5:1-2; 11:21 (compare
1:2) • 2 Cor 11:2-4; 12:20-21 (compare 1:1) • Gal 3:1-4; 4:9-20; 5:17 • 2 Tm 2:15-20 • Rv 2:4-3:8.
• 769 • 823-829 • 867 • 2030.
One day as the Jewish general Judas Maccabees and his men were burying comrades fallen in
battle, they discovered that the slain soldiers had been secretly practicing idolatry (see 2 Mc 12:39-40).
"Turning to supplication," Scripture says, "they prayed that the sinful deed might be fully blotted out"
(12:42). Then Judas took up a collection for an expiatory sacrifice for them in the temple. "In doing
this, he acted in a very excellent and noble way.... Thus he made atonement for the dead that they
might be freed from this sin" (12:43, 46).
Why did the ancient Jews pray for the dead? For the same reason they prayed for the living: It
was an act of fraternal charity. They recognized that the departed needed their help to be cleansed of
their sins. And they were confident that such spiritual works would benefit those who had died, just as
it would have benefited someone who was still living.
The first Christians, who were Jews, maintained this "excellent and noble" practice. For
example, St. Paul prayed for a friend named Onesiphorus, who was apparently deceased (see 2 Tm
1:16-18). The apostle also noted, without objection, that the Corinthian Christians were being
"baptized for the dead" (1 Cor 15:29). Though we know nothing more about that ancient rite, it almost
certainly would have included prayers, and early believers apparently assumed that it would help the
departed in some way.
Not surprisingly, then, many inscriptions on ancient Christian tombs ask the living to intercede
for those buried within. Clearly, from earliest times the Church has offered prayers and sacrifices for
the faithful departed especially the most valuable sacrifice of all, the Eucharistic sacrifice.
Some Christians object to praying for the dead. For those who are in heaven, they insist, our
prayers are unnecessary. And for those who are in hell, our prayers are useless.
But there are faulty assumptions here. First, most people who go to heaven still require
purification after they die before they are ready to live with God forever (see "Is Purgatory in the
Bible?" H-2). Our prayers can help in that process. Second, we don't know for sure who is in hell, so
we should still pray in hope for even the worst of sinners.
In short, charity demands that we should pray for the dead. And humility demands that we
should ask others to pray for us when our day comes to depart this life.
RELATED SCRIPTURE — Texts cited: 2 Mc 12:39-40, 42-43, 46 • 1 Cor 15:29 • 2 Tm 1:16-
18. General: Phil 1:3-11 • Col 1:9-12 • 2 Thes 1:11 • Heb 11:39-40, 13:18 • )as 5:16. CATECHISM OF
THE CATHOLIC CHURCH — 1030-1032 • 1474-1477.
Job, a "blameless and upright man" (lb 1:1) used to offer sacrifices regularly to the Lord for
each of his sons (see 1:5). In this way he hoped to offer his own sacrificial acts on their behalf, trusting
that God would credit his good deeds to their benefit. A similar intention is involved in the Catholic
practice of indulgences.
The life of each person who is in Christ —whether on earth, in purgatory, or in heaven —is
joined together through him with the lives of all the others, forming a supernatural unity, the"body [of
Christ].... If [one] part suffers, all the parts suffer with it; if one part is honored, all the parts share its
joy" (1 Cor 12:12, 26).
A Christian who seeks to be purified of sin by God's grace is thus not alone. The holiness of
other believers — their merits, which have value because of their union with Christ's merits — can
profit him spiritually. The spiritual goods of this "communion of saints," as the Church calls it, is a
treasury that includes the infinite merits of Christ himself, as well as the prayers, sacrifices, and other
good works of our Lady and all of the saints.
When Catholics obtain an indulgence, the Church, through the power of "binding and loosing"
sins that Christ has given her (see Mt 18:18; )n 20:23), intervenes on behalf of individual Christians,
opening for them this treasury of merit. What exactly does an indulgence accomplish? It is "a
remission before God of the temporal punishment due to sins whose guilt has already been forgiven"
(Paul VI, apostolic constitution, Indulgentiarum doctrina, Norm 1) (Catechism 1471).
Sin has a double consequence: damage to our relationship with God (guilt), aid damage to the
order he has established. Through the sacraments of Baptism and Reconciliation, we receive
forgiveness in Christ, a healing of our relationship with God that takes away our guilt. Nevertheless,
every sin also involves a disordered love that spiritually and morally disfigures us and the world
around us, leading to temporal punishment.
Even after we receive God's forgiveness, this second kind of damage must be repaired through
acts of penance and charity. Scriptural examples of this reality abound: For example, God forgave
David his sin of adultery with Bathsheba, but the king still had to endure penitentially the chastising
consequences of his son's death (see 2 Sm 12:13-14). Indulgences can assist Christians in this reparative
process, which is called "satisfaction." (See also "Where Is Penance Found in the Bible?" E-3.)
RELATED SCRIPTURE — Texts cited: 2 Sm 12:13-14 • lb 1:1, 5 • Mt 18:18 • In 20:23 • 1
Cor 12:12, 26. General: Gn 3:16-19 • Ex 32:30 • Dt 32:48-52 • Mt 16:19, 24 • 2 Cor 1:5-7; 2:5 • Phil
3:10 • Col 1:24. CATECHISM OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH — 1471-1479 • 1498.
When the Jewish general Judas Maccabeus leads the resistance against the Greek occupation of
their country, he tells his soldiers about "a dream, a kind of vision, worthy of belief" (2 Mc 15:11). In
this vision, the general saw Onias, a former high priest who has died, "praying with outstretched arms
for the whole Jewish community" (15:12). Then he saw "God's prophet Jeremiah, who loves his
brethren and fervently prays for his people and their holy city" (15:14). In part through the assistance
of these two Old Testament saints, the Jewish fighters win their battle.
The angel Raphael tells the couple Tobit and Sarah: "When you ... prayed, it was I who
presented and read the record of your prayer before the Glory of the Lord" (Tb 12:12). Then the
angel reveals that God sent him to heal them in answer to their prayer (see 12:14).
The New Testament displays similar scenes. Jesus' parable of Lazarus the beggar (see Lk
16:19-31) assumes that the deceased man is aware of those still living, is concerned with them, and
wants to pray for them. In St. John's Revelation, the Christian martyrs in heaven know what is
happening on earth, and they pray to God to accomplish justice there. In addition, both the saints and
the angels in heaven bring to God's throne "the prayers of the holy ones" (see Rv 6:9-11; 5:6-8; 8:3-4).
In such passages, we find the saints and angels mediating before God for believers on earth,
either interceding or otherwise assisting them. (In the parable, even someone in hell is attempting to
do so, if unsuccessfully.) Does this contradict St. Paul's statement that "there is ... one mediator
between God and the human race, / Christ Jesus" (1 Tm 2:5)? No, because the apostle wasn't
excluding the participation of others in Christ's mediating role.
In fact, whenever Christians pray for one another, whether in heaven or on earth, they are
doing just that. In a similar way, Jesus is the "chief" Shepherd of his flock (see in 10:11-16; 1 Pt
5:4), yet he assigns lesser shepherds to take part in this ministry (see in 21:15-17; Eph 4:11).
Catholics ask the saints and angels for their help, then, for the same reason they ask
Christians on earth to pray for them and assist them in other ways: It has pleased God to make us
interdependent as members of Christ's Body (see 1 Cor 12:12-27).
RELATED SCRIPTURE — Texts cited: Tb 12:12, 14 • 2 Mc 15:11-12, 14 • Lk 16:19-31 • In
10:11-16; 21:15-17 -I Cor 12:12-27 • Eph 4:11 -1 Tm 2:5 • 1 Pt 5:4 • Rv 6:9 11; 5:6-8; 8:3-4.
General: Jer 15:1 • Lk 15:10 • 1 Cor 4:9 • Eph 3:2 • Heb 11:1-12:1. CATECHISM OF THE
CATHOLIC CHURCH — 946-948 • 954-962 • 2673-2679 • 2683.
If God is all-loving, all-powerful, and all-wise, why does he allow evil especially in the lives
of holy people? A series of personal calamities provoke Job to ponder that question. In the end, he
confesses that he simply cannot answer it: "I have dealt with great things that I do not understand, /
things too wonderful for me, which I cannot know" (Jb 42:3).
For Christians, too, evil is a problem we cannot figure out. Nevertheless, our faith provides a
number of clues that help us begin to explore the mystery.
First, we must recognize that much evil has come about because of sin. Creatures with a free
will — both humans and angels — have chosen to turn away from God, the Source of life, love, joy,
and wisdom (see Rom 3:12, Jude 6). In doing so, they have fallen into death, selfishness, misery, and
ignorance, bringing great ruin to the world in the process (see also "What Is Original Sin?" A-4).
God allows evil in part because it is a necessary risk of creating sons and daughters who are
free to love or not to love. And he recognizes that free, loving creatures are such a great good, they
are more than worth the risk.
At the same time, no matter how terrible the evil caused by sin, God is great enough, and wise
enough, to bring about through that evil an even greater good (see Gn 50:20; Rom 8:28). The
resurrection of Christ is in fact a glorious example of how God can create joy from sorrow, beauty
from horror, victory from defeat, and life from death (see 1 Pt 1:3-5).
Why doesn't God bring all evildoers to an end even now, since they have already had their
chance to choose good? Because of his mercy, he delays the final overthrow of the wicked to allow
every possibility for their redemption (see 2 Pt 3:9-10). In the meantime, he can use the suffering
caused by evil to purify us (see I Pt 1:6-9).
Finally, we must remember that God is not oblivious to the agonies caused by evil. By
joining his divine nature to our vulnerable human nature in Christ, he actually made himself
capable of suffering with us and for us (see Is 53:1-12). In fact, our Lord has experienced the pain
and horror of evil to a depth we ourselves will never fully know.
RELATED SCRIPTURE — Texts cited: Gn 50:20 • Jb 42:3 • Is 53:1-12 • Rom 3:12; 8:28 •
Jude 6 • 1 Pt 1:3-9 • 2 Pt 3:9.10. General: Gn 3:1-24 • Is 14:12-15; 61:1-3 Rom 8:18 • Phil 2:5- 8 •
Col 2:13-15 • Heb 2:18. CATECHISM OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH — 309-314 • 324 • 385-421.
The story of Job tells how Satan asked God for a chance to test Job (see Jb 1:6-12). Are we to
understand this as a symbolic reference to evil? Or do demons have a real existence as personal, but
not human, beings?
Scripture, Tradition, and the Church's magisterium all consistently affirm that God has in fact
created angelic beings to serve him (for biblical references, see "What Does the Church Teach About
Angels?" D-1). But some of the angels made a radical and irrevocable decision to reject God and his
reign (see Jude 6). Though created good by God, they became evil through their own choice. So
they were cast from his presence in heaven (see Lk 10:18), and they now attempt to seduce human
beings away from God as well (see Gn 3:1-7).
The leader of these fallen angels (or demons) has many names in Scripture: the evil one (1 in
5:18-19); the devil (from the Greek word meaning "the one who throws himself across the divine
plan" Mt 4:1); "the ruler of the world" (Jn 14:30); Satan (in Hebrew, "adversary, accuser" — Jb 1:6);
the serpent or dragon (Rv 12:9). The name Lucifer (from the Latin for "light-bearer" — Is 14:12-15,
footnote) traditionally refers to the devil's radiant angelic beauty before he fell.
The great power and intelligence that belongs to angels by their nature, now perverted for
wicked purposes by the diabolical rebellion against God, allows the demons to do great evil in the
world. Nevertheless, as mere creatures they are by no means God's equal, and in the end their utter
defeat is sure through Jesus Christ (see Heb 2:14-15; see also "Why Does God Allow Evil?" 1-1).
In the meantime, except perhaps in the case of a genuine demonic possession (which is rare),
human beings cannot be forced by Satan against their will (see )as 4:7). His tactics instead are to
tempt, deceive, and accuse (see Mt 4:1 -11; Rv 12:910; Zec 3:1-2). For that reason, our Lord has
taught us to pray, "Deliver us from the evil one" (Mt 6:13).
RELATED SCRIPTURE —Texts cited: Gn 3:1-7 • Jb 1:6-12 • Is 14:12-15 • Zec 3:1-2
• Mt 4:1-11-16:13 • Lk 10:18 • Jn 14:30 • Heb 2:14-15 • Jas 4:7. 1 In 5:18-19 • Jude 6 • Rv
12:940. General: lb 2:4-5 • Wis 2:24 • Dn 10:10-14 • Mt 4:24; 8:16, 28-34; 9:32-33; 12:22; 16:23; 25:41
• Lk 11:14-26; 13:16; 22:3, 31 • Jn 13:2, 27; 14:30 • Acts 5:3; 10:38; 16:16; 26:18 • Rom 16:20 • 1 Cor
5:5; 7:5; 10:13 • 1 Tm 1:20; 3:6-7; 5:15
• 2 Tm 2:26 • 1 Pt 5:8-9 • 1 Jn 3:8-10 • Jude 9 • Rv 12:1-9, 13-18; 20:1-3, 7-10.
CATECHISM OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH — 391-95 • 397 • 2850-2854 • 2864.
Job's contemporaries would have immediately recognized the meaning of some of his
behaviors that seem strange to us today: tearing his cloak, shaving off his hair, prostrating himself on
the ground, sitting amidst ashes (see Jb 1:20-21; 2:8). Many ancient cultures interpreted all these
actions as gestures of mourning. They were an exterior form of expression for an interior grief.
Sometimes the mourning ritual reflected sorrow over personal loss, as it did at first in Job's case. He
had just received terrible news about several calamities, including the sudden death of all his
children (see Jb 1:13-19).
At other times, these were gestures of remorse that is, of sorrow over sin. In this case, the
wearing of sackcloth and ashes in particular became a common ritual of penance before God and
petition for his forgiveness and help (see Dn 9:3). Job later used ashes in this way as well, when he
felt sorrow for questioning God and decided to "repent in dust and ashes" (lb 42:6).
The Catholic Church maintains a token of this moving ancient custom as an element of the rite
for Ash Wednesday. On this day, the first day of the penitential season of Lent (see "Why Do
Catholics Observe Lent?" N-3), Catholics express remorse for their sins. The blessed palm branches
used in the festive Palm (or Passion) Sunday procession of the year before have been dried and
burned, and the ashes are then blessed. joy gives way to sorrow, then, as the priest imposes the ashes
on each penitent's forehead — a form of sacramental (see "Why Do Catholics Use Holy Water?" F-3.)
Why are ashes such an appropriate expression of penance? Because they are "dirty." They
humble us by reminding us that however proud we may be of ourselves, our accomplishments, and
our possessions, in the end (as the words of the Ash Wednesday rite recall), we are dirt, and to dirt
we shall return (see Gn 3:19). At the same time, having dirty faces reminds us that sin stains us, and
we need to be cleansed of it through God's grace (see Ps 51:3-5, 9, 11-12).
RELATED SCRIPTURE — Texts cited: Gn 3:19 • lb 1:13-21; 2:8; 42:6 • Ps 51:3-5, 9, 11 -12 •
Dn 9:3. General: Gn 37:34; 44:13 • Jgs 11:35 • 1 Sm 4:12 • 2 Sm 1:2, 11; 13:31 • 1 Kgs 21:27 • 2 Kgs
2:12; 5:7-8; 6:30; 11:14; 22:11 • 2 Chr 23:13; 34:19, 27 - Est 4:1-8 • Ps 102:10 • Is 58:5; 61:2-3 • Jer 6:26;
25:34; 36:24 • Ez 26:16 • JI 2:a12-13
• )on 3:6-10 • Mt 11:21 • Lk 10:13. CATECHISM OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH — 540
• 1430-1439 • 1667-1671 • 2043.
The great theme of divine judgment runs throughout the Book of Job (see, for example,
34:21-23, 25). God alone is competent to render such a judgment, since he alone sees all things
completely and as they truly are. Only he is powerful enough to enforce a sentence on the wicked. And
only he is perfectly holy and righteous, so his judgment will be utterly just.
We must live soberly in light of that reality, "for he forewarns no man of his time / to
come before God in judgment" (Job 34:23). And what exactly is a man's designated "time"? The
moment of his death.
"It is appointed that human beings die once, and after this the judgment" (Heb 9:27). The
Catholic Church affirms the reality that each human being possesses an eternal soul, which is
separated from the body at death (see Jas 2:26). In this particular judgment, each individual's
eternal destiny is determined by a divine examination of his or her life.
Those who have died in friendship with God will go on to complete any purification still
necessary in preparation for their entrance into heaven (see "Is Purgatory in the Bible?" H-2 and
"What Does the Church teach About Heaven?" J4). Those who have died outside of friendship
with God will spend eternity apart from him in hell (see "How Can a Loving God Send People to
Hell?" M-4).
Yet there is more. Jesus affirmed, as the Jewish prophets and St. John the Baptist had done,
that a universal judgment is also to come at the end of time (see Dn 7:10; Mt 3:7-12; 25:31-46). As
God the Son, Jesus himself will return in power and glory to serve as the divine judge in this
general (or last) judgment, when our bodies will rise to be reunited with our souls and to share
in their judgment and eternal fate (see Mt 26:64; In 5:26-29; 1 Cor 15:35-44; see also "How Will
the World End?" 0-2).
RELATED SCRIPTURE —Texts cited: Jb 34:21-23, 25 • Dn 7:10 • Mt 3:7-12; 25:31-
46; 26:64 • jn'5:26-29 • 1 Cor 15:35-44 • Heb 9:27 • Jas 2:26. General: Dt 32:36 - Jgs 11:27 • 1
Sm 2:10; 24:13 • Ps 1:5; 7:7-10; 9:16-18; 50:1-6; 51:5-6; 75:1-11; 82:8; 94:1-11; 96:9-13; 98:7-9;
110:6 • Is 2:4; 11:1-5; 33:22 • Ez 34:17, 20, 22; 35:11 • Dn 12:1-4 • JI 2:1 -10; 3:3-4; 4:1-2; • Mal
3:19 • Mt 5:22; 7:1-5; 11:20-24; 12:32 • Mk
12:38-44 • Lk 12:1-3 • In 3:18-21; 5:22; 6:39-40; 12:48 • Rom 2:16 • 1 Cor 3:12-15; 4:5 •
Heb 10:26-31. CATECHISM OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH — 327 • 677-682 1020-1022 • 1038-
1041 • 1051-1054 • 1059.
David speaks in a psalm of God's intimate and abiding love for him, even before he was born.
He prays: "You formed my inmost being; / you knit me in my mother's womb.... / My very self
you knew; / my bones were not hidden from you, / When I was being made in secret" (Ps 139:13-15).
Other biblical passages confirm the truth that the child in the womb, at whatever stage of
development, is a fully human person known and loved by God, sharing the great dignity and value
of every human per. son created by God in his image (see Gn 1:26-27).
The Bible condemns murder, the wrongful taking of innocent human life (see Ex 20: 13).
