Baby Catholic Answers All the Things, Volume 10 – The Real Presence

Very early in my process of conversion to Catholicism, I wrote a post about a sort of, epiphany, if you will, that I had in coming to understand the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. In the post, I described what happened when I was in my first meeting of my first ever Bible study, and we were watching a video with Edward Sri in it, and suddenly something about the Eucharist really being the body of Jesus just made sense. I had already believed in the Real Presence, but in that moment I gained a new understanding of it. I felt compelled to share my revelation in the group, much to my chagrin, since I made a complete idiot of myself in doing so.

Anyway, you can read all about my first attempt trying to explain the Catholic belief about transubstantiation and the Real Presence in the Eucharist here if you want to.

Today, I’m going to try to do a little bit of a better job than I did then, because I know that the Catholic doctrine that, during the consecration at Mass, the bread and wine actually become the body and blood of Jesus and are not just symbolic of it, is a hard one to believe for lots of people who aren’t Catholic. So, today’s Baby Catholic question is this:

Why do Catholics believe that the bread and wine contain the Real Presence of Jesus, rather than just symbolizing Him?

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Surprisingly, coming to believe that the bread and wine offered at communion actually become the body and blood of Jesus during the consecration by the priest at Mass was one of the easier things for me to accept in my conversion. Perhaps this is because I read the book “Rome Sweet Home,” in which Scott Hahn, once a very anti-Catholic Presbyterian minister, describes his discovery of the Real Presence and quotes several sources to support it. Or perhaps it’s because, after a few months of attending Mass regularly, I began to have the experience of intense longing to receive Communion, which suggested to me that it was much more than just a wafer and a sip of wine.

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Probably both of those things contributed to my fairly easy acceptance that Jesus was truly present in the Eucharist. Honestly, once I got past my initial doubting of all things religious and was able to accept that there is a God and that Jesus is His Son, transubstantiation wan’t too hard for me. It’s all a matter of having faith.

The Catechism of the Cathoic Church says this about the Eucharist:

In the most blessed sacrament of the Eucharist “the body and blood, together with the soul and divinity, of our Lord Jesus Christ, and, therefore, the whole Christ is truly, really, and substantially contained.” (CCC 1374, the quote within the quote comes from the Council of Trent)

And:

It is by the conversion of the bread and wine into Christ’s body and blood that Christ becomes present in this sacrament. The Church fathers strongly affirmed the faith of the Church in the efficacy of the Word of Christ and the action of the Holy Spirit to bring about this conversion (CCC 1375)

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We can also see that the early Church fathers believed in the Real Presence. St. Ignatius was the third bishop of Antioch, succeeding St. Evodius, who was the direct successor of St. Peter. He wrote in his letter to the Romans (c. 80-110 A.D.):

I have no taste for the food that perishes, nor for the pleasures of this life. I want the Bread of God, which is the Flesh of Christ, who was the seed of David; and for drink I desire His Blood, which is love that cannot be destroyed.

But where does this idea come from in the first place, that Jesus is really present in the Eucharist?

The Bible, of course.

While they were eating, he took the bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them, and said, “Take it; this is my body.” Then he took a cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them, and they all drank from it. He said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed for many.” (Mark 14: 22-24)

The gospel of Luke says almost the exact same thing (Luke 22:19-20), and these are also the words that the priest says to consecrate the bread and wine during the Mass. It comes straight from the Bible. Jesus does not say, “Take this bread as a symbol of my body.” He does not say, “This is like my body.”

This is my body.

Further, in the gospel according to John:

Jesus said to them, “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him. Just as the living Father sent me and I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Unlike your ancestors who ate and still died, whoever eats this bread will live forever.” (John 6:53-58)

Jesus was not telling us to symbolically take Him in, as in welcoming His Spirit into our hearts or something, because the verb used here for “eat” is more like the word “gnaw” rather than “consume.”

“My flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink.”

He gave it to us on Calvary, and continues to give it to us every time the Mass is celebrated.

In addition to the Biblical basis of the Real Presence, I can attest to my own experience of receiving Jesus during communion and being with Him in Adoration. It’s difficult to explain, but I can feel that He is there. When I receive Communion, I can feel myself being filled by the most incredible sensation and presence. It’s not just eating a cracker.

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As I’m typing this, I can’t help but think that this is sounding hokey. Corny. Crazy, maybe. To someone who hasn’t experienced it, it probably does sound that way.

Someone who does not believe might attribute my experience to some sort of placebo affect. As in – I believe Jesus is present in the Eucharist, therefore I feel something when I receive Him. I probably would have explained it that way before I experienced it myself. But that’s not a sufficient explanation. I felt a strong pull to receive communion before I believed in the Real Presence. Before I even really knew what that meant. That’s the first and most basic reason that I became Catholic.

Because when you realize that you are in the presence of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, and that you can receive Him during Communion, why in the world wouldn’t you want that?

The Eucharist, the Real Presence, is Jesus’ incredible gift to us.

Baby Catholic Answers All the Things, Volume 9 – Purgatory and Limbo

I am working through reading Dante’s Divine Comedy. I just finished Purgatorio, and was thinking about how someone (a couple of Catholic someones, in fact) recently told me that the Catholic Church no longer believes in or teaches the doctrine of Purgatory. I was really confused by this, because we still pray for the dead during every Mass, and we still have a Mass dedicated to our departed souls every November. I wasn’t sure why this would be the case if the Church was now teaching that all those who die as believers go straight to Heaven. If that was the case, they certainly wouldn’t need our prayers, right?

Honestly, I only had a vague understanding of the idea of Purgatory before reading Purgatorio and thinking about the comments I recently heard about it. So, I decided I needed to learn more, and to write this post. Thanks goes out to Super Friend for talking to me about some of my confusion around the issue, too.

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So, what is Purgatory, and what does the Catholic Church say about it?

The Catechism of the Catholic Church says this:

All who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness to enter the joy of heaven. (CCC 1030).

The Church gives the name Purgatory to this final purification of the elect (CCC 1031).

When I was still an atheist and working in prison, I always thought it was absurd that so many inmates would come to prison, decide to accept Jesus and their personal Lord and Savior, and then feel certain that they would go straight to Heaven when they die, although they continued to obviously live their lives in a criminal way (yes, there is tons of criminal activity in prison). I think plenty of Christians would even agree with this without concern. What I was always taught as a child was that, as long as you believed in Jesus, you got to go to Heaven, no matter what you did while living on Earth. I couldn’t stomach the hypocrisy of that while I was an atheist, and even now, that just doesn’t seem right to me.

