The chicken or the egg?

April 26, 2010

The classic debate: Which came first, the chicken or the egg? Christians should be asking the same kind of question…

 The Bible or the Church, which one came first?

My Protestant upbringing taught me that in matters of faith everything, including the structure and ways of the Church, should come from the Bible alone, hence the phrase “Sola Scriptura” or Scripture Alone. Only that which fit into our interpretation of Scripture could be justified as truth or the way of doing things in the church.

Like most independent Protestant pastors, my pastor subscribed to Sola Scripture and based the structure and guidelines of his church on the Bible alone or rather his personal interpretation of the Bible. So for him (and others like him), the Bible came first and from that the Church was born or structured. Consequently my theological beliefs and faith journey were largely based on my own personal interpretation of Scripture and his teachings (which were based largely on my pastor’s interpretation of Scripture).

On the otherhand, the Catholic faith believes and teaches that Jesus first established the Church and gave it His authority to “bind and loose” while promising to protect the Church from the gates of hell (Matthew 16:17-19). It wasn’t until after this that the Bible was inspired and written by members of that Church and more than two centuries later was declared Sacred Scripture by the Church at the Council of Hippo in 393 A.D. During this time the Church was led and grew not under the teachings of the “Bible Alone”  but by the Sacred Traditions protected by the Holy Spirit and passed from one generation of church leaders to the next.

This is why Catholics look to Sacred Scripture, Sacred Tradition, the teaching Magisterium (authority) of the Church and the Holy Spirit to form their consciences on matters of faith and morals. Doctrinal truth and morality is never a matter of one’s personal interpretation or preferences. Nor is it a matter of one pastor’s interpretation or teaching. 

All four (Tradition, Scripture, the Magisterium and the Holy Spirit) work together to help form our conscience when it comes to the faith. This is because Sacred Tradition and Scripture were both were born of the Church.  Technically, the Bible itself comes from tradition because it was passed down to us by the Church, it was born out of the Church. We accept it as Sacred Scripture because the Church, led by the Spirit, declared it to be so.

Some might ask, what’s the big deal, why does it matter? Well…

If you say that the Church came first then it should have an impact on your faith journey and understanding of the Bible and Tradition.

If the Church really did come first and it had the authority to declare the Bible Sacred Word of God, then shouldn’t it also have that same authority in other matters of faith and morals?  (i.e. Communion, birth control, divorce and re-marriage, baptism, Holy Orders or ordination?)

If you say that it doesn’t matter if the Church came first because the Bible alone is your authority then here are soem questions to consider…

At what point did Jesus take back the words He spoke to Peter? When did Jesus declare the Church no longer had the authority to “bind and loose?” 

When did He say the authority to declare and define doctrinal and moral truth belonged to the Bible alone and our personal interpretation of its words?

And, if the Church, which compiled and canonized the Bible, has no binding authority, then how can you be sure the books of the Bible you read really are the Sacred Scripture? If the Church  has no authority then why should we believe what this group of men, this teaching magisterium of the 4th century, says about these books? For all you know they could have picked the wrong books?

So, which came first, the Church or the Bible?

What do you believe and why?

And what difference does your belief make in your faith journey?

For the Glory of God Alone

April 8, 2010


 A few weeks ago I started a series on the Mass. This is part two on the Introductory Rites. If you want to catch up click here.

When we left off we’d just finished the penitential rite. After the penitential rite we sing the Gloria.

The relationship between the penitential prayer and the Gloria is beautiful. In the penitential rite we’ve confessed our sin and our need for God’s forgiveness. Now with faith in the grace and mercy of God we sing the Gloria with joy and give Him glory because we know we are forgiven!

By the way, like many parts of the Mass, the Gloria is taken from Scripture. The opening line comes from the second chapter of the Gospel of Luke. [And you thought we Catholics didn’t know the Bible or use it in our worship. Just wait until we get to the Liturgy of the Word.]

Here’s the Gloria in its entirety…

Glory to God in the highest and peace to His people on earth.
Lord God, Heavenly King, Almighty God and Father.
We worship you, we give you thanks, we praise you for your glory.
Lord Jesus Christ, only Son of the Father.
Lord God, Lamb of God, you take away the sin of the world:
have mercy on us;
You are seated at the right hand of the Father: receive our prayer.
For you alone are the Holy One, you alone are the Lord.
You alone are the most high, Jesus Christ, with the Holy Spirit,
in the glory of God the Father.