Since children in the womb are regarded as human persons in Scripture, killing them is included in
this prohibition. In addition, we should note that Jesus shows special concern for children because
of their vulnerability and is explicit in his condemnation of those who would hurt these "little
ones" (see Mt 18:1-6; 19:13-15). So the Church, in keeping with his example and with the consistent
teaching of ancient Scripture and Tradition, condemns abortion as a particularly heinous crime.
Infanticide takes place when an infant is intentionally killed or allowed to die through neglect,
often because the child suffers from some disability. Embryonic stem cell research, however noble
may be its medical objectives, involves the destruction of unborn children at the embryonic stage.
Consequently, the Church condemns these practices as gravely immoral on the same grounds she
opposes murder in any form. (Other forms of stem cell research that do not require the destruction of
human embryos are acceptable.)
For similar reasons, the Church condemns human cloning. This practice involves the
manipulation and "manufacturing" of living embryos for commercial or other purposes, as if they
were commodities to be used by others rather than children who share the innate dignity of all human
Finally, the Church insists that the human right to life of the innocent, and to the dignity of
all, should be defended in civil law. This right is not merely a religious matter, but a part of the
universal natural law that should be recognized by all civilized societies.
RELATED SCRIPTURE — Texts cited: Gn 1:26-27 • Ex 20:13 • Ps 139:13-15 • Mt 18:1-6;
19:13-15. General: 2 Mc 7:22-23 • Job 12:10; 31:15 • Ps 51:7; 82:3-4 • Pry 24:11 • Is 44:2; 49:1, 5 •
Jer 1:5; 7:6 • Lk 1:15, 41-44 • Acts 17:28 • Gal 1:15 • 1111 3:15. CATECHISM OF THE
CATHOLIC CHURCH — 362-368 • 2270-2275 • 2319 - 2322-2323.
The Psalms formed the prayer book and hymnal of the ancient Jewish people. Psalm 136 has
twenty-six lines, each one ending with the refrain: "God's love endures forever!" This and similar
psalms, which were chanted responsively, are the forerunners of several popular forms of repetitive
Catholic prayer.
In light of such biblical examples, it's puzzling how some Christians claim that repetitious
prayers are condemned by Jesus. They quote his words: "In praying, do not babble like the pagans,
who think that they will be heard because of their many words" (Mt 6:7; the King James Version,
still popular among many Protestants, refers to "vain repetitions"). But Jesus was a faithful Jew who
took part in weekly Sabbath worship at the synagogue (see Lk 4:16). So he himself would have
prayed psalms with repetitious elements.
In both Jewish and Catholic worship and prayer, repetition simply indicates emphasis on the
importance of a thought. Repetition, then, isn't a bad thing in itself. Rather, Jesus is condemning
empty repetition, not all forms of repetition. The Greek word bottalogeo here means "to repeat idly,"
or "meaningless and mechanically repeated phrases," as in pagan (not Jewish) modes of prayer. Our
Lord is thus rejecting prayers uttered without the proper reverence for God.
As usual, Jesus is concerned with the inner dispositions of the worshiper (see Mt 7:21-23; 15:8-
9), not with mere outward appearance. "The LORD looks into the heart" (1 Sm 16:7).
The same is true of formal prayers — that is, prayers whose words have a set form. Again,
some Christians think that Jesus' words quoted above condemn such prayers. But Jesus himself would
have used formal prayers in the synagogue. In fact, after warning against babbling, our Lord goes on
to provide us one of the most famous formal prayers of all: the Our Father (see Mt 6:9-13).
Actually, all Christians probably make use of spiritual songs whose words have a set form.
Since many of these songs are prayers addressed to God, and then all of these Christians in fact use
formal prayers, just as Catholics do.
Formal prayer allows groups of believers to pray in unison, not just in a particular gathering
but also all over the world and even across generations — an important expression of the unity of
our faith. At the same time, formal prayers, especially, those taken from sacred Scripture and
Tradition, shape our thoughts and desires as we pray, making them more in keeping with God's
RELATED SCRIPTURE —Texts cited: 1 Sm 16:7 • Ps 136 • Mt 6:7-13; 21-23; 15:8-9
• Lk 4:16. General: Is 1:11-15 • Dn 3:51-90. CATECHISM OF THE CATHOLIC
CHURCH — 2625 • 2678 • 2700-2704.
"The LORD is just and loves just deeds," the psalmist says, and "the upright shall see his face"
(Ps 11:7). These words summarize the Catholic view (which is also the biblical view) of salvation:
Because God is just and loves justice, if we hope to "see his face" — that is, to live with him in
friendship forever — then we ourselves must become "upright," as he is. The First Letter of Peter puts
it this way: "Be holy yourselves in every aspect of your conduct, for it is written, 'Be holy because I
[am] holy' " (1:15-16).
How do we become holy? Catholics agree with other Christians that we cannot save
ourselves, and we cannot earn heaven on our own. Rather, we are saved by grace — God's merciful
aid, given to enable us to become holy as he is holy. It's an absolutely unmerited, free gift of God,
made possible through our Redeemer, Jesus Christ, and his atoning death on the cross for us.
Certainly, our faith in Christ's power to transform us is essential to our salvation by God's
grace. But a mere intellectual assent to the truths of the gospel is not enough. Scripture insists that
faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead (see Jas 2:14-26).
When we are justified (literally, "made just") by God, he doesn't just declare us righteous as a
kind of legal fiction so that we can escape eternal punishment. Divine justification actually wipes out
sin and provides a supernatural, renewing infusion of his power. By cooperating with grace, we
become like God, fit to live with him forever.
In this way, good works, and the transformation of character they contribute to and reflect,
are indeed necessary for salvation. God rewards the good works we do, works that he himself has
made possible (see Mt 16:27; 25:31-46). "To the obedient," he promises, "I will show the salvation of
God" (Ps 50:23).
RELATED SCRIPTURE — Texts cited: Ps 11:7; 50:23 • 1 Pt 1:15-16 • Jas 2:14-26 Mt
16:27; 25:31-46. General: Mt 5:20; 7:16-27 • Lk 14:13-14 • In 3:36; 6:27-29 Acts 3:19; 10:31,
35 • Rom 2:5-13 • 1 Cor 3:8-9; 6:11; 15:10 • Eph 2:8-10 • Phil 2:12-13; 3:11-14 • Heb 5:9 • Jas
1:22; 2:14-26 - I Pt 1:17; 2:7 - I In 1:7-9 • Rv 22:12. CATECHISM OF THE CATHOLIC
CHURCH — 26 • 142-147 • 150 - 155 • 161
• 176 • 180 • 183 • 222-227 • 654 • 824 • 846 • 1810 • 1987-1992 • 1999 2008-
2011 • 2023-2024.
Psalm 42-43 sings of the human heart's deepest longing: "As the deer longs for streams of
water, / so my soul longs for you, 0 God. / My being thirsts for God, the living God. / When can I
go and see the face of God?" (Ps 42:2-3).
Even those who aren't aware of such a longing — even those who don't believe in God —
yearn to see him, because he created them for this very purpose. They may search for ultimate
happiness in other places; they may mistake this deep desire as a longing for something else. But in
the end, only God himself will satisfy them.
Our desire for God in fact corresponds to his own desire for us. Though we have broken our
relationship with him through sin, he woos us to return from our faithlessness, and he delights in our
love (see Hos 3:1-5; Zep 3:16-20). If we repent and embrace his offer of reconciliation through his
Son, Jesus Christ, we are called to a life of grace that transforms us into Christ's own likeness (see 2
Cor 3:18).
This new life begins in the present world and continues beyond death if we die n God's
friendship. Once we are perfected, it culminates in eternal joyous fellow-;hip with the Most.Holy
Trinity: "We shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is" (1 In 3:2).
The "beatific vision," as it's called — the unending sight of God's face that grants perfect
blessedness — is the full and final union with him we know as 'heaven." Such a communion of life
and love with God, shared with all his angels and saints, defies description (see 1 Cor 2:9). But
Scripture speaks of this mystery in imagery that suggests its perfect goodness and glory: the Father's
house (see in 14:2-6); a river of life-giving water (see Rv 21:6; 22:1); the heavenly Jerusalem studded
with gold and jewels (see Rv 21:1-4, 10-21); a crown (see 1 Cor 9:25); radiant light (see Rv 21:23-25;
22:4-5); a wedding feast (see Rv 19:7-9).
The Christian hope of heaven anchors and transforms our lives even now, for "everyone who
has this hope based on [God] makes himself pure, as he is pure" (1 In 3:3).
RELATED SCRIPTURE — Texts cited: Ps 42-43:1-2 • Hos 3:1-5 • Zep 3:16-20 • In 14:2-
6 • 1 Cor 2:9; 9:25 • 2 Cor 3:18 • 1 In 3:2-3 • Rv 19:7-9; 21:1-4, 6, 10-21, 2325; 22:1, 4-5. General:
Is 65:17; 66:1, 22 • Mt 5:8; 22:1 -14; 25:21, 23, 34, 46 • Rom 2:7; 6:22-23; 8:18-25 • 1 Cor 13:12 •
2 Cor 12:2-4 • 1 Pt 5:4 • 2 Pt 3:10-13 • Rv 7:917; 21:1-27. CATECHISM OF THE CATHOLIC
CHURCH — 325-326 • 1023-1029 1042-1050 • 1053.
Some Christians have wondered why the Song of Songs is included in Scripture. It never
explicitly refers to God. Instead, it's poetry celebrating the love of a husband and wife: "My lover
belongs to me and I to him" (6:3).Since ancient times, however, Catholic interpreters have read this
book in light of St. Paul's insight that the marriage covenant is a sign of the everlasting covenant
between Christ and his Church (see Eph 5:25-32). As an inspired portrait of ideal human love, then,
the Song of Songs also portrays the mutual love of God and his people, to be fully consummated at
"the wedding feast of the Lamb" (Rv 19:9).
In Christ's miracle at the wedding in Cana (see In 2:1-11), the Church sees his proclamation
that the ancient institution of matrimony (see Gn 1:26-31; 2:18-25) has been raised to the level of a
sacrament — an efficacious sign of God's presence. (In fact, in Ephesians 5:32, St. Paul uses the word
"mystery" to refer to marriage, which in the Greek is also the word for "sacrament.") The other six
sacraments are found in Scripture as well: Baptism, Reconciliation (also known as Confession or
Penance), the Eucharist, Confirmation, Anointing of the Sick, and Holy Orders (the ordination of
In the list of biblical texts below, we find instances of all seven sacraments in the New
Testament, as well as some Old Testament precedents.
RELATED SCRIPTURE — Texts cited: Gn 1:26-31; 2:18-25 • Sg 6:3 • in 2:1 -11 • Eph
5:25-32 • Rv 19:9 . General: Baptism — Mt 28:19 • Mk 16:16 • In 3:5 • Acts 2:38; 16:15, 33; 18:8;
22:16 • Rom 6:3-4 • 1 Cor 1:16; 6:11 • Col 2:11-13 • Titus 3:5 • 1 Pt 3:21. Confirmation — Wis
9:17 • Acts 8:14-19; 13:3; 19:1-6 • 2 Cor 1:21-22 • Eph 1:13 • Heb 6:1-2. Eucharist — Mt 26:26-28
• Mk 14:22-24 • Lk 22:19-20 • In 6:47-66
• 1 Cor 10:16; 11:23-30. Reconciliation — Ex 32:20 • Lv 19:20-22 • Nm 5:6-7; 14:19-
23; 17:11-13 • Mt 16:19; 18:18 • Lk 15:18-19 • in 20:23 • Acts 19:18 • 1 Cor 5:3-5 (with 2 Cor
2:6-11) • 2 Cor 5:18-20 • las 5:16 • 1 in 1:8-9. Anointing of the Sick —Mk 6:5, 12-13 • Lk 13:13 •
Acts 9:17-18 • 1 Cor 12:9, 30 • )as 5:14-15. Holy Orders — Mt 18:18 • Lk 10:16; 22:19; 24:47 •
in 13:20, 15:5 • Acts 6:6; 15:2-6; 20:17, 28; 21:18 • 1 Tm 3:1-7; 4:14; 5:17 • 2 Tm 1:6 • Ti 1:5-9
• 1 Pt 5:1. Matrimony — Mt 5:31-32; 19:1-9 • Mk 10:2-12 • Lk 16:18 • Rom 7:2-3 • 1 Cor 7:1-24;
7:39 • Heb 13:4
• 1 Pt 3:1-9.
To use contraception is willfully exclude the possibility of a conception that could result from a
sexual act. The widespread practice of contraception in our day reflects the common attitude that
children are more a burden than a blessing. But that notion is utterly alien to Scripture.
In Psalms and Proverbs, for example, we hear a constant refrain about the great joy of being
parents and grandparents, even many times over: "Children too are a gift from the LORD, / the
fruit of the womb, a reward. / Like arrows the hand of a warrior / are the children born in one's
youth. / Blessed are they whose quivers are full" (Ps 127:3-5). "Grandchildren are the crown of old
men" (Pry 17:6). To biblical mothers and fathers, barrenness was not a convenience, but a curse (see
Dt 28:18; lb 15:34).
The constant teaching of the Catholic Church has been to prohibit contraception. This
prohibition was in fact taught by all major Christian groups until 1930. Spacing of children or
limiting of children for serious reasons is permitted, according to Pope Paul VI's 1968 encyclical
Humanae Vitae and Catholic moral teaching. But this limitation must come about through natural
rather than artificial means (such as natural family planning, or NFP) so that the integrity of the
marital sexual act is preserved — that is, so that the act remains open to the possibility of transmit-
ting new life, which is part of its natural purpose.
One biblical text cited in support of this truth concerns the grave sin of Onan, who sought
the physical pleasures of sexual acts while preventing the possibility that they might produce
children: "Whenever he had relations with his brother's widow, he wasted his seed on the ground,
to avoid contributing offspring for his brother. What he did greatly offended the LORD, and the
LORD took his life too" (Gn 38:9-10).
Contraception is contrary to our sexual nature and the innate purposes for which God created
it. Every marital sexual act, then, must be open to the possibility of conception.
RELATED SCRIPTURE — Texts cited: Gn 38:9-10 • Dt 28:18 • Ps 127:3-5 • Pr y 17:6 • Jb
15:34. General: Gn 1:27-28; 9:1; 17:6, 20; 28:3 • Ex 23:26 • Lv 26:9 • Dt 7:14 - 1 Sm 1:4-16 • Ps
128:3 • Pry 30:16 • 1 Cor 7:5. CATECHISM OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH — 1652-1654 • 2249 •
2349 • 2352 • 2366-2379 • 2398-2399.
When the Song of Songs speaks of marital commitment as a love that "deep waters cannot
quench ... nor floods sweep ... away" (8:7), it reminds us of an important reality to which the
Catholic Church bears witness: A valid, sacramental marriage between two baptized Christians is
permanent. No power on earth can dissolve it. It remains until the death of one of the spouses.
This may be an unpopular position to take in our culture, but it's based on the explicit
teaching of Jesus. He said with regard to married couples: "They are no longer two, but one flesh.
Therefore, what God has joined together, no human being must separate" (Mt 19:6). For this reason,
the Catholic Church opposes divorce.
Jesus went on to say that those who have been validly married commit adultery if they
attempt to remarry by taking another partner (see Mt 19:9). Why? Because, they are still married to
the original spouse.
Nevertheless, Jesus noted a special case: When a first marriage is "unlawful," he said, the ban
on remarriage doesn't apply, because the first union was not valid (see Mt 19:9). A true, "lawful"
marriage didn't exist in the first place.
In this light, the Church recognizes that not all attempts at marriage are valid, even if they
have been legally recognized by civil authorities. Certain conditions invalidate attempts to marry. For
example, if a woman were forced to take vows against her will, or a man attempted to take his sister
as wife, the resulting "marriage" would be invalid.
When the Church grants an annulment, therefore, it's not providing a "Catholic divorce."
Rather, the Church is declaring an instance of the special case Jesus noted: Civil authorities may have
legally recognized a particular couple's union, but for one reason or another, a valid sacramental
marriage was never present. The individuals are free to marry.
The Old Testament distinction between a concubine and a wife is somewhat analogous to the
Church's distinction between civil and sacramental marriage (see Gn 21:10-14; Jgs 8:31; 1 Cor 7:15).
Even in the civil law of many societies, valid and invalid marriages are similarly distinguished.
RELATED SCRIPTURE — Texts cited: Gn 21:10-14 • Jgs 8:31 Sg 8:7 • Mt 19:6, 9 1 Cor
7:15. General: Gn 1:26-31; 2:18-25; 17:15-21; 21:12-20 • Mal 2:14-16 • Mt 5:31-32; 19:1-9 • Mk
10:2-11 • Lk 16:18 • Rom 7:2-3 • 1 Cor 7:1-24, 39 - Gal 4:2131 • Eph 5:2, 21-33 • Heb 13:4 • 1 Pt
3:1-9. CATECHISM OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH — 1534-1535 • 1601-1666 (especially 1629,
1650-1651) • 2382-2386.
The writer of Proverbs includes on the list of things "too wonderful" to understand this
intriguing item: "the way of a man with a maiden" (30:19). The biblical view of human sexuality
affirms that it is indeed in many ways a mystery to be marveled at. Despite the mystery, however, the
Catholic Church affirms that certain essential truths about our sexual nature have been revealed to us
by God, our Creator.
With regard to homosexual behavior, the Catechism (2357) teaches:
Basing itself on sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of great depravity (cf.
Gn 19:1-29; Rom 1:24-27; 1 Cor 6:10; 1 Tm 1:10), tradition has always declared that "homosexual
acts are intrinsically disordered" (CDF, Persona humano 8). They are contrary to the natural law.
They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual
complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved.
With regard to homosexual orientation, the Catechism (2358-2359) continues:
The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not
negligible. This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial.
They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination
in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God's will in their lives and, if
they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord's Cross the difficulties they may encounter
from their condition.
Homosexual persons are called to chastity. By the virtues of self-mastery that teach them inner
freedom, at times by the support of disinterested friendship, by prayer and sacramental grace, they
can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection.
Given these truths, a homosexual union can never be equivalent to marriage. God has
naturally structured human sexuality to make man and woman complementary partners in transmitting
life. This sexual complementarity can only be expressed by the union of male and female, which
makes possible the conjugal bond at the heart of marriage (see Gn 1:27-28; 2:18-24). Same-sex union
is thus contrary to the very nature of marriage.
RELATED SCRIPTURE — Texts cited: Gn 1:27-28; 2:18-24; 19:1-29 • Pry 30:18-19 * Rom
1:24-27 * 1 Cor 6:10 - 1 Tm 1:10. General: Mt 11:23-24; 16:24-25 • Phil 3:8-11. CATECHISM OF
THE CATHOLIC CHURCH — 369-372 • 383 • 1605 • 2331-2363 2392-2396 • 2520-2527 • 2529-
Many Christians declare: "Once saved, always saved!" By this they mean that once a person
confesses faith in Jesus Christ, he is "saved" froth all God's punishments for sin, including hell.