The Catholic Church has a solution to this problem I had with Christianity – Purgatory. It makes sense to me that people will need to undergo a process of purification before being allowed to be in the presence of God in Heaven. The Bible even says, “nothing unclean will enter it [Heaven]” (Revelation 22:27).

But where does the idea of Purgatory come from?

The Church formulated the doctrine on Purgatory mostly during the Councils of Florence and Trent. However, this doesn’t mean that the Church invented the idea of Purgatory at that time. There is a reference to the tradition of praying for the dead in the Bible, “Thus [Judas] made atonement for the dead that they might be absolved from their sin” (2Maccabees 12:46). There is also evidence of Christians praying for the dead from the very earliest time of our Faith. In the catacombs where Christians gathered during the persecutions of the first three centuries A.D., prayers for the dead are graffitied on the walls. There are references to prayer for the dead in the earliest Christian writings as well. If the first Christians did not believe in Purgatory (even if they didn’t use that name for it), then why would they pray for the dead? Souls in Heaven don’t need prayers, and those in Hell are beyond the help of prayer.

What about Limbo?

“Limbo” is a theological speculation that has been taught in the history of Catholic tradition to refer to a place where the the souls of some who have died were held. This was thought to be a temporary place for those who died before Christ’s ascension into Heaven, and a permanent place for those who could not go to Heaven because of original sin but were not deserving of Hell because of no personal sin. This would include those who lived virtuous lives but were never exposed to Christian teachings and could therefore not be believers, and also babies who died before they could be baptized.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church does not include any reference to Limbo. The concept of Limbo is not an official doctrine of the Catholic Church and in fact, never has been, even if members of the Church may have mentioned it in ordinary teaching in the past. From what I can tell it certainly isn’t actively taught by anyone (or at least hardly anyone) in the Church now.

It seems that, in reference to the question of babies and children who die without being baptized, the official stance of the Church is sort of, “We don’t know for sure, but we have hope.” At least that how it sounds to me from what the Catechism says:

As regards children who have died without Baptism, the Church can only entrust them to the mercy of God. . . . Indeed, the great mercy of God who desires that all men should be saved, and Jesus’ tenderness toward children. . . allow us to hope that there is a way of salvation for children who have died without Baptism (CCC 1261).

I have read statements from many priests, including Saint John Paul II, that express the belief that babies who die before birth or are unable to be baptized before they die do go to Heaven. I certainly believe that to be the case.

So, contrary to what I have heard, Purgatory is still a part of the  doctrine of the Catholic Church, while Limbo is not, and never has been.

Baby Catholic Answers All the Things, Volume 8 – Orthodoxy

Wow. It has been a very long time since I wrote my last Baby Catholic Answers All the Things post. This was supposed to be a regular feature! I’m sorry.

Here’s what happened: I got a question from my friend Liz that threw me for a loop a bit (back in, *ahem*, August). I kind of knew the answer, but I wasn’t sure if my answer was the whole answer, and Google was not helping me find the whole answer very easily, and then once I did find the whole answer, I couldn’t manage to get the post written in a way that I liked. And I didn’t want to write it wrong, because referring to myself as the Baby Catholic who Answers All The Things is a lot of pressure!

So I didn’t write it at all.

And even though I sent a message to my friend Liz giving her the answer, I felt like I shouldn’t just skip it and keep doing other BCAATT posts without answering it here too (though I did do a few posts after getting THE QUESTION). So. Radio silence from Baby Catholic for (*gulp*) four months.

How’s that for a lengthy explanation?

Anyway. In spite of how long it took me to finally get around to it, I am not one to shy away from a challenge. This question and this post have been in the back of my mind for months. Today, I shall answer the question that derailed me for a while, but will not defeat me.

What was it you ask? This:

“What is the difference between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox? Or, when people refer to Orthodox Catholics are they simply implying more devout Catholics (like Orthodox Jews)?”

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Now, you may wonder why this stumped me. I think most Catholics, including me, know that the Orthodox Church is a different thing, separate from the Roman Catholic Church but similar. Often referred to as the Eastern Orthodox Church, though it is also called the Orthodox Catholic Church, it split away from Roman Catholicism in the East-West Schism of 1054. I learned about this in RCIA last year and also by reading Catholicism for Dummies.

Easy answer, right? So why in the world did this fluster me so much?

Well, I thought I remembered reading something in Jennifer Fulwiler’s memoir, Something Other Than God about how she and her family had found an orthodox Catholic church to attend that they felt was a good fit for their family. I looked through the book, but I couldn’t find the page to reference. However, she mentions in this post her comment to her husband during one Mass, “I think we’re orthodox,” and then she received help from a reader to find an “orthodox parish” to attend. Anyway, because of all this, I was pretty sure that the answer to Liz’s question was “The Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church are separate but similar, AND “orthodox” is also a way of referring to more strict Catholics.”

However, when I tried to learn more about orthodox Catholicism, I came across the Orthodox Catholic Church of America, which is a whole different thing, not affiliated with the Roman Catholic or the Eastern Orthodox Churches. I couldn’t find much about orthodox Roman Catholic practices. I was frustrated.

Finally, I managed to string together the right phrase in a Google search to find some of what I was looking for. From my results, I read about the Orthodox Roman Catholic Movement, led by some priests who didn’t agree with the changes made to the Mass and the Church after Vatican II. There were many changes that came after Vatican II, and I don’t know all of them, but a big one was the way the Mass was celebrated. Before Vatican II, the Mass was almost always celebrated in Latin, and the priest stood between the congregation and the altar, consecrating the bread and wine with his back to the people of the parish. This is called the Tridentine Mass or often just the Latin Mass.

Now, here’s where I get a little unsure. As I understand it, the powers that be in the Roman Catholic Church say that it’s fine to still perform this Latin version of the Mass, and I assume this is considered an orthodox practice. I’m not sure if there are other Roman Catholic parishes that would be considered “orthodox” but don’t conduct the Mass in Latin. My guess is yes, but I could not find any definitive information about just what makes a parish “orthodox,” or if there even are any rules. It seems as though this is not an official label placed on any segment of the Catholic Church. I suspect that orthodox parishes are more conservative and hold more strictly to the laws of the Church.

