The Sacrament of Confirmation

Introduction:

There is a close relationship between the sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation.

While Confirmation is a distinct and complete sacrament in its own right, its purpose is to perfect in us that which was begun in Baptism. We might say—in a sense—that we are baptized in order to be confirmed.

The Roots of Confirmation:

We do not know exactly when, during His public life, Jesus instituted the sacrament of Confirmation. This is one of the “many other things that Jesus did” which, as St. John tells us, are not written down in the Gospels (see John 21:25).

We know that Catholic Tradition (the teachings of the Church which have been handed down to us from our Lord, or from His Apostles inspired by the Holy Spirit) is of equal authority with Sacred Scripture as a source of divine truth. If a “Bible-only” friend thrusts out his jaw and says, “Show it to me in the Bible; I don’t believe it unless it’s in the Bible,” we do not fall into that trap. We answer sweetly by saying: “Show me in the Bible where it says that we must believe only what is written there.”

However, it does happen that the Bible tells us about Confirmation. Not under that name, of course. Aside from Baptism, our present names for the sacraments were developed by the early theologians of the Church; “Laying on of hands” was the earliest name for Confirmation. This is the name which the Bible uses in the following passage taken from the Acts of the Apostles:

“Now when the Apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent to them Peter and John. On their arrival they prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Spirit; for as yet He had not come upon any of them, but they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then they laid their hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit. But when Simon [the magician] saw that the Holy Spirit was given through the laying on of the Apostles’ hands, he offered them money, saying, ‘Give me also this power, so that anyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit’.” (Acts 8:14-19)

It is from this passage, and the attempt of the magician Simon to buy the power to give Confirmation, that we get the word “simony”—the name given to the sin of buying and selling sacred things. That, however, is a very minor point.

The real significance of this passage lies in what it tells us about the sacrament of Confirmation. It tells us that while Confirmation is a complement to Baptism, a completing of what was begun in Baptism, nevertheless Confirmation is a sacrament distinct from Baptism.

  • The Samaritans already had been baptized, yet it still was necessary for them to receive the “laying on of hands.”
  • The passage also tells us the way in which Confirmation was to be given: by the placing of the hand of the one who confirms, upon the head of the one to be confirmed, with a prayer that he may receive the Holy Spirit.

We are particularly interested in this fact which the passage makes plain: the fact that it was the Apostles—that is, the bishops—who did the confirming. Whoever it was who had baptized the Samaritans very evidently did not have the power to “lay hands” upon them and to impart to them the Holy Spirit. Two of the Apostles, Peter and John, had to travel from Jerusalem to Samaria in order to give the sacrament of Confirmation to these new Christians.

The bishop was the original minister of Confirmation. Ordinarily, the bishop still administers this sacrament so that there is a clear link to the first outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. However bishops can also permit priests to administer this sacrament, and in practice this is often done.

Confirmation is the Perfection of Baptism:

Although, in the West, Confirmation is usually received as a teenager, several years after making First Communion, the Catholic Church considers it the second of the three Sacraments of Initiation (Baptism being the first and Communion the third). Confirmation is regarded as the perfection of Baptism, because, as the introduction to the Rite of Confirmation states:

by the sacrament of Confirmation, [the baptized] are more perfectly bound to the Church and are enriched with a special strength of the Holy Spirit. Hence they are, as true witnesses of Christ, more strictly obliged to spread and defend the faith by word and deed.

Definition:

Growth is vital to human life; the body and mind must grow to stay alive. Catholics believe that the soul also needs to grow to maturity in the life of grace, just as the human body must grow through childhood, adolescence, and adulthood. Catholics believe the Sacrament of Confirmation is the supernatural equivalent of the growth process on the natural level. It builds on what was begun in Baptism and what was nourished in Holy Eucharist. It completes the process of initiation into the Christian community, and it matures the soul for the work ahead.

The Byzantine Church confirms (chrismates) at Baptism and gives Holy Eucharist as well, thus initiating the new Christian all at the same time.

So what occurs during a Catholic Confirmation? The Holy Spirit is first introduced to a Catholic the day that she’s baptized, because the entire Holy Trinity — Father, Son, and Holy Spirit — are invoked at the ceremony. During Confirmation, God the Holy Spirit comes upon the person, accompanied by God the Father and God the Son, just as he did at Pentecost.

The Feast of Pentecost commemorates the descent of the Holy Spirit from heaven to earth upon the 12 apostles and the Virgin Mary, occurring 50 days after Easter and 10 days after Jesus’ Ascension (Acts 2:1–4).

This sacrament is called Confirmation because the faith given in Baptism is now confirmed and made strong. Sometimes, those who benefit from Confirmation are referred to as soldiers of Christ. This isn’t a military designation but a spiritual duty to fight the war between good and evil, light and darkness — a war between the human race and all the powers of hell.

Confirmation means accepting responsibility for your faith and destiny. Childhood is a time when you’re told what to do, and you react positively to reward and negatively to punishment. Adulthood, even young adulthood, means that you must do what’s right on your own, not for the recognition or reward but merely because it’s the right thing to do. The focus is on the Holy Spirit, who confirmed the apostles on Pentecost (Acts 2:1–4) and gave them courage to practice their faith. Catholics believe that the same Holy Spirit confirms Catholics during the Sacrament of Confirmation and gives them the same gifts and fruits.

Fruits of the Sacrament of Confirmation:

Traditionally, the twelve fruits of the Holy Spirit are charity, joy, peace, patience, benignity, goodness, long-suffering, mildness, faith, modesty, continency, and chastity. These are human qualities that can be activated by the Holy Spirit. The seven gifts of the Holy Spirit are wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord. These gifts are supernatural graces given to the soul.

Matter (or Symbol) of the Sacrament of Confirmation:

The ceremony may take place at Mass or outside of Mass, and the bishop wears red vestments to symbolize the red tongues of fire seen hovering over the heads of the apostles at Pentecost. The following occurs during the Sacrament of Confirmation:

Each individual to be confirmed comes forward with his sponsor. At Baptism, Junior’s mom and dad picked his godfather and godmother; for Confirmation, he picks his own sponsor. The same canonical requirements for being a godparent in Baptism apply for sponsors at Confirmation. The sponsor can be the godmother or godfather if they’re still practicing Catholics, or he may choose someone else (other than his parents) who’s over the age of 16, already confirmed, and in good standing with the Church. One sponsor is chosen for Confirmation. (Most people have two sponsors, one godparent of each gender, for Baptism).

Each Catholic selects his own Confirmation name. At Baptism, the name was chosen without the child’s consent because the child was too little to make the selection alone. Now, in Confirmation, another name — in addition to the first and middle names — can be added, or the original baptismal name may be used. It must be a Christian name, though, such as one of the canonized saints of the Church or a hero from the Bible. You wouldn’t want to pick a name like Cain, Judas, or Herod, for example, and no secular names would be appropriate.

The Catholic being confirmed stands or kneels before the bishop, and the sponsor lays one hand on the shoulder of the one being confirmed. The Confirmation name is spoken, and the bishop puts Chrism Oil on the person’s forehead, says his name aloud, and then says, “Be sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit.” The person responds, “Amen.” The bishop then says, “Peace be with you.” And the person responds, “And with your spirit” or “And also with you.”

The Form of the Sacrament of Confirmation:

Many people think of the laying on of hands, which signifies the descent of the Holy Spirit, as the central act in the Sacrament of Confirmation. The essential element, however, is the anointing of the confirmand (the person being confirmed) with chrism (an aromatic oil that has been consecrated by a bishop), accompanied by the words “Be sealed with the Gift of the Holy Spirit” (or, in the Eastern Catholic Churches, “The seal of the gift of the Holy Spirit”). This seal is a consecration, representing the safeguarding by the Holy Spirit of the graces conferred on the Christian at Baptism.

The Minister of the Sacrament of Confirmation:

 As the Catechism of the Catholic Church points out, “The original minister of Confirmation is the bishop.” Each bishop is a successor to the apostles, upon whom the Holy Spirit descended at Pentecost—the first Confirmation. The Acts of the Apostles mentions the apostles imparting the Holy Spirit to believers by the laying on of hands (see, for example, Acts 8:15-17 and 19:6).

The Church has always stressed this connection of confirmation, through the bishop, to the ministry of the apostles, but She has developed two different ways of doing so.

Normally, only the bishop confirms the Catholics in his diocese. However, priests can be delegated to confirm adult converts from other religions when they’re brought into full communion with the Roman Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil and they’ve attended the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) program in the parish. Non-Catholics who are interested in the Catholic faith and converting to Catholicism attend RCIA classes.