Whatever he may do for the rest of his life, he is guaranteed a place in heaven.
Catholics — and many other Christians as well — reject this teaching as unbiblical. For
example, there is this warning in the Book of Sirach: "Of forgiveness be not overconfident, / adding
sin upon sin. / Say not: 'Great is his mercy; / my many sins he will forgive.' / For mercy and anger
alike are with him; / upon the wicked alights his wrath" (5:5-7).
Some might object that this passage doesn't apply to Christians; after all, Sirach is an Old
Testament book that doesn't even appear in Protestant Bibles. Nevertheless, the New Testament echoes
this warning to Christians:
For it is impossible in the case of those who have once been enlightened and tasted the
heavenly gift and shared in the holy Spirit and tasted the good word of God and the powers of the
age to come, and then have fallen away, to bring them to repentance again, since they are re-
crucifying the Son of God for themselves and holding him up to contempt. [Heb 6:4-6, emphasis
At the same time, in speaking of severe trials ahead for his followers, Jesus predicts that "the
love of many will grow cold. But the one who perseveres to the end will be saved" (Mt 24:12-13).
Not the one who makes a one-time confession of faith, but the one who perseveres to the end.
To clarify further, we should note that "salvation" means much more than an initial
experience of faith. It's a lifelong process, in this world and the next, which culminates — if we
faithfully persevere — in perfect holiness and the vision of God. (See "Is Purgatory in the Bible?" H-
2 and "What Does the Church Teach About Heaven?" J-4.) After the "new birth," St. Peter says,
despite undergoing "various trials,... you attain the goal of [your] faith, the salvation of your souls"
(1 Pt 1:3, 6, 9).
So we don't obtain our salvation one day and then "lose" it another. Instead, for a lifetime
we must "work out [our] salvation with fear and trembling" (Phil 2:12).
RELATED SCRIPTURE — Texts cited: Sir 5:5-7 • Mt 24:12-13 • Phil 2:12 • Heb 6:4-6 • 1
Pt 1:3, 6, 9. General: Rom 13:11 • 2 Thes 2:3-5 • Heb 10:26-29 • 1 Pt 1:3-5; 2:23. CATECHISM
OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH — 95 • 169 • 620 • 776 • 780 • 830 980 • 1129 • 1257 • 1696 •
1811 • 1889 • 2036 • 2090-92.
Though people often speak of the "seven deadly sins," the more accurate description is "seven
capital vices." A vice is not the same thing as a sin; rather, it is a habit that inclines us to sin. Usually
a vice is the result of repeated sinful actions of a particular kind, so that a truly "vicious" cycle
appears: Sins lead to a habit, which in turn leads to more sins.
The word "capital" comes from the Latin term for "head." A capital vice is thus "head," or
chief, among other vices in the sense that it leads to others. Though Scripture contains no explicit
reference to seven particular vices as "capital," we find numerous biblical warnings against these
seven: pride, envy, sloth, lust, greed, gluttony, and anger. The Wisdom Books especially — job,
Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, Wisdom, and Sirach —.address them repeatedly.
Pride, "the reservoir of sin" (Sir 10:13), is the habit of thinking of ourselves, and our
qualities, more highly than we truly merit. Envy is the sense of pain or misery indulged in when we
see someone else prosper (see Wis 2:24). Sloth (or acedia) is a kind of spiritual laziness that makes
us reluctant to do good because it might cost us something (see Pry 12:24).
Lust is the inordinate desire for sexual pleasure that inclines us to see others as objects for our
personal gratification (see Pry 6:25-29). Greed (or covetousness or avarice) is an immoderate desire for
material goods or worldly honors (see Ps 119:36). Gluttony (or intemperance) is the excessive desire
for, or use of, food and drink (see Pry 23:21). Anger (or wrath) in this context refers to the tendency to
become angry excessively or without just cause (see Ps 37:8).
The best way to cure a vice is to build the opposite habit through practice; this good habit is
called a "virtue."
RELATED SCRIPTURE — Texts cited: Ps 37:8; 119:36 • Pry 6:25-29; 12:24, 23:21 • Wis 2:24 •
Sir 10:13. General: Ex 20:17 • Pry 6:6-11; 12:27; 15:19; 16:18; 18:9; 19:24; 21:2526; 22:13; 24:30-34; 27:4 •
Is 14:12-15 • Hb 2:9 • Rom 1:29; 12:11; 13:13 • 1 Cor 11 -1; 5:11; 6:9-10; 10:6-8; 13:4-7 • 2 Cor 12:20 • Gal
5:19-26 • Eph 4:26-27, 31; 5:3-5 • Col 3:5-8 - 1 Tm 3:1-7; 6:3-10•las 1:12-15; 3:14-16 - I Pt 21; 55 - 2 Pt
2:17-20 - I in 2:16. CATECHISM OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH — 1607 • 1765 • 1768 • 1772 •
1774 -
The Book of Sirach recounts significant figures in ancient Israel's history, many of whom, such as
Moses, were associated with miracles (see 45:2-3). Many New Testament figures as well were reported by
witnesses to work similar wonders — above all, of course, our Lord Jesus Christ and his apostles (see Acts
2:22; 5:12).
Such miracles in fact belong to the very fabric of the biblical story from beginning to end. To
dismiss them out of hand as impossible is to deny the foundations of the Christian faith. As St. Paul
insisted, a Christianity without miracles such as the resurrection of Christ is no Christianity at all. It is
"empty," "false," in "vain" (see 1 Car 15:12-19).
Has science nevertheless disproved the possibility of miracles? The Random House Dictionary of
the English Language defines a "miracle" this way: "an effect or extraordinary event in the physical
world that surpasses all known human or natural powers and is ascribed to a supernatural cause." Using
that as a working definition, let's look closer at the claim.
Science attempts to construct an accurate picture of the natural world. Essential to its method are
observation, hypothesis, and experimentation through controlled conditions. Given this goal and method,
how exactly would science go about disproving the possibility of miracles?
On a given occasion, of course, scientists might well be able to demonstrate that an extraordinary
event can be accounted for by purely natural causes. But how could they show that it is impossible for an
event to have ever occurred in history that surpassed "all known human or natural powers" and had "a
supernatural cause"?
First, scientists would have had to be present for observation at every event in history that has a
claim to be miraculous. That is not the case. Second, they would need a hypothesis that reasonably
accounts for every such event that has ever occurred. They have no such hypothesis. Finally, if an event
should actually have a cause beyond nature (supernatural), then the merely natural means at scientists'
disposal would be incapable of observing it or controlling it for experimentation.
In short, science is too limited in both scope and method to disprove the possibility of miracles.
On the other hand, science is often able to rule out known natural causes for certain extraordinary events.
So the Catholic Church makes careful use of scientific methods when examining claims for contemporary
miracles — knowing that, since an almighty God exists, truly "nothing will be impossible" (Lk 1:37).
RELATED SCRIPTURE — Texts cited: Sir 45:2-3 • Lk 1:37 • Acts 2:22; 5:12 • 1 Cor 15:12-
19 • General: lb 38:1-42:6 • Lk 1:1-4 -1 In 1:1-3. CATECHISM OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH —
156 • 159 • 547-549 • 1335 • 2003 • 2293-2294,
Catholics are sometimes asked, "If Christian faith is all about having a personal relationship
with God, why does the Church have so many rules and regulations?" The contrast between rules and
relationship seems clear in two biblical books often placed side by side: the Song of Songs and the
Book of Sirach. The former poetically celebrates the love between God and his people (see also "Are
the Seven Sacraments in the Bible?" K-1). The latter provides primarily a collection of rules for
living even going so far as to offer guidelines for table etiquette (see Sir 31:12-31)!
Are these two books in fundamental contradiction, then? Which of them more accurately
describes "religion that is pure and undefiled before God" (Jas 1:27)? Is it "relationship," or is it
The dilemma is solved when we recall our Lord's words: "If you love me, you will keep my
commandments" (In 14:15). A genuinely loving personal relationship with God must be more than
devout feelings. We express our love for him by obe-- dience to the "rules and regulations" he has
given us for living.
This truth should not surprise us. Even in human relationships, following certain rules
demonstrates the genuineness of our love. In marriage, for example, spouses express their love in part
by obeying the divine commandments against adultery, lying, and coveting another person's spouse
(see Ex 20:14, 16-17).
The gospel sums up the intent of God's commands in a brief statement: "Love the Lord, your
God, with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and
your neighbor as yourself" (Lk 10:27). Simple enough — or so it seems. But we must unpack the
meaning of those few words in order to apply them to all the various situations in which we find
ourselves from day to day. To help, God has graciously given us Sirach and many other biblical
books with the rich insights of their particular guidelines and ordinances. The Catholic Church makes
use of these in formulating her precepts.
Certainly Christian faith is much more than a collection of "rules and regulations. A personal
relationship with our Lord is essential. But the relationship doesn't dispense with the rules. Rather, the
rules help to define the relationship, and our obedience to them is the clearest indicator of our love for
RELATED SCRIPTURE — Texts cited: Ex 20:14, 16-17 • Sir 31:12-31 • Jn 14:15 • Lk
10:27 • Jas 1:27. General: Dt 6:4-9 • Ps 119 • Wis 6:17-19 • In 14:15-24; 15:10 • 1 In 5:3 • 2 Jn 6.
CATECHISM OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH — 577-582 • -1776-1802 1949-1986 • 2030-2051 •
2052-2557 • 2614.
Isaiah prophesied, "A child is born to us, a son is given us.... They name him ... God-Hero" (Is
9:5). Christians have long seen in these words a prophecy of Jesus' birth and an affirmation of his
divine identity. Though it took several centuries for the Church to develop her understanding of the
relation between Jesus' human and divine natures, nevertheless, from the beginning she has declared of
Christ, as the apostle Thomas declared, "My Lord and my God!" (Jn 20:28).
The reality that God himself became a man for our salvation — what is called the Incarnation
(literally, "becoming flesh") — is at the heart of Christian faith. Denial of this truth has been the
hallmark of many heretical sects.
Jesus himself declared, "The Father [that is, God] and I are one" (in 10:30). When he did, some
of those who heard him picked up stones to kill him for blasphemy, because they understood
(correctly) the implication of what he was saying: He was claiming to be God (see Jn 10:30-33; also
Jn 5:17-18).
In fact, virtually every attribute of the Father in heaven — the God of Abraham, Isaac, and
Jacob, who revealed himself in the Old Testament — was claimed by Jesus for himself. He spoke
authoritatively as God (rather than merely for God). He accepted worship. He forgave sins. He said he
was equal to his Father. And he claimed that he had existed eternally.
New Testament authors verified his claim: "For in him," St. Paul wrote, "dwells the whole
fullness of the deity bodily" (Col 2:9); "In the beginning," the Gospel according to John announced,
"was the Word, / ... the Word was God. / ... All things came to be through him, / and without him
nothing came to be. / ... And the Word became flesh" (In 1:1, 3, 14).
RELATED SCRIPTURE — Texts cited: Is 9:5 • In 1:1, 3, 14; 5:17-18; 10:30-33; 20:28
• Col 2:9. General: Mt 28:9, 17-20 • In 1:1-5, 14; 5:17-23; 8:58; 9:38; 10:17-18; 14:13-
14; 16:23-26 • Acts 7:59 • Phil 2:5-6 • Col 1:15-19; 3:11 • 1 Tm 3:16 • Ti 2:13 • Heb 1:1-8 • 2 Pt
1:1 • 1 In 3:5 • Rv 19:16. CATECHISM OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH —272 • 359 • 443 • 456-
476 • 479-483 • 606-607 • 645-655 • 661 • 677-682 • 724
• 1040.
When early Christians read biblical passages about the Incarnation (see "Why Does the Church
Teach That Jesus Is God?" M-1) — such as Isaiah's words about the Child who would be called God
(see Is 9:5) — they wondered: How exactly was Christ both human and divine? Was he simply God,
only appearing to be human? Was he a human to whom God attached himself in a special way,
dwelling inside him? Was he partly human and partly divine? Ultimately, in the light of Scripture
and Tradition, the Church concluded that none of the above answers is correct. An ecumenical
Church council that helped to resolve the issue (Ephesus, 431) was provoked by a controversy over
one particular question: Can we call Mary the "Mother of God"?
One prominent archbishop, Nestorius, rejected the title. He claimed that Christ was two
persons — one human, one divine — joined together in Christ. Though Mary was the mother of the
human person in Christ, she was not the mother of the divine Person (God the Son). So she could not
rightly be called the Mother of God.
After examining this teaching, however, the Church concluded that Nestorius was mistaken.
Christ was not a combination of two persons, one human and one divine. That would be close to
saying that he was simply a man to whom God was joined in a uniquely intimate way — a man
specially indwelled by God, like one of the biblical prophets.
Instead, the Church declared, Christ is only one divine Person — the Second Person of the
Trinity. This single Person took human nature and joined it to his own divine nature, so that he
possesses two natures (In 1:1-3, 14). But these natures don't constitute two different persons. They
belong to one and the same Person, the divine Son of God. And these two natures, though not to be
confused, cannot be separated.
In this light, the Church concluded that not only is it correct t6 call Mary the Mother of
God, but it is important to do so. Mary is the mother of the one Person, Jesus Christ, who is the Son
of God in the flesh. If we deny that she is the Mother of God, then we are denying that Christ
himself is God, come down from heaven. Truly, as St. Paul declared, "God sent his Son, born of a
woman" (Gal 4:4)
RELATED SCRIPTURE — Texts cited: Is 9:5 • Jn 1:1-3, 14 • Gal 4:4. General: Lk 1:43
• In 5:17-18; 8:58; 10:30-33; 20:28 • Phil 2:5-8 • Col 1:15-19; 2:9-10 • 2 Pt 1:1 • Rv
21:6. CATECHISM OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH — 464-483 • 495 • 509.
In the Book of Isaiah, God promises that he will appoint a new master of the royal household
of his people: "He shall be a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, / and to the house of Judah. / I will
place the key of the House of David on his s1foulder; / when he opens, no one shall shut, / when he
shuts, no one shall open" (22:21-22).
The Book of Revelation refers this prophecy to Jesus as the new master of God's household —
the "new Jerusalem" (21:2), which is the Church. St. John calls him "the holy one, the true, / who holds
the key of David, / who opens and no one shall close, / who closes and no one shall open" (3:7).
These passages take on additional significance when we read in the Gospel according to
Matthew that Jesus gives a special commission to his chief apostle: "You are Peter [meaning literally,
"Rock"], and upon this rock I will build my church" (16:18). This is the most direct biblical reference
to the papacy. In this moment, our Lord establishes St. Peter as the first pope and leader of the Church,
whose role is indispensable to its mission.
Now notice what Jesus goes on to say to Peter at his commission: "I will give you the keys to
the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose
on earth shall be loosed in heaven" (16:19).
Here Jesus tells more about what it means for Peter to be the "Rock" of the Church: Peter and
his successors will have a unique share in Christ's authority as the keeper of the "keys." Alluding to
the prophecy in Isaiah, Jesus foretells the role of the pope as a father to God's people (the word
"pople literally means "father"), the head of God's royal household, the one with divine authority
to open and close the way to the heavenly kingdom.
If such an office was needed in the first generation of the Church, then it is also necessary in
every generation, as in the case of priests and bishops. St. Peter became the first bishop of Rome, so
his unique office in the Church has been passed down to his Episcopal successors there.
RELATED SCRIPTURE — Texts cited: Is 22:21-22 • Mt 16:18-19 • Rv 3:7; 21:2.
General: Mt 17:24-27 • Mk 16:7 • Lk 22:32 • Jn 21:15-17 • Acts 2:14-36; 3:1-26; 5:1-
11; 15:7-11 • 1 Pt 5:1. CATECHISM OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH — 440-443 • 552-
556 • 737 • 765 • 768 • 771 • 815-816 • 834 • 862 • 874-887 • 891 • 914 • 936-
937 • 981 • 1444 • 2034-2035.
Jesus' teaching about hell — that is, the state of eternal separation from God — includes a
quote from Isaiah: "Their worm shall not die, / nor their fire be extinguished" (Is 66:24; Mk 9:48).
The prophet was describing the immense garbage dump in a valley called Gehenna outside
Jerusalem, where worm-infested refuse was heaped on a fire kept continually burning. In ancient times
this valley had been the site of ritual child sacrifice to a diabolical pagan god (see Lv 20:1-5; 2 Kgs
No wonder, then, that in Jewish culture this hellish place gave its name to the fate of the
damned. Its ceaseless flames symbolized the horrors of sin and its consequences, the inner torment of
those who remain in sin, and the justice of an evil at last thwarted and abandoned in contempt.
Our contemporaries often dismiss the very idea of hell as a myth tied to belief in a cruel and
vengeful God. They may even attempt to contrast the doctrine of hell with the teaching of Jesus,
insisting that he spoke only of the Father's love and mercy. Yet Jesus actually spoke more often about
hell in the gospel accounts than he did about heaven. Though he insisted that God loves the world
and desires that no one perish eternally, he also insisted that we stand in danger of damnation if we
reject God's offer of reconciliation (see In 3:16-18).
To deny the possibility of hell is in fact to deny the reality of human free will. God has
created us as persons who can choose to return his love. But love that is coerced is not love at all. If
we are to be more than mere programmed robots, we must have the capability of rejecting God,
both now and forever. And if we reject him, we are in fact choosing hell, the state of eternal
separation from him (see 2 Thes 1:8-9).
Our loving Father wills that all be saved (see 1 Tm 2:4; 2 Pt 3:9). But he respects the free will
he has given us. "I have set before you life and death," he says, "the blessing and the curse. Choose
life" (Dt 30:19). (See also "What Does the Church Teach About Heaven?" J-4.)
RELATED SCRIPTURE — Texts cited: Lv 20:1-5 • Dt 30:192 • Kgs 23:10 • Is 66:24 # Mk 9:48 •
In 3:16-18 • 2 Thes 1:8-9 • 1 Tm 2:4 • 2 Pt 3:9. General: Lv 18:21 • 1 Kgs 11:7-8 • Mt 5:22, 29; 7:13-14;
10:28; 13:41-50; 18:8-9; 22:13; 25: 30, 41, 46 • Mk 9:4348 • Acts 7:43 • Heb 6:2; 12:29 • 1 Jn 3:14-15 •
Jude 7 • Rv 1:18; 7:12, 14:11; 20:10, 14-15. CATECHISM OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH — 633 • 1033-
1037 • 1056-1058 - 1861.
Baruch is one of seven Old Testament books found in Catholic Bibles but not in Protestant ones.
Catholics call them the "deuterocanonical" (literally, "second canon") books; Protestants call them the
"apocryphal" (literally, "hidden" — thus "unknown, spurious") books. In addition to Baruch, these
books include Tobit, Judith, 1 and 2 Maccabees, Wisdom (or Wisdom of Solomon), and Sirach (or
These deuterocanonical texts were included in the Septuagint, a third-century B.C. Greek
translation of the Old Testament, which served as the Scriptures of the apostles and the generations that
followed them. The earliest Greek manuscripts of the Old Testament — such as Codex Sinaiticus
(fourth century) and Codex Alexandrines (c. 450) — include the deuterocanonical books mixed in with
the others.
