Archive for ‘Why do Catholics do That?’

April 29, 2011

“What is the Point in the Pope?”

One question I received in response to my last post, which happens to be a common inquiry people have about the Church, is “what is up with the pope? Why is he necessary?”. I understand this feeling, because I used to question this as well. I thought that Catholics worshiped the pope and looked to him as God, believing that He is an infallible human. There are a lot of things people think Catholics believe when it comes to the pope and most of them do not coincide with what the Church actually teaches. So let me give you the other side of the story.

I need to start off by explaining, as I have kind of touched on in previous posts, that the universal  Catholic Church is essentially one Church.  It operates as one, it believes as one, and it worships as one. The only reason the Church is separated into separate buildings across the world is simply because it is physically and logically impossible to get every Catholic in the world in the same place, at the same time. Therefore, there are only different church buildings to serve different areas. A small town or city may have just one church building, whereas a larger populated city may have one per a certain amount of square miles. This concept differs from other Christian churches, in that with others you may have two churches of the same denomination within two miles of each other, who remain separate not because of geographical  boundaries or issues with space, but because there are certain things they are not in accord with each other about, which causes them to remain separate.

Since we are one Church, we have, like any other church, leaders who are ordained by God to shepherd the flock. Since there are geographical distances between this one church, a system was created to assure that we remain united as one family, one body of believers, all in one accord. Each individual church building (called a “parish”) is lead by one or two priests (depending on the size of the parish). A group of parishes that are all in close proximity to each other are part of a “diocese”. The parish I serve at, St. Charles in Nederland, is part of the diocese of Beaumont—or, Beaumont and surrounding areas. Another nearby example is the diocese of Galveston-Houston. Each diocese is lead by a bishop. It’s the bishop’s God ordained responsibility to shepherd those in his diocese, and to assist and advise the priests in the diocese in shepherding their individual parishes.

And the pope? Well, he’s just another bishop. He is the bishop of the diocese of Rome. And since Rome was chosen as the capitol location (because if it is one Church, then logically somewhere has to be designated as the central location), then the bishop of the diocese of Rome was given the role as the spokesman for the other bishops and for the Church.

Something I think a lot of people who hold misconceptions about the pope miss is that every Christian church has a teaching office of some sort and every Christian church has a designated leader and spokesman, in order to effectively lead the flock closer to God.

But isn’t it dangerous to give that much power to one man?

The pope is not without accountability. All of the bishops work together, through constant prayer and meditation, to decide how they can best shepherd their people, how they can lead their people the closest to God, just like the leaders of any other Christian church strive to do. When a decision has been reached, the pope serves as the spokesman for the Church, but he has made no decisions by himself. These men have no power of their own, nor are they infallible. They are men, with faults and shortcomings just as you and I. The Teachings of the Church, however, spoken by Jesus through the bishops, are believed to be infallible.

(((Read: the Teachings of the Church that are believed to be infallible are denoted with a capital “T” in the word Teaching. For example, the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, one God in three parts, which is not directly referenced and named in scripture, is considered an infallible Teaching of the Church. Big T Traditions are believed to be the Word of God, spoken through the Church which sits in the seat of Christ. There are other traditions, such as the celibacy of priests,  that are susceptible to change and are not claimed to be an infallible Teaching of God)))).

Before Jesus ascended into Heaven, He established a physical Church here on Earth for his believers to call home. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven. Whatever you bind on Earth will be bound in Heaven. Whatever you loose on Earth will be loosed in Heaven.” Matthew 16:18-19

Jesus was physically leaving. He would always be with us through the Holy Spirit and always a prayer away. But physically, He was going back home to Heaven to sit at the right hand of the Father. But he did not leave us with nothing. He established a physical Church to stand in for Him during His physical absence. He graciously entrusted Peter and his apostles to lead His people closer to Him and to guide them in worship.

Peter, the first bishop, answered the call of Jesus.  Together with the other disciples, they established the Church and, as we read about in the book of Acts, different apostles brought the Church to other nations. An apostle would then lead and shepherd a community in this new place.  (Sound familiar from what I was talking about before? 😉 This was the beginning of what later would be known as a “diocese”) Over the years, Christianity spread, and this tradition of apostolic succession remained. Approximately 2000 years later it still stands.

The pope and the other bishops today are the successors of Peter and the first apostles, who answered the call of Christ and established His Church, as one body of believers, in one accord, as Jesus desired for it to be.