Confirmation in the East:

 In the Eastern Catholic (and Eastern Orthodox) Churches, the three sacraments of initiation are administered at the same time to infants. Children are baptized, confirmed (or “chrismated”), and receive Communion (in the form of the Sacred Blood, the consecrated wine), all in the same ceremony, and always in that order.

Since the timely reception of Baptism is very important, and it would be very hard for a bishop to administer every baptism, the bishop’s presence, in the Eastern Churches, is signified by the use of chrism consecrated by the bishop. The priest, however, performs the confirmation.

Confirmation in the West:

The Church in the West came up with a different solution—the separation in time of the Sacrament of Confirmation from the Sacrament of Baptism. This allowed infants to be baptized soon after birth, while the bishop could confirm many Christians at the same time, even years after baptism. Eventually, the current custom of performing Confirmation several years after First Communion developed, but the Church continues to the stress the original order of the sacraments, and Pope Benedict XVI, in his apostolic exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis, has suggested that the original order should be restored.

Many Latin (Western) Catholics are baptized as infants, receive First Communion as children, and are confirmed as adolescents, but the Sacraments of Initiation are for any age. Adult converts who’ve never been baptized are baptized when they become Catholic; they’re confirmed and receive their First Communion at the same Mass when they’re baptized, or if they were baptized in a Protestant Church, they make a Profession of Faith, are confirmed, and receive Holy Eucharist at the Easter Vigil Mass — the night before Easter.

Eligibility for Confirmation:

Even in the West, priests can be authorized by their bishops to perform confirmations, and adult converts are routinely baptized and confirmed by priests. All those who have been baptized are eligible to be confirmed, and, while the Western Church suggests receiving the sacrament after reaching the “age of reason” (around seven years old), it can be received at any time. (A child in danger of death should receive Confirmation).

A confirmand must be in a state of grace. If the sacrament is not received immediately after Baptism, the confirmand should participate in the Sacrament of Confession before Confirmation.

The Effects of the Sacrament of Confirmation:

 The Sacrament of Confirmation confers special graces of the Holy Spirit upon the person being confirmed, just as such graces were granted to the Apostles on Pentecost. Like Baptism, therefore, it can only be performed once, and Confirmation increases and deepens all of the graces granted at Baptism.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church lists five effects of Confirmation:

  • it roots us more deeply in the divine filiation [as sons of God] which makes us cry, “Abba! Father!”
  • it unites us more firmly to Christ
  • it increases the gifts of the Holy Spirit in us
  • it renders our bond with the Church more perfect
  • it gives us a special strength of the Holy Spirit to spread and defend the faith by word and action as true witnesses of Christ, to confess the name of Christ boldly, and never to be ashamed of the Cross.

Because Confirmation perfects our baptism, we are obliged to receive it “in due time.” Any Catholic who did not receive Confirmation at baptism or as part of his religious education during grade school or high school should contact a priest and arrange to receive the Sacrament of Confirmation.

Sources:

catholicism.about.com/od/beliefsteachings/p/Confirmation.htm

dummies.com/how-to/content/what-is-confirmation-in-the-catholic-church.html

Back to: Basics of Catholicism

BAPTISM

Introduction:

  • The Catholic Church has seven Sacraments. (C.C.C. # 1113) Of the seven Sacraments of the Church, three of them are Sacraments of initiation to introduce a new convert into the Catholic Church. These are the Sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation and the Holy Eucharist. (C.C.C. # 1212)
  • The Sacrament of Baptism gives birth to the Christian’s life of faith. (C.C.C. # 1210) The Sacrament of Confirmation strengthens him. In the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist, the faithful receives food for eternal life. (C.C.C. # 1212)

The Baptism of Jesus:

  • When John the Baptist baptized Jesus, a beautiful thing happened. God showed to everyone who were present that ‘Jesus’ was ‘the One Who is anointed by God’. That means that Jesus was God the Father’s Chosen One, the One Who God had promised to send to save the people He loved. When Jesus was anointed, He was anointed with the Holy Spirit and the power of God. This anointing proved that Jesus was God! [Mt. 3:16-7; Mk. 1:24; Jn. 6:69; Acts 3:14] (C.C.C. # 438)
  • The public life of Jesus began with His Baptism on the shore of the Jordan River. It ended with Jesus commanding the Apostles to “go and make disciples of all, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that He had commanded them.” [Mt. 28:19-20] (C.C.C. # 1223) These Words of Jesus from the Holy Bible teach the Christians the great importance of the Sacrament of Baptism.

Etymology:

  • The word ‘Baptism‘ comes from a Greek word bapto, or baptizo that means to ‘plunge‘ or ‘immerse‘. To ‘plunge‘ someone in water represents the person dying, being buried and resurrecting with Christ as a ‘new creature.’ (C.C.C. # 1214) Some call this Sacrament ‘the washing of regeneration and renewal by the Holy Spirit‘ because Baptism results in a new birth of water and the Spirit. Without it, no one can enter the Kingdom of God. [Jn. 3:5] (C.C.C. # 1215)
  • This ‘bath‘ is called ‘enlightenment‘. That is because those who are preparing to receive this Church Sacrament will receive spiritual teachings from the Holy Bible and the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Enlightened by Jesus Who is the Light of the world [Jn. 1:9], the new Christians now have the potential of becoming ‘children of light‘. [1 Thess. 5:5; Heb. 10:32; Eph. 5:8] (C.C.C. # 1216, 1228)

Definition: 

  • The Roman Catechism (Ad parochos, De bapt., 2, 2, 5) defines baptism thus: Baptism is the sacrament of regeneration by water in the word (per aquam in verbo). St. Thomas Aquinas (III:66:1) gives this definition: “Baptism is the external ablution of the body, performed with the prescribed form of words.”
  • Later theologians generally distinguish formally between the physical and the metaphysical defining of this sacrament. By the former they understand the formula expressing the action of ablution and the utterance of the invocation of the Trinity; by the latter, the definition: “Sacrament of regeneration” or that institution of Christ by which we are reborn to spiritual life.
  • The term “regeneration” distinguishes baptism from every other sacrament, for although penance revivifies men spiritually, yet this is rather a resuscitation, a bringing back from the dead, than a rebirth. Penance does not make us Christians; on the contrary, it presupposes that we have already been born of water and the Holy Ghost to the life of grace, while baptism on the other hand was instituted to confer upon men the very beginnings of the spiritual life, to transfer them from the state of enemies of God to the state of adoption, as sons of God.
  • The definition of the Roman Catechism combines the physical and metaphysical definitions of baptism. “The sacrament of regeneration” is the metaphysical essence of the sacrament, while the physical essence is expressed by the second part of the definition, i.e. the washing with water (matter), accompanied by the invocation of the Holy Trinity (form). Baptism is, therefore, the sacrament by which we are born again of water and the Holy Ghost, that is, by which we receive in a new and spiritual life, the dignity of adoption as sons of God and heirs of God’s kingdom.

 The Sacrament of Forgiveness: 

  • As previously said, the Christian who has been baptised has received by the grace of God the indwelling Holy Spirit, a new heart and a new spirit. He is now equipped with the necessary spiritual tools that qualifies him to enter into the Kingdom of God. At the same time, because the new spiritual inclination does not have full control over the worldly ways of the body, the Christian will always battle against evil and sin.
  • To spiritually grow in the likeness of Christ, the Christian must confess his weaknesses of the body. Otherwise, he will not be in harmony with the new heart and spirit that he has received during the Sacrament of Baptism through faith in Christ. consequently his soul will not be pleasing to the Lord. God is jealous of His creations in which His Spirit lives. [Jas. 4:5] He desires that they grow spiritually by loving Him first and then others. God expects the Christians to forgive one another when the spiritual law demands an act of forgiveness. He also expects His children to ask for His forgiveness when they neglect self-control over their bodies through self-abuses and other worldly pleasures that displease Him.
  • Through the Sacrament of Confession, the Christian regains the state of grace that he previously enjoyed when he received the Sacrament of Baptism but which he loss in the eyes of God because of sin. (C.C.C. # 1446) His soul once more becomes stainless, having been sprinkled by the Blood of Christ. [Heb. 9:13-4]

 Baptism: The Door of the Church:

  • The “door of the Church” because it is the first of the seven sacraments not only in time but in priority, since the reception of the other sacraments depends on it. It is the first of the three Sacraments of Initiation, the other two being the Sacrament of Confirmation and the Sacrament of Holy Communion.
  • Baptism is considered the gateway for all other sacraments. It marks the beginning of our Christian ministry as it frees us from original sin and makes us members in Christ and his Church. Baptism is most often conferred on infants and children too young to understand this important ritual. Therefore, our best option for evangelization is the parents.
  • Once baptized, a person becomes a member of the Church. Traditionally, the rite (or ceremony) of baptism was held outside the doors of the main part of the church, to signify this fact.