Church councils at Hippo (393) and Carthage (397 and 419) listed these books (and the other
sixty-six) as Scripture, endorsing what had become the general belief of the universal Church. The
Council of Trent confirmed this canon in the sixteenth century.
How did Protestant Christians lose these books from their Bibles? The influential Protestant
reformer Martin Luther deleted them. Though he insisted that Scripture must be the sole authority for
the Christian faith, when scriptural texts did not support his teaching he tended to deny the authority of
the books in which those texts were found.
The deuterocanonical books include passages that support the practice of offering prayers and
sacrifices for the dead — and by extension, the doctrine of purgatory as well (see 2 Mc 12:39-46).
Luther rejected this ancient teaching and practice of the Church, so he denied these books a place in the
Protestant canon.
The books of the "second canon" are similar in style to other Old Testament books. Wisdom and
Sirach are much like Proverbs. Tobit is in somewhat the same literary category as the Book of job. Judith
is comparable to Esther (two heroic Hebrew women who helped save their people). First and Second
Maccabees are historical narratives like the Books of Kings and Chronicles. And Baruch is prophetic
literature, akin to Jeremiah.
The New Testament closely reflects the thought of the deuterocanonical books in many
passages. For example, Revelation 1:4 and 8:3-4 appear to make reference to Tobit 12:15. St. Paul, in 1
Corinthians 15:29, seems to have 2 Maccabees 12:44 in mind, and Hebrews 11:35 mirrors the thought of
2 Maccabees 7:29. (See also "Why Don't Catholics Believe in the Bible Only?" N-2.)
RELATED SCRIPTURE — Texts cited: Tb 12:15 • 2 Mc 7:29; 12:39-46 • 1 Cor 15:29 • Heb 11:35 •
The Bible plays a central and primary role in Christian faith, but it is not sufficient as the sole
authoritative source of belief. If it were, the more than thirty thousand "Bible-based" Protestant
denominations in the world would not have such fundamental disagreements over what the biblical
text really means. Clearly, Scripture needs both a wider context of Tradition and a living,
authoritative interpreter if it is to be rightly understood.
The fact that Baruch and certain other books don't even appear in the Protestant Bible places
the problem in even sharper focus: Many ancient books claimed to speak for God. How can we even
know which ones belong in the Bible unless we have an authority outside Scripture itself to tell us?
From the beginning, the magisterium of the Catholic Church has exercised the God-given
authority to discern which books belong in the Bible and how they are correctly interpreted in the
light of sacred Tradition (see "Why Do Catholic Bibles Have Seventy-three Books?" N-1).
Catholics thus view the Bible, the Church, and Tradition as harmonious pieces of a whole.
In fact, the Bible itself points to Tradition and the Church as authoritative; it doesn't teach that
Scripture is the Christian's sole ultimate authority.
St. Paul, for example, commands Christians to "hold fast" to the traditions he has passed on
to them, both those that were written down (and were later recognized as Scripture) and those that
were not written down (see 2 Thes 2:15). He writes to St. Timothy that the Church (not Scripture) is
"the pillar and foundation of truth" (1 Tm 3:15).
Nor is Scripture, as some Christians claim, fully self-interpreting. As 2 Peter notes, for
example, in St. Paul's letters "there are some things hard to understand that the ignorant and
unstable distort to their own destruction, just as they do the other scriptures" (3:16).The Catholic
Church avoids such dangers by relying on the authoritative interpretation of the magisterium in the
light of Tradition.
RELATED SCRIPTURE — Texts cited: 2 Thes 2:15 • 1 Tm 3:15 • 2 Pt 3:16. General: Mt
15:3, 6 • Mk 7:8-9, 13 • Rom 6:17 - I Cor 11:2, 23 o I Cor 15:1-3 • Gal I i9, 12 - Eph 4:14 • Col
2:8 - I Thes 2:13 • 2 Thes 3:6 o 1 Tm 4:1 • 2 Tm 1:13-14 o 2 Tm 2:2
• 2 Tm 4:3-4. 2 Pt 1:20 • 2 Pt 2:21. CATECHISM OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH —
78. 80-87 • 90 • 95 • 109 • 111-120 • 128-133 • 137 • 234 • 817 • 2089.
The opening chapter of Baruch tells how on one occasion the Jewish exiles in. Babylon "wept
and fasted and prayed before the LORD, and collected such funds as each could furnish" (1:5-6). That
one sentence summarizes of God's people since ancient times. During the season of Lent especially,
Catholics continue to express sorrow for their sins, and a desire to draw closer to God, through prayer,
fasting, and almsgiving.
Why should we set aside special days and seasons for these activities? Shouldn't we be doing
such things as a way of life? Of course. But with our human nature being weak as it is, the Church
recognizes that if we have no time set aside especially for these disciplines, many of us will be
tempted to neglect them altogether.
In the life of ancient Israel, God himself set the precedent for designating special days for
penance. Through Moses he commanded the people to observe an annual Day of Atonement (Yom
Kippur) "on the tenth day of the seventh month" (Lv 16:29). On this day, the people were to
"mortify" themselves (that is, eat no food) and do no work, so they could devote the day to repentance
and prayer, asking God to cleanse them of their sins (see Lv 16:29-34). In later times, the Jewish
people set aside additional days and seasons of penitential fasting (see Zec 8:19 and the footnote).
The practice of penitential days and seasons was continued by the early Christians (see Acts
13:2-3) and became an established tradition in the Church. Lent, observed in the forty days before
Easter, developed as a way of recalling our Lord's own forty days and nights of fasting in the
wilderness while he prayed and battled with the Devil (see Lk 4:1-13; see also "Why Do Catholics Put
Ashes on Their Foreheads?"I-3),
The value of prayer is immediately obvious. But why, we might ask, are fasting and
almsgiving ways to holiness? When we make small sacrifices such as giving up food and giving away
alms, we detach ourselves from the things that we tend to love too much (see Ez 16:49) — thus
making more room in our lives for God.
RELATED SCRIPTURE — Texts cited: Lv 16:29-34 • Bar 1:5-6 • Ez 16:49 • Zec 8:19
• Lk 4:1-13 • Acts 13:2-3. General: Jgs 20:26 • 1 Kgs 21:9, 12, 27 • Ezr 8:23 • Nell 1:4;
9:1 • Est 4:15-16; 9:31 • Is 58:1-12 • Jer 14:12 • Dn 9:3 • 111:14; 2:12-17 • Jon 3:5 • Mt 4:1-11;
6:16-18; 9:14-15 • Mk 2:18-20 • Lk 2:37; 5:33-35; 18:12 • Acts 14:23; 27:9. CATECHISM OF
THE CATHOLIC CHURCH — 538-540 • 566 • 1095 1430-1439 • 1460. 1490 • 1969 • 2043 • 2447
• 2462.
The first two chapters of Baruch tell us how the Jewish exiles in ancient Babylon repented of
the sins that had led to their humiliation by their enemies. These penitents confessed their sins to God
and to the priests back in Jerusalem, asking the priests to intercede for them: "Pray for us also to the
LORD, our God, for we have sinned against the LORD" (1:13).
Thus, the practice of confessing sins to God as represented by a priest, and having the priest
respond with a prayer for divine mercy, has ancient precedents among God's people (see also Lv
19:20-22). In Catholic practice, however, the priest not only prays for the penitent but also imposes
a penance (satisfaction) and speaks on God's behalf the words of forgiveness (absolution).
This sacrament of Reconciliation, as it is called, is firmly grounded both in Scripture and in
early, constant Christian Tradition. The priestly authority to represent God as an ambassador of his
mercy was granted by Jesus to St. Peter and the other apostles and by extension, to the priests they and
their successors ordained: "Whatever you bind [that is, by imposing penance] on earth shall be
bound in heaven; and whatever you loose [that is, forgive in God's name] on earth shall be loosed
in heaven" (Mt 16:19; 18:18). "Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain
are retained" (In 20:23).
In the early Church, confession of grave sin was often made to the whole Christian assembly as
well as the priests. Certain instructions in the Letter of James are suggestive of this early practice.
When sick, believers were to call the presbyters (priests). The priests were then to anoint them with
oil and pray for them. In confessing their sins, the sick could be healed and forgiven (see Jas 5:13-
Catholics are obligated to repent of all mortal, or grave, sins (contrition) and to confess
them to a priest in order to be absolved. The penitent performs the assigned penance to repair the
harm caused by sin and to reestablish habits that lead to holiness. The absolution imparted by the
priest is not a mere expression of hope, but a sacramental, objective reality.
RELATED SCRIPTURE — Texts cited: Lv 19:20-22 • Bar 1:13 • Mt 16:19; 18:18 • In 20:23
• Jas 5:13-16. General: Nm 5:6-7 • Ps 32:5 • Pr y 28:13 • Is 43:25 • Mt 3:5-6 Mk 1:5 • Lk 15:18-19 •
In 20:21-23 • Acts 19:18 • 2 Cor 2:10; 5:18-20 • 1 In 1:8-9. CATECHISM OF THE CATHOLIC
CHURCH — 980 • 1424 • 1441-1442 • 1450-1470 1486 • 1493-1497.
The prophet Ezekiel has a vision in which he sees great sins committed by God's people. But
at the urging of a heavenly messenger, the godly men and women who lament the wickedness of their
people are marked with an "X" on their foreheads. Bearing that mark, they will be spared the divine
judgment that is to come (see Ez 9:1-7).
St. John's vision in Revelation includes a close parallel to this scenario. Before the angels of
judgment are allowed to devastate a wicked world, a seal is placed on the foreheads of "the servants
of our God" (see 7:1-3; 9:4). Later, this seal is described as the name of Christ and of his Father (see
In light of these parallels, many early Christian teachers not surprisingly saw in Ezekiel's vision
a foreshadowing of the ancient Christian rite of Baptism. Baptism, after all, is given "for the
forgiveness of ... sins" (Acts 2:38), so that those who have been forgiven may escape the wrath of
God (see 1 Thes 5:9). In addition, the baptismal rite included — as it still does today — the making
of a cross with blessed oil on the foreheads of those baptized. (In the Greek version of Ezekiel, the
mark is actually the letter tau, which was written more like an upright cross.)
The corresponding scene in St. John's vision most likely reflects the Christian baptismal
ceremony of his day. This rite included (again, as it still does) the spoken words "in the name of the
Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit" (Mt 28:19). The Sign of the Cross on the forehead
may also have been part of the rite by that time. As early as the second century, making the Sign of the
Cross was a common and well-established custom.
Today, this gesture is usually made by drawing the hand from forehead to breast and then from
shoulder to shoulder. When Catholics apply holy water to themselves with the Sign of the Cross upon
entering a church, they are recalling their baptism "in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of
the Holy Spirit." With the ancient Christians, they use the gesture at other times as well, such as when
they begin and end prayers. Each time, they point to Christ's cross, the Holy Trinity, and the need to
sanctify every action.
RELATED SCRIPTURE — Texts cited: Ez 9:1-7 • Mt 28:19 • Acts 2:38 • 1 Thes 5:9 • Rv
7:1-3; 9:4; 14:1. General: Mt 10:38, 16:24 • Mk 8:34; 10:21 • Lk 9:23; 14:27 • 1 Cor 1:18 • Gal 6:14.
The startling visions of the prophet Daniel, whose apocalyptic language is echoed in Revelation,
have provided grist for many a mill of "end times" speculation. Though a number of the book's passages
seem to refer to events now in the past, others clearly point toward "the end of days" (Dn 12:13).
. Nevertheless, given the cryptic and often symbolic nature of these and related biblical texts, the
countless interpretations of them often contradict one another, So the Catholic Church warns believers to
avoid futile speculation on the matter. What, then, can we know for certain about the end of the world?
Here's a summary of the essentials of Church teaching from the Catechism:
• Jesus will return to earth in glory (see Mt 24:27).
• First, however, the Antichrist will appear to deceive the world and persecute the Church
(see 2 Thes 2:3-12).
• The Church will suffer the great tribulation prophesied by her Lord (see. Mt 24:3-14).
• The final victory of Christ on earth will not come through a gradual improvement in the
world's spiritual condition, nor by a special period of his earthly reign before Judgment Day. It will take
place not within history, but beyond it, after Christ has brought an end to history by his glorious Second
Coming (see 1 Cor 15:22-28).
• The Jewish people will come to recognize Jesus Christ as their Messiah before he returns
(see Rom 11:25-29)
• The dead will be raised bodily (see 1 Cor 15:20-58).
• Christ will judge the living and the dead, and the Devil and his allies will at last be utterly
overthrown (see Jn 5:26-29; Rv 20:10-15; see also "What Does the Church Teach About the Last
Judgment?" 1-4).
• At the end of time, God's kingdom will come in its fullness, and all things will be
renewed, perfected, and consummated (see Rv 21:1-22:5; see also "What Does the Church Teach About
Heaven?" J-4).
RELATED SCRIPTURE — Texts cited: Dn 12:13 • Mt 24:3-14, 27 • Jn 5:26-29 • Rom
11:25-29 • 1 Cor 15:20-58 • 2 Thes 2:3-12 • Rv 20:10-15; 21:1-228. General: 1b 19:25-26 • Dn 12:2-3
• Mt 24:27, 30-31; 26:64 • Lk 18:8; 21:12, 27 • In 5:28-29; 6:39-40, 44, 54; 11:21-27; 15:19-21 • Rom 8:11 -
1 Cor 6:14 • Phil 3:20-21 • Col 2:12; 3:1-4 • 1 Thes 4:13-18; 5:2-3 • 1 Jn 4:2-3 • 2 In 7. CATECHISM OF
CATHOLIC CHURCH — 668-682 • 972 • 988-1004 • 1015-1017 • 1186 • 2771 2772. 2776.
When Jesus was placed on trial by the high priests and council, he quoted a stunning passage
from Daniel's prophecies, identifying himself with the "Son of Man ... coming on the clouds of
heaven" in radiant glory one day to judge the world (Mt 26:63-64; see Dn 7:13-14). All the biblical
references to Christ's Second Coming confirm that this event will be a magnificent public triumph,
not invisible and secret, but universally visible and undeniable: "For just as lightning comes from
the east and is seen as far as the west, so will the coming of the Son of Man be" (Mt 24:27).
Scripture knows nothing, then, of an "extra" coming of Christ in secret before that time —
the "rapture," as many Christians call it — to snatch away true believers from the world. This notion
is actually rather novel in Christian history. For the first eighteen centuries after Christ, Christian
teachers of every sort Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant had never even heard of the idea, nor found any
indications of it in Scripture. Even today, the great majority of Christians worldwide, including
Protestants, reject it.
To prove their notion, rapture teachers typically cite St. Paul's words about Christians on earth
being "caught up ... to meet the Lord in the air" (1 Thes 4:17). Taken as a whole, however, the
passage speaks of the Lord's "word of command, with the voice of an archangel and with the
trumpet of God" (1 Thes 4:16) —hardly a picture of a secret, invisible coming. Instead, this text is
a clear reference to Christ's glorious Second Coming, with obvious parallels to other biblical texts
about that event (see 1 Cor 15:51-52).
Rapture believers may also cite our Lord's words about how, at his coming, certain people
will be "taken," while others will be "left." But he also says this event will be "as it was in the days
of Noah" when "the flood came and carried [the wicked] all away." So those who are "taken" are the
ones to be punished — not the righteous (see Mt 24:37-41).
Finally, rapture teachers claim that Christians must be "snatched" from the world because God
has promised them an escape from the "great tribulation" of the last days. But actually the opposite
is true: Jesus promised that in that time of trial, "the one who perseveres to the end will be saved"
(Mt 24:4-22). (See also "How Will the World End?" 0-2 and "What Is the Second Coming?" 0-4.)
RELATED SCRIPTURE — Texts cited: Dn 7:13-14 • Mt 24:4-22; 27; 37-41; 26:63-64 *1
Cor 15:51-52 • 1 Thes 4:16-17. General: Mk 13:3-27 • Lk 21:7-36 • 2 Tm 3:1-15 1 Pt 4:12-19 • Rv 2:2-3,
10-11, 13; 3:10; 7:9-17. CATECHISM OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH — 668-677 • 680 • 1001.
Isaiah's prophecy of the Messiah (Christ) tells of a suffering Servant who was "pierced for our
offenses, / crushed for our sins" (Is 53:5; see Is 53:1-12). Jesus fulfilled this prophecy when he died on
the cross for us (see 1 Pt 2:24-25). But there are other prophecies of Christ, still unfulfilled, that
point to a different scenario: a glorious King, a powerful Judge, who comes to rule the earth (see Rv
The prophet Daniel, for example, foresaw 'One like a son of man coming, / on the clouds of
heaven" who receives "dominion, glory, and kingship; / nations and peoples of every language serve
him. / His dominion is an everlasting dominion" (Dn 7:13-14).
At Jesus' ascension into heaven, angels confirmed what he had earlier promised: He will
return one day to earth (see Acts 1:10-11). Why is it necessary for him to return? Because his mission
on earth is not yet complete: He came the first time as our suffering Redeemer, but he must return as
our holy Judge (see also "What Does the Church Teach About the Last Judgment?" 1-4).
Christ's life, death, resurrection, and ascension form only part of the gospel, the "good news"
of our redemption. The rest of the gospel is the good news that God is not only merciful but also
just. One day Christ will come back to set the world aright, and the evil one will at last be rendered
utterly powerless to harm those who love God (see Rv 20:10, 14). (See also "Do the Devil and
Demons Really Exist?" 1-2.)
Even now Jesus reigns as Lord of all at the Father's right hand in heaven (see Eph 1:20). But
when Christ returns, God's kingdom will finally come to us in all its fullness, and God's will at last
will be done "on earth as in heaven" (Mt 6:10).
Yet another aspect of divine justice will be fulfilled when Christ returns: He will be
vindicated and honored in the eyes of the entire world. Even those who have "spurned and avoided
[him]" (Is 53:3) will be compelled to bend their knees before him at last and "confess that / Jesus
Christ is Lord, / to the glory of God the Father" (Phil 2:10-11).
RELATED SCRIPTURE — Texts cited: Is 53:1-12 • Dn 7:13-14 • Mt 6:10 • Acts 1:1011 •
Eph 1:20 • Phil 2:10-11 • 1 Pt 2:24-25 • Rv 19:11-16; 20:10, 14. General: Mt 3:12; 24:30-31, 36 •
Mk 13:24-27 • Lk 3:17; 18:22-25 • 1 Cor 15:23-28 • Eph 1:8-10 • Col 3:1-4 • 1 Thes 5:1-5 • 2 Thes
2:1-8 • 1 Pt 1:13; 4:13 • 2 Pt 3:1-16. CATECHISM OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH — 668-682 •
1186 • 2771-72 • 2776.
Many non-Catholic Christians are uncomfortable with the display of a crucifix — a cross with
an image of Christ's crucified body. They prefer 1:6 display an empty cross. If Jesus was raised from the
dead, they reason, why should we depict him still on the cross?
