Catholic Priesthood: In the Name of Christ

•September 20, 2009 • Leave a Comment

2009-2010 Year for Priests Icon

Pope Benedict XVI has declared a “Year for Priests” which began on the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart on June 19, 2009, and ends on June 19, 2010 with an international gathering of priests in Rome.

When non-Catholics discuss the Catholic Church, more often than not, the discussion will turn to the priesthood.  A distinguishing feature between the Catholic Church and many Protestant or Evangelical churches is that the latter lacks a ministerial priesthood.  Instead, there is a focus on the “priesthood of all believers”.  We see this even with the LDS church (Mormons), where the priesthood is more ubiquitous among males, beginning with deacons at the age of 12.  But just what is the Catholic priesthood?  Who is a priest?  What can they do that the laity cannot?

Before the ministerial priesthood is discussed, it should be noted that Catholics do believe in a “priesthood of believers” as well.  In the Catechism of the Catholic Church, we read “ Christ, high priest and unique mediator, has made of the Church “a kingdom, priests for his God and Father.” The whole community of believers is, as such, priestly. The faithful exercise their baptismal priesthood through their participation, each according to his own vocation, in Christ’s mission as priest, prophet, and king. Through the sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation the faithful are “consecrated to be . . . a holy priesthood.”” Indeed, the Catechism further states that there is only one priesthood of Christ, in which we participate in two different ways: the priesthood of the faithful, and the ministerial priesthood, with Jesus Christ as our High Priest.  Saint Thomas Aquinas rightly stated: “Only Christ is the true priest, the others being only his ministers“.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines the sacrament of Holy Orders (by which the priesthood is conferred), as: “the sacrament through which the mission entrusted by Christ to his apostles continues to be exercised in the Church until the end of time: thus it is the sacrament of apostolic ministry. It includes three degrees: episcopate, presbyterate, and diaconate.”

The Diaconate

Who are Deacons?

The diaconate is the lowest of the “major Orders” in the Catholic Church.  Although deacons are not technically priests, they are sacramentally ordained ministers, and have various rights and powers not available to the laity.  As in all Orders of the Catholic Church, only males may be ordained to the diaconate.  The diaconate is further divided into two major types of deacons: transitional deacons and permanent deacons.  Transitional Deacons are those deacons that are on the path to the priesthood.  Those males studying for the priesthood in seminary are ordained to the diaconate after a few years of study.  All Transitional Deacons are celibate in the Roman Catholic church, but may not be so in the Eastern Catholic churches.  Permanent Deacons are males that have no desire to be ordained to the Order of priests, and will remain deacons forever.  This type of deacon existed in the ancient Church, and fell into disuse (in favor of the transitional diaconate) until recently in the Roman Catholic church.  In fact, the permanent diaconate has become very popular throughout the Church, especially in the United States and the West, some saying to the detriment of the priesthood.  The Permanent Diaconate has always been used in the Eastern churches.  The vast majority of Permanent Deacons are married men (though they can be celibate of course), though as with the priesthood, they must be married before ordination.  Married men that desire to become deacons require the consent and participation of their wives in the process (many wives take some of the vocational courses with the discerner).  Generally, it takes about 3-4 years of study to become a deacon.

What do Deacons do?

The role of the deacon is one of service.  In fact, the word “deacon” comes from the Greek “diakonos” which has “servant” as one of its meanings.  The deacon works in three areas: the Word, the Liturgy, and Charity.  During the Mass and Divine Liturgy, the deacon reads from the Holy Scriptures, primarily proclaiming the Gospels.  Deacons can also preach, giving the Homily during Mass, as well as preaching at Baptism, Matrimony, etc.  They also lead Catechesis, organizing and leading the Catechists who guide the faithful in religious instruction.  In the Roman Catholic church, deacons are one of the ordinary ministers of Baptism, as well as Holy Matrimony, and Funeral ceremonies (without Mass)  In the Eastern Catholic churches, deacons may not celebrate any of the Mysteries (the term for Sacraments in the East).  Deacons assist the priest and bishop liturgically, and may distribute the Eucharist to those in attendance as well as the sick.  Deacons are the ordinary ministers of the Cup.  Deacons can also celebrate Adoration and Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament.  Deacons also can give many of the same blessings that priests can, but not all.  Deacons work with the poor and those in need, forming various charitable services in the parishes, as well as working in the existing Catholic and non-Catholic charities throughout the world, serving all people, whether Catholic or non-Catholic, such as to AIDS patients, the elderly, the handicapped, the infirm, etc.  The very name Deacon emphasizes the serving ministry of deacons, and thus they represent the Church to the needy.

The Priesthood

Who are Priests?