Institution of the Sacrament:

  • That Christ instituted the Sacrament of Baptism is unquestionable. Rationalists, like Harnack (Dogmengeschichte, I, 68), dispute it, only by arbitrarily ruling out the texts which prove it. Christ not only commands His Disciples (Matthew 28:19) to baptize and gives them the form to be used, but He also declares explicitly the absolute necessity of baptism (John 3): “Unless a man be born again of water and the Holy Ghost, he can not enter into the Kingdom of God.” Moreover, from the general doctrine of the Church on the sacraments, we know that the efficacy attached to them is derivable only from the institution of the Redeemer.
  • When, however, we come to the question as to when precisely Christ instituted baptism, we find that ecclesiastical writers are not agreed. The Scriptures themselves are silent upon the subject. Various occasions have been pointed out as the probable time of institution, as when Christ was Himself baptized in the Jordan, when He declared the necessity of the rebirth to Nicodemus, when He sent His Apostles and Disciples to preach and baptize.
  • The first opinion was quite a favorite with many of the Fathers and Schoolmen, and they are fond of referring to the sanctification of the baptismal water by contact with the flesh of the God-man. Others, as St. Jerome and St. Maximus, appear to assume that Christ baptized John on this occasion and thus instituted the sacrament. There is nothing, however, in the Gospels to indicate that Christ baptized the Precursor at the time of His own baptism. As to the opinion that it was in the colloquy with Nicodemus that the sacrament was instituted, it is not surprising that it has found few adherents. Christ’s words indeed declare the necessity of such an institution, but no more. It seems also very unlikely that Christ would have instituted the sacrament in a secret conference with one who was not to be a herald of its institution.

The Necessity of Baptism:

  • Christ Himself ordered His disciples to preach the Gospel to all nations and to baptize those who accept the message of the Gospel (Mt 28:19)
  • In His encounter with Nicodemus (John 3:1-21), Christ made it clear that baptism was necessary for salvation: “Amen, amen I say to thee, unless a man be born again of water and the Holy Ghost, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.”
  • For Catholics, the sacrament is not a mere formality; it is the very mark of a Christian, because it brings us into new life in Christ.

Baptism of Desire:

  • From very early on, the Church recognized that there are two other types of baptism besides the baptism of water.
  • This applies both to those who, while wishing to be baptized, die before receiving the sacrament and “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 conscience” (Constitution on the Church, Second Vatican Council).
  • Some people die while being ignorant of the Gospel of Christ and His Church. In such cases, it can be presumed that they have received the Baptism of desire and were saved if they truly searched for the truth and lived righteous lives by the will of God in accordance with their understanding. “It may be supposed that such persons would have desired Baptism explicitly if they had known its necessity.” (C.C.C. # 1260, 1281)

Baptism of Blood:

  • This is similar to the baptism of desire. It refers to the martyrdom of those believers who were killed for the faith before they had a chance to be baptized. This was a common occurrence in the early centuries of the Church, but also in later times in missionary lands. The baptism of blood has the same effects as the baptism of water.
  • In a situation where someone endures death for the sake of his faith without having received the Sacrament of Baptism, he is baptized by death for and with Christ. The Church recognizes that in such a case, he has received the Baptism of blood, this being like a baptism of desire. Although not a Sacrament, the Baptism of blood reflects the fruit of the Holy Spirit which shines forth. (C.C.C. # 1258)

Matter (or Symbols) of Baptism:

  • WATER:
    • Water is used during the Sacrament of Baptism because it is a symbol of the Holy Spirit. It shows the actions of the Holy Spirit during the rebirth of Baptism in God. (C.C.C. # 1213) From the believer’s heart will flow rivers of living water. [Jn. 4:10; 7:38-9]
    • From the Holy Spirit flows all the blessings [Rev. 21:6] of Jesus Who was crucified. The Sacrament of Baptism allows the new Christian to drink of the Holy Spirit, (C.C.C. # 694) to be sanctified so he may inherit the Kingdom of God.
    • During the ceremony of Baptism, the priest says a prayer of blessing, asking that the water within the baptismal basin be filled with the power of the Holy Spirit. Touching the water with his right hand, he asks the Heavenly Father to send the Holy Spirit upon the water that will be used for the baptism of the child (or adult).
  • THE PRAYERS OF EXORCISM
    • During the Sacrament of Baptism, the Priest says two prayers of Exorcism.
    • The first one is said after the reading of the Gospel. During that prayer, the Priest commands any impure spirits who might be present to depart from the person to be baptised. This process is to purify the physical body of the believer. The spiritual body does not need purification because a new creation will be born when the sinful one dies.
    • The second prayer of Exorcism is called “Ephpheta.” (Ephpheta means ‘Be opened’) After the prayer, the Priest touches the ears and mouth of the child with his thumb. He then says, “The Lord Jesus made the deaf hear and the dumb speak. May He soon touch your ears to receive His Word, and your mouth to proclaim His faith, to the praise and glory of God the Father.”
  • THE OIL OF CATECHUMENS
    • Before anointing the child with the oil of catechumens, the priest proceeds to invoke God to set the child free of original sin, to become a Temple of His glory in which will dwell the Holy Spirit.
  • THE OIL OF CHRISM
    • The Sacred Chrism is a perfumed oil that has been consecrated by the Bishop. (C.C.C. # 1241) When the Priest anoints the one to be baptised, he asks God to bless the believer with all the necessary graces to achieve a Christian life. The Word ‘Christian’ comes from the name of ‘Christ’ which means ‘Anointed One’. The baptised person is admitted into the common priesthood of which Jesus is the High Priest.
  • THE WHITE GARMENT
    • The white garment represents putting on Christ. Announcing that the believer has become a new creature, having been clothed with Christ, the Priest places the white garment on the new Christian. He then proclaims that this garment is the outward sign of the believer’s Christian dignity. In the case of infants, with the help of the parents, godparents and friend, by their words and examples, it is proclaimed that the newly baptised child be allowed to bring that dignity unstained into the Heavenly eternal life.
  • THE CANDLE
    • Taking the Easter candle, the priest says, “Receive the light of Christ.”Then, when an infant is involved, the father or the godfather lights the child’s candle from the Easter candle. The priest tells the parents and godparents that they have been entrusted with this light so it will be kept burning brightly. Having been enlightened by Christ, the child is to always walk as a child of the light. The flame of faith which is in his heart is to be kept alive at all time so when the Lord comes, he will go out to meet Him with all the saints of the Heavenly Kingdom.

The Form of the Sacrament of Baptism:

  • The essentials of that rite are two: the pouring of water over the head of the person to be baptized (or the immersion of the person in water); and the words “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”

The Minister of the Sacrament of Baptism:

  • The ordinary minister of solemn baptism is first the bishop and second the priest. By delegation, a deacon may confer the sacrament solemnly as an extraordinary minister. but any baptized person can baptize another. In fact, when the life of a person is in danger, even a non-baptized person, including someone who does not himself believe in Christ, can baptize, provided that the person performing the baptism follows the form of baptism and intends, by the baptism, to do what the Church does, in other words, to bring the person being baptized into the fullness of the Church.
    • In case of necessity, baptism can be administered lawfully and validly by any person whatsoever who observes the essential conditions, whether this person be a Catholic layman or any other man or woman, heretic or schismatic, infidel or Jew.
  • In the case of an emergency, anyone can baptise another person as long as he has the intention of doing so and says the proper words. He is only required to pour water over the person’s head and say the words, “I baptise you in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.” (C.C.C. # 1284)
  • In both cases, a priest may later perform a conditional baptism.
  • Baptism by Lay Persons: When the Catholic Church finds it necessary to do so because of a shortage of ministers, it can appoint properly trained lay persons to assist the priests in the ministering of the religious Sacraments of Baptism and the distribution of Holy Communion. (CCC # 903)

Infant Baptism:

  • In the Catholic Church today, baptism is most commonly administered to infants. While some other Christians strenuously object to infant baptism, believing that baptism requires assent on the part of the person being baptized, the Eastern Orthodox, Anglicans, Lutherans, and other mainline Protestants also practice infant baptism, and there is evidence that it was practiced from the earliest days of the Church.
  • Because of the greatness of the eternal gift that is received during the Sacrament of Baptism, the Church does not desire to see anyone die without receiving this Sacrament. (C.C.C. # 1250) The Church also realizes that the Sacrament of Baptism requires a Profession of faith, something that infants and younger children cannot profess.
  • Since baptism removes both the guilt and the punishment due to Original Sin, delaying baptism until a child can understand the sacrament may put the child’s salvation in danger, should he die unbaptized.
  • Knowing that it had this power, the Catholic Church determined in its spiritual wisdom to baptise infants as soon as they were born. This would ensure that infants would also receive their new heart and spirit to guide them in life. This would be their guarantee of salvation as children of God should they die before reaching the age of reason.
  • Because of this decision, the Church also realized that infants must be educated later on after their Baptism, this being a parental role. This is where the catechism serves a great purpose in the Church. (C.C.C. # 1231)
  • The history of infant Baptism has been traced to the second century and could have also existed during the days of apostolic preaching when entire ‘households’ were baptized. (CCC # 1252, 1282)

Unbaptized Infants: 

  • In situations where infants die without being baptised, the Church can only rely on the mercy of God to invite them in His Kingdom. The Church is fully aware that Jesus wanted the children to come to Him while He lived on earth. [Mk. 10:14]

Christian Parents: 

  • When infants are baptised, the Christian parents who have given birth to this newborn soul, a gift of God, have an obligation to nurture its new life in the light of God. (CCC # 1251)

The Importance of Godparents:

  • Because Baptism is the Sacrament of faith, when godparents speak on behalf of infants, they are asked what do they ask of God’s Church? To this question, they answer, “Faith”. (C.C.C. # 1253)
  • After Baptism, faith must grow within the child. For this reason, the renewal of baptismal promises are made each year at the Easter Vigil. (C.C.C. # 1254)
  • The parents and godparents of newly baptised infants bear the main responsibility for their spiritual growth and the safeguarding of the grace that the infants receive during the Sacrament of Baptism. (C.C.C. # 1255)

Adult Baptism:

  • In new areas where the Gospel is being preached, the Baptism of adults is very common. In such cases, the catechism serves the purpose of preparing the adult into the Christian faith and life to receive the Sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation and the Holy Eucharist. (C.C.C. # 1247-9)
  • Adult converts to Catholicism also receive the sacrament, unless they have already received a Christian baptism. (If there is any doubt about whether an adult has already been baptized, the priest will perform a conditional baptism.) A person can only be baptized once as a Christian if, say, he was baptized as a Lutheran, he cannot be rebaptized when he converts to Catholicism.
  • While an adult can be baptized after proper instruction in the Faith, adult baptism normally occurs today as part of the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA) and is immediately followed by Confirmation and Communion.

Christian Names:

  • When a child is baptized, the parents, godparents (sponsors) and pastor should work together to ensure that the child receives a Christian name that expresses a Christian mystery or virtue. Names that express Christian mysteries can be the name of a saint who lived a great spiritual life and who enjoyed a very special relationship with the Lord Jesus. (C.C.C. # 2156, 2165)

The Effects of the Sacrament of Baptism:

Baptism has six primary effects, which are all supernatural graces:

  1. The removal of the guilt of both Original Sin (the sin imparted to all mankind by the Fall of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden) and personal sin (the sins that we have committed ourselves).
  2. The remission of all punishment that we owe because of sin, both temporal (in this world and in Purgatory) and eternal (the punishment that we would suffer in hell).
  3. The infusion of grace in the form of sanctifying grace (the life of God within us); the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit; and the three theological virtues.
  4. Becoming a part of Christ.
  5. Becoming a part of the Church, which is the Mystical Body of Christ on earth.
  6. Enabling participation in the sacraments, the priesthood of all believers, and the growth in grace.

Rights and Duties:

  • Once baptized and belonging to the Body of Christ, the new Christian belongs to Christ. He is subject to others and required to obey and serve the Church leadership in sincere submission for the successful growth of the Body of Christ. While the Christian has duties to perform towards the Church, he also enjoys the Church Sacraments. By the power of the Holy Spirit, the Sacraments help the Christian to grow in his spiritual life to become more like Christ. (C.C.C. # 1269)

Suggestions: 

  • Couple Prayer.Encouraging parents to pray together for the sake of the child they are about to baptize is an intimate and powerful experience that can truly unify a couple. Praying together for a tiny infant provides a great foundation and will segue easily and naturally to deeper prayer as the child grows and needs those prayers all the more.
  • Letter to Baby.Invite parents to write a letter to their child about the hopes they have for their son or daughter as he or she grows to follow God. This is an excellent opportunity for a parent to ponder their role in the spiritual life of their child. By putting their hopes and desires in writing, it deepens the commitment and can become a treasured keepsake.
  • Discernment of the Baptismal Name.The naming of a child has great significance and requires prayerful discernment. As Catholics, we have a wonderful tradition of naming our children after great saints. These holy individuals can provide our children with a strong and virtuous role model and a spiritual companion for life.
  • Choice of Godparents.Godparents are not a figure head in the Catholic Church, but a vital player in the spiritual life of the child being baptized. A carefully discerned Godparent will be convicted in their Catholic faith and committed to see that the child is raised as promised.
  • Easter Vigil.Easter Vigil is the Church’s grand celebration of the Sacrament of Baptism, with the blessing of the paschal candle and the entrance of all the catechumens and candidates into the Church. Yet many Catholics have never experienced it. Enthusiastically andpersonally invite families to attend!
  • Baptismal Anniversaries.Mark the anniversary dates of each family member of the calendar. Celebrate those special days by reminiscing over photos or lighting the baptismal candle. This is a wonderful opportunity for the family to recite together the baptismal vows.
  • On-Going Catechesis.Even though most children will have already been baptized by the time they begin to understand this sacrament, it doesn’t mean there can’t be on-going catechesis. Choose biblical “water stories” (i.e. Noah and the flood, the crossing of the Red Sea, Jesus’ baptism, etc.) as a teaching tool for explaining the sacrament, since each of these events pre-figure baptism in some way. If a baptism is going to take place during a Mass you are attending, give your children seats with a good view of all the action, while quietly pointing out symbols such as the chrism oil, the candle, and the white garment. And remember, when it’s time to renew the vows, do it loudly and proudly!

References:

catholic365.com/article/23/the-sacrament-of-baptism-immersed-in-grace.html

catholicism.about.com/od/beliefsteachings/p/Sac_Baptism.htm

catholicdoors.com/courses/baptism.htm

newadvent.org/cathen/02258b.htm#XVII

Back to: Basics of Catholicism

Catholic Purgatory: What Does It Mean?

For the Catholic Purgatory is a period of purification after death.

When we die, our souls are judged immediately by Christ in what’s called the “Particular Judgment”:

Each man receives his eternal retribution in his immortal soul at the very moment of his death, in a particular judgment that refers his life to Christ: either entrance into the blessedness of heaven — through a purification or immediately, — or immediate and everlasting damnation. (Catechism, 1022)

Purgatory is this period of purification before heaven.

It’s not always well understood by today’s Catholics but Purgatory is still very much a part of Catholic doctrine.

It is not a “second chance”

Don’t think that Purgatory is anything like a “second chance” for those who have not won the reward of heaven!

During our human life, we either accept or reject God’s offer of divine grace. Once we die, our choice is definitive. We cannot change our mind after death. (Catechism, 1021)

Heaven and hell are real. They’re part of a viewpoint that’s fully Catholic and Purgatory is simply a transitional state for those who have merited heaven but still have aspects of their souls that are not yet fully purified. Purgatory is where that purification happens after death.

The souls in Purgatory are assured of salvation. They’ve died in God’s grace and friendship, and will end up in heaven. But they’re not yet in a full state of holiness — the holiness that’s necessary to behold God “face to face” in heaven. (Catechism, 1030)

Basis in Scripture and Tradition

The Catholic Church is often accused of inventing the concept of Purgatory out of thin air. Not so!

You don’t hear about it from many who aren’t Catholic but Purgatory does have deep roots in Sacred Scripture as well as Catholic Tradition — the full, living faith of the Apostles as received from Christ.

First, it’s based on the ancient Jewish practice of prayer for the dead, as mentioned in Scripture: “Therefore [Judas Maccabeus] made atonement for the dead, that they might be delivered from their sin.” (2 Macc 12:46)

The early Christians continued this practice: “From the beginning the Church has honored the memory of the dead and offered prayers in suffrage for them, above all the Eucharistic sacrifice, so that, thus purified, they may attain the beatific vision of God.” (Catechism, 1032)

Inscriptions on the walls and tombs of the Catacombs testify to the belief of many early Catholics in Purgatory.

The words of the Apostles in the New Testament also clearly tell us about being “tested by fire” (1 Pet 1:7). St. Paul warns us that if someone builds on the true foundation of Christ but doesn’t take care to build well, “the person will be saved, but only as through fire” (1 Cor 3:15).