First, we shouldn't forget that Catholics also sometimes display simple crosses without the
corpus (image of Christ's body). Next, we must note that historically, discomfort with the crucifix has
often had more to-do with anti-Catholic sentiment than with genuine concern that Jesus' resurrection is
being forgotten. Despite clear references throughout the New Testament to the importance of the
cross as a sign of Christ's victory over evil (see 1 Cor 1:17-18), many early Protestants rejected any use
of the cross at all even an empty one as a sign of "popery."
Nevertheless, those who are genuinely concerned that, in the crucifix, the resurrection is unduly
overshadowed by the Crucifixion should read the messianic prophecy of Zechariah: "They shall look
on him whom they have thrust through, and they shall mourn for him as one mourns for an only
son, and they shall grieve over him as one grieves over a firstborn" (Zec 12:10). St. John confirms that
this passage represents a foretelling of Christ's crucifixion (see Jn 19:37).
When the people look on their crucified Lord, the prophet says, God "will pour out" on
them 'a spirit of grace and petition" (Zec 12:10). Catholics have long found this to be true
whenever they gaze with love on this image of Jesus' sacrificial death. The crucifix inspires in them
the graces of a deeper gratitude for this greatest of gifts (see Ps 116:12-13), as well as a more intense
aversion to sin, which led him to the cross (see Rom 6:1-12).
No wonder, then, that in the old legends, the demons, vampires, and other evil creatures cannot
bear to look at a crucifix. It reminds the forces of darkness that they have been defeated by Christ's
death on the cross (see Col 2:13-15)1
Finally, we should note that when we are suffering, meditation on a crucifix comforts us by
recalling that Christ suffers with us (see 2 Cor 1:5-7). Our sufferings have great value when we join
them to his (see Col 1:24).
RELATED SCRIPTURE — Texts cited: Ps 116:12-13 • Zec 12:10 • I n 19:37 • Rom 6:112 •
1 Cor 1:17-18 • 2 Cor 1:5-7 • Col 1:24; 2:13-15. General: Mt 16:24-25 • Acts 2:23-24, 36-39 • 1 Cor
1:17-25; 2:2 • 2 Cor 13:4 • Gal 2:19-20; 3:1; 5:24; 6:14 • Phil 2:8-11; 3:18 • Col 1:19-20 • Heb 12:2.
CATECHISM OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH —562•571 - 598 - 616-618 - 1668 - 2015 - 2029 -
The New Testament begins with four books that proclaim "the gospel [good news] of Jesus
Christ" (Mk 1:1): Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Though they are not biographies of Jesus in the
strict sense of the word, they provide accounts of his earthly life and an interpretation of its
meaning for the world.
Why are there four such accounts instead of one? Jesus wrote no autobiography, nor did he
designate any of his followers to write an "official" biography. Rather, the primary mission he gave his
apostles was to "make disciples of all nations" (Mt 28:19) through preaching, teaching, and providing
the sacraments of the Church (see also Mk 16:15-18; Jn 20:21-23; 21:15-17). This first "witness" to
Christ (see Acts 1:8) was thus oral rather than written, with an emphasis on the demonstration of its
truth through the holy lives of believers and the wonders worked among them (see 1 Cor 2:1-5).
In time, however, several of the first Christians concluded that it would be useful for the new
community to have a written account of Jesus' life and works. Luke's statement of method and
intention in producing his gospel suggests how they went about the task:
Since many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the events that have been fulfilled
among us, just as those who were eyewitnesses from the beginning and ministers of the word have
handed them down to us, I too have decided, after investigating everything accurately anew, to write
it down in an orderly sequence for you ... so that you may realize the certainty of the teachings you
have received. [Lk 1:1-4]
Not surprisingly, the four evangelists (gospel authors) used some of the same sources. But each
seems to have drawn as well from sources not employed by the others, and each arranged his material
in a distinctive way. At the same time, no one of them could tell the whole story, as John's gospel
notes: "There are also many other things that Jesus did, but if these were to be described
individually, I do not think the whole world would contain the books that would be written" (In
The result is that the four gospels, though telling essentially the same story, differ in many
ways in content, perspective, emphasis, and style. The resulting variety provides the Church with a
wonderful richness of insight that would be lacking if only one of the gospels had come down to us.
RELATED SCRIPTURE — Texts cited: Mt 28:19 • Mk 1:1; 16:15-18 • Lk 1:1-4 • Jn
20:21-23; 21:15-17; 21:25 • Acts 1 :8 • 1 Cor 2:1-5. General: Jn 21:24 • Acts 2:143:10; 4:31-
35; 5:12-16 • 1 Cor 11:23-26. CATECHISM OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH —7 6 . 8 3 . 1 2 4 -
Are the four gospels in the Bible Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John — the only ancient books that
claim to be authentic records of Christ's life? If there are others, why don't they appear in Scripture? Is
it true, as some have claimed, that the Catholic Church hierarchy (or perhaps the fourth-century Roman
emperor Constantine) "banned" these other books from the Bible to cover up certain uncomfortable
"truths" about Jesus reported in them?
The authentic teaching of the Church about Jesus began, not as a book, but as an oral tradition
preached and passed on by the apostles and others who knew him personally (see "Why Are There Four
Gospels?" P-2). Once the faith had spread throughout the Roman world and beyond, portions of this
oral tradition were committed to writing and circulated among the scattered local churches. The
resulting books were recognized by these churches as reliable and authoritative accounts because they
judged them to be in keeping with, and rooted in, the genuine apostolic Tradition they already
Three criteria were used to evaluate a book for which a claim to divine inspiration had been
made: First, was it written by an apostle or an associate of an apostle? Second, did it conform to the
"rule of faith," the doctrinal Tradition, affirmed by churches throughout the world? Third, had it been
read publicly and regularly in Christian worship, especially in those churches with apostolic
Writings from the generations of Christians just after the apostles show that they quoted as
authoritative the four gospels we now have in our Bibles. By the mid-second century, teachers living as
far apart as St. Ignatius in Syria, St. Justin Martyr in Rome, Tertullian in Africa, and St. Irenaeus in what
is now France had all accepted as reliable and divinely inspired the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke,
and John. This judgment was later confirmed authoritatively by formal Church councils, but certainly
not by a Roman imperial decree.
A few other ancient writers did indeed claim to tell about Jesus' life; St. Luke himself noted
some of them (see Lk 1:1). But their books were not "banned" by the "hierarchy." Rather, they never
gained acceptance by the Church as a whole in the first place because they failed to meet the reasonable
criteria described above. Books such as the "Gospel of Thomas" were thus rejected as later products of
eccentric teachers. The genuine apostolic Tradition exposed them as a false "different gospel" (see Gal
RELATED SCRIPTURE — Texts cited: Lk 1:1 • Gal 1:6-9. General: 2 Cor 11:12-15 2 Pt
1:16-2:3 • 1 In 2:18-23; 4:1-6 • Rv 22:18-19. CATECHISM OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH — 76 •
83 • 124-127 • 515.
St. Mark begins his account of our Lord's life: "The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ"
(Mk 1:1). "Gospel" means literally "good news." The first four books of the New Testament
(Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) are called gospels because they announce the "good news of great
joy" (Lk 2:10) the coming of a Savior, God himself in the flesh.
Some Christians claim that the Catholic Church doesn't really "preach the gospel," because
they believe that salvation by "faith alone" is the substance of the gospel. (See "Does the Church
Teach Salvation by Works?" J-3.) But what exactly is the substance of this "good news" that must
be preached?
St. Peter's first sermon, which is preached on the day of Pentecost (see Acts 2:22-40),
summarizes Jesus' life, death, resurrection, and ascension into heaven. Then he instructs his hearers:
"Repent, and be baptized ... for the forgiveness of your sins" (2:38).
In this address, the notion of salvation by "faith alone" does not appear at all. Instead, the
gospel preached is the proclamation of who Jesus is and what he has done. Salvation (including God's
forgiveness of sins) comes to the hearers through their response of repentance, baptism, and a
subsequent life of obedience to God. When St. Paul preaches the gospel, he makes the same kind of
proclamation and calls for the same kind of response (see Acts 13:16-41; 1 Cor 15:1-11).
According to Scripture, then, the gospel is what the Catholic Church has always preached: a
proclamation of the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ, which calls for our
response of repentance, baptism, and a life of obedience to God.
In fact, every Mass is an instance of preaching the gospel. A passage from Matthew, Mark,
Luke, or John is always read publicly at Mass so that we can hear and respond to God's good news.
In addition, at every Mass the fruits of Christ's work are re-presented to us in the Eucharist, to help
us live lives pleasing to God. (See also "Were Other Gospels' Banned From the Bible?" P-3.)
RELATED SCRIPTURE — Texts cited: Mk 1:1 • Lk 2:10 • Acts 2:22-40; 2:38; 13:1641 •
1 Cor 15:1 -11. General: Mt 9:35 • Mk 14:9; 16:15 • Lk 9:6 • Acts 2:42-47; 8:25; 14:7, 21; 15:7;
16:10; 20:7, 24 • Rom 15:16, 19-20, 29 • 1 Cor 9:11-18; 10:16-17 • Gal 1:6-11 • 1 Thes 2:2-9 • 1 Pt
4:6, 17. CATECHISM OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH — 2 - 35 • 122-127 • 153-155 • 169 • 179 •
224 • 514-515 • 534 • 571-573 • 678 • 1846 • 1963 • 2000-2005 • 2010 • 2022-2027.
The Catholic Church has testified from the beginning to the historical reality that Mary,
Jesus' mother, remained a virgin all her life. Even the Protestant reformers Luther, Calvin, and
Zwingli all taught that Mary was "ever-virgin." But if that is true, why does the Bible refer to
the "brothers" and "sisters" of the Lord (see Mk 6:3)?
In ancient Jewish culture, the terms "brother" and "sister" were applied not only to children of
the same parents but also to other relatives. In Genesis 14:16, 29:15 and Leviticus 10:4, for example,
we know from the context that these passages refer to a relative other than a brother, even though the
Hebrew term for "brother" is actually used.
In a similar way, soon after the mention of Jesus' "brothers" and "sisters," Mark's gospel refers
to Herod's half-brother Philip as his "brother" (see 6:17). The first Christians also spoke of each
other as "brothers," even when they were biologically unrelated (see Acts 15:13).
Meanwhile, when some of these "brothers of the Lord" are named in other biblical
passages, they are identified as sons of a different Mary (see Mt 13:55-56; 27:56). So even though we
may not know exactly how they are related to Jesus, we do know that they are not children of Mary's
Some Christians claim that the words "her firstborn son" (Lk 2:7), as applied to Jesus, imply
that there must have been other children as well. But in biblical culture, "firstborn" was simply a legal
term referring to the child who first "opens the womb" (Ex 13:2). If a child were termed "firstborn"
only when other children followed, how could the law of Moses have required that the "firstborn" be
consecrated soon after birth, before other children arrived (see Ex 13:2, 12, 15; Lk 2:21-24)?
Finally, when St. Matthew in his gospel says that Joseph "had no relations with [Mary] until
she bore a son" (1:25), he does not necessarily imply that such vela- tions followed afterward. In the
same way, when Jesus says at the end of this same gospel, "I am with you always, until the end of
the age" (28:20), he by no means implies thereby that after the end of the age, he will no longer be
with us. Similar uses of the word "until" appear throughout Scripture.
RELATED SCRIPTURE — Texts cited: Gn 14:16; 29:15 • Ex 13:2, 12, 15 • Lv 10:4 * Mt
1:25; 13:55-56; 27:56; 28:20 • Mk 6:3, 17 • Lk 2:7, 21-24 • Acts 15:3. General: Mt 12:46-50 - M k
3:21; 15:40 * Lk 8:19 - J n 7:5•Acts 1: 14; 12:17 - I Cor 9:5 - Ga 1 1:19. CATECHISM OF THE
CATHOLIC CHURCH — 496-507 • 510.
"You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church" (Mt 16:18). When Jesus founded
the Church, he established a concrete, visible institution that can be traced in an unbroken line down
through the centuries. The Church is both a living organism and an organization. So, Christian
unity is expressed not only spiritually, but in organizational and practical terms as well.
Jesus spoke of the Church as "a city set on a mountain" (Mt 5:14). The Church is not invisible.
It was intended by God to be readily identifiable. When Jesus declared that the apostle Peter was the
"rock" on which he would build his Church, he made it possible to identify that Church, to know
where it could be found. St. Peter became the first bishop of Rome, and the bishops of Rome who
have succeeded him (the popes) have continued to fill his special office as the "rock." The Church
Jesus established is thus the Church in spiritual and organizational communion with the successors of
St. Peter — the Catholic Church, which is also called the Roman Catholic Church because of the
leadership role of the Church of Rome.
The central role of the Roman Church in historic Christianity can be seen in that Church's
unique and decisive function in upholding Christian orthodoxy (literally, "correct doctrine")
throughout the ages. It is also evident in the papal leadership in ecumenical councils (such as the
Council of Trent and the Second Vatican Council).
Why the Church is called "Catholic"? The word means "universal." It describes both the
scope of Jesus' saving mission he came to redeem the whole world and the extent of the organization
he established a global Church embracing all peoples. The first recorded use of the term is in a letter
written by a bishop of Antioch, St. Ignatius, who was taught by the apostle John and may well have
known the apostle Peter himself.
The Catholic Church, then, is the universal Christian family in communion with St. Peter's
successor, the pope. Founded by Jesus Christ himself through the apostles, it is unique both in its
catholicity and in its adherence to the "rock."
RELATED SCRIPTURE — Texts cited: Mt 5:14; 16:18. General: Mt 18:15-17 • In 17,21-23
• Acts 1:20; 14-24; 15:1-29; 20:28-31 • Rom 13:13; 16:17 • 1 Cor 1:10-13; 12:12-27 • 1 Tm 3:1-4 • 2
"Call no one on earth your father," Jesus teaches. "You have but one Father in heaven" (Mt
23:9). In light of these words from the Gospel, many non-Catholic Christians object to Catholics
calling priests "Father." How do Catholics understand this passage?
In this situation, Jesus is rebuking the Pharisees for their spiritual pride (see Mt 23:210). He
reminds them that God alone — God the Father — is ultimately the source of all authority, even the
authority these men wield within the religious community.
Is this simply an admonition to the proud, or does Jesus actually mean that under no
circumstances are we ever to refer to anyone as "father"? Just consider: If the latter is true, then we
could never legitimately speak of Church fathers, or founding fathers of a country, or even biological
This cannot be Jesus' intent, given the words of Jesus on other occasions reported in the
gospels. The truth is that our Lord himself uses the term "father" numerous times (see, for example, Mt
15:4-6; 19:5, 19, 29; 21:31; In 8:56). In telling the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, Jesus even has
the rich man use the title "Father Abraham" three times to refer to the ancient patriarch (see Lk 16:24,
27, 30). Later on, St. Paul certainly has no qualms about calling himself a "father" to other Christians
(see Phil 2:22; 1 Cor 4:15).
All this can be said as well of Jesus' instruction immediately before his words about not calling
anyone "father." He warns, "Do not be called 'Rabbi' [literally, "Teacher" in Jesus' native tongue,
Aramaic; see In 1:38]. You have but one teacher, and you are all brothers" (Mt 23:8). Do those who
object to calling priests "Father" refrain from calling anyone "teacher" as well?
Jesus himself speaks of teachers (see Mt 10:24-25; Lk 6:40; Jn 3:10). Paul calls himself a
teacher (see 1 Tm 2:7; 2 Tm 1:11) and noted that teachers are in fact one of the ministries God has set
in the Church (see 1 Cor 12:28-29; Eph 4:11). Any Bible concordance will reveal many other
occurrences of the words "father," "fathers," "teacher," and "teachers" throughout Scripture.
RELATED SCRIPTURE — Texts cited: Mt 10:24-25; 15:4-6; 19:5, 19, 29; 21:31; 23:210 •
Lk 6:40; 16:24, 27, 30 • Jn 1:38; 3:10; 8:56 • 1 Cor 4:15; 12:28-29 • Eph 4:11 - Phil 2:22 • 1 Tm
2:7 • 2 Tm 1:11. General: Mk 11:9-10 • Acts 7:2 • Rom 4:12; 9:10 (see also Rom 4:16-18) • Eph
3:14-15 • 1 Thes 2:11 • 1 Tm 1:2 • las 2:21 • 1 Jn 2:1, 12-14,18, 28. CATECHISM OF THE
CATHOLIC CHURCH — 78 • 238-242 • 270 688 • 1544-1553 • 2214.
The claim that Jesus Christ truly died and truly rose bodily from the dead is not optional for
Christian faith. It is central to the gospels and the witness of the apostles (see Mt 28:1 -10; Mk 16:1-
14; Lk 24:1-49; In 20:1-29; Acts 2:22-36), the guarantee of our own resurrection (see 1 Cor 15:20-
22). As St. Paul insists, if Christ has not been raised from the dead, our faith is in vain (see 1 Cor
15:17; see also "Hasn't Science Disproved Miracles?" L-3). Skeptics have dismissed Jesus' resurrection
as a hoax or hallucination, a superstition or myth. But all of the evidence points the other way. First, if
it was a hoax perpetrated by his followers (see Mt 28:11-15), would they have devoted the rest of
their lives, and willingly suffered prison, torture, and death, for what they knew to be a lie (see
Acts 12:1-5)? If the tomb wasn't empty, why didn't Jesus' enemies simply produce the dead body?
Second, if it was a hallucination, how could so many otherwise sane men and women be
convinced they had encountered Jesus alive more than five hundred witnesses on separate occasions
and in various locations (see 1 Cor 15:3-8)? If the resurrected Jesus was only a hallucination, how
could people touch his body and watch him consume the food they gave him (see Lk 24:36-43)?
Third, as the scriptural account shows, first-century people were no more likely than we are
to be superstitious or gullible about claims of returning from the grave. Even the apostles reacted
with skepticism, not to mention others (see Lk 24:9-11; In 20:24-25; Acts 17:32).
Finally, a myth takes generations to develop and take hold within a culture. But Jesus'
followers were testifying to his resurrection within a few days after his death. Even the biblical
accounts of the Resurrection were written within the lifetime of those who knew what had really
happened and could decisively challenge their claims if they had evidence to the contrary.
For all these reasons, the Christian testimony that Jesus was indeed raised from the dead must
be taken seriously by non-Christians.