According to the Catechism, priests “are consecrated in order to preach the Gospel and shepherd the faithful as well as to celebrate divine worship as true priests of the New Testament”, and areco-workers of the episcopal order for the proper fulfillment of the apostolic mission that had been entrusted to it by Christ.”  Priests act in the person of Christ to confer His sacred Mysteries (Sacraments) to the people.

In the Roman Catholic church, the norm is for men to be celibate before ordination, as well as throughout their ministry.  Certain exceptions are made, such as married Protestant ministers that convert and believe they are called to the Catholic priesthood.  In the Eastern Catholic churches, married men can be ordained to the priesthood, although men cannot marry in any Catholic church after ordination.  Men study and discern the priesthood in seminary, immersing themselves in the study and living of the Catholic Faith.  Men must have a bachelors degree, as well as coursework in theology and philosophy, prior to beginning graduate study in seminary.  After college, it takes about 4-5 years of seminary to become a priest.  Some men begin this path after high school, which takes about 8-10 years (including undergraduate education).  Many priests also hold a Masters of Divinity or higher degree (sometimes conferred by the seminary).  Each diocese has associated seminaries, which seminarians should attend.  In Catholicism, the priesthood is not a profession, but is a way of life, a permanent state (whether inactive, defrocked, etc.  The Rite of ordination states: ‘You are a priest forever, like Melchizedek of old”).  Priests can be part of either the diocese, or “consecrated life”, such as a member of a religious order (Jesuits, Franciscans, etc).

What do Priests Do?

First and foremost, priests are the celebrants of the Mysteries, the Sacraments, by which we enter into special relationships, covenants, with God, receiving His grace.  The sacraments celebrated by priests include Baptism, Confirmation/Chrismation, the Eucharist, Confession, Anointing of the Sick, and Matrimony (only Bishops celebrate Holy Orders).  Priests also celebrate Funeral Masses, Adoration and Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament (along with deacons), various devotional liturgies (along with deacons), etc.  Priests preach the word of God, as well as instruct the faithful on the word, in many settings, including the Mass/Divine Liturgy.  Priests also may bless people and objects.  Priests also function in many service aspects, however their primary function is to the parish (as a parish priest).  Priests (as well as deacons) are many times chaplains for the military, prisons, hospitals, etc.

The Episcopate

Who are Bishops?

Bishops hold the fullness of the priesthood of the Catholic Church.  Bishops are the successors of the apostles, and thus function in a similar role to them (indeed, the word apostle comes from the Greek “apostolos”, meaning messenger).

All bishops in the Catholic Church, whether in the Roman Catholic or Eastern Catholic churches, are celibate men.  All bishops are selected from the priesthood.  Prospective priests to the episcopate are chosen from those that meet certain requirements, such as extensive knowledge of Sacred Scripture, Canon Law, and Catholic theology (and perhaps advanced degrees in those areas), fruits of their profound faith in God, work with the parishoners, etc.  Generally, the outgoing Bishop will make this list of candidates based on observations.  The candidates are then narrowed down by the other bishops in a province.  Ultimately, the Congregation for Bishops, a group in the Roman Curia of the Catholic Church, will discern each candidate, and make a recommendation on each.  Finally, the Pope, with the guidance and inspiration of the Holy Spirit, makes the decision on the newest successor.

What do Bishops do?

Bishops generally guide and care for their dioceses, which are territorial organizations of Catholic parishes in a geographical area.  Bishops are responsible for the various aspects of diocesan life, including religious education, primary and secondary schools, the celebration of the sacraments, advising priests, deacons, and the faithful, the following of Canon Law, etc.  Sacramentally, the bishop is the ordinary minister of Confirmation in the Roman Catholic church, though he may designate priests in his diocese to celebrate it as well.  In the Eastern Catholic churches, the priest ordinarily celebrates Chrismation, using oil (chrism) consecrated by the bishop (the bishop consecrates the oil in the Roman Catholic church as well).  Because the bishop holds the fullness of the priesthood, many functions of the priests and deacons in his territory are generally conferred by him.  Because bishops are also priests, they celebrate all of the sacraments.

As we can see, the only Orders that men are ordained to in the Catholic Church are deacon, priest, and bishop.  Other offices that many are familiar with are merely titles and additional functions conferred on the above three.  For example, the “Pope” is the Bishop of Rome.  One is not ordained a Pope, since the Pope is a bishop.  Cardinals are also bishops.  Patriarchs are bishops that oversee their “particular church”, such as the Roman Catholic Church or the Ukrainian Catholic Church.  An Archbishop is a bishop of an Archdiocese, which is generally a large diocese or one with some historical significance.

Catechism of the Catholic Church-Holy Orders


Mormon Heaven: Biblical?

