Tag Archives: catechism

Why are we called Catholics instead of simply Christians?

It’s not a case of either/or but of both/and. “Christian” was first used to describe the followers of Christ at Antioch. It probably originated among our enemies as a contemptuous nickname (see Acts 11:26; 26:28; 1 Peter 4:16). But by the time St. Ignatius of Antioch wrote in the first decade of the second century, the believers had gladly accepted it.

kresta“Catholic” is simply derived from the Greek word catholikos, meaning “universal.” We call ourselves Catholic because it describes the scope of Christ’s saving mission and the extent of the community he founded. Christ died for the sins of the whole world, and his Church is open to members of every nation, kindred, tongue, region, generation, locale, race, gender, class, and culture. ŠThe Catholic Church is the “universal” community founded by Jesus Christ, the savior of the whole world (see 1 Cor 12:13; Gal 3:28; Col 3:11; Rv 5:9; 7:9; 14:6).

Wonderfully enough, it’s St. Ignatius of Antioch who gives us our first recorded use of the term “Catholic” to describe the Church. Ignatius was the second or third bishop of Antioch, a major teaching center in the early Church that had breathed some deep apostolic air. Saint Peter had served as bishop just before he went to Rome, and Ignatius was himself mentored by the apostle John.

On his way to martyrdom in Rome, Ignatius left us a body of correspondence that was highly revered in the early centuries of the Church. ŠThere he wrote: “You must all follow the bishop as Jesus Christ follows the Father, and the presbytery as you would the apostles. Wherever the bishop appears, let the people be there; just as wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church.”

“Catholic” is not, as many people imagine, a denominational title. It simply describes a quality or mark of Christ’s Church. “Denominationalism,” strictly speaking, didn’t arise until the breakup of the Western Church in the 16th century.

Today the Catholic Church is sometimes referred to as the “Roman Catholic Church.” Certain Anglicans, not Catholics, originated the phrase. ŠThey wanted to be regarded as the true “Catholics” in contrast to the merely “Roman” Catholics. So they sought to exploit a contradiction in terms. How can one be “Catholic” — that is, universal — and yet merely “Roman” at the same time? It was a clever play on words that was intended as a sneer.

Today we often hear Catholics themselves claiming to be “Roman” Catholic. ŠThis is an attempt to turn the tables on the critics and redefine the phrase. “Yes, we are ‘Roman’ Catholic, meaning that we accept the primacy of Peter and the teaching authority of his successors, who traditionally operate from Rome.” ThŠese Catholics wear the phrase “Roman Catholic” as a badge of loyalty to Church teaching.

AL KRESTA is CEO of Ave Maria Communications and host of Kresta in the Afternoon. Reprinted with permission from his book “Why Do Catholics Genuflect?” St. Anthony Messenger Press, 2001

Catechism 101

ThŠe Church is catholic in a double sense: First, the Church is catholic because Christ is present in her. Where there is Christ Jesus, there is the Catholic Church. In her subsists the fullness of Christ’s body united with its head; this implies that she receives from him the fullness of the means of salvation which he has willed: correct and complete confession of faith, full sacramental life, and ordained ministry in apostolic succession. ThŠe Church was, in this fundamental sense, catholic on the day of Pentecost and will always be so until the day of the Parousia.

Catechism of the Catholic Church, #830

What are indulgences?

The issue of indulgences is an area of difficulty for many people. In fact, it was one of the sparks that started the tragic blaze of the Protestant Reformation, a blaze that incinerated the cultural and religious unity of Christendom starting back in the 1500s.

Fr. John Bartunek, LC

Fr. John Bartunek, LC

An indulgence is simply a specific manifestation of God’s grace — one that the Church offers to us as a concrete way to show our love for the Lord and for our neighbor. An indulgence can only be attained with the intention of attaining it. So, if I were to lift my mind to God in the midst of my workday, I wouldn’t receive an indulgence for doing that unless I consciously intended to receive it. Through prayer and sacrifice, we become channels of God’s grace, and an indulgence is a manifestation of that grace.

In the first centuries of the Church, Confession and penance were much more public than than they are now. It wasn’t until the sixth century that Irish monks really began to popularize individual, private confession. Until that era, it was more common for Christians who had fallen into grave sin to make their confession in front of the bishop and the entire congregation — and to be assigned a visible penance.