Just thinking about the parishes in my town, I can say that there are some that are likely considered more orthodox than others. Our parish for example sometimes includes more modern music in our liturgy, especially at the teen Mass. And up until a few weeks ago, we did not have a tabernacle in the main sanctuary of the church (it was in a small side chapel). Our church also looks more modern, and sometimes at the end of Mass the people involved in planning parish activities come up to the front and do silly skits or wear costumes while making announcements. Probably not terribly orthodox, but lots of fun for our family, and never going against any Church rules. I’ve never been to a Mass at a different parish in our town (other than Miss’s school Mass), so I can’t say for sure, but I’ve heard that some of the other parishes tend toward being more old school, though I don’t know if that’s orthodox or not.

So, what I’ve come up with for a final answer is this:

1. The Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox (or Eastern Orthodox) Churches are similar but separate.

AND

2. There are also some Roman Catholic churches that are more orthodox in their practices, though I am not sure exactly what would constitute calling a given parish “orthodox.” Perhaps they have the Mass in the Latin Rite. Probably their music mostly consists of traditional hymns, sung by a choir. Maybe parish members dress more conservatively and some might even wear chapel veils for Mass. Most likely they didn’t have a woman dressed in Mardi Gras garb dance up to the front of the church to announce the parish’s Mardi Gras dinner event next Tuesday in a weird accent (intended to sound Cajun?). Or maybe it isn’t really any of these things but simply a more firm adherence to all the teachings and rules of the Church and the pope (if anyone knows a better answer to this part, please share it!).

In my opinion, we are all part of the same church family, whether we attend an orthodox parish or not, whether we prefer the Mass in Latin or English. I love being Catholic, and I like seeing all the ways our Faith is practiced in accordance with the laws of the Church and under the guidance of our pope.

I’m sorry it took me so long to write this post. Send me more questions, and I promise I won’t take so long next time!

 

Baby Catholic Answers All the Things, Volume 7 – The Rosary

Today is the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary, and October is the month dedicated to the Holy Rosary. When I was chatting with a friend of mine the other day, who is in the process of reversion to the Catholic Faith, she mentioned that she is eager to learn about the rosary so that she can begin praying it herself. So I’m bringing back Baby Catholic Answers All the Things (sorry, it’s been a while!) with a post all about this beautiful devotion.

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The rosary has a long tradition in the Catholic Church. You can read a history of the devotion here. It is made up of five decades of repeated prayers, Hail Marys separated by Our Fathers, used to meditate on sets of mysteries.

So, what does that actually mean? Using sets of prayers, called decades, to meditate on sets of mysteries? Wha?? Why the repetitive, memorized prayers? Why the devotion to Mary?

Let me break it down. First of all, you can read my Baby Catholic Answers post on Marian devotion here. In a nutshell: Catholics don’t’ worship Mary. The rosary is not a way to worship Mary. One of the people in my RCIA class from last year had been staunchly anti-Catholic before converting from Protestantism. She began praying the rosary during Lent and asked during class one week, “What is the deal with all these prayers to Mary? Why am I praying to Mary??” My answer to her was something like this, “The rosary is not so much about praying to Mary as it is about growing in our understanding of and faith in Jesus. The mysteries are almost all about Jesus, not Mary. Mary always leads us closer to her Son.”

Let me back up just a bit more here to explain how the rosary works and what a “mystery” is in this context. First, how the rosary works:

If you pick up a rosary, you will see a loop of beads with a tail coming out from it. At the end of the tail is a crucifix.

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Above the crucifix, on the tail, there are five beads. First is an “Our Father bead.” Our Father beads are sometimes different from most of the beads on the rosary, and sometimes they’re just separated by more chain. The next three beads are  “Hail Mary beads.” Then there’s a space and another Our Father bead, followed by the joiner (I think that’s what it’s called). The joiner can differ from rosary to rosary. One of mine has a Holy Family medal, another has an Ave Maria thingy (see below).

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^ This one is an example of a rosary where the beads are all the same but the Our Father beads are separated from the Hail Mary beads by more chain.

Looking more closely at the beads on the loop of the rosary, you can see that there are groups of ten Hail Mary beads, called “decades,” that are separated from each other by Our Father beads.

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So to pray the rosary, you start on the crucifix and say the Apostles Creed. Then you move to the first Our Father bead and say. . . an Our Father. Then three Hail Marys on the Hail Mary beads. On the the chain between the last Hail Mary and the next Our Father bead, you say a Glory Be. Then on the final Our Father bead, announce the first mystery, then say the Our Father.

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Then you move to the first set of ten Hail Mary beads and say ten Hail Marys. When you get to chain before the second Our Father bead, say the Glory Be and the Fatima Prayer (I’m not sure if some people maybe don’t do this last one?), then move to the next Our Father bead, announce the second mystery and say the Our Father, then pray the next decade of Hail Marys. And it goes the same way through all five mysteries and five decades until you get to the last Fatima Prayer. After the last Fatima Prayer, on the joiner, pray the Hail Holy Queen. Then to conclude there is another prayer, but I’m not sure what it’s called. Most sites I looked at included it at the end of the rosary, but I haven’t seen a name for it. It goes like this:

Oh God, whose only begotten Son, by his life, death, and resurrection, has purchased for us the rewards of eternal life, grant we beseech Thee that, meditating upon these mysteries of the most Holy rosary of the Blessed Virgin Mary, we may imitate what they contain, and obtain what they promise, through the same Christ our Lord, Amen.

So that’s the sequence of praying the rosary. But you may be wondering what in the world are these mysteries I keep referring to, and why so many prayers repeated over and over?

The answer is meditation.

The rosary isn’t so much about the prayers, as it is about meditation. The prayers are repeated over and over because most Catholics can say Our Fathers and Hail Marys and Glory Bes without needing to think about them, freeing their minds to meditate on the mysteries. The rhythmic nature of the prayers actually facilitates the meditation. And what we meditate on are the 20 mysteries of faith.

For centuries, there were 15 mysteries included in the rosary, grouped into three sets of five.