•September 19, 2009 • Leave a Comment

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) has a very interesting concept of the afterlife.  One of the areas that many converts to the LDS Church are perhaps most interested in and love the most about their new religion is the concept of eternal families.  The LDS Church has special buildings throughout the world called “temples”.  In these temples, various ceremonies or “ordinances” are performed, both for the living and the dead.  One of these ceremonies is called a “sealing” ceremony.  In a sealing ceremony, the man and woman are married to each other not “till death do us part”, but for “time and all eternity”.  In this, the husband and wife, as well as their children, are sealed together to each other forever, and if they are faithful to the covenants they make in the temple, will exist as an eternal family unit.  If an entire family converts, they are all sealed together in the temple for time and eternity as well.

This sounds wonderful!  Generally we all love our families, and don’t want to think that death separates us.  Through sealing, we can be just like we are now, together as a family unit.  However, I do not see how this is different from the Catholic version of Heaven, where our loved ones will be with us as well, and we will not only be with our family, but will be part of the entire family of God in Heaven.  So, if we can be with our wives and husbands, sons and daughters, etc. for eternity, what is the difference with sealing then?

Latter-day Saints have a three tiered Heaven, called “Degrees of Glory”.  These three “levels” (as I call it) are the Celestial Kingdom (the highest), the Terrestrial Kingdom, and the Telestial Kingdom.  The equivalent of Hell in the LDS Church is called “Outer Darkness”, where the “Sons of Perdition” go.  Latter-day Saints also believe in a concept called “exaltation”.  Exaltation is the highlest level within the Celestial Kingdom.  It essential means “godhood”.  To be exalted, one not only has to be baptized, confirmed, receive the priesthood (if male), etc., but they also have to receive their Endowment in the temple (the Endowment is a presentation of the Plan of Salvation, as well as where Mormons learn the signs and tokens necessary to go passed the angels, back to the Heavenly Father), and also be sealed, eternally married to their spouse.  If they are faithful to their covenants, they can become gods.  In Mormon theology, being exalted means that a husband and wife can become “Eternal Parents”, as the Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother are.  They will make spirit children, as the Father and Mother did before us.

So, there are three degrees of Heaven, Celestial, Terrestrial, and Telestial, and the Celestial Kingdom itself is divided into three levels, the highest of which is exaltation, or godhood.  But is this three tier Heaven Biblical?  Although Mormons also have “modern revelation” relating to it, they also cite a few verses from the Bible that they say supports their view.  Let’s look at some of them:

Many Mansions?

The Encyclopedia of Mormonism (EOM) lists John 14:2 as a reference to the many mansions in Heaven, thus alluding to the Degrees of Glory. But does this make sense in the Degrees of Glory theology? I don’t think so. Let’s look at it:
John 14:2 KJV
In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.

Latter-day Saint apologists interpret these “mansions” as the three degrees of glory.  But is this correct?  Let’s look at the surrounding verses to see what they tell us about these “mansions”.

John 14:1-3 KJV
1Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me.
2In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.
3And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.

So, yes, Catholics fully agree that there are many “mansions” (translated as “rooms” or “dwelling places” in other translations) in God’s house. But what about in the Telestial Kingdom? From the EOM article, we see that the Doctrine and Covenants says that, in reference to the Telestial Kingdom, “where God and Christ dwell they cannot come, world without end.” (D&C 76:112). Only those in the Terrestrial and Celestial Kingdoms have the presence of Christ, and only those in the Celestial Kingdom dwell in the presence of God and Christ forever.

But look at John 14:3! It tells us that Jesus will go to make a place for us, and that when He comes again, He will receive us unto Himself, so that where He is, we will be also. Clearly, this excludes the Telestial Kingdom, since “where God and Christ dwell, they cannot come”, but Jesus tells us in John 14:3 that He will take us to where He is. So, these “mansions” that are created are not separate from Jesus Christ, He will take us to where He is also. So if anything, the Telestial Kingdom is not one of the mansions being discussed here.  Therefore, John 14:2 cannot be referring to the LDS degrees of glory at all.

Celestial and Terrestrial Bodies?

Mormons also reference 1 Corinthians 15:40-41 as referring to the Celestial and Terrestrial Kingdoms (the word “Telestial” is a Mormon word from modern day revelation), and that the difference between the 3 kingdoms is like the difference between the Sun, Moon, and Stars. Let’s look at 1 Cor 15:40-41:

1 Cor 15:40-41 KJV
40There are also celestial bodies, and bodies terrestrial: but the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another.
41There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars: for one star differeth from another star in glory.

So yes, from these verses, it looks like they’re talking about the Celestial and Terrestrial Kingdoms, and the differences in glory between the Kingdoms.

