The most common question students got wrong in my catechism class was related to the teaching of the Immaculate Conception. Nearly all the students thought the Church is referring to Jesus. Instead, the Immaculate Conception is referring to the Blessed Virgin Mary!
According to Pope Pius IX in his encyclical Ineffabilis Deus, “The most Blessed Virgin Mary was, from the first moment of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege of almighty God and by virtue of the merits of Jesus Christ, Savior of the human race, preserved immune from all stain of original sin.”
The angel Gabriel testifies to the holiness of Mary in Luke 1:28 by greeting her, “Hail, favored one full of grace.” Mary’s perfect obedience to God’s will of selecting her to bear the Son of God is another instance of her holiness.
How was Mary Saved
I once heard a priest describe Mary’s salvation this way. Imagine that humanity fell into a muddy pit. This caused our first parents (Adam and Eve) to get dirty with the stain of sin.
In order for mankind to be purified or washed from this imperfection God instituted the sacrament of Baptism. Mary did not need Baptism (and the other sacraments) for salvation because God saved her from falling into the pit (of sin) in the first place!
Mary is not a deity to be worshiped. Her role as in salvation history is that of Jesus Christ’s Mother. The Son of God is still the focal point of our hearts, mind, and soul.
To Jesus through Mary
We can look to Our Blessed Mother as a guide, a signpost, and a beacon that orients us toward God. Throughout Church Tradition, the Old Testament signs of Noah’s ark and Jacob’s ladder are interpreted as symbols of Mary. The Blessed Virgin acts as a bridge or intercessor between us and Christ. She is NOT a replacement for Christ.
The beauty and grandeur of Mary exists because she is the perfect mirror. Immaculately conceived and without sin. That was the mysterious plan of God. She reflects God’s love outward toward all of humanity. May we continue to grow closer to God and learn from the humble example of Mary to obey God in all things!
Within the course of salvation history there have been many questions about the work of Christ and the role of the human freedom, or free will. There has been no shortage of theories. Church history shows that there have been many heresies from those trying find a synthesis between the two.
There seem to be two extremes when it comes to this issue—those who think that Christ will save us no matter what we do after coming to faith and those who think that one must continually work to attain salvation (Pelagianism).
The Catholic Definition of Freedom
Saint Pope John Paul II wrote two encyclicals titled Redemptor Hominis and Redemptoris Missio that deal with this important issue.
The Pope reaffirms the teaching of Christ in John 14:6 that He is the way and the truth. He echoes the words of God is creation where he saw the things that he created as good. The work of Christ is expressed as an act of love, and a love that the Father had from the beginning with creation. It was through this act of love that man was restored and made whole. Regarding this Pope John Paul II writes, “He and he alone also satisfied that fatherhood of God and that love which man in a way rejected by breaking the first Covenant and the later covenants that God again and again offered to man” (Redemptor Hominis Para 9). Man is unable to enter into relationship with God unless it is through Christ (Redemptoris Missio Para 5). What Christ did for man was the greatest act of love that ever done. It is one that our feeble minds can barely start to fathom freedom!
The Pope firmly establishes that it is Christ who is the only way and is the source of our salvation. The work of Christ on the cross was an act of love that echoes back to the point of creation, and he reconciles man to himself. How about human freedom? The freedom of man is a source of controversy for many.
Our lives as lack meaning if we do not have love. We were made to love and live in communion with each other. Through His life, death, and resurrection Christ has shown us what love is. This love changes the lives of the apostles, and they passed that on and it changed the world.
Freedom to Choose Life
God offers this newness of life to every man, but man has the freedom to reject it. In this regard Pope John Paul II writes, “Faith demands a free adherence on the part of man, but at the same time faith must also be offered to him” (Redemptoris Missio Para 8). Freedom is not the ultimate end as the world teaches it to be. Freedom is the choice to do as we ought to.
Freedom is only a gift if one knows how to use it for everything that is true good (Redemptor Hominis Para 21). When we encounter Him that is truth we can either accept of deny what he says. He says “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6 NRSV).
Once we reach this realization Christ calls us to a higher standard of living. We are bound to regulate of lives with this truth, and we have the freedom to do so or not (Redemptoris Missio Para 8).