If you come to Mass during Advent and Lent you won’t hear the Gloria. These are seasons of penance during which we don’t sing the Gloria, not until Christmas Eve and the Easter Vigil.  When we finally sing the Gloria it’s sung loudly with bells ringing throughout the entire song in celebration of God’s grace, mercy and forgiveness.

While on the topic of muisc…

One thing that was different for me when I left my non-denominational church and started attending Mass was the way I experienced the use of  music for worship. Not only was the style different (until I discovered the Life Teen Mass which incorporates more contemporary music) but so was the placement of music in the service.

In most of the Protestant churches I attended the music was sung at the beginning of the service. We called this our time of  “praise and worship.”  Instead of having us sing worship songs for 15 minutes and then sit down to listen to a man speak for an hour, the Mass engages us in worship the entire time (minus a short homily). Music is incorporated throughout the service as we participate in the different prayers and parts of the liturgy.

Because worship music had always been a big part of  my life it took me a while to get used to this difference but I’ve grown to appreciate and even prefer the way music is used in the Mass.

Music is never the focal point in the Mass which helps to keep it from becoming about the glory of man. You’ll never see a worship band at “center stage” during a Mass. The Eucharist, Jesus, who is the Word made flesh, is the focal point of the Mass. Neither is the use of music designed to entertain and entice people to come to Mass. The music is simply part of the ongoing prayer of the Mass.

 Once we’ve finished singing the Gloria we remain standing for the Opening Prayer.  Before this prayer, the celebrant raises his arms. This isn’t a random act on his part, even this gesture has meaning. It’s linked to the Gloria and the penitential rite.

The priest, standing there with his arms raised, is symbolic of the person who’s been freed from sin through the Resurrection of Jesus. This, of course, is what we’ve just professed and experienced through the penitential rite and the singing of the Gloria. Jesus ascended to heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father. Because of the resurrection power we are set free from death and the power of sin. Glory to God in the highest!

The opening prayer is not something the priest makes up based on how he’s feeling that day. It’s related to the liturgical season or the feast day celebrated during this Mass and it’s prayed at every Mass in every Catholic Church on that day. The tradition of this prayer, which is also known as the collect, has been around since the 5th century.

Just from the Introductory Rites you can see begin to see that everything done in the Mass has a purpose. It’s rich in tradition, symbolism and based on Scripture. And, it’s done for the glory of God alone (Soli Deo Gloria).

When you understand the symbolism and how everything has meaning (even the simple gesture of a priest raising his arms in prayer) you realize that the Mass is far from being  “old dead liturgy” as my friend described it. No, the Mass is alive and well and we’ve only just covered the Introductory Rites!

Next up, the Liturgy of the Word.

A man ought to examine himself…

April 6, 2010


A few weeks ago I started a series on the Mass. If you want to catch up click here.

Just like families that get together to share a meal or celebrate a special event have traditions and rituals for the way they do things, our Catholic family has rituals and traditions we practice when we celebrate the Mass together. Ours start with the Introductory Rites. (Rites: Ceremonies surrounding the Sacred Liturgy and the sacraments)

The Mass begins with an entrance song or antiphon prayed by the entire congregation (an antiphon is a prayer, often taken from the Bible). If you drop by a daily Mass you’re more likely to hear the antiphon. Most Sunday Masses begin with a song and the processional which includes an altar server carrying a crucifix and other servers following behind, along with the celebrant (the priest celebrating the Mass).

After the procession, the priest goes to the altar and kisses it. Now don’t worry my Protestant friends, he’s not worshipping the altar and making it an idol. A kiss is a sign of devotion. Just like your favorite aunt who gives you a big kiss on the cheek when she comes to dinner, the priest kisses the altar as a sign of our love and devotion to Christ for His sacrifice.

The celebrant then leads us in making the sign of the cross. Like I mentioned before, this signifies our identity, who we are as the family of God.

Next, he welcomes the family of God gathered for this celebration with a greeting  taken from Scripture. For example: The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all (2 Cor. 13:13). And because the Mass is a liturgy (a work of the people) we participate and respond by saying, and also with you.

What follows is known as the penitential rite.  This is where we humble ourselves before God, acknowledge we’ve sinned and fall short of ever measuring up and that is why we need Jesus. We know we can’t approach God on our own merit so before we enter into corporate worship we take time to confess our faults and ask for forgiveness. Ideally, we’ve spent time before Mass examining our hearts for this penitential rite and preparing ourselves to receive Holy Communion.   

This rite may include a couple of traditions. Sometimes at a special Sunday Mass the priest will sprinkle the congregation with holy water as a reminder of their baptismal promises (to reject sin and follow Jesus) and as a symbol of healing and cleansing. 