Now, let’s look at those verses in context to see what they’re talking about:

1 Cor 15:35-45 KJV
35But some man will say, How are the dead raised up? and with what body do they come?
36Thou fool, that which thou sowest is not quickened, except it die:
37And that which thou sowest, thou sowest not that body that shall be, but bare grain, it may chance of wheat, or of some other grain:
38But God giveth it a body as it hath pleased him, and to every seed his own body.
39All flesh is not the same flesh: but there is one kind of flesh of men, another flesh of beasts, another of fishes, and another of birds.
40There are also celestial bodies, and bodies terrestrial: but the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another.
41There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars: for one star differeth from another star in glory.
42So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown in corruption; it is raised in incorruption:
43It is sown in dishonour; it is raised in glory: it is sown in weakness; it is raised in power:
44It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body.
45And so it is written, The first man Adam was made a living soul; the last Adam was made a quickening spirit.

What is the passage talking about in context? The resurrection of the body, and how our bodies are different after the Resurrection. Some ask, how are the dead raised up, and what body do they come? The passage then goes on to explain the difference between the flesh of men, the flesh of beast, fish, and birds. There is a difference between celestial and terrestrial bodies. There is a difference in the glory of the sun, moon, and stars. Then we step into verse 42. Just like in those differences that were discussed prior to verse 42, there is a difference between our bodies now and our bodies in the resurrection. Our bodies are sown in dishonor, but they will be raised in glory. We have a natural body right now, and it will be raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, and there’s a spiritual body. 35-45 is an extended analogy. The difference between our resurrected and our current bodies is like the differences mentioned prior to verse 42. They are both bodies, but they are different. Similarly, all living things have flesh, but the flesh of man is different from that of beasts, fish, and birds. The Sun, Moon, and Stars are all astronomical “balls”, but they are different in how bright they are. Clearly, in context, verses 40-41 have nothing to do with levels of Heaven, but are part of an analogy on the difference between our current bodies and our resurrected ones.

So from analyzing the verses related to “mansions” and “celestial and terrestrial bodies”, we see that the Bible does not discuss three levels of Heaven at all.  Latter-day Saints thus rely entirely on modern day revelation for this doctrine.

Encyclopedia of Mormonism-Degrees of Glory

Encyclopedia of Mormonism-Eternal Lives, Eternal Increase

Encyclopedia of Mormonism-Exaltation

Encyclopedia of Mormonism-Godhood

The Lost Symbol Review

•September 18, 2009 • Leave a Comment

I have been a fan of Dan Brown’s work for some time now.  Even before the Da Vinci Code was ported to film, I finished all of his books, and was waiting for the next.  I can say that The Lost Symbol does deliver, though it seems to fit into the “Dan Brown formula” that you may anticipate after reading the Da Vinci Code.

The Lost Symbol begins with a Freemason initiation ceremony at the House of the Temple, in Washington, DC.  The nameless character has been accepted into the highest degree in Scottish Rite Freemasonry, the 33rd Degree.  The number 33 will play an important role in this novel, as anyone familiar with religious/numerological symbolism can imagine.

Our familiar hero, Robert Langdon, professor of symbology at Harvard University, received a call from the secretary of one of his old friends, Peter Solomon, the head of the Smithsonian Institution.  The Smithsonian is holding an annual private event for the rich and famous (its supporters), which always includes a keynote speaker.  Unfortunately, on the day of the event, the original keynote speaker is now unavailable.  In desperation, Peter Solomon requests that Langdon replace the speaker, and give a speech on the symbolism in the architecture of Washington, DC.  Langdon relunctantly agrees, and is flown to DC.  Little does he know that by accepting this request, he is playing into the hands of the main antagonist.

Freemasonry is at the heart of this novel, and Dan Brown claims, as he always does, that “all rituals, science, artwork, and monuments in this novel are real”.  However one can’t help but wonder if said rituals are being portrayed in their correct context, if we remember how the Da Vinci Code treated Opus Dei. In the Lost Symbol, we see a Freemasonry that is far from its “oldest fraternal society” and “simply a social group” portrayals by its members.  Instead, we learn about secret rituals, the use of sulfur, skulls and bones, drinking wine from a skull, an old pyramid, and the guarding of the Ancient Mysteries, which, if found out (and yes, they are revealed at the end), could change humanity forever.

Besides Freemasonry, the other philosophy that guides the plot is something called “Noetic Science“.  Noetic Science is at the intersection of mysticism and physics.  Its premise is that humanity is interconnected, and that our minds can do more than we can imagine.  With thought, we can influence the world around us, and when thoughts are amplified exponentially by having more than one person think the same thing at the same time, wonders can occur.  According to Katherine Solomon, Noetic scientist, brother of Peter Solomon, and “love interest” of Langdon, this philosophy is behind the efficacy of prayer groups, group healings, etc.  The antagonist recognizes the power of such a philosophy (which is being researched in secret by Katherine), and aims to prevent Solomon’s research from ever being released (seeing it as being tied to the Ancient Mysteries, which should remain a mystery).