RELATED SCRIPTURE — Texts cited: Mt 28:1-15 • 116:1-14 • Lk 24:1-49 • In 20:1.29

• Acts 2:22-36; 12:1-5; 17:32 • 1 Cor 15:3-8, 17, 20-22. General: In 2:19; 11:25; 20:20-29; 21:12-
13 • Acts 1:22; 3:15, 26; 4:1-2, 10,33; 5:30-32; 10:34-41; 13:27-39; 17:1-3, 18, 30-31; 17:30-31; 23:6;
26:22-23 • Rom 1:1-4; 4:24-25; 5:20-22; 6:4, 9; 7:4; 8:11; 10:9 • 1 Cor 6:14; 15:12-27 • 2 Cor 4:14
• Gal 1:1 • Eph 1:18-23 - Phil 3:10-11 • Col 2:12 • 1 Thes 1:9-10 • 2 Tm 2:8 • 1 Pt 1:3, 20-21; 3:21
• 2 Pt 1:15 • Rv 1:17-18; 2:8. CATECHISM OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH — 627 • 638-658 • 992-
The Gospel according to Luke refers to Mary with the Greek word kecharitomene, meaning
"highly graced" or "full of grace" (see Lk 1:28). In this deferential term of address used by the angel
Gabriel" not used in Scripture of any other human being we find one indication of an unparalleled
grace given by God to our Lady: She was conceived without the defect of original sin. (Catholics call
this reality the "Immaculate Conception.") Throughout her life as well, God preserved her from
committing any actual sin.
Why would God have granted Mary such a gift? When the eternal Word took on flesh (see Jn
1:14), he took his flesh from her. God wanted his sinless Son, Jesus, to receive his human nature from
a sinless mother. And it was most fitting for Jesus to be reared by a woman without sin.
Some Christians have argued that Mary's sinlessness is impossible because St. Paul writes that
"all have sinned" (Rom 3:23). But in Scripture the word "all" (pas .in Greek) doesn't always mean
literally "every single one without exception." For example, in the same letter, St. Paul writes that "all
Israel will be saved" (Rom 11:26), yet we suspect that at least some Jewish people will not be saved.
This is also a matter of common Hebrew idiom. In Romans 3:10-12, St. Paul quotes Psalm
14:3, which read: "All have gone astray, / all alike are perverse. / Not one does what is right, / not
even one" (see also Ps 53:2-4). Yet the very next psalm refers to those who walk "without blame" (Ps
15:2). Obviously, then, the lament in Psalm 14:2-3 is emotional and exaggerated language, not
intended as a literal utterance. Since St. Paul is referring back to these sorts of passages, the interpreta-
tion of his words should take them into account, too.
We should also note that Jesus, who shared our human nature, was without sin (see Heb
4:14-15). This fact alone demonstrates that St. Paul cannot mean that "every single human being has
Some Christians object that if Mary was sinless, she didn't need Christ as her Savior. But the
Church teaches, as does Scripture, that she did indeed need a divine Savior (see Lk 1:47). She wasn't
saved out of sin, but rather saved from sin. The rest of us have been delivered out of original and
actual sin, while she was preserved from it. Either way, her salvation was God's gracious gift through
the merits of her Son.
RELATED SCRIPTURE — Texts cited: Ps 14:2-3; 15:2; 53:2-4 • Lk 1:28, 47 • In 1:14 •
Rom 3:10-12, 23; 11:26 • Heb 4:14-15. General: Gn 3:15 • Jer 1:5 • Lk 1:15. CATECHISM OF
THE CATHOLIC CHURCH — 273 • 411 • 485-495 • 508-509 721-723 • 829 • 963-972 •
The angel Gabriel's greeting to Mary, when he came to announce the conception of Jesus, is
familiar to most Catholics. It is echoed in one of the most popular Catholic prayers, the Hail Mary (in
Latin, Ave Maria): "Hail, [Mary,] favored one [or 'full of grace']! The Lord is with you" (Lk 1:28).
The words that follow in that prayer also come from Scripture, from Elizabeth's greeting to our
Lady soon afterward: "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb" (Lk
1:42). Then the "fruit" of her womb is identified as Jesus. Next, "holy [Saint) Mary, Mother of God"
refers to her status as the woman who bore the divine Son of God (see Gal 4:4; see also "Why Is
Mary Called 'Mother of God'?" M-2). Finally, the prayer asks for Mary's intercession: "Pray for us
sinners, now and at the hour of our death" (see "Why Do Catholics Pray to Saints and Angels?" H4).
The Hail Mary is one of the chief prayers of the Catholic devotion known as the Rosary. This
series of repetitive prayers (see "Why Do Catholics Pray Repetitious Prayers?" )-2) is usually prayed in
conjunction with a string of beads that help the person praying to keep track of his or her progress.
Two other prayers are also central to the Rosary. One is the Our Father (or the Lord's Prayer),
which comes to us from Christ as recorded in Scripture (see Mt 6:913). The other is the Glory Be, an
ancient expression of praise to the Most Holy Trinity: "Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to
the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen."
These words echo portions of various prayers and statements in Scripture (see Mt 28:19; Rom 16:27;
Jude 25).
The Rosary also includes a recitation of the Apostles' Creed, one of the earliest professions of
faith produced by the Church. Finally, Catholics may add a variety of additional personal petitions
when praying the Rosary.
The historical sources of the prayers in this devotion are relatively straightforward. How the
Rosary came to us in its present form, however, is less clear. According to pious tradition, Mary gave
the Rosary to St. Dominic, with instructions to popularize its use, though it had earlier historical
precedents. The name "Rosary" (from the Latin word rosarium, "rose garden") comes from the
notion of offering a bouquet of prayers to our Lady.
RELATED SCRIPTURE — Texts cited: Mt 6:9-13; 28:19 • Lk 1:28, 42 • Rom 16:27 Gal
4:4 - Jude 25. General: Rom 11:36 - Gal 1:5 - Eph 3:21. CATECHISM OF THE CATHOLIC
CHURCH — 971 • 2676-2678.
The gospels tell us very little about "Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had
gone out" (Lk 8:2). We know that she was among the holy women who accompanied Jesus in his
ministry (see Lk 8:1-3). She was also among those who looked on from a distance as Jesus hung from
the cross (see Mt 27:55-56). Her passionate devotion to our Lord compelled her to linger at the tomb
on Good Friday after it was sealed (see Mt 27:61), and again to bring spices on the first Easter Sunday
morning to finish preparing his body for burial (see Mt 28:1).
Believing the angel's announcement that Jesus had risen, Mary went to tell the apostles (see Mt
28:5-8). She also encountered the risen Lord personally that morning, though the details of that
meeting are not fully clear in the scriptural account (see Mt 28:9-10; In 20:11-18).
Over the centuries, speculation about Mary Magdalene led some to identify her with both
the notorious "sinner" (prostitute) who washed Jesus' feet (see Lk 7:3650) and with Mary the sister
of Lazarus and Martha (see In 11:1-2; 12:1-8). Nevertheless, these three gospel women were most
likely different people.
Where, then, did the startling notion originate that Mary Magdalene was Jesus' wife, by
whom he had children? Certainly not from sacred Scripture, sacred Tradition, or the Church's
magisterium. These traditional authorities are firm and unanimous that Jesus never married nor had
In the late second and early third centuries, however, heretical (Gnostic) cults emerged that
sought, for whatever reasons, to create for Mary Magdalene a more prominent role in the gospel story.
In certain texts they produced, which falsely claimed to be authentic "gospels" (see "Were Other
'Gospels' banned from the Bible?" P-3), several passages suggested a physical intimacy between Mary
and Jesus. But these passages had no elements that can be traced back to the time of Christ, and they
actually contradict one another in their claims. The books containing them were soundly
condemned as spurious by contemporary Christians adhering to the genuine apostolic Tradition.
In more recent times, those who oppose the Church's insistence that Holy Orders are reserved
for men (see "Why Won't the Church Ordain Women?" D-2) have found the old Gnostic speculations
attractive. But their use of discredited heretical texts only serves to obscure the reasons for the
Church's unchanging position on this matter.
RELATED SCRIPTURE — Texts cited: Mt 27:55-56, 61; 28:1, 5-10 • Lk 7:36-50; 8:1-3. in
11:1-2; 12:1 -8; 20:11 -18. General: Mk 15:40-41, 47; 16:1-11 • Lk 24:1 -11 • J n 19:25; 20:1-2.
CATECHISM OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH — 76 • 83 • 124-127 • 515. 638 • 1577-1578.
In the Gospel according to John, Jesus teaches at length about the greatest of the sacraments,
the Eucharist (see 6:22-59). In this discourse, he lays out what we might call the "sacramental
principle" that lies at the heart of the Christian faith: "I am the living bread that came down from
heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life
of the world" (6:51).
"The Word became flesh, / and made his dwelling among us" (In 1:14). In Jesus Christ, God
— who is Spirit (see In 4:24) — came down from heaven and entered into his own creation, this
physical universe. He joined to his own divine nature a human nature of soul and body; he took up
into himself the matter and energy of this world.
In this "Incarnation" (literally, "becoming flesh"), as Christians call it, God made it possible
for the everyday elements of our lives to convey the transforming power of his grace. This is the
sacramental principle: God, in his remarkable humility, doesn't hesitate to make use of bread and
wine, oil and water, human hands and human words, even the nuptial act. The Creator doesn't
despise anything he has made (see Wis 11:24); he calls it all good (see Gn 1:31). So it's not beneath
him to come to us in the form of a small, white wafer, and to be consumed by us so that we might
become one with him.
Of course, the Eucharist is only one of seven sacraments seven unique signs instituted by Christ
that give to us the grace they signify. The others are Baptism, Reconciliation, Confirmation,
Matrimony, Holy Orders, and the Anointing of the Sick (see "Are the Seven Sacraments in the
Bible?" K-1). In each of these, Christ himself meets us and ministers to us through the ministry of his
body, the Church (see 1 Cor 12:12-13, 27).
Why are sacraments necessary, then? Because we desperately need God's grace, and He's
chosen to give us certain kinds of grace through the sacraments.
RELATED SCRIPTURE — Texts cited: Gn 1:31 • Wis 11:24 • Jn 1:14; 4:24; 6:22-59 - 1
Cor 12:12-13, 27. General: Mt 5:31-32; 26:26-28; 28:19 • In 20:23 • Acts 6:6; 8:1419 • Jas 5:14-15.
CATECHISM OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH — 6 • 698 • 738-740 - 774 • 798 • 815 • 947 • 950
-1076 • 1084 • 1088 • 1114-1115 • 1118 • 1121-1134 • 1150 • 1210 • 1420 • 1533-1535 • 2003 •
"Speaking in tongues" is a special grace (or Charism) given by the Holy Spirit that allows a
believer to speak in a language not learned by natural means. Jesus speaks of this gift as one of the
"signs" that "will accompany those who believe" (Mk 16:17). On the day of Pentecost, the apostles
speak in tongues, as do other new believers on several occasions (see Acts 2:4; 10:46; 19:6). St. Paul
lists "varieties of tongues" among the "manifestation [s] of the Spirit," along with the
"interpretation of tongues" (see 1 Cor 12:4-11, 28).
Other scriptural passages may also refer to tongues, though the connection is uncertain. For
example, Romans tells how, when "we do not know how to pray as we ought, ... the Spirit itself
intercedes with inexpressible groanings" (8:26).
St. Paul is the biblical writer with the most to say about tongues. He notes that not everyone
speaks in tongues (see 1 Cor 12:30), and that tongues will one day cease (see 1 Cor 13:8). They are a
gift less valuable than the gift of prophecy, and they have no value at all unless grounded in the virtue
of love (see 1 Cor 14:5; 13:1). Yet the apostle thanks God that he speaks in tongues more than others,
and he values the gift enough to wish that everyone had it (see 1 Cor 14:5, 18).
Several kinds of related phenomena seem to fall into the category of speaking in tongues. The
tongues spoken by the apostles on Pentecost, for example, appear to have been common human
languages they had not learned, which were understood by listeners who were familiar with these
languages through natural experience (see Acts 2:5-12). On the other hand, in the church at Corinth
believers spoke in utterances unintelligible to both speaker and listeners. The words spoken did not
"build up" the listeners spiritually unless someone prayed for a gift of interpretation so that their
meaning could be understood and announced (see 1 Cor 14:619).
Yet even uninterpreted tongues, St. Paul notes, have value for the one speaking. They are a form
of prayer, an uttering of "mysteries in spirit," that build up the one praying (see 1 Cor 14:2).
The Catholic Church affirms that the Spirit still bestows the grace of tongues as he wills.
Some of her most illustrious saints, such as St. Anthony of Padua, are reported to have practiced the
gift when preaching.
RELATED SCRIPTURE — Texts cited: Mk 16:17 • Acts 2:4-12; 10:46; 19:6 • Rom 8:26 • 1
Cor 12:4-11, 28, 30, 13:1, 8; 14:2, 5, 6-19. General: Lk 11:13 • Rom 12:3-8 - Eph 4:7-16 • Heb 2:4.
CATECHISM OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH — 688 • 731. 797801 • 809 • 951 • 1287 • 2003 •
The Holy Spirit descended on our Lord at his baptism, the sign that he was the Messiah and the
Father's well-beloved Son (see Is 11:1-5; Mt 3:13-17). Christ later communicated this fullness of the
Spirit to the entire Church on the day of Pentecost, fulfilling his promise that his followers would
receive power when the Holy Spirit came upon them (see Acts 1:8; 2:1-4, 16-21). After receiving this
gift themselves, the apostles passed it on to others who came to believe the gospel and were baptized
(see Acts 2:38).
How was the Spirit imparted to the newly baptized? The apostles "laid hands ands of on them and
they received the holy Spirit" (Acts 8:17). This was the origin the sacrament of Confirmation,
which passes down to our own day the strengthening grace of Pentecost.
From the beginning, Confirmation was a normal part of Christian initiation. The writer of
Hebrews lists "laying on of hands" along with repentance, faith, and baptism as elements of the
"foundation" of Christian faith, part of its "basic teaching" (see Heb 6:1-3). Confirmation completes
the grace received in Baptism.
The sign of anointing (applying oil) in this sacrament is rich in meaning. In Scripture, oil is a
symbol of gladness and abundance (see Ps 23:5). It was used to cleanse the body before and after a
bath and to limber up an athlete preparing to compete.
Wounds were dressed with oil to aid healing (see Is 1:6; Lk 10:34). It made a person shine
with beauty, health, and strength (see Ps 104:15). In addition, objects set apart for sacred use, and
people consecrated to a sacred purpose, were anointed with oil (see Ex 37:29; 1 Sm 10:1). All these
biblical associations find spiritual parallels in the use of oil before Baptism, in the Anointing of the
Sick, and especially in Confirmation.
Through this anointing, the one confirmed receives the mark or "seal" of the Holy Spirit (see
2 Cor 1:21-22). In ancient times a seal signified ownership: Slaves were marked with the seal of their
master, and soldiers with the seal of their commander. The seal of the Holy Spirit received in
Confirmation thus indicates that we belong totally to Christ and are enrolled in his service.
RELATED SCRIPTURE — Texts cited: Ex 37:29 • 1 Sm 10:1 • Ps 23:5; 104:15 • Is 1:6;
11:1-5 • Mt 3:13-17 • Lk 10:34 • Acts 1:8; 2:1-4, 16-21, 38; 8:17 • 2 Cor 1:21-22 • Heb 6:1-3.
General: Dt 11:14 • Sg 8:6 • Dn 6:18 • J1 3:1-5 • Lk 3:21-22; 4:1 • Jn "1:33-34; 6:27 • Eph 1:13-14;
4:30 • 2 Tm 2:19 • Rv 7:3; 9:4. CATECHISM OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH — 698 • 900 • 941 •
1121 • 1285-1321 • 1546 • 2472.
The Catholic Church baptizes infants because that has been her consistent practice from the
beginning. Scripture nowhere commands us nor forbids us to baptize little children. But the Book of
Acts reports several occasions when the apostles baptized adults along with their entire households
(16:15, 33 and 18:8 compare 11:14). St. Paul also recalls baptizing an entire household in the city of
Corinth (see 1 Cor 1:16). In all likelihood, these families and their servants would have included small
children, so they too would have received Baptism.
The clearest indicator that the Church has always baptized infants, however, is the witness of
the early Church fathers who received their faith and practice from the hands of the apostles and their
immediate successors. St. Irenaeus (c. 125—c. 203), for example, was a bishop trained by St. Polycarp,
himself taught by St. John. In his work Against Heresies, Irenaeus wrote that Christ came to save
those who are "born again in God" through Baptism, including "infants and children."
The Church fathers were known for their vocal, stubborn opposition to any major
innovations in Christian belief or practice. So we can be sure that many of them would have
vehemently protested in their teaching and writing if the Church had begun infant Baptism as a
novelty in their day. On the contrary, however, their testimony to this practice is universal.
Why would Christians baptize little children who have no clue what the sacrament-is all
about? Because Baptism, as with all the sacraments, accomplishes real, objective spiritual work. The
effects of this particular sacrament are not dependent on the faith or understanding of a child being
baptized. We receive Baptism, Scripture tells us, "for the forgiveness ... of sins" (Acts 2:38). The
Catholic Church teaches that Baptism washes away both original sin and actual sins from our souls,
takes away the punishment for these sins, and infuses in us a number of divine graces.
If the sacrament accomplishes all this, why delay Baptism until a child can understand it?
Consider this parallel: Infants have no idea about what is accomplished by a bath. Should parents
wait to bathe their children's bodies, then, until they are old enough to understand? Of course not.
Nor should they wait to have their children's souls washed clean in Baptism.
RELATED SCRIPTURE — Texts cited: Acts 2:38; 11:14; 16:15, 33; 18:8 • 1 Cor 1:16.
General: Mt 19:14 • Mk 16:16 • In 3:5 • Acts 2:38; 22:16 • Rom 2:28-29; 6:3-4 • 1 Cor 6:11.
CATECHISM OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH — 403 • 977-978 1213-1284 • 1290.
As believers multiplied in the first Christian generation, sharp controversy soon followed. The
new Church had expanded beyond the borders of the Jewish community, taking in Gentiles (non-Jews)
as well. Some of the Jewish Christians who were Pharisees insisted that their new Gentile brothers in
Christ could not be saved unless they submitted themselves first to circumcision (see Acts 15:1, 5).
Not surprisingly, "no little dissension and debate" resulted. Not only was this a costly demand,
but leaders such as Sts. Paul and Barnabas were convinced that the theological reasoning behind it was
flawed and even dangerous. St. Paul thundered that "in Christ Jesus, neither circumcision nor
uncircumcision counts for anything" (Gal 5:6). Christians, even Jewish Christians, he insisted, were no
longer bound by the law of Moses (see Gal 3:23-27). But his opponents appealed to the ancient
tradition of their people, in which God had required circumcision of Abraham and his descendants as a
sign of their covenant with him (see Gn 17:1-14).
So how did the Church settle this doctrinal dispute? Did each Christian study the Scriptures
individually and then come up with his own conclusion? Was each believer his own final interpreter
and judge in the matter?
No. That would have led to the total fragmentation of the community. Instead, "the apostles and
the presbyters [priests] met together to see about this matter" (Acts 15:6). Debate ensued, then St. Peter
stood to sum up the case for no longer observing the law of Moses. Sts. Paul and Barnabas added their
own testimony to his (see Acts 15:7-12).