More often the celebrant asks us to call to mind our sin in silence and ask for God’s forgiveness. Then he leads and we all pray a prayer. My favorite penitential prayer is called the Confiteor. It goes like this:

I confess to Almighty God and to you my brothers and sisters that I have sinned through my own fault. In my thoughts and in my words, what I have done and in what I have failed to do.  And I ask Blessed Mary, ever virgin, all the angels and saints and you my brothers and sisters to pray for me to the Lord our God.

I’ll say this about many parts of the Mass, but…

I love this tradition and rite. It makes so much sense doesn’t it? I mean here we are, gathered to worship and one of the first things we do is humble ourselves before God and one another and ask our brothers and sisters in Christ to pray for us to overcome our faults. This is the beauty of the Body of Christ isn’t it. And, it’s Scriptural. (If you’re not sure about asking Mary to pray for us, click here for a little perspective.)

If you read my letter to Claire about Confession and mortal sin vs. venial sin then you know that the Bible tells us there are some sins we are to pray about for one another (I John 5:16-17). These venial sins are the very ones we’re confessing in our hearts before we prepare to celebrate the Mass. This penitential rite is also part of what St. Paul reminds us to do before we receive Holy Communion: 

Therefore, whoever eats the bread and drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord.  A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself…But if we judged ourselves, we would not come under judgement.  (I Corinthians 11:27-29,31)

These verses explain the Biblical basis for the penitential rite:  Examining our hearts and confessing our sin before recognizing His body and blood and receiving Him in Communion.

These verses also say a lot about Communion and what the early church believed. I must admit that when I was a Protestant and I read those verses in light of what I’d been taught about Communion was faced with several questions, such as… 

If the bread and wine are symbolic and not truly the body and blood of Christ then why does Paul specifically say that taking the bread and wine in an unworthy manner is a sin against the body and blood of Christ? How can you eat bread and drink wine in an unworthy manner? How is it possible to sin against a symbol?

And, if the bread and wine are supposed to be symbolic and not changed into the body and blood of Christ then why would we be judged for not recognizing it as the body of the Lord?  If it’s just a symbol then why would St. Paul risk creating confusion by telling the people to recognize a symbol as the actual body of the Lord?

On the other hand, if it really is the body and blood of Jesus and I take it without confessing my sin, acknowledging His sacrifice and His real presence then St. Paul’s words make sense. I can see how I would be sinning against the actual body and blood of Christ.

Of course those questions and thoughts take me well beyond the scope of the Introductory Rites and this post. They’ll have to be addressed at a later date. But it does make you wonder, what exactly was St. Paul telling us about Holy Communion in these verses?

What is clear is that the Bible says we are to examine our hearts before coming to the Lord’s Table.  There’s no doubt that we Catholics take St. Paul’s words to heart, so much so that it’s a part of our worship at every Mass.

This is all I have time for today. I’ll finish the Introductions tomorrow.

The Dirty “R” Words

March 22, 2010


When I was a Protestant there were two dirty “R” words.

Religion and Ritual.

I can’t move forward with talking about the Mass without at least addressing the ritual word. And while I’m at it I might as well address the religion word.

Let’s start with RELIGION.

As an Evangelical Protestant (of sorts) I can’t tell  you how often I heard people say that it’s not about religion it’s about a relationship with Jesus. I heard it so much that I started saying it myself. I admit that I used it most often when talking to Catholics.

Now let me say this, “it” is always about a relationship with Jesus. BUT, somehow, this little saying has turned religion into a bad word.

There is a negative connotation associated with this word among non-denominational Protestants. We defined religion as being separate from a relationship with Jesus as if those who were religious didn’t really love Jesus. It’s almost like we took pride in the fact that we weren’t “religious” but instead we were in a right relationship with Jesus.

Now, here’s what is interesting to me. Have you looked up the word religion? Do you know what it means?

Religion = Belief in and reverence for a supernatural power recognized as the creator and governor of the universe. A particular integrated system of this expression.

Hmmm, it sounds to me like our shared faith in God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit is indeed a religious belief. And, I bet if I examined your life and the way you express this faith I’d find an integrated system of your faith.  Which appropriately leads me to the next dirty “R” word:


As a non-denominational Protestant I was proud of the fact that I didn’t practice religious rituals, especially archaic, man-made rituals. And, I was more than willing to point out to Catholics that they were caught up in a few of their own.