Washington, DC provides an amazing backdrop for the story, and I must admit, after going to school there, I never saw DC in this way (frankly, I thought it was boring compared to New York City).  The House of the Temple is the scene of a lot of action, and its various secrets and symbolism add to the story. We discover various statues and paintings that we may not pay much attention to when visiting DC, such as the Apotheosis of Washington, a statue of George Washington as Zeus, and much more.  We think about the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial, the Capitol Building, and other DC monuments in a whole new, ancient light.  In many ways, we see DC as a modern portrayal of an ancient, pagan city, with the Founding Fathers as the new gods.  It is a powerful image, and is a theme throughout the novel.

Overall, The Lost Symbol is a great book.  However, the ending left me wanting more.  If you have read the Da Vinci Code, you may know what I am referring to.  Both books have a similar ending, as far as what Langdon is searching for turns out to be.  While I can agree with what the Ancient Mysteries turn out to be, it was a little…disappointing, though that may be because I have some familiarity with some of the issues being discussed.  There is a lot of action in this novel, and many factoids that made me want to look them up to learn more about them (which I did).  Dan Brown successfully melds history and fiction, and even if he portrays one side of history (Langdon is not too fond of Christianity, for one), it is always interesting to see from that other side.  And one thing can be sure: the next time you visit Washington, you won’t see the monuments in the same light.

Symbols That Are Lost

•September 14, 2009 • Leave a Comment

Dan Brown’s The Lost Symbol will be released in bookstores tomorrow.  I admit, I will be reading it.  While many of my friends ridicule books such as Harry Potter, Da Vinci Code, etc., I happen to find all of them enjoyable.  I mean, they would not be popular if they weren’t good novels, right?  So, instead of finishing up Scott Hahn’s “A Father Who Keeps His Promises” (which will be reviewed hopefully by this Sunday or sometime early next week), I will be running to Barnes and Noble or Borders tomorrow to join the masses in buying this book.

No one knows what the plot will be, which is somewhat annoying.  Who buys a book without knowing what it will be about?  All we know is that it takes place in Washington, DC, and involves the protagonist from the Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons, Robert Langdon.  Some also say that it will include references to Freemasonry (a fraternal secret society), and those familiar with conspiracy theories know that many center on the architecture of Washington, DC, as well as the street layout, claiming that much of it is related to Freemason symbols. I find Freemasonry very interesting, and at least recently, I tend to read about it in the context of the “Endowment” ceremony that faithful of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) participate in.  This past summer, I decided to take my camera and visit the “House of the Temple“, which is a Masonic temple in DC.  It was a very interesting experience.  The building is locked, so you have to ring in to the security desk.  You cannot wander around by yourself, so you need a guide to take you on the [free] tour.  They have a huge library on books related to Freemasonry, and anyone can sit there and read the books for free.  The temple was beautiful, and seemed somewhat…religious, even though Freemasons claim that it is not a religion.  I guess I should note here that Catholics are not permitted to join Freemasonry*, since it has many of the trappings of a religion, among other reasons.

So, I’m very excited about reading Dan Brown’s latest novel, and I will review that here as soon as I can.

*The most recent statement by the Catholic Church on Freemasonry was by Pope John Paul II in 1983, in Quaesitum est, saying:“The faithful who enroll in Masonic associations are in a state of grave sin and may not receive Holy Communion” and “the Church’s negative judgment in regard to Masonic association remains unchanged since their principles have always been considered irreconcilable with the doctrine of the Church and therefore membership in them remains forbidden.”

Catholics were first prohibited from joining Freemasonry in 1738 by Pope Clement XII, in In eminenti apostolatus specula.

How is the Catholic Church Organized?

•September 11, 2009 • 3 Comments

Confused by Catholic Church structure?  Hopefully this entry can help demystify how the Catholic Church is organized.

The “Catholic Church” is a worldwide church of one billion people.  The Catholic Church is actually a group of individual churches.  The largest church is the Roman Catholic church.  The Roman Catholic church is the familiar face of Catholicism in the West, and the vast majority of Catholics are members of this church.  The remaining 22 churches fall under the umbrella of Eastern Catholic churches.  Most of the Eastern Catholic churches were communities of Eastern Orthodox that came into full communion with the Roman Catholic church.  Examples of Eastern Catholic churches include the Ukrainian Catholic church, Greek Byzantine Catholic church, Coptic Catholic church, Armenian Catholic church, and Melkite Greek Catholic Church.  Again, most of these have an Eastern Orthodox counterpart.  Together, the Roman Catholic church and the Eastern Catholic churches make up the Catholic Church.  We are united under the visible earthly head of the Catholic Church, the bishop of Rome, the Pope.  The Pope is not only the head of the Catholic Church as a whole, but the patriarch, or head, of the Roman Catholic church.  This mirrors the apostles, who started many different churches, yet Saint Peter had primacy over all of the apostles.  Currently (Sept. 2009), the Bishop of Rome is Pope Benedict XVI.