The Joyful Mysteries (prayed on Mondays and Saturdays):

  • The Annunciation
  • The Visitation
  • The Nativity of Jesus
  • The presentation of Jesus
  • The finding of Jesus in the Temple

The Glorious Mysteries (prayed on Sundays and Wednesdays)

  • The Resurrection
  • The Ascension
  • The descent of the Holy Spirit
  • The Assumption of Mary
  • The crowning of Mary as Queen of Heaven

The Sorrowful Mysteries (prayed on Tuesdays and Fridays)

  • The agony in the garden
  • The scourging at the pillar
  • The crowning with thorns
  • Jesus carries the cross
  • Jesus is crucified

In October 2002 Saint John Paul II (is he referred to as Saint John Paul the Great now?) added the Luminous Mysteries (prayed on Thursdays):

  • The baptism of Jesus
  • The wedding at Cana
  • The proclamation of the Kingdom
  • The transfiguration
  • The institution of the Eucharist

When you pray the rosary, you meditate on the days’ mysteries, each for the duration of a decade.

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^ Someone else around here really likes my rosaries and chaplets.

To sum it all up, when I pray the rosary today, it will go like this:

  1. I will make the Sign of the Cross
  2. I’ll say a short prayer stating my intentions for the rosary (i.e. I offer the rosary for the intention of my children, my husband, my godson, a sick friend, etc.)
  3. The Apostles’ Creed
  4. The Our Father
  5. Three Hail Marys
  6. The Glory Be
  7. Since today is Tuesday, I will then say, “The first Sorrowful Mystery – The agony in the garden.”
  8. Then I will pray the Our Father
  9. Ten Hail Marys
  10. The Glory Be
  11. The Fatima Prayer
  12. I will do 8-11 all while focusing my thoughts on Jesus’s agony in the garden. This is the meditation part. I’ll try to think about how He felt, remember what He went through, imagine myself in that situation, etc. I’ll try really hard to stay focused, but sometimes (often!) my mind will wander. I will repeatedly bring my thoughts back to Jesus in the Garden.
  13. I’ll repeat these steps for each of the other four Sorrowful Mysteries.
  14. I’ll pray the Hail Holy Queen
  15. Closing prayer (above)
  16. Sign of the Cross

If you pray the rosary frequently, you are repeatedly meditating on all of Salvation history, all of the mysteries of our faith. It covers Jesus’s conception and birth, high points of His childhood and His adulthood as He spread the gospel and performed miracles, His Passion, death, resurrection, ascension into Heaven, and His sending down of the Holy Spirit.

I really love praying the rosary. It is so beautiful and such a fulfilling way to pray. I highly recommend it.

DSC_0132^ Only two of those are rosaries, the others are chaplets (Seven Sorrows, Stations of the Cross, and Hannah’s Tears)

Happy Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary!

Baby Catholic Answers All the Things, Volume 6 – So, How Does One Become Catholic?

No one asked me this question. But tonight is the start of the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA) at our parish, and I’m joining as a sponsor. So I’m going to answer this one just because I want to.

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So. How does one become Catholic?

Lots of people get to start out that way. The “Cradle Catholic” is one who is born into a Catholic family. This person is Catholic from the start, but goes through a fairly typical process of receiving the sacraments gradually. First is the Baptism, usually within a few months after birth. Then there’s the first Reconciliation (confession) and First Holy Communion in the second grade. After this point, the child is able to receive the Eucharist at weekly Mass. The final step is Confirmation. This usually occurs between the ages of 13 and 16 (the other sacraments are Marriage, Holy Orders, and Annointing of the Sick, which not every Catholic will necessarily receive).

For converts, the path to full communion in the Church wan be widely varied. But converts  do need to receive all the same sacraments as Cradle Catholics. These occur in a more condensed time period, mostly at the Easter Vigil Mass, held the night before Easter Sunday (for all but Reconciliation).

The Catholic Church does recognize baptisms performed within many other Christian denominations, so individuals who were previously baptized usually don’t need to receive this sacrament at the Vigil (like I did).

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Adult converts who were baptized in another denomination will still have to make a first Reconciliation, usually at some point during Lent, and then will receive First Communion and be confirmed during the Vigil. Edited to add: a friend just informed me that sometimes the Church will even accept Confirmations from other denominations (i.e. Lutheran), so some people only receive First Communion at the Vigil when they convert.

So, what does a convert have to do to get to the point of being able to receive sacraments?

Basically, go through RCIA, which begins right around this time of year in most parishes. RCIA classes usually meet weekly, and in them candidates learn about Christianity in general and the Catholic faith in particular.

If they haven’t already, candidates begin attending weekly Mass, but they do not receive the Eucharist. For some people, the process of conversion may be relatively quick. In my case, I knew I wanted to become Catholic last summer. So I contacted my RCIA coordinator, began RCIA in September, and was baptized, received First Communion, and was confirmed in April. I felt sure it was the right thing for me.

For others, the process may take longer. Some people go through RCIA and still aren’t sure, so they take more time before deciding to enter the Church, maybe even going through RCIA more than once. Attending RCIA does not constitute any sort of obligation to become Catholic.

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Thanks to Kendra of Catholic All Year for letting me use her image here

You can also read more detailed information here. But, if you think you might want to become Catholic, or you’d like to learn more, contact your parish to get more information about RCIA. Taking that step was one of the best things I’ve ever done.

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Still taking your questions for more Baby Catholic posts. I have a few in the works, but I’m happy to try my hand at answering yours too!

Baby Catholic Answers All the Things, Volume 5 – Birth Control and NFP

First of all, let me note that this Natural Family Planning (NFP) post is NOT a how-to. I don’t really even know much about the practice of NFP. I’m just going to write about my understanding of why the teachings of the Catholic Church prohibit the use of artificial birth control, but encourage using NFP for child-spacing. Second, let me give a little heads up:

***Warning: Though this post will not be at all graphic, I suspect I may use the S-E-X word once or twice. I’m just saying because my Mother-in-law reads this. And my Grandma. And my Dad. Sooo, yeah. Here we go.

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I remember going to a Catholic wedding many years ago (even pre-atheism!), in which the priest actually had the bride and groom vow to use natural family planning. When I heard that, my eyes bugged out, and my jaw dropped, and I just could not believe that they were supposed to do that. And that he said that during their wedding ceremony!