Finally, the Catechism quotes St. Gregory the Great:

As for certain lesser faults, we must believe that, before the Final Judgment, there is a purifying fire. He who is truth says that whoever utters blasphemy against the Holy Spirit will be pardoned neither in this age nor in the age to come. From this sentence we understand that certain offenses can be forgiven in this age, but certain others in the age to come. (Catechism, 1031)

(It’s worth reading the Catechism’s brief section on Catholic Purgatory to see the straightforward teaching of Catholics about Purgatory.)

Purgatory: part of the Good News

Part of the faith of Catholics is that Purgatory is a good thing!

Purgatory reveals the depth of God’s mercy: even those who are not yet perfect can attain the fullness of heaven.

For Catholics Purgatory helps us hope in perfection even when we can’t completely achieve it in this life.

beginningcatholic.com/catholic-purgatory.html

Back to: Basics of Catholicism

Basic Tenets of Catholicism

The basic tenets of Catholicism are the fundamental beliefs of the Roman Catholic Church.

Are you looking for a quick & simple guide to basic Catholicism? Here’s a primer on Catholic Church doctrine — the essential tenets of Catholicism.

This page is intended as for those who are just starting out in the Catholic faith. It’s a quick-reference guide to Catholicism for beginners, perfect for those working on understanding Catholicism.

NOTE:

I’ve also added another page containing Pope Paul VI’s Creed of the People of God. Pope Paul VI wrote that Creed in 1968 to give the modern world a summary of the basic beliefs of Catholic Christianity. So be sure to check out that page, too—it remains an excellent source for learning the basic tenets of Catholicism.

For lots more detail see the other articles here at beginningCatholic.com!

The scope of these Tenets of Catholicism

The full content of the Catholic faith can be organized into four categories:

  • Basic beliefs (the faith itself)
  • How to live (morality)
  • How Catholics worship (liturgy)
  • Prayer

This page and its related articles covers the first of those points — the tenets of Catholicism are the basics beliefs of the faith.

Other articles here at beginningCatholic.com cover the other three categories of the Catholic faith, as well as provide more information that’s important to the beginning Catholic. You can also look to other reliable guides for learning the faith — see my suggestions at the end of this article.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church

The Catechism of the Catholic Church contains a full description of the tenets of Catholicism — the essential and basic beliefs in Catholicism. It defines the points of unity for Catholics. (Click here to read the tenets of Catholicism in the Vatican’s online Catechism.)

Every Catholic should have a copy of the Catechism. You may not read it cover to cover, but you’ll want to use it as a reference for learning about your faith. (It is pretty readable, though, and a lot of ordinary Catholics do read it to get a full understanding of the tenets of Catholicism.)

Still, the Catechism was written more as a definitive reference for Catholic Church doctrine. There are more readable sources available.

At the end of this article is a list of other reliable guides to the Catholic faith. I strongly encourage you to read some of them!

  • Alan Schreck’s The Essential Catholic Catechism is my top recommendation for learning the basic beliefs in Catholicism.
  • Leo Trese’s The Faith Explained is a very close second to Schreck’s book. In fact, you should read both if you can do so: they are very different and complement each other quite well.
  • I’ve added detailed reviews of these books at the end of this article. Check them out!

The Catholic faith can be understood easily in its barest outline, yet it contains an rich and beautiful depth for anyone who wishes to explore it.

So explore it!

Creeds: Summary of the faith

From its earliest days, the Church used brief summaries to describe an outline of its most essential beliefs.

These summaries are called “creeds”, from the Latin credo, meaning “I believe.” They are also called “professions of faith,” since they summarize the faith that Christians profess.

The Catholic Church uses two very old creeds regularly as a part of its liturgy and other prayers. There are a number of other Catholic creeds as well.

The older Apostles Creed is brief and simple. It is considered to be a faithful summary of the Apostles’ teaching. It is the ancient baptismal symbol of the Church at Rome. (See Catechism, 194.)

The longer Catholic Nicene Creed contains some additional language explaining our belief in the Trinity.

Another ancient & traditional creed is commonly called the Athanasian Creed, since it was originally attributed to St. Athanasius, who died in 373 A.D. (This creed is no longer officially attributed to him.) It is also called the Quicumque vult, after its first words in Latin. This beautiful creed contains a detailed meditation on the nature of the Trinity.

Outline: tenets of Catholicism

Like the Catechism, we’ll use the articles of the Apostles Creed as our outline for describing the essential tenets of Catholicism. Of course, this short outline provides only the barest essentials of the Catholic Christian faith.

For your reference, I’ll add cross-references to the numbered paragraphs of the Catechism of the Catholic Church for each point.

I believe in God

  • God exists. There is only one God. He has revealed himself as “He who Is”. His very being is Truth and Love. Even though he has revealed himself, he remains a mystery beyond understanding (Catechism, 178, 199, 200, 230, 231)
  • God is at the same time one, and three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This is the central mystery of Christianity. (178, 261)
    • See the article on the Athanasian Creed & read that creed’s beautiful meditation on the nature of the Trinity.
  • Man responds to God’s revelation by faith: believing God and adhering to his will. (176)
  • Faith is necessary for salvation. (183)
  • What God has revealed through Scripture and Sacred Catholic Tradition (what Christ taught to the Apostles) has been reliably written & handed down to us through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. (96 & 97)

the Father almighty

  • God the Father is the first Person of the one God, the Trinity.
  • We dare to call God Father only through the merits of Jesus. He taught us to call God Father. (2798, 322, 742)
  • We can call God Father only because of our union with his Son, Jesus. Through union with Jesus, we become adopted sons and daughters of God the Father. This is called divine filiation, and is the essence of the Good News. (422, 742, 1110, 1279, & Pope John Paul II, “Crossing the Threshold of Hope”)
  • God is Father because he is the first origin of all things, and because of his loving care for all of us as his children. (239)
  • God is almighty because he is all powerful. The Catholic liturgy says, “God, you show your almighty power above all in your mercy and forgiveness” — by converting us from our sins and restoring us to his friendship by grace. (277)

creator of heaven and earth

  • God created everything in existence, material & immaterial. (317, 320, 338)
  • “The world was made for the glory of God.” He freely chose to create to show forth & communicate his “glory” — his unlimited love and goodness. (293)
  • Heaven exists; it is the immaterial dwelling place of God. (326, 2802, 1023-5)
  • God upholds & sustains creation, is actively involved in its unfolding and development in time, and is the loving master of the world and of its history. (301-5, 314)
  • We can perceive God’s work of creation through the apparent order & design in the natural world. (286, 299)
  • This belief in God as the first cause of all creation is compatible with various scientific theories and investigations of the secondary causes of development in the natural world. (283-4, 306-8)
  • God deliberately created man, male and female, in his image and likeness and placed him at the summit of creation. Man alone was created for his own sake, and alone is called to share in God’s own life. We are not a product of blind chance. (295, 355-6)
  • God created man as male & female: equal in value & dignity, different in nature, and complementary in purpose. (369-372)
  • While the creation accounts in Genesis may use symbolic language, it teaches profound truths about creation, man, the fall, evil, and the promise of salvation. (289, 389-90)
  • The devil, a fallen angel, is real. He is the ultimate source of all evil. (391-5, 413-15)
  • Adam, as the first man, freely chose disobedience to God, resulting in the loss of man’s original holiness and justice, and brought about death. We call this state of deprivation original sin. (416-19)
  • The victory of salvation won by Christ is greater than our loss due to sin. (420)
  • The question of evil is a profound mystery. Every aspect of the Christian message is in part an answer to the question of evil. (309)

I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord.

  • Jesus is the second Person of the one God, the Trinity. (422-4, 468)
  • Christ’s divine sonship is the center of the apostolic faith. (442)
  • The title “Lord” indicates that Jesus is God himself. (446, 455)
  • Jesus is the “Christ,” the Messiah prophesied about in Scripture in the Old Testament. His coming brought about the promised liberation of Israel and mankind from the bonds of evil and death. (422-4, 430-3, 436, 438-9)
  • Christ is the perfect, full & definitive Revelation of God. After him, there will be no other public Revelation. (73)

He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary.

  • Jesus, the Word of God, became man to save us by reconciling us with the Father, so that we might know God’s love, to be our model of holiness, and to make us “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4). (457-60)
  • Belief in the Incarnation (the Son of God come in human flesh) is the distinctive sign of the Christian faith. (463)
  • Jesus assumed human form in the womb of the Virgin Mary, his mother. The conception of his human body was accomplished by the action of the Holy Spirit, and not by natural generation from man, although he is truly conceived of Mary’s flesh. (456, 466, 484-6, 488, 496-8)
  • Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, as written in Scripture. (423)
  • Jesus is fully God, and fully man. As God, he has always existed with the Father and the Holy Spirit. At a specific point in history, he assumed human form and became man. He retains both of these natures fully, even now in heaven. (464, 467, 469-70)

He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended into hell.