But, all I had to do was look up the word to realize once again I was being hypocritical.

Ritual = A detailed method or procedure faithfully or regularly followed.

By that definition, my life was full of rituals.

Physical rituals: Like the way I get ready in the morning (I put my contacts in first, then brush my teeth, then put on my makeup, then do my hair) or the way I clean house (first the kitchen, then the bathrooms, next the floors, and finally the dusting).

Psychological rituals: Like the way I make lists and go over lists in my head or prepare for a teaching lecture.

Religious rituals:  Like the way I read my Bible, pray, worship with music and of course the order of worship at my church.

And even relationship rituals: Think about your close intimate relationships and you’ll see rituals in your communication and behavior.

The reality is, rituals are a huge part of life.  But what’s the point or value of these rituals? 

Rituals bring order to life. They bring routine which creates efficiency. More importantly, regularly followed procedures help us to know what to expect. When we know what to expect we’re free to fully engage in what we’re doing in the present without anticipating what comes next. This is especially true when it comes to corporate worship.

Now please don’t tell me that at your church you do not practice rituals (unless of course every Sunday is a free-for-all and there is absolutely no order to what happens in your church service). 

If there is any order in your church then there is ritual. If there is a “method or procedure regularly followed” then there is a ritual.  And, I hate to tell some of you this, but those procedures are man-made. The order of your worship service was created by your pastor or some group of people associated with your church. It is no different from those “religious and ritualistic” Catholics I once criticized and perhaps you still criticize.

Some people snub their noses at repetition and ritual in worship, claiming it’s boring or irrelevant. But I can’t help but wonder if their boredom has more to do with their desire to be entertained than a desire to offer up worship to their creator and the one who should be the love of their life.

If you entertain me, if you keep my mind interested with new distractions then I really don’t have  to do anything. I don’t have to enter into worship and listen closely to the words of the prayers. I don’t have to center myself in Christ, go deeper in my prayer life and listen to the still small voice of the Spirit. I can “feel good, have fun, and enjoy myself” without offering all my heart, all my soul, all my mind and the members of my body as a living sacrifice to God.

Instead of thinking of ritual in corporate worship as boring consider that it is like dancing a waltz with a partner. If you don’t know the steps, if the steps are changed in the middle of the dance then you’re likely to be worried about what comes next. You may look down and focus on your feet and yourself instead of focusing on your partner and the beauty and movement of the dance. But, when you know the dance steps you don’t have to focus on what’s next. Instead you can move freely to the music and focus on your partner as you put your heart into the dance.

I think it’s time we reclaim these two “R” words and take them out of the gutter.

Folks, Christianity is a religion and if Christ is an integral part of your life then you are religious. 

And rituals are a part of who we are as humans. Our God is a God of order and we are created in His image. Don’t snub your nose at rituals in worship. Embrace them because they offer the freedom to fully worship in the present without anticipation, self-consciousness or the need to be entertained.

“I just don’t get it”

March 10, 2010


When I was in the initial stages of studying the Catholic faith a close Protestant friend said to me, I just don’t get it. That dead old liturgy. It’s meaningless.

She’s not alone.

There are plenty of people (Catholics, ex-Catholics and Protestants alike) who don’t get it. They think the liturgy of the Mass is dead and out-dated. Many Catholics have left the Church in search of worship that feels good, is more simple and some claim more Biblical. 

The interesting thing is, few, if any, who leave the Church ever study the parts of the Mass in an effort to understand the significance of the traditions or the Biblical basis for the liturgy. Instead many (not all) have simply labeled what they don’t understand as meaningless. And that which doesn’t appeal to their feelings or personal preferences is deemed out-dated and irrelevant.

On some level I can’t blame them.

If you were brought up Catholic and no one (starting with your parents) ever taught you the meaning of the Mass then how could you engage and grow in your relationship with Jesus. Of course it’s more than just being taught. If the other six days of the week your parents didn’t live in the grace, love and the life of Jesus received in the Eucharist at Mass on Sunday then it’s likely it would have little to no meaning for you at all. It might just seem like an empty meaningless ritual.

But just because someone never learned or their parents never “lived the Mass” doesn’t mean it’s meaningless. It just means they probably never experienced the depth of the love, grace and purpose of the Mass. 

And just because a Protestant visits a Mass and doesn’t “get it,” it doesn’t mean there’s nothing to get. It just means they don’t know and understand the Mass. And how could they? They weren’t raised Catholic.

So, in an effort to shed light on what it is we Catholics do in Mass and why, I thought I’d write a little about it based on my own studies and my own personal experience.

