Every time I hear someone claim to be an “ex-Catholic", a sense of sadness comes over me. In just about every case, people leave the Catholic Faith due to a lack of understanding. After all, if Catholics truly believed that they were members of the one, true Church founded by Christ (and necessary for their salvation), nobody would ever leave! In an effort to help clarify what the Catholic Church teaches, I have compiled a list of 10 important facts that every Catholic should know. More than simply Catholic trivia, these are important concepts that can help us to better understand and defend our beliefs. In no particular order, these items have been compiled based upon my work at Following The Truth and my own study of the Catholic Faith.
1. Women Will Never Be Priests – Often incorrectly lumped in with the subject of married priests, this is a doctrine that has been infallibly decided and will not change. In 1994, Pope John Paul II issued an Apostolic Letter, Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, in which he declared once and for all that “the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church’s faithful." Unlike the issue of married priests (which could possibly change), women’s ordination is an impossibility that will not happen. It is not a “glass ceiling" or the Church’s attempt to hold back women. Instead, it is an infallible recognition that men and women have different roles and that Christ instituted a male priesthood.
2. Fridays Are Still Days Of Penance – Ask almost anyone and they will tell you that Catholics are no longer required to abstain from meat on Fridays throughout the year. However, the current Code of Canon Law (CIC) states that, with the exception of solemnities, “All Fridays through the year and the time of Lent are penitential days and times throughout the entire Church." (CIC 1250) Furthermore, “Abstinence from eating meat or another food according to the prescriptions of the conference of bishops is to be observed on Fridays throughout the year unless they are solemnities." (CIC 1251) In the United States, the bishops have declared that it is permissible to substitute some other form of penance, but we are still urged to fast from “something" in remembrance of the Lord’s death on the cross.
3. The Bible Is A Catholic Book – Did you ever wonder how the Bible came into being? A little known, but easily documented fact is that the books of the Bible were compiled by the Catholic Church. For many years after Christ ascended into Heaven, there was debate about which scriptural writings were inspired by God. The canon of Scripture (the books of the Bible) was first formally decided at the Synod of Rome in 382. This decision was upheld at the Councils of Hippo (393) and Carthage (397). At these Catholic Church councils, the same 46 Old Testament and 27 New Testament books that appear in today’s Catholic Bibles were declared to be inspired by God. As a side note, approximately 1200 years after this decision was made, Martin Luther and the Protestant reformers removed 7 books from the Old Testament. As a result, most Protestant Bibles are still missing these 7 books.
4. The Mass Is The Same Sacrifice As Calvary – The biggest mistake that many Catholics make is treating the Holy Mass as “just another church service", similar to those held by other religions. In the Mass, Christ’s Sacrifice on the Cross is made present, its memory is celebrated and its saving power is applied. The Council of Trent teaches that Christ left a visible sacrifice to His Church “in which that bloody sacrifice which was once offered on the Cross should be made present, its memory preserved to the end of the world, and its salvation-bringing power applied to the forgiveness of the sins which are daily committed by us." When we attend Mass, we are mystically transported to Calvary, where we can unite ourselves with the Lord’s Sacrifice to the Father!
5. Annulments Are Not Catholic Divorces – Unlike the legal process known as “divorce" (in which a marriage is terminated), a declaration of nullity (annulment) states that a valid marriage never existed. This decision is based upon the finding that on the day that marriage vows were exchanged, some essential elements were lacking. This process is completely in conformity with the Catholic teaching regarding the indissolubility of marriage. Incidentally, the granting of an annulment does not render children illegitimate.
6. In Vitro Fertilization Is Morally Unacceptable – Many Catholics suffering from infertility utilize this process in the hopes of conceiving children, while remaining unaware that the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) declares it “morally unacceptable"(CCC 2377). In the Vatican Instruction, Donum Vitae, the Church states “…in conformity with the traditional doctrine relating to the goods of marriage and the dignity of the person, the Church remains opposed from the moral point of view to homologous ‘in vitro’ fertilization. Such fertilization is in itself illicit and in opposition to the dignity of procreation and of the conjugal union, even when everything is done to avoid the death of the human embryo."
7. There Is No Salvation Outside Of The Catholic Church – Originally stated by St. Cyprian, the Latin axiom “Extra Ecclesiam nulla salus" reminds us that there is no salvation outside of the Catholic Church. This dogma was declared at the Fourth Lateran Council and is a source of confusion for Catholics and non-Catholics alike. According to the Catechism, all salvation comes from Christ the Head through the Church which is His Body. It does not mean that non-Catholics cannot achieve salvation. Individuals who are unaware that the Catholic Church is the one, true Church may still achieve salvation through the merits of the Church, despite their lack of knowledge.
8. In An Emergency, Anyone Can Baptize – Although the ordinary ministers of Baptism are bishops, priests and deacons, anyone can baptize in an emergency, even a non-baptized person. This extraordinary decision can be attributed to the necessity of Baptism for salvation and the Church’s desire to make it readily available to all.
9. Hell And Purgatory Still Exist – Contrary to the belief of many Catholics, the Church still teaches that “the souls of those who die in a state of mortal sin, descend into hell, where they suffer the punishments of hell, eternal fire" (CCC 1035) Furthermore, “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 to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven." (CCC 1030) This purification process, formally declared by the Church at the Councils of Florence and Trent, is known as Purgatory.
10. Catholics Don’t Worship Mary And The Saints – Many Catholics are confused about the role of the Blessed Mother and the Saints. Should we pray to Mary and the Saints or should we go “right to the top" and pray to God? In a nutshell, the Catholic Faith teaches that we must worship God alone. Mary and the Saints are to be honored, not worshipped. However, their intercession can be extremely powerful and emulating their virtues can put us on the road to Heaven.
While the above list only scratches the surface of the robust Catholic Faith, it provides a glimpse into the depth of Catholic teaching. Further explanation on these and other topics can be found by examining the Code of Canon Law and the Catechism of the Catholic Church, both of which can be found online at the Vatican website (www.vatican.va). Not only will studying the teachings of the Catholic Church enable us to better defend her when challenged, it will help us to become closer to Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, who founded our Church 2,000 years ago.
By Gary Zimak