  • Through his suffering and death, Jesus redeemed man once & for all, freeing him from slavery to sin, evil, and death. It is for our sins that he died. (571-3, 619, 1019)
  • “Jesus freely offered himself for our salvation. Beforehand, during the Last Supper, he both symbolized this offering and made it really present: ‘This is my body which is given for you.'” (621)
  • As a true man, Jesus fully experienced death. (624-7, 629)
  • Jesus did not abolish the Law of the Old Testament, but fulfilled it with perfection, revealing its ultimate meaning and redeeming the transgressions against it. (592)
  • The phrase “descended into hell” means that, after dying, Jesus’s human soul united to his divine person descended to the “realm of the dead” to bring salvation to the souls of the just who had already died. This opened heaven to them. (636-7)

On the third day he rose again.

  • The Resurrection was a real, historical event. It is the basis for our faith in all Jesus revealed to us. Jesus rose from the dead, body and soul, early on the Sunday morning after his death. He walked the earth for a brief time, and there were many witnesses of his appearances. (638-9)
  • At the same time as the Resurrection was an historical event, it remains at the heart of the mystery of faith as something that transcends and surpasses history. (647)
  • After the Resurrection, Jesus’s authentic, real body also possesses new properties of a glorious body. (645)
  • The Resurrection is the principle and source of our own future resurrection. (655)

He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father.

  • Christ’s Ascension into heaven is a definitive entrance of Jesus’s humanity into God’s heavenly domain. (665)
  • The Ascension gives us hope that we, too, may enter into heaven, body and soul, and be united with Christ forever. (666)
  • Jesus Christ, as the one true mediator between God and man, intercedes for us constantly before the Father and assures us of the permanent outpouring of the Holy Spirit. (667)

He will come again to judge the living and the dead

  • There will be an end of time, and an end of this world. As the book of Revelation attests, it will come about after one final assault by the powers of evil before the final triumph of Christ’s kingdom. (680)
  • At the end of time, Christ will return (the Second Coming) on Judgment Day where he will judge the living and the dead, each according to his works and according to his acceptance or refusal of grace. (681-2)

I believe in the Holy Spirit

  • God the Holy Spirit is the third Person of the one God, the Trinity. (685)
  • The Holy Spirit has been working for our salvation with the Father and the Son from the beginning. But now, in these “end times” since the Incarnation, God can embody this divine plan in mankind “by the outpouring of the [Holy] Spirit: as the Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.” (CCC 686)
  • The Holy Spirit does not speak of himself or on his own. He simply reveals Christ to us and disposes us to welcome and receive Christ in faith. His mission is the same as that of the Son: to unite us to the Son so we may be adopted by the Father. (687, 689-90)
  • “The Church, a communion living in the faith of the apostles which she transmits, is the place where we know the Holy Spirit.” We know him in the Church through the Scriptures he inspired, Tradition in which he acted, the Magisterium he assists, the liturgy & sacraments through which he acts to sanctify and bring us into communion with Christ, prayer as he intercedes for us, charisms he uses to build up the Church, the signs of apostolic life, and “in the witness of saints through whom he manifests his holiness and continues the work of salvation.” (688)
  • “The Holy Spirit, whom Christ the head pours out on his members, builds, animates, and sanctifies the Church. She is the sacrament of the Holy Trinity’s communion with men.” (747)

the holy Catholic Church

  • The Church is the place where the Spirit flourishes. (749)
  • “‘The Church’ is the People that God gathers in the whole world. She exists in local communities and is made real as a liturgical, above all a Eucharistic, assembly. She draws her life from the word and the Body of Christ and so herself becomes Christ’s Body.” (752)
  • Everything the Church is, it is only because of Christ. It depends entirely on Christ. It shows forth Christ’s light, spreads Christ’s Word, and continues Christ’s work. The Church Fathers used the moon as an image of the Church: all its light is reflected from the sun. (748)
  • Christ instituted the Church to be the great sacrament of our salvation through Christ’s own continuing action. He gave the Church its definite structure, with Peter at its head, and conferred on it his own divine authority. He promised to remain with it until the end of time, and to send his Spirit to guide it and teach it in all truth. By all his actions, Christ prepared and built his Church. (775-6, 763-8)
    • My article on Church authority takes a detailed look at the Scriptural basis for this.
  • “The Church is in history, but at the same time she transcends it. It is only ‘with the eyes of faith’ that one can see her in her visible reality and at the same time in her spiritual reality as bearer of divine life.” (770)
  • The union between Christ and his Church is that of the bridegroom and his bride, which is a great mystery. (772)
  • The “four marks of the Church” are that it is one (through union in Christ), holy, catholic (she proclaims the fullness of the faith and is sent out to all peoples in all times), and apostolic (built on the foundation of the Apostles and is governed by Christ).
  • Unity with the Bishop of Rome (the Pope, successor to Peter) is the point of our unity with the universal Church, and with Christ himself: Peter is “the rock” on which the Church is founded. (880-85, 896)
  • As the one who through her faith & charity brought salvation into the world through her role as mother of Christ, Mary is the model of the Church. She is the spiritual mother of all members of Christ’s Body, the Church. This role is inseparable from her union with Christ and flows directly from it. (963-4, 967)

the communion of saints

  • The communion of saints is the Church, past, present & future; living & dead; on earth, in purgatory, and in heaven. (946, 954-5)
  • We are a communion in two related senses: a communion of holy persons (sancta) only because we have shared a communion of holy things (sancti), namely, the sacraments, and above all else, the Eucharist. (948, 950)
  • As we pray for each other on earth, so continues the Church in heaven. Those saints in heaven, being more closely united to Christ, more effectively intercede for us. Thus we can ask the saints in heaven to pray for us, and we can also all pray for the holy souls being purified in Purgatory. (954-9)
  • In this solidarity among all men, living & dead, every act done in charity will profit all, and every sin will harm the whole communion. (953)

the forgiveness of sins

  • Only Christ forgives sins; the priests and sacraments are simply the means through which Christ acts to accomplish this. (987, 986)
  • In the Apostles Creed, faith in the forgiveness of sins is linked to faith in the Holy Spirit, the Church, and the communion of saints. When Christ gave the Holy Spirit to his Apostles, at the same time he gave them the power to forgive sins. (976)
  • “Baptism is the first and chief sacrament of the forgiveness of sins: it unites us to Christ, who died and rose, and gives us the Holy Spirit.” (985)

the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting

  • This final pair of articles in the creed speaks of the complete fulfillment of our salvation at the end of time. Christ will raise our dead bodies, changed into a spiritual body like Christ’s own glorious body (after his Resurrection), and reunite them to our immortal souls. God created man as a unity of body & soul, and that is how we will live in eternity. (988-1001, 1052)
  • Christian life is already a participation of our body & soul in Christ’s death and Resurrection, through baptism. This dignity demands that we respect our bodies & those of others. (1002, 1004)
  • There are two judgments: the particular judgment of each person immediately when he dies, when the immortal soul receives its definitive reward or punishment. Then at the end of time, the Last Judgment will take place with all souls reunited with their glorified bodies. Then we will all know the ultimate meaning of creation and all of salvation, and will see our part in it, for good or ill, and receive the consequences of our own life’s work. (1038-41)
  • After the Last Judgment, the righteous will reign forever with Christ, glorified in body & soul. The universe itself will end & be renewed in a new creation, a great mystery that Scripture calls “a new heaven and a new earth.” This is the full and definitive reign of the Kingdom of God in the heavenly Jerusalem, where God will make his dwelling among men. (1042-44)
  • Hell is real, a place of great suffering — especially in that those in hell are forever separated from God. Although God wants to save all men, he created us with free will out of love, and allows us to reject him and choose death instead of life. (1033-37)

Amen

  • Amen is a Hebrew word related to the word for “believe”. It expresses solidity, trustworthiness, faithfulness. “Amen” expresses both God’s faithfulness towards us and our trust in him. (1062)
  • “Thus the Creed’s final ‘Amen’ repeats and confirms its first words: ‘I believe.’ To believe is to say ‘Amen’ to God’s words, promises and commandments; to entrust oneself completely to him who is the ‘Amen’ of infinite love and perfect faithfulness. The Christian’s everyday life will then be the ‘Amen’ to the ‘I believe’ of our baptismal profession of faith: ‘May your Creed be for you as a mirror. Look at yourself in it, to see if you believe everything you say you believe. And rejoice in your faith each day.'” (1064)
  • “Jesus Christ himself is the ‘Amen.’ He is the definitive ‘Amen’ of the Father’s love for us. He takes up and completes our ‘Amen’ to the Father: ‘For all the promises of God find their Yes in him. That is why we utter the Amen through him, to the glory of God.'” (1065)

Further reading: reliable guides to
the Catholic faith

Remember that the above outline of the basic tenets of Catholicism is a minimal summary of the primary beliefs summarized in the Church’s creeds.