The first thing you may be wondering…

Why does the Church place such an emphasis on the Mass?

Answer: The Mass is the highest form of prayer for Catholics.

Why? You ask. 

The simple answer…

The Holy Eucharist, which is central to the celebration of the Mass, is the source and summit of our Catholic faith. The Eucharist being of course, Jesus–His Body and Blood, which is given to us as a means of grace and spiritual life through Holy Communion. Consequently, there is no liturgy more powerful or meaningful for Catholics than the Mass.

I know the Eucharist will require much more attention and explanation than that. However, for now, I’ll have to let that simple answer stand.

If you’re one of those who “just doesn’t get it” come back and visit again. I’ll do my best to explain just why the Mass is not a meaningless, out-dated-ritual but instead the most Christ-centered form of worship I’ve ever known.

More to come in future posts…

what you don’t know…

February 16, 2010


Dear Claire:

This weekend you made your first confession. Your dad and I couldn’t be more happy for you. As I watched you and your friends kneel and pray in the front of the church I realized how grateful I am that we’re raising you in the Catholic faith and you’ll grow up experiencing the grace of the Sacrament of Reconciliation. 

This was not the case for your dad and me. We didn’t experience this sacrament until after you were born.  And oh, the hurdles we had to overcome before our hearts and minds were even open to the idea of confessing our sins to God in the presence of a priest.

You see Claire, we were like most Protestants who believed going to confession was unnecessary because we could go directly to God to confess our sins and receive forgiveness. We didn’t understand why Catholics practiced this “man made” tradition and we certainly didn’t believe another human being had the right to absolve someone of their sins. In our eyes confession wasn’t Biblical and I even told a few of my Catholic friends so.  No one ever corrected me by sharing the Biblical basis for confession. 

This is why I am writing Claire. There may come a day in your life when you question whether or not going to confession is an important or necessary part of your faith journey. I can almost guarantee you that someday a well-meaning non-Catholic will try to tell you that you don’t need to confess your sins to a priest and they may even try to convince you it’s not Biblical. I want to make sure that when that day comes you know the Biblical reasons for this beautiful sacrament because if you’re not careful, what you don’t know could lead you away from this gift of grace.

One of the most common arguments against confessing your sins to a priest is that we can go directly to God to confess our sins. This is true Claire, we can go directly to God and we should on a daily basis. However, the Bible makes it clear there are times when we should confess our sins to another person. James 5:16  tells us, Therefore confess your sins to each other so that you may be healed.

This begs the question, to whom do we confess our sins? Should you go to your friends, your parents, a deacon, a youth pastor?  Is it enough when you’re 16 to simply confess your sins to a friend in youth group, afterall, they are an “other”?  Do I confess my sins to a group publicly or privately? These are important questions because if it doesn’t matter who then I could go to just about anyone and then I’d have to ask what exactly is the point? 

Of course we can confess our struggles and sins to one another and pray for one another. This can be a good thing but the Bible makes it clear that when we commit a sin that leads to death that our prayers for one another are not the answer.

I John 5:16-17 — If anyone sees his brother commit a sin that does not lead to death, he should pray and God will give him life. I refer to those whose sin does not lead to death. There is a sin that leads to death. I am not saying that he should pray about that. All wrongdoing is sin, and there is sin that does not lead to death.

Claire, this is the difference between venial sin (disobedience to God involving light moral matter that does not lead to death) and mortal sin (the deliberate, conscious, free transgression of a moral law in a serious matter that leads to death/separation from the life of God — i.e. adultery, armed robbery, murder, lying under oath). 

This difference between what the Church calls venial and mortal sins is something I never learned when I was growing up. I was taught all sin is equal in the eyes of God. But clearly the Bible does not teach this. Instead it says that all wrongdoing is sin but some sins lead to a spiritual death and some do not. So, if someone ever tries to tell you that there’s no spiritual difference between some sins you may want to point out that the Bible says something very different.

Because we know God’s grace is huge and no sin is too big for forgiveness we have to conclude that these mortal require something more than the prayers of our brothers and sisters. While the passage in First John does not tell us what they require, the Church has taught throughout the ages that these mortal sins should be confessed to a priest in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. [And not just these sins but venial sins that keep us from loving God and others or lesser sins that have become habits in our lives.]