Human freedom is a part of the redemption. By his work on the cross, Christ redeems us by an act of love. We are called to love others and do what Christ commands of us.
John Paul II. Redemptor Hominis 1979 Web. Accessed September 9, 2019.
John Paul II. Redemptoris Missio 1990. Web. Accessed September 9, 2019.
About our guest blogger:
William is aconvert to the Catholic faith. Before entering the churchhewas ordained as a Baptist and Lutheran and earned a Master of Divinity from Liberty Theological Seminary. William liveswith his wife and four children in Tucson, AZ and teaches religious education for children and adults. Check out hiswebsite/blog atwilliamhemsworth.comfor more great and informativeCatholic content!
Did the early church believe that the Eucharist is the body and blood of Christ? To answer this question the writings of the following four early church fathers will be discussed: St. Ignatius of Antioch who lived from approximately 35-108 A.D., St. Justin Martyr who lived from 100-165 A.D., St. Irenaeus who lived from 130-202 A.D., and St. Augustine who lived from 354-430 A.D. There are many more who write about the subject, but this is a small sampling.
St. Ignatius of Antioch
St. Ignatius of Antioch is an individual who has several distinctions in Church history. He learned the faith directly from St. John, but he also was the second bishop of Antioch after St. Peter (Johnson 46). While he was being led to Rome for his eventual martyrdom he wrote seven letters to a series of Christian communities. At the time he wrote these letters there was a dangerous heresy known as Docetism that was gaining steam. This dangerous error taught that Jesus was not really a human, and what people saw only seemed to be human. In many ways it was similar to Gnosticism in it view of who Jesus was.
St. Ignatius warned against this false teaching in a very strong manner. One of the ways he refuted this teaching was in the Eucharist. In his letter to the Smyrneans St. Ignatius writes, “They abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer, because they confess not the Eucharist to be the flesh of our Saviour Jesus Christ, which suffered for our sins, and which the Father, of His goodness, raised up again” (Ignatius of Antioch 89). To defend the orthodox teaching of who Christ is he states that the Eucharist is the body of Christ who suffered for our sins. If it was a just a symbol, then this teaching on the Eucharist would have meant nothing to combat the Docetic heresy.
The Eucharist Provides Unity
In his letter to the Philadelphians, St. Ignatius writes about the importance of unity. He writes about union with the Bishop, avoiding schism, and how there is only one Eucharist. Regarding the Eucharist St. Ignatius writes, “Take ye heed, then, to have but one Eucharist. For there is one flesh of our Lord Jesus Christ, and one cup to [show forth] the unity of His blood; one altar; as there is one bishop, along with the presbytery and deacons” (Ignatius of Antioch 81). Here we see a bold claim, at least in today’s world, that there is one true Christian church and that the Eucharist is at the center of its sacramental life (CCC 1407).
St. Ignatius also sees the Eucharist as not only the body and blood of Christ, but as a connection to him. In addition to being the true body and blood of Christ, the Eucharist is a source of unity and strength to continue the Christian journey. For St. Ignatius, the grace given through the God in the Eucharist helped him to proceed to his eventual martyrdom. The sacramental worldview involves seeing God work through ordinary things, and through his grace the Eucharist becomes what Christ says it is and helps us through life.
St. Justin Martyr
Another church father that taught that the Eucharist is the real body and blood of Christ is St. Justin Martyr. A philosopher by trade, St. Justin was one of the first of the layman apologists. In his First Apology, St. Justin writes to the emperor to defend Christianity from misconceptions that were spreading in the Roman empire (Kreider 233). In this apology he lays out the order of mass in striking detail and addresses the charge of cannibalism that was often levied against Christians. He states that no one can receive the Eucharist unless they believe what the church teaches and only after baptism.
Regarding the Eucharist St. Justin states, “For not as common bread and common drink do we receive these; but in like manner as Jesus Christ our Saviour, having been made flesh by the Word of God, had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so likewise have we been taught that the food which is blessed by the prayer of His word, and from which our blood and flesh by transmutation are nourished, is the flesh and blood of that Jesus who was made flesh” (Justin Martyr 185). The charge of cannibalism was serious offense on the Roman Empire, and Justin clarifies that the Eucharist is to eliminate doubt. However, he still says that it is the flesh and blood of Jesus.