In my understanding at the time, NFP was the same thing as the rhythm method. And I really couldn’t wrap my mind around why in the world the Catholic Church would prohibit birth control anyway. I was pro-choice back then, but I could still at least grasp why religious groups might argue against abortion. Saying that people shouldn’t use birth control seemed barbaric and archaic and kind of ridiculous.

Fast forward about 12-ish years. I now know that NFP is not the same as the rhythm method. I’m now firmly pro-life. I now understand why the Catholic Church does not support the use of artificial birth control. It’s actually pretty cool. Check it out:

It all started when Super Friend told me about this post by Jennifer Fulwiler. I think it was the first or second post of hers that I ever read. Jennifer has a blood-clotting disorder that is exacerbated by pregnancy. After her sixth baby was born, she had multiple blood clots in her lungs. In the post I linked, she talks about how she probably ought not have any more children. And yet, she is not willing to use artificial birth control or sterilization to prevent pregnancy. That was a pretty powerful story for me to read, and led me to want to learn more about NFP.

As I said, I never did really learn much more about how NFP is practiced. But I did learn about how effective it can be when done right. I did learn that it can be used both to help achieve pregnancy and to avoid it or to space pregnancies. And, most importantly, I learned why the Catholic Church endorses this method of child spacing or pregnancy prevention but not the use of artificial birth control.

As I see it, it all boils down to this one thing: Openness to Life.

The Catholic Church teaches that new life is a gift from God. That all life is precious. And that the main purpose of marriage and sex is bringing new life into the world. Now, before you get all freaked out and start saying, “Yup! I knew those Catholics were all a bunch of twisted puritans! Sex is only for creating babies?!?!” or something like that, let me add that the Church teaches that the primary purpose of sex is making babies. NOT that that is its only purpose. The Church does not teach that it is wrong to enjoy sex or that every single time you have sex you need to be trying to have a baby. The Church does teach that, by engaging in the act that creates life, you should be open to the possibility of creating life.

The Church does not approve of the use of artificial birth control or sterilization because these separate the act of creating babies from the possibility of creating babies. They sever the life-giving act from the opportunity to give life. According to the Church, if there is a reason that you should not have a baby right now, then instead of changing the way your body works so you most likely cannot get pregnant, you abstain from sex so you most definitely do not get pregnant. And yes, the Church does explicitly teach abstinence before marriage.

And though there are plenty of reasons for concern about the lack of absolute effectiveness of artificial birth control methods and the introduction of unnatural hormones into one’s body, I don’t think that actually has anything to do with the Church’s position on the issue. The Church says that if we should not get pregnant, we should not have sex, so NFP is a sacrifice-based system, involving both partners. And, as an aside, I’m pretty sure that most of the big Catholic families you see around are not big because NFP doesn’t work, but because the Catholic teaching leads them to be open to life such that they don’t often use NFP for preventing pregnancy.

The Church does not shame people about sex. It actually holds sex as sacred. It values the God-given function of the sexual act, to create life. And in doing so, it celebrates the other functions of sex, to give pleasure and bring two people closer together. The Church holds that, by separating sex from its main purpose of creating life, we change it.

I gotta tell you, when I first read about this stuff, I was stunned. I was completely taken aback by how beautiful this concept was. I could not believe that what I had always assumed to be misogynistic and sententious was really based in openness and reverence. It rang so true to me, as has almost every element of the Catholic teaching that I once thought was so backwards.

So, there you have it. The reason for using NFP and not using artificial birth control, according to the Catholic Church, as best I understand it, in a reeeeally overly-simplified nutshell. Blythe wrote more (better) about it here.

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This post was based on a question from my friend Liz (again). I love that she asks me such  great questions about Catholicism, and that she answers my questions about being Mormon. You should check out her blog.

So, what do you want to ask about?

Baby Catholic Answers All the Things, Volume 4 – Confession

I think it’s a fairly common belief of people who are not Catholic (and also some who are) that the sacrament of Reconciliation, or confession, is totally unnecessary. I know that I used to think, “Why do I need to confess my sins to a priest? I can just confess directly to God and ask forgiveness.” I also kind of thought it was creepy and weird that priests would encourage people to tell all of their deepest, darkest, secrets (says the woman who used to be a clinical psychologist) and then give them a penance to complete afterwards.

Of course there is Biblical support for the practice of confessing one’s sins to God.

Blessed is the one whose fault is removed, whose sin is forgiven. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord imputes no guilt, in whose spirit is no deceit. Because I kept silent, my bones wasted away; I groaned all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength withered as in dry summer heat. Then I declared my sin to you; my guilt I did not hide. I said, “I confess my transgressions to the Lord,” and you took away the guilt of my sin. – Psalm 32:1-7

The Catholic Church does not dismiss the value of making a regular confession of one’s sins directly to God. I do this every day during my daily prayers, and I know a lot of Catholics go through the examination of conscience each day for this same purpose. The examination of conscience is something Catholics (ideally) go over before going to reconciliation, to assist in making a good confession, but many also use it for confessing directly to God in prayer. You can see an example here.

So sure, confessing directly to God is important, and valid, and necessary. But the sacrament of Reconciliation is a whole different ballgame.

Let’s start with the Biblical basis for the practice. In the book of John, when Jesus appears to the apostles in the locked room after His resurrection:

[Jesus] said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.” – John 20:21-23

So, in the Bible, Jesus gave the apostles, the first priests of His Church, the authority to forgive sins. They do this by acting in persona Christi, or in the person of Christ. I mentioned in my post about the priesthood that there are two types of situations in which priests are given the special authority to act in the person of Christ: 1. during the act of transubstantiation in the Mass, or when the priest turns the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ, and 2. during the sacrament of Reconciliation. So really, priests don’t personally have the authority to forgive sins, but they have the authority to act as Christ during the sacrament of Reconciliation, and as such, forgive sins.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church says, “Only God forgives sins. Since he is the Son of God, Jesus says of himself, ‘The Son of man has authority on earth to forgive sins’ and exercises this divine power: ‘Your sins are forgiven.’ Further, by virtue of his divine authority he gives this power to men to exercise in his name.” (1441)

The sacrament of Reconciliation has been practiced in various forms throughout the centuries, with the very early Church instituting penances that were public and sometimes severe and lengthy in nature. It was during the seventh century that Irish missionaries took the practice of private confession and penance to continental Europe, and the sacrament has been performed in private ever since.