April 20, 2011

The Catholic Church and Anointing Oil

Since the beginning of the Church, when Jesus ascended into Heaven and left Peter and the rest of the apostles to guide His physical Church on Earth, anointing oil has been used in various areas of ministry. In the years after the reformation, when more and more various denominations began to form, a few sects held onto this practice. Today, Pentecostals and some Non-Denominational Christians use anointing oil for healing, both physical and spiritual, and during the ordination of new ministers. As stated in various scriptures throughout the Bible, and as the aforementioned denominations will agree, the anointing oil (also called “Chrism Oil”) is a symbol of abundance of grace and joy, cleansing and healing, consecration, and the mark of the Holy Spirit.

But where does this oil come from? Who makes it?

On each week before Easter, in every Catholic diocese across the globe, a “Chrism Mass” is held.

Off Topic But Important Note: a “diocese” is a group of individual churches (parishes) that fall in the same area. The parish I serve at (St. Charles in Nederland) is a part of the Diocese of Beaumont, meaning Beaumont and surrounding areas. A priest is an ordained minister that pastors one particular parish (ex. St. Charles in Nederland), and a bishop’s God given role is to shepherd the entire flock of the Diocese of Beaumont.  And the pope? Well, he’s just another bishop. He’s the bishop of the Diocese of Rome, and is simply the designated spokesman for the other bishops across the world. Remember, the universal Catholic Church is essentially ONE church and ONE church family, simply broken into separate buildings because it’s physically impossible to get everyone in the world in the same building and the same time. Thus, a system was created (the concept of bishops and dioceses) so that despite our geographical limitations, we are all still connected and bound as one church family, one body of believers, under one unified set of beliefs (I Corinthians 1:10).

Anyway, back to the Chrism Mass. As stated above, this takes place annually the week before Easter. This is the worship service in which the entire diocese meets together in a central location, with the pastors of each parish present,  to “brew” the anointing oils that will be used throughout the year, until the next year’s week before Easter. The anointing oils that are created are a mixture of oil of olives and balsam.  The bishop then prays over the new oils and disperses it to each individual pastor, to take back to his parish and use throughout the year.

The anointing oils are used on the newly baptized (both children and adults, as a “seal of ownership”), to welcome new members into the Church, during the ordination of new ministers, and for the healing of the sick.

Above all, the Church believes that it is not the anointing oils in and of themselves that hold significance, nor does the power lie with the man who is doing the anointing.  Rather, in Christ’s physical absence, He works through those whom He has ordained, to bestow His grace and power through the oils.

“Now it is God who makes both of us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, set His seal of ownership on us, and put His Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come” II Corinthians 1:21-23

April 18, 2011

Catholics get Palm Branches a week before Easter? Is that another meaningless ritual??

Today Christians at Catholic Churches all across the world worshiped by celebrating Palm Sunday. Palm Sunday, or Passion Sunday, falls exactly one week before Easter Sunday, to commemorate the day in which a crowd prepared to joyfully greet their Savior, perched upon the back of a donkey, by laying palm branches on the road before Him.

“A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted ‘Hosanna to the Son of David!’

‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!’

‘Hosanna in the highest heaven!’

When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred and asked, ‘Who is this?’ The crowds answered, ‘This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee’ ” –Matthew 21: 8-11

The people in Jerusalem were excited to welcome their King into their presence. In the same way, we should be excited to welcome Jesus into our presence. The Jesus we worship today is the same King this crowd joyfully prepared to welcomed with palm branches so many years ago.

This mirroring act of worship reminds us that we are the same as that crowd. Many of those people in the crowd, who so eagerly prepared for His arrival, may also have been the same people who later screamed for His death on the day of His crucifixion. They were disappointed, as what they imagined their King to be  did not perfectly coincide with Jesus. We are no different from this crowd, as we too are responsible for Christ’s death because of our sin. However, praise God, Jesus’ death and resurrection from the dead has set us free. Because of that, we joyfully welcome Him into our presence.

The worship celebration continues to include the gospel reading in Matthew, in which Jesus entered the city on his donkey. A commentator explains the meaning/significance of each part of the reading, and the congregation plays an active role in the reading by playing the part of the crowd in Jerusalem, saying what scripture tells us were the words of the crowd.

Interesting fact: After the day is over, the leftover palm branches (at every Catholic Church across the globe) are burned into ashes that will be used the next year during the Ash Wednesday worship service.

Mindless ritual? On the contrary, much thought and preparation has been put into this day, to ensure that the Lord is showered with love and adoration from His people today, just as this crowd prepared to shower their King with such love and adoration many years ago.