We Catholics must know our faith thoroughly — and in more detail than that minimal outline of the tenets of Catholicism!

The official Catechism is a great source, but there are a few terrific and very readable books that can make it very easy to learn your faith.

I have two favorite books for learning the basics of the faith and morality:

  • Alan Schreck’s The Essential Catholic Catechism
  • Leo Trese’s The Faith Explained

If you’re only going to read one, make it Schreck’s book. This is a very readable presentation of the fullness of the Catholic faith, complete enough to present all the basics without being overwhelming.

Schreck’s book is just the right mix (for me!) of explanation and reference to authoritative sources. His explanations are quite good, and his writing style makes the book very readable. The references to official sources are helpful when you want to look more into one of the tenets of Catholicism.

Schreck’s The Essential Catholic Catechism will give you a first-class grounding in the Catholic faith. He’s very faithful in presenting what the Church teaches, which is very important (see the importance of orthodoxy for more about this in general). He covers and explains all the necessary tenets of Catholicism, and makes it very accessible.

But Father Trese’s The Faith Explained is also outstanding. In fact, it’s one of the best books I’ve ever read about the Catholic faith.

The strength of The Faith Explained lies in Fr. Trese’s clear and effective explanations. The book’s tone is conversational. It’s like having an expert sit down and patiently walk you through the faith, not by quoting the official Catechism of the Catholic Church, but by enthusiastic use of comparison and good, plain language to illuminate and convince.

Fr. Trese’s chapters on the Church are the best I’ve seen. They excel where many others fail: by clearly explaining the basic teachings, especially by showing the Scriptural & logical basis for those teachings.

There are two weaknesses of The Faith Explained, but they’re minor. Its first edition was written in 1965, long before the official Catechism. Although the book has been revised in subsequent editions, it contains no references to the Church’s Catechism or other recent Church documents.

This does not mean the book is out of date — all of the material is extremely solid & orthodox — but the book lacks cross-references for further reading. This isn’t much of a problem, though, as the Church’s Catechism itself is structured well enough for easy reference.

However, the second weakness in The Faith Explained does come from its age: it cannot address the many issues in morality that arose after the book was published.

There are numerous hot-button issues in the Church today that relate to morality (some of the tenets of Catholicism are under attack, too, but morality is the most serious area). Any contemporary attempt at teaching the faith (catechesis) needs to address those issues head on. By itself, The Faith Explained won’t form you well enough to withstand the contemporary attacks on conscience, natural law, and other foundations of morality.

This limitation of The Faith Explained is the only reason why I said to read Schreck’s The Essential Catholic Catechism if you’re going to read just one of those two books. Schreck addresses the issue of morality in terms that are desperately needed in our day & age.

But aside from that, I found that Fr. Trese’s book actually explained the basics of the faith in a better and more memorable way.

If you can read both, do so — they complement each other very well. And once you read them, you’ll have an excellent grounding in the basic tenets of Catholicism.

Every Catholic should know the faith!

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Catholic Practices, Duties, and Common Lists

The Seven Deadly Sins, Works of Mercy, Virtues, Catholic Duties, & more

The Corporal Works of Mercy

The seven practices of Catholic charity toward our neighbor’s body:

  1. Feeding the hungry
    2. Giving drink to the thirsty
    3. Clothing the naked
    4. Sheltering the homeless
    5. Visiting the sick
    6. Visiting the imprisoned
    7. Burying the dead

The Spiritual Works of Mercy

The seven practices of Catholic charity toward our neighbor’s soul:

  1. Admonishing the sinner
    2. Instructing the ignorant
    3. Counseling the doubtful
    4. Comforting the sorrowful
    5. Bearing wrongs patiently
    6. Forgiving injuries
    7. Praying for the living and the dead

The Seven Deadly Sins With Conquering Virtues

The 7 deadly sins with the corresponding conquering virtues. The conquering virtues are the virtuous actions that act as remedies against the deadly sins. Making the virtues habitual will help you overcome the seven deadly sins.

  1. Pride (Humility / Modesty)
    2. Envy (Kindness / Charity)
    3. Lust (Chastity / Purity)
    4. Wrath (Patience / Meekness)
    5. Gluttony (Abstinence / Moderation)
    6. Greed/Avarice (Generosity / Liberality)
    7. Sloth/Acedia (Diligence / Zeal)

The Theological Virtues

The Theological Virtues are given at baptism, and are the foundation of Christian morality:

  1. Faith
    2. Hope
    3. Love/Charity

The Cardinal (Moral) Virtues

The Cardinal Virtues are named because they play a pivotal role in Christian morality, and all other virtues are grouped around them:

  1. Prudence (knowing the appropriate what, when, and how)
    2. Justice (treating others fairly)
    3. Temperance (acting moderately)
    4. Fortitude (doing what’s right in all situations)

Precepts of the Church

The Duties of Catholics as Listed in the Catechism

  1. To attend Mass on Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation and rest from servile labor.
    2. To receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation at least once a year, if aware of committing a mortal sin.
    3. To receive Holy Communion at least once a year, between the first Sunday of Lent and Trinity Sunday.
    4. To observe the fast days and abstinence days established by the Church.
    5. To contribute to the material support of the Church

The Duties of Catholics added by the U.S. Bishops

  1. Obeying the Marriage Laws of the Church
    7. Join in the Missionary spirit of the Church

The Three Eminent Good Works

  1. Prayer
    2. Fasting
    3. Almsgiving

The Evangelical Counsels

  1. Chastity
    2. Poverty
    3. Obedience

Nine Ways of Being Accessory to Another’s Sin

  1. By counsel (“You should get an abortion”)
    2. By command (“You must get an abortion”)
    3. By consent (“You are getting an abortion? Good idea!”)
    4. By provocation (“He will get angry if I keep bugging him”)
    5. By praise or flattery (“Way to cheat on your wife buddy!”)
    6. By concealment (“I’ll cover-up your crime”)
    7. By partaking (“We can rob this business together”)
    8. By silence (“I know you stole it, but I won’t tell”)
    9. By defense of the sinful action (“His car was unlocked; it deserved to be stolen”)

Sins Against the Holy Spirit

  1. Presumption on God’s mercy
    2. Despair
    3. Resisting and/or attacking the known Truth
    4. Envy at another’s spiritual good
    5. Obstinacy in sin
    6. Final impenitence

Sins Crying to Heaven for Vengeance

  1. Willful murder
    2. Sodomy
    3. Oppression of the Poor
    4. Defrauding laborers of their wages

The Beatitudes (Matthew 5:1-11)

  1. Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven
    2. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted
    3. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth
    4. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied
    5. Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy
    6. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God
    7. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God
    8. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake,
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven
    9. Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you
    and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account
    Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven

The Four Last Things

  1. Death
    2. Judgment
    3. Hell
    4. Heaven

Gifts of the Holy Spirit

  1. Wisdom
    2. Understanding
    3. Counsel
    4. Fortitude
    5. Knowledge
    6. Piety
    7. Fear of the Lord.

Fruits of the Holy Spirit

  1. Charity (Love)
    2. Joy
    3. Peace
    4. Patience
    5. Kindness
    6. Goodness
    7. Generosity
    8. Gentleness
    9. Faithfulness
    10. Modesty
    11. Self-Control
    12. Chastity

Catholic Month Devotions / Designations

January – Holy Name of Jesus
February – The Sacred Passion (or The Holy Family)
March – St. Joseph
April – The Holy Eucharist
May – The Blessed Virgin Mary
June – The Sacred Heart of Jesus
July – The Precious Blood of Jesus
August – The Immaculate Heart of Mary
September – The Seven Sorrows of Mary
October – The Holy Rosary
November – The Holy Souls in Purgatory
December – The Divine Infancy (or The Immaculate Conception)

Catholic Weekday Devotions / Designations

Sunday – The Most Holy Trinity
Monday – The Holy Spirit
Tuesday – The Holy Angels
Wednesday – St. Joseph
Thursday – The Blessed Sacrament
Friday – The Passion of Our Lord
Saturday – The Blessed Virgin Mary

The Ten Commandments

  1. I am the Lord your God: you shall not have strange Gods before me
    2. You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain
    3. Remember to keep holy the Sabbath
    4. Honor your father and your mother
    5. You shall not kill
    6. You shall not commit adultery
    7. You shall not steal
    8. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor
    9. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife
    10. You shall not covet your neighbor’s goods

More Coming Soon, with Explanations!