As the Church practices it currently, it goes pretty much like this: Parishioner goes into the confessional (which in our parish is just a little room with comfy chairs to sit on), sits down and says, “Bless me father, for I have sinned. It has been (however long) since my last confession.” Ideally, parishioner will have gone through an examination of conscience beforehand and will then be able to proceed to provide a pretty comprehensive list of sins for the priest. After this is done, the parishioner says the Act of Contrition:

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Then the priest, acting in persona Christi, gives a penance to the parishioner (perhaps a number of prayers to say or an act of restitution to perform), may say a blessing, and ends with something like, “I absolve you from your sins, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.”

So, now that I’ve given you a little bit of the history of confession and how it works, I’ll tell you about my very limited but powerful experience with the sacrament.

I have only been to confession once, the Wednesday before Holy Saturday. All of my praying life, pre- and post-atheism, I have included confession of my sins to God in my daily prayers (okay, pre-atheism they were rarely daily. . .). So I thought it would be pretty straightforward to do an examination of conscience and go in and confess my sins to our priest. Yes, I was nervous, because I was confessing a whole lifetime of sins, face to face with the man who stands in front of our church pretty much every Sunday. I had a lot of stuff to confess from my whole life. But again, I had confessed most of it directly to God in prayer after my conversion, so it wouldn’t be too hard, right?

Well, first of all, the examination of conscience had me questioning myself about many behaviors, thoughts, and omissions that I never would have thought to confess or even think of as true sins before preparing for confession. So I had to face up to lots of things I had done or failed to do that I hadn’t even realized I needed to confess.

Then I went into the confession room with our priest. I was very nervous, and as I began my confession, I was kind of shocked by how much harder it was to speak my sins out loud to another person than to say them in my head during my prayers. I do truly try to focus on being repentant when I pray about my sins, but somehow saying them out loud to anther person made me so much more so.

I got through all of my fairly distant sins of the past and the more recent ones during my atheist years, and that was hard. But the hardest part by far was confessing my current day to day transgressions. The “smaller” sins that I grapple with in my everyday life, like using an unkind voice with my husband, feeling anger toward my children, being impatient, snapping at my kids, acting selfishly, and so on. I was struggling not to cry when I began telling my priest about some of my ugly behaviors and thoughts, things that I do now, not in the distant past.

When I got to the Act of Contrition, I could barely get the words out. “But most of all because they offend thee my God, who art all-good and deserving of all my love” was nearly impossible to say through the lump in my throat and over the sobs threatening to escape from my mouth. I suddenly felt the full impact of my sins, and how offensive they are to God, and I was appalled.

After I got through the whole prayer and the priest said, “I absolve you from your sins, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,” it was a really amazing moment. I truly felt a sense of relief and joy after my time in the confessional, and even more so after completing my penance.

So many people seem to associate the idea of confession with negative emotions, beliefs, and experiences. But here’s what I believe about it: Confession isn’t something the Church created for the purpose of controlling and manipulating people. It is a gift that Jesus gave to us to help us experience His forgiveness more fully. 

And it works.

I haven’t decided on the next topic yet. If you have a question, let me know. 

Baby Catholic Answers All the Things, Volume 3 – The Priesthood

My friend Liz asked:

Do Catholics have a “priesthood?” If so, how is it used and who is given it?

The short answer is this: Yes, Catholicism has a priesthood. Catholic priests are celibate men who experience a calling to a vocation in the priesthood. They attend seminary and are ordained priests, able to administer sacraments and perform other duties involved in ministering to a parish community.

And now the longer answer:

As I understand it, the process of becoming a priest basically begins with a man experiencing a call to serve God in the priesthood. Usually he prays quite a bit about this to discern if this is his true path and may meet with a spiritual or vocations director to assist with this discernment. He obtains a college degree, then goes to seminary. I’m not sure of the sequence of events, exactly, but a candidate for the priesthood also has to at some point undergo quite a bit of interviewing, background checks, and psychological and medical assessments before he can be ordained and assigned to a parish.

There are three levels of ordination in the sacrament of Holy Orders (the sacrament by which a man is ordained). The first level is the episcopate. This is the ordination of a bishop. A bishop is ordained by other bishops and stands in a direct, unbroken line from the apostles. All episcopal ordinations must be approved by the pope.

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The second level of ordination is the priesthood. This is what people typically think of when they think of a Catholic priest. There are not enough bishops to minister to all the people in a diocese, so lay priests carry out this duty. Priests exercise their powers only in communion with their bishop. In fact, during their ordination they vow to maintain obedience to their bishop (there are also priests who are ordained to particular orders such as the Dominicans or Franciscans, and I believe that their vows are a bit different in that they are obligated to obey their order, rather than the bishop of the diocese, and their duties can be quite different too, but I’m less familiar with this type of ordination, so I’m just going to leave it at that).

The third level is the diaconate. A man can be ordained as a transitional deacon while on his way to becoming a priest, or as a permanent deacon. A permanent deacon can be married, but a transitional deacon must remain celibate, as he is preparing to become a fully ordained priest.

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^^ From left to right, a seminarian, a priest, and a deacon ^^

When a man receives the sacrament of Holy Orders, the bishop lays hands on him and says a consecratory prayer asking God for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit and for the gifts to fulfill the duties specific to his ministry. Once a man has been ordained a priest, he is spiritually changed and he is granted special graces according to his level of ordination.

Deacons can read the Gospel during Mass, preach a homily, and perform the sacraments of baptism and marriage.

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Priests can perform all the duties of deacons as well as being given the special ability to act in persona Christi,  or in the person of Christ. This is the way in which priests are able to administer the sacrament of the Eucharist, by consecrating the bread and water and turning them into the real presence of Christ, His body and blood, through transubstantiation during the Mass. Priests are also able to act in the person of Christ when they administer the sacrament of reconciliation. Priests can also administer the sacrament of anointing of the sick and sometimes the sacrament of confirmation, as in cases of adults who are confirmed at the Easter Vigil (like I was).

DSC_0134^^ That’s me with our priest’s hands on my head during part of my confirmation ^^

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^^ Here he’s marking a cross on my forehead with Holy Chrism oil ^^

Bishops usually perform confirmations and they are the only ones who can perform the sacrament of Holy Orders.