When Catholics go to church during the week and on Sundays, we go to a place called a parish. The parish is the spiritual home of the Catholic.  Here, we participate in the sacraments, have prayer services, Bible studies, Sunday School, RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults, the conversion program), charity events, and other social events.  Parishes many times have an elementary and/or secondary school associated with it.  The parish is headed by the parish priest, sometimes called the “pastor”.  Parishes also have deacons, who are also ordained ministers.  They assist the priest at Mass/Divine Liturgy, many times head the Sunday School and RCIA programs, bring the Eucharist to the hospitalized and home-bound, celebrate Eucharistic Adoration and Benediction, etc.  In the Roman Catholic church, deacons can also baptize and witness marriages.  In the Eastern Catholic churches, only bishops and priests can do those.  Lay volunteers help run the parish, including serving as cantors/chanters, singing in the choir, as altar servers, ushers, organists,  catechists (teachers), lectors (readers), extraordinary Eucharistic Ministers, tour guides, secretaries, etc.

Parishes are organized into geographical territories called a diocese.  A diocese is also called a “local particular church”.  A diocese is headed by a bishop.  Bishops hold the “fullness of the priesthood” (and are seen as successors of the Twelve Apostles), the highest level of Holy Orders (a common misconception is that someone is ordained as Pope.  This is incorrect.  The Pope is a bishop.  There are only three Holy Orders that one can be ordained to: deacons, priests, and bishops. Pope is a title for the Bishop of Rome.  Likewise, “cardinal” is a special office and title for a group of bishops).  Larger dioceses, or dioceses that have had some important role or event in history, are called archdioceses, such as the Archdiocese of New York, and the head of the archdiocese is known as an archbishop.  The church that the bishop calls home is called a cathedral.  The cathedral is the head church of a diocese.  For example, St. Patrick’s Cathedral is the central church of the Archdiocese of New York.  You may have also heard of some churches called basilicas.  A basilica is simply a church that has some historical significance, and may have certain privileges as well.  The most famous basilica is St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.  We should also note here the distinction between cathedral and basilica.  The cathedral, as mentioned before, is the church of the bishop, the head of the diocese.  It literally has a chair (or “cathedra“) symbolizing this status.  So, in Washington, DC, The Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception is the largest Catholic church in the United States.  However, it is not the cathedral.  The cathedral of the Archdiocese of Washington is St. Matthew’s Cathedral.  Likewise, the cathedral of the Pope is NOT St. Peter’s Basilica.  It is the Basilica of St. John Lateran (a basilica and also a cathedral).  So to sum up all of that: parishes are headed by a parish priest, and are organized into groups called dioceses, which are headed by a bishop. The central church of the diocese is a cathedral, which is the home church of the bishop.

The bishops of a country are organized into “conferences”.  In the USA, this is the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, which governs the Catholic Church in the United States.

A group of dioceses make up an “autonomous particular church“.  As stated above, the largest of these is the Roman Catholic church.  So, the Catholic Church is not one monolithic church, but a group of churches that all have their own rulers.  As a diocese (local particular church) has a bishop at its head, an autonomous particular church is also headed by a bishop, who has the title of Patriarch.  The patriarch of the Roman Catholic church is the Pope.  Again, because we see the Pope as the successor of Saint Peter the Apostle, who had primacy among the other apostles, the Pope has primacy over all other bishops, and is the visible head of the Catholic Church.  Each autonomous church in the Catholic Church is governed by a set of laws called canon law, which is specific to the Roman Catholic church and the Eastern Catholic churches.

The “headquarters” of the worldwide Catholic Church is the Holy See, which is also home to the Patriarch of the Roman Catholic church, as well as the head of the entire Catholic Church, the Bishop of Rome, the Pope.  Vatican City is the city-state  that the Holy See rules over. The Roman Curia governs the Holy See.  The Curia has many congregations, which are basically specialty offices, the oldest of which is the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.  Others include: the Congregation for the Cause of Saints, the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, and the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments.  The Curia also has tribunals (such as the Apostolic Penitentiary, which deals with excommunication and other related matters), pontifical councils (such as the Pontifical Council for the Family, which aims to ensure the rights and understanding of sacramental matrimony and the traditional family, as well as the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace), and pontifical commissions (such as the Pontifical Biblical Commission and the Pontifical Commission for Sacred Archaeology).  All of these offices and many more govern the Catholic Church as a whole.

