A seminary pal of mine once remarked that he had no difficulty believing that Christ is present in holy communion. What he did question was the proposition that it was actually bread being used as a host.
Believe it or not, the hosts we use at Mass qualify as “real bread,” but they aren’t very good bread—at least not in any ordinary, earthly sense of the word. In accordance with one particular tradition of Western Christianity, canon law requires that the bread be unleavened (made without yeast).
If Catholics know anything at all about the Bible, we know that there are four gospels. But every so often, a newly discovered ancient text hits the headlines, such as the Gospel of Thomas (1945), the Gospel of Judas (2006), or the papyrus fragment last year that included a phrase about Jesus’ “wife.”
What are Catholics supposed to make of texts not included in the canon of the New Testament?
In short, be not afraid. While the fourfold gospel canon holds a mine of inexhaustible spiritual riches, there is also much to be learned from noncanonical sources.
When I was a teenager, I took a religious education correspondence course from the Paulist Fathers. They would send me booklets to read, and at the end of them were questions on the material that I would answer and send back. Then some anonymous Paulist priest would grade my answers and return them to me with the next pamphlet.
Catholics have become accustomed to the idea of popes dying in office—after all, 600 years is a long time between papal resignations. But there is no written rule that a pope must serve for life.
Pope Benedict, in his announcement of resignation, said of the papacy that “both strength of mind and body are necessary—strength which in the last few months has deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me.”
We sometimes say of people that they’ve been “to hell and back.” Christianity says the same thing about our Savior.
The statement is found in the Apostles’ Creed, a profession of faith with origins that may go back to the questions asked of candidates for baptism in the late second century. It reminds us that the saving power of Christ is for all times and all peoples, even those who entered and passed from human history prior to his death and resurrection.
When Catholics hear the word evangelization, we tend to think of Protestants. This is not surprising. They have been highly visible in spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ in their own way.
A few years ago the Vatican issued a revised version of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, the “guidebook” for how to celebrate the Mass. The cover of the document’s American edition showed a part of Jan and Hubert Van Eyck’s magnificent 1432 altarpiece painting The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb.
James Joyce said it best in Finnegans Wake that “Catholic means here comes everybody.”
Our word “catholic” comes from a Greek adjective meaning “universal” and “together for the good of all.” Early Christians applied it to the church, and our earliest written example comes from Ignatius, bishop of Antioch, in the first decade of the second century.
The very word confession conjures up all kinds of stories and images, but those who go to confession know that it is a source of holy comfort and blessed relief. Confession is a gift, a means of grace, a way to God, and a way back to God.
This sacrament originated early in the church’s life, when it became clear that those who had been baptized were not immune to sin. Lesser sins were considered to be forgiven through prayer, fasting, works of mercy, and participation in the Eucharist. Greater sins needed more.
Jesus is the savior of humanity, but what that mean if we discovered alien life forms?
In a 1995 episode of the popular TV drama The X-Files, FBI agent Fox Mulder—a true believer in extraterrestrial life—has a quick exchange with his partner Dana Scully, the rational scientist and devoted skeptic. He asks, “Are you familiar with the Ten Commandments?”
“You want me to recite them?” Scully responds. Mulder says, “Just . . . the one about the Sabbath. The part where God made heaven and earth but didn’t bother to tell anyone about his side projects.”
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