This is just a quick summary of what bishops, deacons, and priests have the authority to do. Of course, they have many other duties and responsibilities in their positions as well as administering sacraments and preaching during Mass.

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Some people get upset by the fact that only men can be ordained as priests in the Catholic Church. The reason for this is that priests are acting in the person of Christ, and Christ was a man, obviously. The Catholic Church does not see men and woman as interchangeable, as some may argue they should be. Instead, the Church sees men an women as suited to different, yet complementary roles. Further, the ordination of men is a tradition that goes back to Christ Himself. He chose only men as His apostles.

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The last issue I’ll mention about the priesthood is another thing that people seem to often misunderstand: celibacy. Priests and bishops are required to commit to lifelong celibacy as a prerequisite for ordination. Permanent deacons can be married when they become deacons, but I don’t think they can marry after they are ordained.

In our society, people are so inundated with the idea that it is unnatural to not have sex, whether married or not, that the idea of celibate priests is mocked and debased. People claim it is freakish to be celibate and usually do not bother to try to understand why the Church has this rule.

In fact, celibacy was not an original requirement of the apostles and early Catholic priests. In the early Church there were some problems, however with corruption and nepotism among priests, favoring their offspring and/or passing Church property to their spouses and children upon their death. In 1075, Pope Gregory VII issued a decree which effectively prohibited married priests from acting in the ministry. This was formalized by the First Lateran Council in 1123, and the Roman Catholic Church has required celibacy from priests ever since.

Consecrated celibacy is seen by the Church as a gift that God bestows on those called to the priesthood. It is a way for priests to be more like Jesus, to be more focused on their faith and duties. Saint Paul said, “I should like you to be free of anxieties. An unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how he may please the Lord. But a married man is anxious about the things of the world, how he may please his wife, and he is divided. An unmarried woman or a virgin is anxious about the things of the Lord, so that she may be holy in both body and spirit. A married woman, on the other hand, is anxious about the things of the world, how she may please her husband.” 1Corinthians 7:32-34

Liz, I hope that answers your question adequately 🙂

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I’ve had a request to discuss confession, so that will be my next topic. What do you want to know about? The rosary? Saints? The Catholic Church’s stance on birth control?? Keep the questions coming!

 

Baby Catholic Answers All the Things, Volume 2 – The Pope

First of all, I want to say that, in writing this post (or any of the other posts in this series) I am not trying to disparage the beliefs of Protestants or anyone else. I just want to try to explain Catholicism a bit, because it seems there’s a lot of misunderstanding about it (most of which I had myself at one time or another). And I want to share why I chose to become Catholic myself.

That said, I’m kind of excited to write this post about the pope.

Don’t you just love Pope Francis?

I want to write about why there is a pope and why he has authority. But I realized that I couldn’t quite explain all that without getting into the Magisterium (had to look the word up to write this) and Sacred Tradition vs. sola Scriptura a bit too. Bear with me, please.

The reason I’m excited to write about all this is that learning about these things myself helped me gain a much deeper understanding of and appreciation for the Catholic Church. It just made so much sense once I understood it. It’s fascinating to me to think about how old the Church is. And frankly, I’m interested to see if I can write about all this in a coherent fashion. It was harder than I thought it would be, to be honest. You be the judge 🙂

One of the things that prompted my separation from religion was my observation that no one seems to agree on what the Bible really means. I found it so annoying that people could come up with a justification for almost anything, supposedly through interpreting Scripture. It seemed like the meaning of the Bible depended simply on whom you asked. I though it was a bunch of nonsense and considered it evidence that the Bible just didn’t mean anything.

When I began learning about Catholicism, I came across the phrase sola Scriptura, and learned that this was one of the main theological beliefs of the Reformation, a key point on which Protestants differ from Catholics. Sola Scriptura means, “by Scripture alone,” and is the idea that the Bible provides all the information necessary for salvation, that it is the only true source of Christian doctrine, and that it needs no interpretation, because it interprets itself. But this just didn’t make sense to me, largely for the reason mentioned above that everyone interprets the Bible differently.

The principle of sola Scriptura was introduced by Reformists as a way to reject the authority of the Catholic Church, and thus the pope, at the time of the Protestant Reformation. However, sola Scriptura isn’t actually taught anywhere in the Bible (according to many sources I have checked, both Catholic and Protestant. I certainly haven’t read the whole Bible yet to confirm this for myself).

Then I learned that the Catholic Church holds that Christian authority lies in both the Bible and Sacred Tradition. Sacred Tradition is the oral teachings of Jesus that He handed down to his apostles, and that they in turn handed down to their disciples, and so on.

I like to think of it like this: Imagine that the founding fathers of our country had written the Constitution and then simply said, “There you go! This is all you need. Go forth and govern thyselves!” That would have been dumb. Of course they didn’t do that. They were smart enough to know that if they did not provide us with a system of government to help us interpret and apply the Constitution, all heck would break loose and people would be using it for their own purposes all willy-nilly with no one agreeing on what the laws and ideals of our country actually are or how we should follow them.

Likewise, Jesus did not leave us with nothing but a Bible, for people to interpret for themselves all willy-nilly. That doesn’t make sense. Jesus left us the apostles and His Church and the Holy Spirit. And if you believe that the successors of the apostles were led by the Spirit to infallibly create the Bible, then it only makes sense that these same successors (the pope and bishops) would be capable of passing down Sacred Tradition through the authority given to them by Jesus and with the help of his Holy Spirit. If you don’t believe that the Church, and thus its leaders the pope and bishops, has this authority and ability to make infallible decisions, then you can’t really be certain that the Bible is infallible.

Jesus gave His apostles authority and instructed them to teach, and He gave them the Holy Spirit to help them do so. The Magisterium is the authority of the Church, primarily as it is exercised by the successors of Jesus’s apostles, namely the pope and the bishops.

So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter” (2 Thessalonians 2:15).

In fact, when Jesus was still alive, He made Peter the head of His Church.

And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18).

St. Peter was the first pope.

I was so excited when I learned this and then came to understand the idea of “apostolic succession,” that the popes throughout the history of the Church have succeeded, one after another, in a direct line from St. Peter!

Now, to be clear, the doctrine of papal infallibility does not mean that the pope is free from sin or error. It also doesn’t apply only to the pope, but also to the body of bishops as a whole, but only when they, in unity with the pope, are solemnly teaching a doctrine to be true. The pope and bishops are not infallible in all things. But they are the successors of Jesus’s apostles, to whom He said, “He who hears you hears me” (Luke 10:16) and “Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven” (Matthew 18:18).