Finally, the apostle James, bishop of Jerusalem (where the council was held), issued a
concurring judgment. With that "the apostles and presbyters, in agreement with the whole church,
decided to choose representatives" (Acts 15:22) to deliver their judgment to the believers in Antioch,
where the debate was raging (see Acts 15:13-29). This judgment they referred to, not as a mere
recommendation, but rather as a divinely authoritative "decision of the holy Spirit and of us" (Acts
Why, then, do popes and councils resolve doctrinal and disciplinary disputes, rather than allow
individual Catholics to decide these matters for themselves? Because this is the biblical way, the way
St. Peter and the other apostles handled disagreements. Christ himself gave them and their successors —
popes and bishops — the authority to speak for him: "Whoever listens to you," he told them, "listens to
me. Whoever rejects you rejects me" (Lk 10:16).
RELATED SCRIPTURE — Texts cited: Gn 17:1-14 • Lk 10:16 • Acts 15:1, 5-29 • Gal 3:23-
27; 5:6. General: Mt 18:15-18 • In 14:26; 16:13 • Gal 2:1 -10 • 1 Tm 3:15, CATECHISM OF THE
CATHOLIC CHURCH — 77 • 85-88 • 100 • 888-896 • 935. 939 • 2032-2040 • 2049-2051.
In his First Letter to the Corinthians (see 11:25-26), St. Paul echoes the words of Jesus over
the bread and wine at the first Eucharist (the Last Supper): "This is my body.... This is my blood"
(Mt 26:26-28). Nothing in these passages suggests that our Lord was speaking only symbolically.
In fact, Jesus stated repeatedly that whoever would eat his flesh and drink his blood would have eternal
life (see In 6:51-56). When some of his listeners had objected to this statement and had left him as a
result (see In 6:52, 60, 66), he didn't call them back, saying, "Wait a minute! You misunderstood!
I was only speaking symbolically." Instead, he let them go.
If they had in fact misunderstood Jesus — if he had been speaking only figuratively —
would he have let them go, considering that their eternal destiny was at stake? Wouldn't he instead
have cleared up the confusion to spare them unnecessary scandal? No doubt. But Jesus was in fact
speaking literally.
Luke's account of the disciples' encounter with the risen Lord on the road to Emmaus also
points to this truth. There our Lord took bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to them —
whereupon they recognized him, and he physically vanished from their midst (see Lk 24:30-31).
Later, when they reported to the apostles what they had witnessed, they told "how he was made
known to them in the breaking of the bread" (Lk 24:35).
If any doubts remain about the intent of Jesus' words, we need only consult the words of St.
Ignatius of Antioch, who learned his faith from and was consecrated as bishop by men who had
been at that first Eucharist: Ignatius wrote: "The Eucharist is the flesh of our savior Jesus Christ,
who suffered for our sins and who, in his goodness, the Father raised."
The change of bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ (called "transubstantiation")
is of course a mystery we will never fully understand. But even though we may find it difficult to
imagine how this event takes place, we can be sure that the God who created the universe out of
nothing has the power to accomplish this miracle as well.
RELATED SCRIPTURE — Texts cited: Mt 26:26-28 • Lk 24:30-31, 35 • In 6:51-56, 60, 66 •
1 Cor 11:23-26. General: Mk 14:22-24 • Lk 22:17-20 • 1 Cor 10:16. CATECHISM OF THE
CATHOLIC CHURCH — 611 • 790 • 1088 • 1323 • 1329 • 1335-1340 • 13731377 • 1382 • 1390-
1394 • 1406 • 1413 • 1416 • 1846 • 2120.
St. Paul's warning about receiving the Eucharist improperly should give all Christians cause for
reflection: "Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will have to
answer for the body and blood of the Lord. A person should examine himself, and so eat the bread
and drink the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body, eats and drinks
judgment on himself" (1 Cor 11:27-29).
In light of this and other scriptural passages, the Church obliges Catholics to make sure they
are properly disposed to receive the Eucharist before approaching the altar. For example, they must
not receive Holy Communion in a state of mortal sin (see "Does the Bible Distinguish Between
Mortal and Venial Sins?" B-3). But there are other dispositions necessary as well. Those who deny
that the Eucharist is truly the Body and Blood of Christ, believing it to be just a symbol, should
also refrain from receiving Communion. To use the apostle's words, they would be eating and
drinking "without discerning the body" properly, placing themselves in danger of judgment.
This is one reason why non-Catholics, Protestants in particular, should not partake in the
Eucharist in a Catholic church: They typically deny that It is truly Christ's Body and Blood. But the
Church insists that even Protestants who believe what the Catholic Church teaches about the Eucharist
should not normally approach the Catholic altar for Communion. The reason for this restriction is
suggested by other words from St. Paul:
The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation [or fellowship] in the
blood of Christ? The bread that we break is it not a participation [fellowship] 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. [1 Cor 10:16-17]
The Eucharist thus signifies a oneness in faith, life, and worship among those who partake of
it. So reception of the Eucharist by those separated from the Catholic Church is in a sense dishonest.
It implies a unity that does not yet exist. (A few exceptions are allowed for pastoral reasons in
extraordinary situations; see the Catechism 1401.) ,
In the meantime, the Church urges us to pray fervently that all Christians might finally
"attain to the unity of faith and knowledge of the Son of God" (Eph 4:13).
RELATED SCRIPTURE — Texts cited: 1 Cor 10:16-17; 11:27-29 - Eph 4:13. General: Ps
133:1-3 - in 18:20-23 - 1 Cor 1:10 - Eph 4:1-6 - Phil 2:1-2. CATECHISM OF THE CATHOLIC
CHURCH — 805 - 838 - 1396 - 1398-1401.
"An unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how he may please the Lord," St.
Paul tells the Corinthians. "But a married man is anxious about the things of the world, how he may
please his wife, and he is divided" (1 Cor 7:32-34). In light of that observation, the example of our
Lord Jesus, and long historical experience, the Church has concluded that the celibate priest may be
better able to devote himself single-heartedly both to God and his flock.
We should note that the Church holds celibacy as the disciplinary norm of practice for
priests; she allows for some exceptions. Many ancient priests and even bishops had a wife at some
point (see 1 Tm 3:2), including the first pope, St. Peter. (Matthew 8:14 speaks of his "mother-in-law.")
Today many Catholic priests of the Eastern rite are married. And even in the Roman rite, a handful of
married men (usually clergy converts from a non-Catholic Christian tradition) have been given a
special dispensation by Rome to be ordained as priests.
The Church doesn't teach as a part of the Catholic faith, then, that celibacy is an inherent
quality of priesthood part of its essence. But as St. Paul observes, celibacy has distinct advantages for
the man who must give himself wholly to God in ministry to his Church.
Opponents of celibacy often simply assume that such a life is utterly impossible. But St. Paul
undeniably teaches the contrary (see 1 Cor 7:7-38), and our Lord speaks without criticism of those who
"have renounced marriage for the sake of the kingdom of heaven" (Mt 19:12).
Celibacy is both a matter of personal choice and, on a deeper level, an acceptance of God's
calling. St. Paul acknowledges the divine impetus (see 1 Cor 7:7, 20) as well as the free-will initiative
of human beings in the matter (see 1 Cor 7:35, 38). If a man is called to celibacy, he will be given
both the desire and the ability to carry out this way of life successfully (see Phil 2:13).
Finally, we should note that the Catholic Church does not in any sense reject marriage or
sexuality (see 1 Cor 7:38), as long as these remain within the proper biblical and moral guidelines.
According to the Catholic faith, marriage and ordination are both sacraments, both positive and
wonderful means of God's grace.
RELATED SCRIPTURE — Texts cited: Mt 8:14; 19:12 - 1 Cor 7:7-38 - Phil 2:13 - 1 Tm
3:2. General: Sg 1-8 - Mt 19:1-12 - Lk 2:36-37 - Rv 14:1 -5. CATECHISM OF THE CATHOLIC
CHURCH — 922-924 - 1579-1580 - 1599 - 1619 - 1694 - 1832 - 23382350.
"When [Peter] came to Antioch," St. Paul told the Galatians, "I opposed him to his face because he
clearly was wrong" (Gal 2:11). He explained that he had rebuked St. Peter in person when the latter lapsed
into practices contrary to the truth of the gospel (see 2:12-14).
Some non-Catholic Christians cite this event I as evidence that Paul challenged Peter's position as
chief of the apostles. The implication, they insist, is that Christ's choice of Peter as the "rock" of the
Church, did not bestow on the apostle any special authority in matters of doctrine or discipline, and that
Peter's successors (the popes) also lack such authority.
We must note, however, that Peter's doctrinal and disciplinary authority was not challenged by Paul.
Rather, Peter was rebuked for his hypocrisy. So Paul's criticism had no bearing on Peter's office, or on Paul's
position relative to it.
Consider this biblical parallel. In ancient Israel, the prophet Nathan rebuked King David for serious
sin (see 2 Sm 12:1-14). But that rebuke was not a rejection of David's office as king. In a similar way, Paul's
rebuke was not a rejection of Peter's office as leader of the Church.
The truth is that Catholics have a long history of rebuking decadent clerics popes included while not
denying their authority in the Church. (St. Bernard, St. Thomas Becket, St. Catherine of Siena, and St.
Dominic come to mind immediately.) In fact, St. Paul's rebuke, far from implying a denial of St. Peter's
supremacy, implies just the opposite.
Paul stated that Peter's bad example would "compel the Gentiles to live like Jews" (Gal 2:14,
emphasis added). Peter's behavior was imprudent and could do much harm precisely because of his
authority as the leader of the Church.
The authority of St. Peter as the first pope was exercised on several occasions, as recorded in the
Bible. He presided over and opened the first council of Christianity, in Jerusalem (see Acts 15:7-11). He
was the first to recognize and refute heresy, in Simon Magus (see Acts 8:14-24). His proclamation at
Pentecost concerning the "house of Israel" (Acts 2:36) contains a fully authoritative interpretation of
Scripture, a doctrinal decision, and a disciplinary decree (see Acts 2:14-41) an example of "binding and
loosing" (see Mt 16:17-19). He had the authority to judge the first recorded case of Church discipline (see
Acts 5:1-11).
RELATED SCRIPTURE — Texts cited: 2 Sm 12:1-14 • Mt 16:17-19 • Acts 2:14-41; 5:1-11;
8:14-24; 15:7-11 • Gal 2:11-14. General: Is 22:22 • Lk 22:31-32 • In 21:15.17 • Acts 3:6-12.
CATECHISM OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH — 552-553, 641-642, 765, 881-882.
When the Pharisees challenge Jesus for failing to practice some of their religious traditions, he
rebukes them sharply: "You nullify the word of God in favor of your tradition that you have handed on"
(Mk 7:13). Some Christians quote this passage to condemn Catholic tradition as a whole as something
contrary to the "word of God." But is Jesus actually condemning all tradition? The word "tradition" means
literally "that which is handed down." Anything received from others and passed on to others is thus a
tradition: language, culture, scientific knowledge, and even faith itself. Jesus is certainly not condemning
all of these things.
Is the Lord rejecting specifically religious tradition, then? If we examine other biblical passages, we
must conclude that he is not. In speaking of the Eucharist, for example, St. Paul notes that he received it
from Christ himself, to be handed down to others: "For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to
you ..." (1 Car 11:23). He explicitly commends the Corinthians for adhering to such traditions: "I praise
you because you ... hold fast to the traditions, just as I handed them on to you" (1 Cor 11:2).
Some Christians insist that only Scripture is authoritative for Christian faith and life. They deny the
Catholic teaching (and the historical reality) that Scripture is actually a written portion of a much wider
sacred and authoritative Tradition, which includes other elements passed down orally and by patterns of
behavior. They fail to realize that if Scripture were the only legitimate source of Christian belief and
practice, the early Christians who lived before the New Testament was written and circulated could not
have lived the faith.
St. Paul alludes to this reality. He tells the Thessalonians how to discern the truth from error:
"Brothers, stand firm and hold fast to the traditions that you were taught, either by an oral statement [oral
tradition] or by a letter of ours [Scripture]" (2 Thes 2:15). In addition, religious tradition can be enacted, a
way of life handed down as an example: "Consider the outcome of [your leaders'] way of life and imitate
their faith" (Heb 13:7).
The only traditions Jesus condemns, then, are those that contradict what we know, from divine
revelation, to be God's will (see Mt 15:3).
RELATED SCRIPTURE — Texts cited: Mt 15:3 • Mk 7:13 • 1 Cor 11:2, 23 • 2 Thes 2:15 •
Heb 13:7. General: Mt 15:1-9 • Mk 7:1-13 • 1 Cor 4:15-17 • Col 2:8 • 2 Thes 3:6 • 2 Tm 1:13.
CATECHISM OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH — 75-84 • 95-98 • 113 120 • 126 • 172-175 • 182 •
1124 • 2650-2651 • 2661.
St. Timothy in Ephesus and St. Titus in Crete each received instructions from the apostle Paul
about the qualifications for a bishop (see 1 Tm 3:1-7; Ti 1:7-9). This "noble" officer was to "teach"
and to "manage" the affairs of the Church in each locale. (The Greek word for bishop, episkopos,
literally means "overseer.") How did the office of bishop come about?
Our Lord appointed the apostles to teach and govern the Church (see Mt 28:16-20). Since the
place of Judas had been vacated by the traitor's suicide, a successor was appointed by the other
apostles to fill his "office" (see Acts 1:20) — literally, his "episcopacy" or "bishopric" (Greek,
episkopen). The first apostles, then, were bishops, as were their appointed successors (see "Is
Apostolic Succession in the Bible?" U-3).
In referring to ordained Church leaders, biblical writers do not always distinguish clearly
between bishops/overseers and presbyters/elders/priests. St. Luke, for example, refers to the leaders of
the Church at Ephesus first as "presbyters" and then as "overseers" (see Acts 20:17, 28). But those
distinctions were clarified within a generation after the apostles, as evidenced by the writings of their
immediate successors, such as St. Ignatius, bishop of Antioch.
Since the beginning, then, the Catholic Church has been governed by bishops, maintaining an
episcopal form of government. Protestant denominations have experimented with a variety of
alternative structures, such as congregational (governed by vote of the entire congregation) and
presbyterian (governed by a system of courts composed of elders). But having received her Episcopal
structure from Christ, through his apostles, the Catholic Church has preserved it for two thousand
years as a divine mandate though with some historical variations in the method of appointment and
the exercise of the office.
The bishops serve as shepherds of God's flock (see 1 Pt 5:1-4). In governing the Church, they
are to imitate the pastoral care of Jesus himself for his people. He is the chief "shepherd and guardian
[episkopos] of ... souls" (1 Pt 2:25).
RELATED SCRIPTURE — Texts cited: Mt 28:16-20 • Acts 1:20; 20:17-18 • 1 Tm 3:1-
7 • Ti 1:7-9 -1 Pt 2:25; 5:1-4. General: Jer 23:4 • Mt 9:36 • Mk 6:34 • Phil 1:1 -
Heb 13:20. CATECHISM OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH — 3 • 77 • 815-816 • 830 – 833. 887.
St. Paul writes to St. Timothy: "I remind you to stir into flame the gift of God that you have
through the imposition of my hands" (2 Tm 1:6). Through this ancient rite, St. Paul
ordained St. Timothy as a priest, and eventually consecrated him as a "bishop" (the Greek root
word literally means "overseer") that is, one who would oversee God's flock and share in the ministry
divinely given to Paul and the other apostles (see "Why Does the Church Have Bishops?" U-2).
The Church is built, St. Paul tells us, on "the foundation of the apostles" (Eph 2:20), whom
Christ himself chose (see In 6:70-71; Acts 1:2, 13; for St. Peter's special function in that foundation,
see Mt 16:18). Who were these first apostles? In Mark 6:30, the twelve original disciples of Jesus are
called by that name. (Note: The Latin word discipulus means literally "student" or "follower"; Jesus
had many more disciples than just the twelve appointed as apostles including, for example, Mary
Magdalene.) Matthew 10:2 and Revelation 21:14 also speak of the "twelve apostles." (For a list of
the Twelve, see Mt 10:2-4).
After Judas defected, the remaining eleven apostles appointed the disciple Matthias as his
successor (see Acts 1:20-26). The term translated in this passage as "office" (1:20), and applied to
Judas, is in Greek episkopen literally, "episcopacy" or "bishopric." If Judas, as an apostle, occupied
the office of bishop, then by logical extension all the apostles can be considered to have occupied that
Given that the apostles were bishops, and one of them was replaced by another bishop after the
death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ, then we have here an explicit example of apostolic
succession in the Bible. Clearly, apostolic succession is not a later invention of the Church, but a
reality that existed and was recognized by the apostles within days after Christ returned to heaven.
The Catholic Church traces itself back historically, in an unbroken succession, to the apostles.
Apostolic succession was in fact a strong theme in the writings of the early Church fathers, who
themselves had received the faith directly from the apostles or their immediate successors. They
insisted that such a succession was a sign of authenticity, necessary to identify which groups claiming
to be Christian could legitimately be recognized as part of the Church Jesus had established.
RELATED SCRIPTURE — Texts cited: Mt 10:2-4; 16:18 • Mk 6:30 • Jn 6:70-71 - Acts
1:2, 13, 20-26 • Eph 2:20 • 2 Tm 1:6 • Rv 21:14. General: 1 Tm 4:14 • Heb 6:2. CATECHISM OF
THE CATHOLIC CHURCH — 3 • 77 • 642 • 815 • 830 •833 • 85786 3 • 935 • 981 • 1087 • 1120 •
The First Letter of Peter addresses Christians as those who "have been born anew" (1:23). This
language echoes the words of Jesus, who tells Nicodemus: "No one can see the kingdom of God
without being born from above" (or "born again"; the Greek in this passage Jn 3: 3 allows for either
Nicodemus is puzzled. "How," he asks, "can a person once grown old be born again? Surely he
cannot reenter his mother's womb and be born again, can he?" (In 3:4).
Jesus' reply to Nicodemus is critical for understanding what it means to be "born again": 'I say
to you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit" (In 3:5;
emphasis added). The event described here is not, as some Christians insist, an initial profession of
faith in Christ. Rather, it refers to the sacrament of Baptism, when the person is washed with water
and receives the Spirit. Later, preaching on Pentecost, St. Peter confirms that those who are baptized
receive the Spirit (see Acts 2:38).
The new birth, which is the beginning of the new life in Christ, must come about after the
death of the "old self" (Rom 6:6) that is, the unredeemed nature burdened by original sin (see 'What Is
Original. Sin?" A-4 and "Why Does the Church Baptize Infants?" S-3). The person who thus "dies,"
says St. Paul, is "absolved from sin" (Rom 6:7).
How does this death, leading to new life, come about? -Through the absolution (remission) of
sins in Baptism. "Are you unaware that we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into
his death? We were indeed buried with him through baptism into death, so that just as Christ was
raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life" (Rom 6:3-4).
To be "born again" or "born anew," then, is to be baptized. In this sacrament, through
"water and Spirit," the soul is washed clean, the "old self" is buried, and the new life in Christ
begins. Since every Catholic has been baptized, every Catholic has indeed been "born again" and is
called to grow in grace with the help of the Holy Spirit.