So, let’s sum up the basics of Catholic Church organization: The Catholic Church is a group of 23 autonomous, or self-governing churches.  The largest of these is the Roman Catholic Church.  The remaining 22 fall under the umbrella of “Eastern Catholic churches”.  All of these churches are united under the Bishop of Rome, the Pope.  The parish is the center of Catholic life, and is headed by a parish priest.  The geographical territory of groups of parishes is known as a diocese (local particular church).  The head of a dicoese is a bishop.  A cathedral is the central church of a diocese.  All of the bishops in a country form a “conference”, such as the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.  These conferences govern the Catholic Church in a country.  Dioceses make up an autonomous particular church, such as the Roman Catholic church, or the Ukrainian Catholic church.  The head of an autonomous particular church is also a bishop, who has the title of Patriarch.  Bishops are seen as successors of the Twelve Apostles.  The successor of Saint Peter is the Patriarch of the Roman Catholic church, the bishop of Rome, also known as the Pope, who has primacy over all other bishops, as St. Peter had primacy over the other apostles.  Together, these autonomous churches make up the Catholic Church, which is governed as a whole by the Holy See (which governs the territory of Vatican City, a city state).  The Holy See has many offices that oversee various aspects of church life.

Hope that helps (somewhat)!

What Does it Look Like Inside a Mormon Temple?

•September 10, 2009 • Leave a Comment

I remember driving back home from Georgetown a few times, and as we passed through Maryland, we would see the Washington, DC Temple of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons).  Some of you may know that Mormons build temples.  You may also know that not everyone can enter a temple, as you need to go through an interview and receive a temple recommend.  Some of you may also be aware of the controversy over an episode of the HBO series Big Love, where in the last season, they re-enacted a portion of the Latter-day Saint “Endowment” ceremony.  So you’ve heard all of this, but have you wondered what it looks like inside?

The LDS Church has built temples around the world, and still does today.  Recently, the LDS Church announced that a temple would be built in Rome, Italy.  As the Catholic Church and the LDS Church have been able to work together on many social and moral issues, it seems wonderful that today we can co-exist in the city of the headquarters of the LDS Church (Salt Lake City), and the headquarters of the Catholic Church.

While this entry is not to critique the ceremonies (or in LDS-speak “ordinances”) that occur in the temple (that will occur at a later date), a brief overview is warranted.  As said before, temples are only open to those that have a “recommend” (prior to the dedication of a new temple, there will be an ‘open house’ period, where anyone can go and tour the facilities).  Mormons do not go to the temple on Sundays.  Instead, they go to “meetinghouses”, which are open to anyone.  Temples are not open on Sundays for that reason.  In the temple, Mormons participate in ceremonies, called ordinances, that they believe are necessary for exaltation, or becoming like God (some term this “becoming gods”).  Mormons also have a theology related to the dead, where certain ceremonies that are seen as necessary for exaltation can be done here on earth, by proxy (meaning that a living person stands in for the deceased person).  So, while a Latter-day Saint may go to temple for themselves, they may also go to perform the ceremonies for their ancestors.  This is why Mormons are known for their genealogy work.

Because Mormons, like Catholics, believe that baptism is necessary for salvation, they practice an ordinance called “baptism for the dead” in the temple.  In this, a living person is baptized, as they would be for themselves, except the words “for and in behalf of [name], who is dead” are added to the baptismal formula.  So, instead of saying, “OneCatholic, having been commissioned of Jesus Christ, I baptize you in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost”, the temple worker would say “OneCatholic, having been commissioned of Jesus Christ, I baptize you for and in behalf of [name], who is dead, in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost”.  Through this, the deceased have an opportunity to accept or reject this proxy baptism, giving them the opportunity to be saved.  The ordinances of confirmation (basically equivalent to Catholic confirmation) and ordination (LDS have a semi-universal priesthood among males, where it is seen as necessary to hold the higher priesthood, the Melchizedek priesthood, for exaltation) are also done for the dead.

Mormons also typically are married in the temple.  This ceremony is called a “sealing” ceremony.  In this ceremony, the couple is not married till death, but for time and all eternity.  LDS believe that marriage can be eternal, and that this occurs in the temple.  Again, this ordinance can be performed for deceased couples.  All children that are born to the couple are sealed to their parents as well.  If a family converts, all members of the family, including the children, go to the sealing room and are bound together for eternity.

The final ordinance that occurs in the temple is called the Endowment.  The Endowment is a portrayal of the LDS “plan of salvation”.  It depicts the creation of the universe, the fall of man, salvation, and gives us the knowledge that we need to be exalted, to enter the highest degree of Heaven, the Celestial Kingdom.  The Celestial Kingdom is symbolized in the LDS temple by the “celestial room”.