St. Irenaeus of Lyons
The Gnostic Heresy was a big problem and became quite popular in the early church. St. Irenaeus of Lyons was concerned for the souls which he was responsible for. He wrote an excellent treatise titled Against Heresies in which he took the teaching of Gnosticism to task. The Gnostics taught that all matter was evil and that the true teaching of Christ was passed down in secret, and salvation can only be attained by attaining this secret knowledge. To combat this heresy, he said that all true churches have a rule of faith that has been passed down via apostolic succession. Essentially, he stated that all bishops can trace their lineage to the Apostles. This is still the teaching of the Catholic church today.
According to St. Irenaeus the sacrament allowed the Lord to shine through the follies of human weakness and strengthen us on the road to heaven, or immortality as he called it. He argues that Jesus was real person with flesh and bones, and he gave his flesh to nourish the body and soul of his followers. Regarding this, St. Irenaeus writes, “He does not speak these words of some spiritual and invisible man, for a spirit has not bones nor flesh; but [he refers to] that dispensation [by which the Lord became] an actual man, consisting of flesh, and nerves, and bones,—that [flesh] which is nourished by the cup which is His blood, and receives increase from the bread which is His body” (Irenaeus 528).
St. Augustine of Hippo
The last church father to be discussed regarding the Eucharist is the great St. Augustine of Hippo. St. Augustine was familiar with the Gnostic movement as he was a member of the Gnostic movement known as Manichaeism (Hitchcock 91). He understood the Gnostic movements teaching of all material matter being evil. He probably had a deeper appreciation of the sacraments and of the sacramental worldview. St. Augustine was a prolific writer and homilist, and as such he said and wrote much about the Eucharist.
In one of his sermons he was instructing a group that had just received the sacrament of baptism. Augustine had promised to explain the nature of the Eucharist after they had been washed from the stain of original sin and received the seal of the Holy Spirit in confirmation. Regarding the Eucharist St. Augustine states in sermon 227. “The bread you see on the altar, having been sanctified by the word of God, is the body of Christ. The chalice, or rather, what is in the chalice, having been sanctified by the word of God, is the blood of Christ” (Akin 297). Augustine goes on to say that our eyes see ordinary bread and wine, but when they are consecrated our faith obligates us to believe that they are the true body and blood of Christ.
St. Augustine wrote much more about the Eucharist, but from the quotation above we can deduce two things. Firstly, he strongly believed that the Eucharist was the literal body and blood of Christ and it is something that must be believed. Secondly, that the ordinary elements are transformed when God sanctifies them. God uses ordinary elements, infuses his grace, and takes material things that cause us to sin and transforms them to become a cause for our sanctification.
Akin, Jimmy. The Fathers Know Best: Your Essential Guide to the Teachings of the Early Church. San Diego, CA: Catholic Answers, 2010. Print.
Hitchcock, James. History of the Catholic Church: From the Apostolic Age to the Third Millennium. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2012. Print.
Ignatius of Antioch. “The Epistle of Ignatius to the Smyrnæans.” The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus. Ed. Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe. Vol. 1. Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1885. Print. The Ante-Nicene Fathers.
Irenaeus of Lyons. “Irenæus against Heresies.” The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus. Ed. Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe. Vol. 1. Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1885. Print. The Ante-Nicene Fathers.
Justin Martyr. “The First Apology of Justin.” The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus. Ed. Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe. Vol. 1. Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1885. Print. The Ante-Nicene Fathers.
Kreider, Alan. The Origins of Christendom in the West. Edinburgh; New York: T&T Clark, 2001. Print.
About our guest blogger:
William is a convert to the Catholic faith. Before entering the church he was ordained as a Baptist and Lutheran and earned a Master of Divinity from Liberty Theological Seminary. William lives with his wife and four children in Tucson, AZ and teaches religious education for children and adults. Check out his website/blog at https://tucsonapologetics.org/for more great and informative Catholic content!