RELATED SCRIPTURE —Texts cited: Lk 3:21-22 • in 3:3-5 • Rom 6:3-4, 6-7 • Acts 2:38
• 1 Pt 1:23. General: Mt 3:13-17 • Mk 1:9-11 ! Lk 3:21-22 • In 1:29-34 • 1 Cor 12:13 • Col 2:12-
13. CATECHISM OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH — 1213-1284 • 14251429 • 2813.
In Revelation, the inhabitants of heaven sing to Christ: "With your blood you purchased for God
/ those from every tribe and tongue, people and nation" (5:9). The Catholic Church affirms this
wideness of God's mercy in Christ, embracing the whole world, desiring with him that" everyone ... be
saved and ... come to the knowledge of the truth" (1 Tm 2:4). Nevertheless, the Church also recognizes
that the gift of salvation must be accepted to be effective, and human beings, having free will, may
choose to reject or "ignore so great a salvation" (Heb 2:3).
The Church accepts Christ's declaration about himself: "I am the way and the truth and the life.
No one comes to the Father except through me" (In 14:6). She also recalls his words to her that warn
those who would turn away from her: "Whoever rejects you rejects me. And whoever rejects me rejects
the one who sent me" (Lk 10:16).
If Jesus Christ is the only way to salvation, and the Church is his Body on earth, we can
understand why the Church fathers often declared: "Outside the Church there is no salvation." Or to put
it another way: "All salvation comes from Christ the Head through the Church which is his Body"
(Catechism 846). Does this mean that only Catholics can be saved?
The Second Vatican Council made the following affirmations about the possibility of salvation
for those outside the Catholic Church:
• Those who know that God founded the Catholic Church through Christ as the necessary
means to salvation, yet still refuse to enter it or remain in it, cannot be saved (see Lumen Gentium 14).
"Those who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or his Church, but
who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and, moved by grace, try in their actions to do his will
as they know it through the dictates of their conscience those too may achieve eternal salvation" (Lumen
Gentium 16, emphasis added).
• "Although in ways known to himself God can lead those who, through no fault of their
own, are ignorant of the Gospel, to that faith without which it is impossible to please him, the Church
still has the obligation and also the sacred right to evangelize all men" (Ad Gentes 7).
RELATED SCRIPTURE --Texts cited: Lk 10:16 • In 14:6 • 1 Tm 2:4 • Heb 2:3 • Rv 5:9.
General: • Mt 8:11-12; 10:40; 28:18-20 • Lk 13:28-30 • 1 Cor 9:16; 2 Cor 5:14-15
• Heb 11:6 • Jas 2:21-23. CATECHISM OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH — 816-822 - 846-
The biblical Greek and Hebrew words sometimes translated as "saints" mean literally "holy
ones" (Acts 9:13) or "faithful ones" (1 Sm 2:9). Typically, these are general terms for God's people,
who have a share in his holiness and are striving to become more holy (see Heb 12:10; 2 Cor 7:1). The
apostle Paul was especially fond of addressing his letters to "all the holy ones" in the churches (2 Cor
All faithful Christians, then, are indeed "saints" in this sense. In fact, the Catholic Church
teaches that the vocation to holiness is universal; God speaks to all believers when he says: "Be holy
because I [am] holy" (see 1 Pt 1:14-16).
Nevertheless, the Greek term for "saints" or "holy ones" appears in some scriptural passages
to have a narrower sense. Mark's gospel refers to the "saints" who rose from the dead after Christ's
resurrection (see Mt 27:52), faithful departed being taken by Christ to heaven. St. Paul speaks of the
"holy ones" who accompany Christ from heaven when he returns to earth (see 1 Thes 3:13). St. John
uses the same term to refer to the "holy ones" who are now in heaven praying to God (see Rv 5:8;
It is in this latter, narrower, sense that the Catholic Church honors certain departed Christians
with the formal title "saint." This title indicates the Church's confidence that the individual died in
friendship with God and is now in heaven with him (see "What Does the Church Teach About
Heaven?" J-4).
Why is it important for the Church to designate certain Christians this way? "Saint" is actually
much more than a title of honor. Because the Church is confident that these "holy ones" are now in
heaven, Catholics are urged not only to venerate them, but also to imitate their holiness and ask for
their intercession (see "Why Do Catholics Pray to Saints and Angels?" H-4).
How does the Church gain the confidence that a particular person is in heaven? Various kinds
of evidence are sought in the process of "canonization" (formal recognition of sainthood): reliable
testimony to the person's extraordinary holiness, evidence that the person's life has drawn others closer
to God, and documented miracles occurring after the person's intercession has been invoked (see also
"Hasn't Science Disproved Miracles?" L-3).
RELATED SCRIPTURE — Texts cited: 1 Sm 2:9 • Mt 27:52 • Acts 9:13 • 2 Cor 1:1; 7:1 •
1 Thes 3:13 • Heb 12:10 • 1 Pt 1:14-16 • Rv 5:8; 8:3. General: Lv 11:44; 19:2 Dt 33:3 • Ps 89:6 •
Lk 1:75 • Rom 1:7 • Eph 1:1 • Phil 1:1 • Col 1:2. CATECHISM OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH —
61 • 823-829 • 867 • 946-962 • 1161 • 1474-1479 2030 • 2683 • 2692.
The dazzling vision of St. John in the Book of Revelation is perhaps best known for its
depictions of horrific worldwide catastrophe. Yet at the heart of this text stands a poignant figure
full of mercy, hope, and glory: the "Lamb" who was slain for our sins, Jesus Christ (see 5:6).
Biblical scholars have pointed out that at one level, in presenting us a vision of heaven, Revelation also
provides us a glimpse of the Mass, our foretaste on earth of heaven's "wedding feast of the Lamb"
Catholics agree with other Christians that the divine sacrifice made "once for all" described
in Hebrews 7:27 is a unique historical event: the death of Jesus Christ on the cross. But Jesus'
sacrifice, though occurring in the past to us, is nevertheless always present to God, because God
himself does not exist in time as we do. John's vision depicts this eternal reality; the presentation of
Jesus as "Lamb" to the Father appears to be an ongoing occurrence (from God's perspective,
timeless), long after the death of Jesus (see Rv 5:6; 13:8). Our Savior, Scripture says, "has a
priesthood that does not pass away" (Heb 7:24).
In this light, then, we can understand how the Mass is a re-presentation of Jesus' historical,
one-time sacrificial death on the cross. In every Mass, the priest re-enacts Jesus' priestly actions at the
Last Supper, offering once more his Body and Blood. But Jesus is not sacrificed again in the
Eucharist. Rather, his unique sacrifice is made real and present to us here and now, because it is a
divine reality that transcends space and time.
For this reason, the Mass is not merely a service of praise, preaching, and fellowship,
presided over by a pastor around a meal table. The Mass is truly a sacrifice offered by a priest upon an
altar. Though some Christians insist that priests and altars belong only to the Jewish temple sacrifice
of the Old Covenant, these elements also play a role in the New Covenant in Christ's blood (see Lk
22:20). The Book of Revelation in particular tells us of the "altar" with a "gold censer" in the "temple"
where the sacrificed Lamb, Jesus, reigns (see 5:6; 6:9; 8:3; 9:13).
RELATED SCRIPTURE — Texts cited: Lk 22:20 • Heb 7:24; 7:27 • Rv 5:6; 6:9; 8:3;
9:13; 13:8; 19:9. General: Gn 14:18 • Lv 23:13 • Ps 110:4 • Is 66:18, 21 • Mal 1:11 Heb 2:17;
3:1; 4:14-16; 5:1 -10; 6:20; 7:1-28; 8:1-6; 9:11-15, 24-28; 10:19-22; 13:10 - Rv 8:3-5; 11:1; 14:18;
16:7. CATECHISM OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH — 1330 • 13591372 • 1378 • 1410 • 1414 • 1418 •
What exactly is the nature of the “millennium” that is the “thousand year” reign of Christ with his saints
described in Revelation 20: 1-10? Some Christians, among them a few of the ancient church fathers, have taken what is
called the “pre-millennial” view of the matter. This position holds that after Christ returns to the earth in glory, he will
reign for a thousand years in a literal earthly kingdom before Judgment Day and the end of the world. Pre-millennialists
teach that this era will be a golden age of optimal natural, social, moral, economic and political conditions.
The Church, however, eventually rejected such a view. In one statement of the magisterium's position, the
Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith replied in 1944 to a formal query about the teaching "that Christ the Lord
before the final judgment ... will come visibly to rule over this world." The answer: This notion "cannot be taught
"Postmillennialists," under the influence of the Protestant reformer John Calvin, teach that the kingdom of God
is now being extended through the world by the preaching of the gospel, social activism, and the work of the Holy
Spirit in conversion. Through this process, the world will eventually be Christianized. Then at the end of this
"millennium" (the "thousand years" in this view represents simply "a long time"), Christ will return to earth at the
climax of a long period of righteousness and peace.
The Catholic Church rejects this view as well. As the Catechism (677) teaches: "The kingdom
will be fulfilled, then, not by a historic triumph of the Church through a progressive ascendancy, but only by
God's victory over the final unleashing of evil, which will cause his Bride to come down from heaven (cf. Rv 13:8;
20:710; 21:2-4)."
Since the time of St. Augustine, most Catholics have tended toward the so-called "amillennial" ("no
millennium") position he made popular. Millennialists might more accurately be termed "present millennialists,"
because they do believe in the "millennium" of chapter 20 of Revelation. But they insist that the "thousand years" refer
symbolically to the present age between Christ's two advents rather than to some era in the future.
St. Augustine's views on this issue, though they have dominated Catholic thinking for many centuries, have
not been officially adopted by the Church. In fact, the magisterium has never defined the "millennium" St. John saw in
his vision. It has only rejected certain interpretations of the term discerned to be in error.
RELATED SCRIPTURE — Texts cited: Rv 13:8; 20:1 -10; 21:2-4. General: Dn 12:4, 810 • Mt
24:36, 42-51; 25:1-13 • Lk 12:35-48 • 2 Pt 3:8. CATECHISM OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH —
668-682 • 988-1001 • 1040 • 1059-1060 • 2771-2772.
(Adapted from the Fireside Family Bible)
A spirit of gathering is establishing as the Introductory Rites call the assembly together as a worshipping
community. The rites prepare the assembly to listen during the Liturgy of the Word and to celebrate during the
Liturgy of the Eucharist.
Entrance Procession - The Celebration of the Eucharist opens with a solemn procession to the altar.
The beginning introduces the priest and ministers to the assembly and becomes a visual sign of a community
gathered in faith. As a first common expression of prayer by all present, an entrance song may be sung to set
the theme of the celebration. Other symbols may be added to enhance the theme.
Penitential Rite - After venerating the altar and greeting the assembly from the chair, the priest (as
presider) invites those gathered to reflect on the all-embracing mercy to God. In Mathew 5:23-25, Christ
called for the reconciliation with others before offering sacrifice. Therefore, this rite is concluded with the
recitation by the assembly of a common proclamation and prayer for the forgiveness of sins.
Glory To God - The Glory to God is sung or recited on all Sundays except those during Advent and
Lent. This joyful hymn of praise to God is also used on solemnities and feasts, as well as more solemn
special celebrations.
Opening Prayer - With the words "Let us pray," the priest invites the assembly to observe a
brief silence for them to realize that they are in God's presence and to
call to mind their own petitions. The Introductory Rites then conclude with a prayer of petition
reflecting the theme of the celebration. The priest in this prayer "collects" the petitions and offers them to
God the Father through Christ in the Holy Spirit. All present make the prayer their own by acclaiming,
The wisdom and actions of God are revealed in the scriptural reading during the Liturgy of the Word. After
reflection, the assembly responds with acclamations, affirmations, and petitions to make the Word their own.
First Reading - The lector begins the Liturgy of the Word by proclaiming the first reading which is
most often taken from the Old Testament. On all Sundays and Solemnities of the Lord (except during the
Easter Season), the text bears a relationship to the Gospel for the same day. When two readings are used on
weekdays, the first reading maybe from the Old Testament, but no attempt is made to relate it to the Gospel
(the second reading).
Inclusion of the Old Testament reading reflects that all scripture is the Word God.
It also reinforces the importance the church places on the lessons of the Old Testament as a
background for understanding and appreciating the New Testament.
Responsorial Psalm - A meditative response to the message in the first reading, the responsorial
psalm may be read, but it is often sung by the cantor and the assembly in alternation. This is the only
time in the Celebration of the Eucharist when a psalm is used for its own sake and does not
accompany an action.
Second Reading - After a moment of silence the second reading (or Epistle) is proclaimed by
the lector. Always from the New Testament, this reading is included in the Eucharistic celebration on
each Sunday and on major feasts. Unlike the first reading it is usually unrelated in context to the
Gospel, but focuses on the living faith in the early church. In most cases it is taken from one of the
letters of the New Testament, the Acts of the Apostles, or the Book of Revelation.
Gospel Acclamation - The assembly stands after the second reading to sing the Alleluia and
accompanying verse. Led by the cantor, the Gospel Acclamation serves as a reflection on the first two
readings and as a joyful acclamation in anticipation of the Gospel. Because the inherent character of
"Alleluia" is that of rejoicing, during Lent it is replaced by a text which is more appropriate to the
Gospel - Even though all of the readings are recognized as the Word of God, Christ's presence
in the Word is manifested most clearly through the Gospel. Taken from Mathew, Mark, Luke or
John, this text recounts events from the life of Christ and communicates to the assembly the message of
redeeming salvation through him.
Because the Gospel is the high point of the Liturgy of the Word, it receives special consideration.
The Gospel may be proclaimed only by the priest or another special minister (deacon). Further
attention is given symbolically through the use of - incense of often the use of a special "Book of
Gospels." The Gospel's importance is stressed even more through specific actions and words by the
priest and assembly. These include standing during its proclamation, an optional procession, special
invitations before and after proclaiming the text and the kiss of the book.
Homily - Drawing on the biblical texts of the readings, the priest shows in the homily how God
continues to share himself everyday in the lives of all present. During this integral pact of the Liturgy
of the Word, the assembly is called to become a more holy people and to prepare to offer themselves
during the celebration of the Litugy of the Eucharist which is to follow.
Profession of Faith - The priest and assembly recite together the Nicene Creed which
originated in the fourth century. This communal profession of faith is a response to the Word just
proclaimed in the readings and preached in the homily. The worshipping community responds by
adhering and assenting to the Word, thus affirming unity through this prayer.
General Intercessions - During the General Intercessions, also known as the prayer of the
Faithful, the assembly functions as priest by interceding for the needs of all people. This prayer forms a
logical conclusion to the Liturgy of the Word. Beginning with an invitation from the priest to pray, it
continues with petitions read by a lay minister and a response to each by the assembly. The priest
presents the petitions to the God in a concluding prayer.
The priest prepares the altar and the bread and wine for the Eucharistic Prayer. The assembly also
prepares in prayer for the offering to come.
Gathering of the Gifts - Offering of actual gifts and/ or monetary support for the church or
the poor has roots Hebrew Liturgy and in the early church. As a part of today's Celebration of the
Eucharist, a basket is often passed from hand to hand to actively involve each member of the assembly
in the offering.
Procession and Presentation of the Gifts - The procession and presentation of gifts by
families or individuals recalls the ancient custom in which people brought the offerings of bread and
wine from their homes. It also symbolically expresses the assembly's participation in the Eucharistic
celebration. During both the gathering and the presentation of the gifts, a suitable song may be sung.
Preparation of the Gifts - While slightly elevating each of the gifts, a prayer of praise by the
priest is followed by an acclamation by the assembly. In mixing water with wine, the priest asks God to
share his divine nature, just as Christ shared in human nature by becoming man. The washing of hands
is symbolic of the need for inner purity. In concluding the Preparation Rite, the invitation becomes a
petition to God to accept the offering and bless all present who are now united with it.
The Eucharist Prayer is the high point of the Liturgy of the Eucharist. It is here that the bread and wine
become the body and blood of Christ, demonstrating God's abiding love.
Holy, Holy; Holy Lord - After the Preface, a brief prayer of praise and thanksgiving, the assembly
joins the priest in praying the Holy, Holy, Holy Lord (Sanctus). Often set to music, this acclamation is
a joyous response to the priest's invitation to join in the Eucharistic Prayer.
Eucharistic Prayer - The language and events of the Eucharistic Prayer form the essence of the
entire Liturgy of the Eucharist. They combine to give thanks and praise to God and through the power
of the Holy Spirit, make present the body and blood of the risen Lord. Recalling the words and actions
of our Lord at the Last Supper, the priest and the assembly join themselves with Christ to acknowledge
the works of God and to offer the sacrifice.
As the priest raises the bread and cup in a gesture of offering, the Eucharistic Prayer
concludes with the final doxology. Here, the priest offers praise to God the Father through Christ, who
now gives himself in the form of the Eucharist. The assembly assents by acclaiming, "Amen."
With a spirit of reconciliation, the people of God make final preparation for the Eucharistic
meal. In communion, they fully express their oneness with Christ.
Sign of Peace - Exchanged according to local custom, the Sign of Peace is a natural result of a
desire for reconciliation just expressed in the Lord's Prayer. In sharing this sign with one another, the
priest and assembly affirm that the risen Christ is the source of all peace. They also recognize the
oneness of being united in his body.
Breaking of Bread - The Breaking of Bread is an important symbol of the assembly's oneness
in the Eucharist. As the bread is broken, the priest re-enacts the gesture of Christ at the Last Supper. In
so doing, the priest invites the assembly to share in the Eucharist thereby becoming one body in
Christ. The breaking of bread is accompanied by the singing or reciting of the "Lamb of God ".
Communion Procession - After a prayer of invitation by the priest, members of the assembly
approach in procession to share in the Eucharist through communion. With the words "The Body of
Christ" and "The Blood of Christ", the priest or lay Eucharistic minister presents the consecrated
species to the communicant. Each person responds, "Amen", to express the belief that Christ is present
in the Eucharist. An appropriate song is often sung during the distribution of communion.
Prayer after Communion - Through this prayer, the priest reminds the assembly of the gifts of
the Eucharist and asks that its grace be made real in the lives of all who share in it. The assembly again
makes this prayer its own by acclaiming, "Amen
The Concluding Rite brings the Celebration of the Eucharist to a close. The priest instructs
the assembly to go forth and serve one another in the spirit of community just experienced in the
Final Blessing - Either in simple form or accompanied by prayers and/or invocations, the
priest asks in the final blessing that God extend grace and benefits to all those who have shared in the
Celebration of the Eucharist Invoking the Trinity while making the Sign of the Cross, the priest ends
the celebration as it began. The assembly responds to the priest by acclaiming, "Amen ".
Recessional - The Celebration of the Eucharist concludes with the Recessional. After a brief
pause before the altar, the ministers and the priest exit in much the same fashion as they entered. The
assembly often joins in a song of joyful praise which may reflect the theme of the particular day or
season. During Lent and other more solemn occasions, all may leave in silence.