So, in a nutshell, Catholics believe in the authority of the Church, and in particular the pope and the bishops, because Jesus established the Church this way. He left His apostles with Sacred Tradition and the Holy Spirit, with the authority to build His Church and guide people in their faith. He appointed Peter to be the head of the Church, and the popes of history have succeed in a line from Peter. To say that we don’t need a pope or Sacred Tradition because the Bible is the inspired Word of God and is all we need, is to forget that the Bible was compiled by men of the Catholic Church, using Sacred Tradition and the guidance of the Holy Spirit to do so.

I know this is a clumsy explanation. As I said, this was harder to write about than I thought it would be. I hope it makes sense, but I’m happy to try to clear things up if I’ve left anything out or been unclear about something. I’d love to hear your thoughts!

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I have had a few questions come my way, so the next one I’ll take on  is this one from my friend Liz, “Do Catholics have a ‘priesthood?’ And if so, how is it used and who is given it?

 

Baby Catholic Answers All the Things, Volume 1 – Hail Mary

There are three reasons I decided to start this blog series by addressing the common misconception that Catholics worship Mary. One is that a friend of mine actually did express some interest in having this cleared up in a previous blog post comment. Another is that I think that this might be one of the biggest objections that non-Catholics have to Catholicism, so I thought it would be good to address upfront. The third is that, to me, it’s one of the easiest misunderstandings to set straight.

As a child, I didn’t think about Catholicism much (my only point of reference for the phrase “Hail Mary” was a last-second desperation throw to try to win a football game), but when I did, I vaguely thought that Catholics worshipped Mary. The fact is that I didn’t know the first thing about Catholicism in reality. My belief about Mary was simply a parroting of something I heard an adult say.

However, when I started attending Catholic Mass last year and reading about the Catholic Faith, I had absolutely no problem getting past my previous misunderstanding about Our Lady. In fact, one of my first reactions to reading about how some other people are so reluctant to show love for her was, “Why?

Here’s an illustration of my thoughts about the matter:

Imagine being in a deep, loving relationship with someone. You love this person dearly, and you’re about to meet His parents. He can’t wait for you to meet them, because He loves them so much, and they are very important to Him. You meet His Dad and realize that you really love Him too, but every time your Dearest tries to introduce you to His mother, you refuse, saying, “No thanks. I just don’t think she’s important here. I’ll meet her and maybe visit with her a bit when your birthday rolls around, since she did give birth to you. But other than that I want nothing to do with her.”

That would be weird.

Perhaps that analogy is overly simplistic, but I guess that is why it was never difficult for me to understand Marian devotion, once I thought about it a bit. Mary is Jesus’s mother. She was chosen by God to carry Him, to give Birth to Him, and to raise Him, along with Joseph. She suffered intensely by having to watch her Child be subjected to the tortures of His Passion. Surely, no other person could possibly have had nearly as much of an impact on Jesus during His time on Earth as she did. Just imagine her love for Him, and His for her.

So. Why would we not honor her? Why not sing songs about her and mention her in the Mass? God is Jesus’s Father. Mary is Jesus’s mother. God is our Father. Mary is our Mother. Of course we love her.

Many Protestants and others might try to clarify their objections and say, “But you pray to her!!! That’s not right.”

But that belief is not correct. We don’t actually pray to Mary.

Devotion is not the same as worship. Honoring someone is not the same as worshipping her. Asking someone to pray for you is not the same as praying to her.

We believe that Mary is in Heaven, right there with her Beloved Son. She is our Mother and she watches over us. We ask her to pray for us. We ask her to intercede on our behalf and to help us grow in our faith.

The biggest role that Mary plays is that she brings us closer to her Son.

That brings me to the question I got from my friend Liz, which frankly shocked and flummoxed me at first. She had commented to me before that she wondered about Catholics’ beliefs about Mary. When she heard I was going to post more about this, she wrote:

To be clear, my confusion does come from Catholics themselves (in hindsight I realize they probably weren’t active Catholics). As an LDS missionary in SE Asia I’d occasionally ask contacts “so, are you Christian?” and every now and then I’d get the response, “no, I’m Catholic.” Puzzled, I’d continue “I thought Catholics believed in the life and sacrifice of Jesus Christ?” Most would agree, but two young girls once said “No, we pray to Mary. Christians pray to Christ.” I didn’t want to argue their religion (or mine, since Mormons don’t pray to Christ, but to God) with them, but I had a feeling that wasn’t quite right. I’ve never been able to figure out why they thought that. 

My only response to that is to say that those young girls must have been very misinformed. I’m not sure why a Catholic would ever say, “We’re not Christian,” or “We pray to Mary, not Christ.” That is just simply not true. Catholics are Christians. We believe in a triune God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and we pray to each of these persons of the Holy Trinity.

Yes, there are some prayers that are specifically directed to Mary, but these prayers are simply intended to show love and honor to her and to ask her to pray for us. And actually, the words of the Hail Mary almost all come directly from scripture:

Hail Mary, full of grace the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.

Consider Luke 1:28 regarding the angel Gabriel’s first words to Mary at the Annunciation, “And coming to her he said, ‘Hail favored one! The Lord is with you,'”

and Luke 1:42 about Elizabeth’s first words to her when Mary arrived for the Visitation, (Elizabeth) “cried out in a loud voice and said, ‘Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.'”

These are words to acknowledge the importance of Mary as Jesus’s mother. As the one God chose to raise his Son on Earth.

The Catholic Church does not teach in any way that Mary is equal to Jesus or God. The Church does not try to include her as part of the Holy Trinity. But the Church does accord her the honor and love that she deserves as the mother of God.

And that’s what I know about it. I know there is a lot more to say about the matter. I’d be happy to do my best to answer any more questions you may have about Mary. Also, Scott Hahn’s book, Hail Holy Queen, is full of wonderful information about our Blessed Mother. It’s a little dense though, so this is my beginner’s version.

So, what do you think?

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I haven’t gotten any questions from you yet, so I’m just going to roll right along with my own agenda until I do. Next week I’ll write about the authority of the pope.

Feel free to comment with any future topics you’d like me to cover or send me an email.