The book of Joshua is an interesting book in the Old Testament. Moses has died, and the children of Israel are about to enter the promised land. Before they do so they must cross the Jordan river, but they have no way to cross. It is at this point that we must look at the power of God over nature. In Exodus the Lord parted the Red Sea so the Israelites could escape Pharaoh. In the book of Joshua God parted the Jordan River.
This can be read in Joshua 3:17 which states, “While all Israel were crossing over on dry ground, the priests who bore the ark of the covenant of the LORD stood on dry ground in the middle of the Jordan, until the entire nation finished crossing over the Jordan” (NRSV). Through baptism one parts the waters and is being led by the New Moses, which is Jesus Christ (Origen page 52). It is Christ, through his priesthood, that leads us into the future.
This is important for those of you who are being baptized. God has shown over and over what he can do in the natural realm. He parted the Red Sea, he provided manna from Heaven, and today He begins a new work in you. Through Baptism you step in the water, just as the twelve tribes did in the book of Joshua, and the waters part. You now follow the priests of Christ into the land of our inheritance (Origen page 53).
Plunging into the Depths of God Passion
Through of your baptism you are dying and rising with Christ. This is a great responsibility, and a great honor. Christ is exalted when you come to the baptismal waters, and he is happy that you are here. Follow Christ and keep him close. Do not fall back into sin and be like the Egyptians who were swallowed up by the Red Sea.
For those of you who were baptized at the Easter Vigil, the journey is just beginning. You answered the call of Christ and were obedient to be baptized, but what now? This is a great time in the church as we welcome new members, but sometimes this is the last we see of some. The simple fact is that some treat the Easter Vigil like a form of Catholic graduation. In the above paragraphs I used some of the imagery that Origen wrote concerning baptism. Baptism was your journey across the Jordan river into the promised last. You are now in a state of grace as all sin has now been washed away. Now is not the time for complacency!
At this point you are probably calling me a buzzkill, but I have been there. When we become complacent, we are a prime target for Satan. He is looking for every opportunity to take us back from Christ. That was me within three years of coming into the church, and I want to provide you with some guidance.
Necessity of Prayer and Reading Scripture
First and foremost, it is imperative that you establish a prayer life. Prayer is our communication with God. Some struggle and think that we need elaborate words or requests, but that is not the case. It can be reflecting on a passage of scripture, the rosary, Lectio Divina, or sitting in a quiet space reflecting on God. Whatever you choose is up to you, but try to have a dedicated space and time set aside every day. Make it part of your routine. There is really not better way to start the day than talking with our creator.
Secondly, make it a habit to read scripture. The Bible is the Word of God and is given to us for instruction. I read an acronym recently that said that the Bible was Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth. Within its pages you will learn about some of the great men and women that preceded us and how we can learn from them. You will learn more about the life of Christ, and how to live the Christian life. It is a discipline that will help you draw closer to the Lord.
Participate in the Church Community
Thirdly, find a way to get involved in your parish. You are sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit at confirmation, and you have a skill and gift that will benefit your parish. Often times people are hesitant because they think that what they are good at is insignificant. No way!
We are a family, and each member of the family has a part in its success. You can join a parish prayer group, bible study, or volunteer to clean the sanctuary. It all matters and is all important. When you get involved you make friends with like minded people who will support you and love you in those times that are not easy.
Thus far much has been said about baptism and some things that may be helpful as you continue the Catholic life. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but the point is that is just the beginning. At the Easter Vigil you received the sacraments of initiation. Though you only receive baptism and confirmation once we often reaffirm those commitments as reminders that our journey is never ending. It will only end at the end of our earthly lives. In the example above, Origen write about the Israelites crossing the Jordan as an allegory for baptism. They didn’t remain the rest of their lives on the shore on the other side of the river. They forged ahead, and that is what regularly receiving the sacraments and being involved in the life of the church allow us to do.
Origen, et al. Homilies on Joshua. Catholic University of America Press, 2002. The Fathers of the Church.
About our guest blogger:
William is a convert to the Catholic faith. Before entering the church he was ordained as a Baptist and Lutheran and earned a Master of Divinity from Liberty Theological Seminary. William lives with his wife and four children in Tucson, AZ and teaches religious education for children and adults. Check out his website/blog atwilliamhemsworth.com for more great and informative Catholic content!