Week 13 - Concluding the Creed (p. 251-299)

Before we get to the end of the Apostle's Creed, the Catechism discusses...

The Structure of the Church
The hierarchy of the Catholic Church is evident (lay, priests, bishops, papacy), but it can be forgotten where that authority comes from all too quickly! For example, the infallibility of the Pope is described as being a share in the infallibility of "Christ who is the Truth"(point 889). So when the Church makes an infallible (in other words, utterly trustworthy) declaration, she does no not so based on her own inherent genius, but on the basis of the authority given her by Christ.

Though there is of course lots on the web about Papal Infallibility, this brief article contains an nihil obstat and an imprimatur, which means it has been declared free of error by the Church. You may find it helpful.

Perhaps the most pertinent aspect of the hierarchy to us is the laity (Catholics that are not ordained or in a religious order). Laity have the responsibility to "permeate social, political, and economic realities with the demands of Christian doctrine and life" (point 899). The activity of the laity is so important that "the apostolate of the pastors cannot be fully effective without it" (point 900). The laity also have a function in informing pastors of their opinions which pertain to the good of the Church (point 907).

Now the Catechism moves towards the last four items of the Apostle's Creed.

1. "I believe in the commuion of saints"
There are three "States of the Church," together which make up the communio sanctorum (point 954)
A. Those "in glory" (Heaven)
B. Those "being purified" (Purgatory)
C. And "pilgrims" (those yet on Earth)
The commuinon of saints means that Christians in different stages still help one another. The Catechism at this point sees fit to mention Mary again, and as we discussed before, Mary's function as "Benefactress" and "Mediatrix" flows (similar to papal infallibility) not from her own ability, but "from the superabundance of the merits of Christ [and] depends entirely on it, and draws all its power from it" (point 970).

2. "the forgiveness of sins"
Although at Baptism sins are forgiven, we still of course sin afterwards. The Church therefore has confession and penance to bring us back to that point of original forgiveness should we sin either venially or mortally. (The difference between venial and mortal sins is explained well here.) If you have unconfessed mortal sin you should not take the Eucharist.

Incidentally, as Brad Pitt may have reminded you, the Seven Deadly Sins is an ancient tradition in Christian theology, and are as follows (with corresponding "contrary virtues")
1. Pride (Humility)
2. Envy (Kindness)
3. Gluttony (Abstinence)
4. Lust (Chastity)
5. Anger (Patience)
6. Greed (Liberality)
7. Sloth (Diligence)
Also please be aware of the four cardinal virtues (prudence, temperance, courage, justice). These have pre-Christian precedent, and goes to show Catholicisms openness to goodness outside the bounds of the Church. But the theological virtues (faith, hope and love) are only possible through the supernatural grace of Jesus Christ. Why not shoot for all 7, both cardinal and theological!

Because the Catechism goes into this in much greater detail when discussing the Sacrament of Penance, permit me this brief aside: No Catholic is ever forgiven based on their own merit, but after the initial unmerited forgiveness of Baptism, Catholics can build up merit in heaven with the help of the Holy Spirit (see point 2010). But some Saints didn't even want their earned merit! St. Therese of Lisieux said "I do not want to lay up merits for heaven. I want to work for your love alone" (point 2011) This quote from Therese (arguably) incorporates what the Protestant Reformers were after in the 16th century into the official teaching of the Catholic Church.

The forgiveness of sins in the Catholic Church is a real declaration that happens externally rather than being a mere subjective state of "feeling forgiven" in one's soul. We are told boldly that "There is no offense, however serious, that the Church cannot forgive"(point 982). The priest who forgives acts not on his own authority, but on the authority given him by Christ.

3. "the resurrection of the body"
St. Augustine said that "on no point does the Christian faith encounter more opposition than on the resurrection of the body." As we mentioned below, this point is often misuderstood. Many think that our "souls" go to heaven and our bodies decay on earth. And though of course this is true for a time, the Church believes that at the end of time, all people will stand accountable before God with their bodies (albeit in a resurrected form). In other words, our bodies are a big deal. As Margarita mentions below, for Mary (and of course Christ) the bodily resurrection has happened already.

4. "and the life everlasting, Amen."
The Bible uses figurative language to describe Heaven (point 1027), and the Catechism describes it as "the ultimate end and fulfillment of the deepest human longings"(point 1024).

The Bible also uses figurative language to describe Hell, and the Catechism calls it a "state of definitive self-exclusion from communion with God and the blessed." (point 1033). Notice it is called "self-exclusion" for "God predestines no one to go to hell." Hell involves
A. Williful turning away from God
B. Committing mortal sin
C. Persisting in that sin until the end
In other words, God does not force Himself onto the unwilling (see point 1037). He lets us have our own way even if it means our own destruction.

Final Judgement
"In the presence of Christ who is Truth itself" states the Catechism, "the truth of each man [and woman's] relationship with God will be laid bare" (point 1039).
The Catechism quotes a beautiful (and frightening) passage of St. John of the Cross who says, "At the evening of life, we shall be judged on our love."

New Heaven and New Earth
Just as the bodies will be resurrected, changed but still our bodies, so will the earth be renewed, changed but still the earth. This is another often misconstrued point. We don't float up to heaven, actually the image used in the Bible is Heaven coming down to us. We don't know how this renewal will happen (point 1048), and nor is this eventual renewal a warrant for ecological irresponsibility, but rather a commission to care for the earth (point 1049).

Congratulations! You finished the Creed!

Michaelangelo's Last Judgement

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