So, the rooms of the temple are organized around these ceremonies.  There is a waiting area, endowment rooms, sealing rooms, and the baptismal.  There are other ancillary rooms, such as where a “washing and anointing” ordinance occurs prior to the endowment, a bride’s room, lockers, etc.  The Salt Lake Temple also has rooms for the various higher priesthood offices.

Here are a few videos from Youtube that show what the inside of a temple looks like.  None of these videos depict actual temple ceremonies.

“Swear to God” Scott Hahn Review

•September 10, 2009 • 7 Comments

Swear to God: The Promise and Power of the Sacraments” is my first Scott Hahn book, and it will not be the last.  In this book, Hahn’s goal is to re-ignite the fire of the sacraments in the life of the Catholic, and demonstrate that the sacraments reflect the Biblical and historical model of God’s interactions with His peoples.  The sacraments are not simply empty ceremonies that we participate in, but symbolic  actions that enter us into real covenants with God, and convey grace to the participant, allowing us to participate more fully in the life of Christ.

Hahn begins by reflecting on his life at an Evangelical seminary, where he first encountered the role of sacraments.  Although Protestants do not recognize the seven sacraments of Catholicism and Orthodoxy (though it should be noted that Orthodoxy is not limited to seven), they do acknowledge the importance of two, baptism and communion.  Hahn’s “boredom” with the sacraments began its transformation towards wonder after he read “Calvin’s Doctrine of the Word and Sacraments” by Ronald S. Wallace.  Of course, his change in sacramental outlook did not reach fruition until his conversation to Catholicism.

Hahn defines “sacrament” using the Baltimore Catechism: “A sacrament is an outward sign instituted by Christ to give grace…The sacraments receive their power to give grace from God, through the merits of Jesus Christ”.  The importance of “signs” is emphasized throughout this book.  As signs, sacraments express an inward or invisible reality.  However it is in the symbology of the sacramental signs that we see many Biblical truths revealed.  Hahn’s example of baptism is worth noting here: “Baptism evokes many scenes from the Bible, not least the baptism of Jesus (Mk 1:9-11).  The blessing of the water signifies the Spirit moving over the waters at the moment of creation (Gen 1:2).  The washing is a sign of the cleansing waters of the great flood (Gen 7-9); the passing of Israel through the Red Sea (Ex 14:21-22); the river flowing through the heavenly Jerusalem (Rev 22:1); and much more”. We must remember, the sacraments hold much symbology, however they are not pretend.  The sacraments really do convey grace and enter us into covenants with God.  But they are not magic.  As covenants, they require not only the participation of God, but our participation.  The sacraments convey grace, but if we are not open to that grace, they are not entering us into that covenant.  Hahn grounds the sacraments in Scripture, and traces the evolution of God’s covenants and interactions with His people from Genesis on, culminating in Jesus Christ.

The recent delineation of sacraments into three groups is also noted: the “sacraments of initiation”-baptism, confirmation/chrismation, and Eucharist-“make a person a Christian-[they] initiate someone into the Body of Christ”; the “sacraments of healing”-penance and the anointing of the sick-“repair what is broken in the body and soul”; and the “sacraments in service of communion”-marriage and holy orders-“these sacraments build up the Church, in numbers and in strength; they are directed toward the good of others rather than oneself”.

Hahn spends a large portion of this book emphasizing the role of covenant in Biblical history, connecting that to the role of covenant in the sacraments.  Covenants are not just promises, but oaths that enter us into a special relationship with God.  Covenants are not only sworn by words, according to Hahn, but also by signs.  “Jesus Himself equated the sign of His covenant with the covenant that it sealed: ‘This cup…is the new covenant in My blood’ (Lk 22:20).  And so the cup is the covenant”. In Catholicism, the highest covenant act that we participate in is the Eucharist.  It is in the Eucharist that Jesus Christ is truly present in a special way, making it explicit that our participation in the sacraments is a covenant relationship, where God is truly present.  Through the sacraments, we experience God in a way that is not possible through other means. Every action in the sacraments, down to the candles and our positioning (stand/sit/kneel) means something, conveying the underlying reality of the sacramental oath and our life in Christ.

One of the final paragraphs of this book is a good way to end this entry: “Jesus was baptized, and so we are baptized.  Jesus broke bread and blessed a cup of wine, commanding His followers to “do this” in His memory-and so we do.  Jesus gave His Spirit to His disciples to confirm them in faith, and so does the true Church of Christ in our time.  Jesus ordained his apostles to celebrate Mass and forgive sins; and so does the Church today.  Jesus forgave and healed people in sacramental ways, and so does the Catholic Church.  Jesus blessed marriage, and so we, too, count our marriages as blessed and sacramental.  He swore an oath; He made a covenant.  And He gave us the sacraments so that we might follow Him, swearing the oath, renewing the covenant forever.”