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Basic Catholic Beliefs and Practices

Essential Catholic Beliefs, Doctrines, Ideas, Practices, and Customs

An Outline of Basic Catholic Beliefs

This section contains an overview of basic Catholicism. Not every belief is included, and the Catholic Faith is more rich and developed than what is here. For a more in-depth look at Catholic beliefs and practices, click the links provided in the text below and near the bottom of this page. Also, check out our Catholic Essays and Articles, for information on more specific topics. For even more information, please consult the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which provides official Church Teaching.

Authority: The Bible, Tradition, Etc
Catholics have various sources of authority: The Bible, Tradition, the Creeds, the Bishops, and the Pope, among others. Ultimately, Christ is the authority, but Christ passed his authority to His Apostles. The Bible and Tradition come from the same Apostolic Deposit, and we do not pit them against each other. Thus the Church understands that the Bible must be interpreted, and the Church does so using the Tradition of the Apostles. The Catholic Church (and the Orthodox Church) has retained this Apostolic authority through Apostolic Succession, which is the passing down of authority from the apostles to their successors, our modern-day bishops. The pope, the bishop of Rome, has a first place among the bishops as the successor to Peter, the “Rock,” and prince of the apostles, and under certain circumstances, has the grace to speak infallibly on issues of faith and morality. However, this does not mean everything the pope says is error free, or that the pope is sinless. While Catholics do not embrace sola scriptura, the 16th century Protestant concept that the Bible alone is our final authority, Catholics hold the Bible in high regard as the word of God, and cannot teach contrary to the Bible’s Teachings. For information about interpreting the Bible, please see There is no Plain Meaning of Scripture.

The Church: One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic
The Catholic Church is the Church that Jesus Christ established. Thus the Church subsists in the Catholic Church. However, members of other Christian churches and denominations are also in communion with the Catholic Church by virtue of their sacraments. The Orthodox Churches possess fully valid sacraments, and are true particular Churches, whereas Protestant Christians are in communion with the Catholic Church on account of their baptism; still, this communion is impaired. The Church in one, because it is unified in Christ across regions and time periods. The Church is Holy on account of the grace of Christ given to it and the holy sacraments it provides. The Church is Catholic because it contains the fullness of the Deposit of Faith, thus is it truly “according to the whole” and “universal.” Finally, the Church is Apostolic because its Teachings and Authority come from the Apostles themselves.

Creation
Catholics believe that creation is good, and that God uses creation for His purposes, but that it has been marred by Original Sin, the result of the sin of the first humans. Catholic theologians (and Orthodox ones) have never agreed on one particular interpretation of the creation stories in the book of Genesis. A few early Christians read them literally, others allegorically, and others in light of the science of the day. Some read them all three ways at the same time. Catholics may interpret Genesis in a non-literal manner so long as the interpretation is faithful to Church Teaching. Thus, Catholics are free to understand Genesis literally, but also to read Genesis in light of modern scientific observations, so long as certain conditions are met. For example, Catholics believe that God created the world from nothing (ex nihilo), and that He created the world through His Word, who became incarnate in Jesus Christ. Interpreting Genesis in light of scientific observations may shock some Christians whose churches were founded during the modernist controversies of the 19th and 20th centuries. Surprisingly, insisting on an entirely literal understanding of the creation stories is actually a quite modern concept.

God: The Trinity
Catholics believe in the Nicene Creed, and therefore believe in one God who exists as three persons (“person” in this usage means “an individual reality,” not a human being). Essentially Catholics believe the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are all God, one in substance and will, but distinct in some way, but not divided. In addition to an intellectual understanding of the Trinity, we are to develop a relationship with the Triune God through prayer and worship. The Trinity is not tritheism (the belief in three gods), but rather a dynamic monotheism.

Jesus Christ: God and Man
Catholics believe Jesus is fully God and fully Man, with a human will and a divine will. He is the King of Cosmos, the Word of God, and the awaited Messiah of Israel. He was born of a Virgin, Mary, suffered, was crucified, truly died, and rose again bodily, all for our sins. He ascended into heaven intercedes on our behalf before the Father. He will come again to judge the living and the dead. Jesus was a great teacher, and His teachings are the very teachings of God.

Morality
The Catholic Church bases its moral Teachings on the message of Jesus. Morality boils down to love: loving God and loving our neighbors. If we truly love God (who himself is love) and neighbor, then our behavior toward ourselves and others will reflect this commitment. The Catholic Church teaches that we are to strive for holiness and perfection, since Jesus told us to be perfect as the Father is perfect (Matthew 5:48). However, this is only accomplished with the help of God’s grace. Catholics believe that we are called to turn from evil, and towards the good. This means turning away from actions and thoughts that are contrary to God’s will. Most sins can be traced to the Seven Deadly Sins (Pride, Envy, Lust, Wrath, Gluttony, Greed, Sloth). Turning toward the good means developing virtue, that is a habitual and firm disposition to do good. The core virtues are divided into the Theological Virtues, which are the foundation of Christian moral activity (faith, hope, and love), and the Cardinal Virtues, virtues around which all others are grouped (Prudence, Justice, Temperance, Fortitude).

The Sacraments
The sacraments are divinely instituted signs that give the grace that they signify. In other words, sacraments are rituals and events through which God gives us grace. Catholics and Orthodox accept seven sacraments: Baptism, Eucharist, Reconciliation, Confirmation, Holy Orders, Matrimony, and Anointing of the Sick. Click this link to find out more about each sacrament: The Sacraments: Meeting God in our own World.

Salvation and Grace
Catholics believe we are saved only by God’s grace working in us. Thus we are justified, transformed from the state of unrighteousness into a state of holiness and the sonship of God, on account of Christ. Justification is the merciful and freely given act of God which takes away our sins and makes us just and holy in our whole being. This justification is given to us in the sacrament of baptism. Justification is the beginning of our free response to God, that is our faith in Christ and our cooperation with the grace of the Holy Spirit. Thus Catholics believe in salvation by grace alone, solely on account of the work of Christ. However, neither Catholics nor Orthodox accept the reformation concept of forensic justification or “justification by faith alone.”

Yes, the Catholic Church does believe a person must be born again to be saved. However, Catholics believe that one is born again at Baptism. In fact, when Christians for the first 1500 years of Christianity, including Martin Luther, used the phrase “born again,” they were referring to baptism. Please check out, Are Catholics Born Again?: Reclaiming the New Birth for more information. The Catholic Church recognizes the possibility of salvation for Protestants and even for non-Christians, although in Catholic Teaching, all salvation comes through Jesus, who is “the Way, the Truth, and the Life.”

Sin
Sin is the deliberate, freely chosen, transgression of divine law. There are two types of sin: mortal sin and venial sin. Sin that expels all charity from the soul is mortal, while sin that merely weakens charity is venial. For a sin to be mortal, the offense must be serious (have grave matter), and the act done freely, with deliberation. After committing a mortal sin, one must receive the sacrament of reconciliation before receiving communion.

Sin entered the world through the disobedience of Adam and Eve. Original Sin is the privation of grace, inherited by all humans from Adam and Eve. Because of Christ’s atoning death on the cross, we have the opportunity to have our sins forgiven, and this is not possible apart from God’s grace.

The Virgin Mary
Mary is the mother of Jesus Christ, fully God and fully man, thus she is called theotokos (God-Bearer) and “mother of God.” Catholics, like Protestants, believe that Mary was a virgin when she gave birth to Jesus. However, Catholics and Orthodox believe that Mary remained a Virgin her entire life. Catholics believe that Mary was conceived without original sin in order to be a sinless bearer of God incarnate: Jesus Christ. This is known as the immaculate conception. This sinlessness was accomplished only on account of God’s grace, and not on Mary’s merits. The Orthodox too believe that Mary was sinless when bearing Jesus, but the moment at which she became sinless is debated. Catholics and Orthodox both believe that after Mary completed the course of her earthly life, she was assumed into heaven, similar to the way the great saint Elijah was. Mary is the Mother of us and the mother of the Church, and just as Christ is the new Adam, Mary is the new Eve, who obeyed God where Eve disobeyed.

This page written and compiled by David Bennett. Last updated 2-22-2010

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