For example, a public sinner might be required to wear some kind of penitential garb and stay at the back of the church during Mass for six months or even an entire year.

Even during those early centuries, however, the practice of indulgences was emerging. For example, if a believer caved in under pressure of persecution and publicly denied his faith, it was considered the grave sin of apostasy. If that believer repented, he would be given a hefty penance. But that penance could be lessened if he visited a future martyr or confessor who was imprisoned for their faith. He would get this holy person to sign an affidavit by which he would express his desire to apply the merits of his sacrifice to the believer’s penance. He then would bring this document to the bishop and some or all of his penance could be remitted.

After the period of the Roman persecutions, obtaining this kind of remission of penance through the merits of the saints continued. Thus, the practice of indulgences emerged. Until recently, the relative value of the different indulgences was still expressed by correlating them to certain amounts of days. This harkens back to the early Church and its public penances, which were assigned for specific periods of time. Today this method of expressing the relative value of indulgences has been simplified. Instead of specific numbers of days, we just have partial or full (plenary) indulgences.

FR. JOHN BARTUNEK, LC, is a former professional actor who became a Catholic priest in 2003. This column is printed with permission from his book Answers: Catholic Advice for Your Spiritual Questions (Servant Books, 2014).


Catechism 101

An indulgence is obtained through the Church who, by virtue of the power of binding and loosing granted her by Christ Jesus, intervenes in favor of individual Christians and opens for them the treasury of the merits of Christ and the saints to obtain from the Father of mercies the remission of the temporal punishments due for their sins. Thus the Church does not want simply to come to the aid of these Christians, but also to spur them to works of devotion, penance and charity.

Since the faithful departed now being purified are also members of the same communion of saints, one way we can help them is to obtain indulgences for them, so that the temporal punishments due for their sins may be remitted.

Catechism of the Catholic Church, #1478-1479

Formed for eternity

Parents must not abdicate their responsibility to form their children . . .

Patrick Novecosky

Five California high school students were threatened with suspension for showing up to class wearing T-shirts emblazoned with the American flag on Cinco de Mayo last month.

According to Fox News, the vice principal at Live Oak High School in Morgan Hill, Calif., asked the boys to remove American flag bandannas and to turn their American flag T-shirts inside out, saying the shirts were “incendiary.” The boys, some of whom were Mexican-American, opted to leave school and go home for the day.

After the dust settled, the vice principal apologized. But this political-correctness-run-amuck is symptomatic of the illogical and hypersensitive thinking so prevalent in America’s public schools every day. This sensitivity, however, stops when it comes to any sort of patriotic or Christian expression. In 1962 (and again in 1963), the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that prayer led by school officials is unconstitutional, and the results have been devastating. In some areas, schools have become virtual war zones with metal detectors and a heavy police presence.

When it came time for my wife and I to decide where to educate our children, the choice was a relatively easy one. My wife is a former school teacher and has the necessary skills to homeschool. But even more importantly, we were not about to abandon the rearing of our children to a secular system that is quite often hostile to the faith. The Catechism says that parents are responsible for their children’s “moral and their spiritual formation. The role of parents in education is of such importance that it is almost impossible to provide an adequate substitute” (#2221).

Clearly, homeschooling is not for everyone. Some parents don’t have the patience, skills or time to effectively carry out a home-based curriculum. Single parents depend on family or other childcare during the day and have precious little time after work. Dual income parents may depend on a second income just to get by. Others may send their kids to exceptional Catholic schools, faithful to the teachings of the Church and able to provide children with a balanced education.

Whether parents opt for a public, private or home-based education for their children, the Church urges them to remember that “parents have the first responsibility for the education of their children [and that] the home is well suited for education in the virtues” (CCC #2223). The family is the primary building block of society, and the home is where most of life’s lessons are learned (and taught) whether we intend it or not.

If parents abdicate their responsibility to form their children in the faith, the world is certainly ready, willing and able to form them according to the secular, humanistic worldview so prevalent these days. It’s a wise Catholic parent (or grandparent) who works hard to ensure that the youngsters in their lives are formed to fight the good fight and bring more souls along for the ride.

Patrick Novecosky is Legatus Magazine’s editor.