It’s likely that if someone is challenging your Catholic faith they’ll ask if that means we believe God can’t forgive those sins if that person comes to Him with a repentant heart? By no means Claire, God is bound to the promise of His grace in His Sacraments but He’s not bound by His Sacraments. God is bound by no one. The reason we confess mortal sin in confession with a priest is because these sins are serious, intentional choices against the life and love of God.  They are sins that lead to spiritual death.  We need that life in us restored (which happens with a contrite heart and through the power of the Holy Spirit and authority bestowed on the priest by Jesus — John 20:19-223 ).  And, if we are making conscious choices and committing such serious sins it’s safe to say we also need the spiritual direction and guidance of one who’ll counsel us and lead us in the way of holiness. 

Now it’s important to note that even if our sin is not mortal we benefit from confessing our sins and selfish ways and receiving the grace  and forgiveness of this sacrament so that we can overcome our flesh. Not to mention the fact that confession is humbling and keeps your pride in check.

Someday you may ask why confess to a priest? Why not any man or woman who calls themself a pastor?  What’s so special about priests? Or, someone may challenge you like I challenged my Catholic friends by saying, Priests don’t have any special authority to forgive sins, they’re just men, they aren’t God.

As Catholics we can answer these questions by looking to the Bible.

Why do we confess our sins to a priest, Claire?

The answer: Because they’ve been given the authority to forgive sins.

John 20:19-23

On the evening of that first day of the week when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.

Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent  me, I am sending you.” And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”

There are  many important things to learn from this passage: 

1) Jesus sends his disciples out on the same mission that the Father gave him. What was his mission?  Reconciling the world to God through the forgiveness of sins.  So Jesus gives the ministry of reconciliation to his disciples. Who in the Catholic Church has the role of administering the Sacrament of Reconciliation?  Priests.  

2) Jesus gives the disciples the power of the Holy Spirit and the authority to forgive sins. He breathes His life upon them in the Holy Spirit. The same life that is imparted to the repentant man or woman who confesses their mortal sin in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. 

 And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”

Notice that Jesus isn’t telling them that if they have a personal beef with someone and they don’t forgive this person for offending them then this person is not forgiven. That would be un-Biblical and wouldn’t make sense in the context of this passage. In this passage Jesus is giving his disciples His authority to absolve someone of their sins.

As Catholics we believe the authority given to the disciples is passed on to priests through apostolic succession. Just as the Father sent Jesus and Jesus sent the disciples so too, the disciples sent others with the authority and ministry of reconciliation.  The key here is being sent with authority.

This issue of authority is an important part of our Catholic faith Claire. A man doesn’t just wake up one day and decide to open a parish in a Catholic diocese. He doesn’t decide he’s going to be a priest and then all the sudden he has authority to forgive sins and celebrate Mass etc. He must be sent out by the Bishop  just like in Biblical times when there was a laying on of hands and a sending forth with authority. In some cases there were men claiming to be of the church but they were not teaching sound doctrine and the people were warned against listening to those who’d not been sent with authority.

St. Paul talks about being given this ministry of reconcilation as well: Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation…We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. (2 Corinthians 5:17-18, 20) 

3) The forgiveness of sins administered through the disciples must have been very important and necessary because it was one of the first things Jesus did when He appeared to the disciples as a group after His resurrection.

Of course  some like to argue that we don’t need to go through another human or “mediator.”  Some non-Catholics will quote from the book of Hebrews to support this claim. But just remind them Claire that anytime they pray for someone else they are “mediating” between that person’s need and Jesus. And besides, Jesus clearly gave the disciples his authority to forgive and retain sins which means He is telling them to act as a go-between on His behalf. Kind of hard to argue with Jesus on that point.

It might also help if you remind them that as Catholics we see the priest as Christ’s representative. We know the authority and forgiveness first and foremost comes from the Father through Christ.

 Our Heavenly Father knows our human needs.  He gave us the gift of hearing these words of forgiveness from a priest. As Fr. Malley is quick to remind us, God made us a “sensing” people and He expresses His grace to us through our senses and not just through a mystical, abstract and hidden faith. You will quickly learn what a gift it is to hear the words “I forgive you in the name of the Father and Son and Holy Spirit”  from one who has been given the authority to forgive from Christ. There is a peace that comes with this that can’t be explained. That’s probably why Jesus says “Peace be with you” two times to His disciples in that passage in John. Forgiveness and reconciliation brings peace to the heart.  

Claire, it’s my heart’s desire that you grow up knowing what you believe as a Catholic and why. And as someone who grew up thinking that much of Catholicism was un-Biblical it’s especially important to me that you know the Biblical basis for our Catholic beliefs.

So now, should you ever run into a well-meaning non-Catholic who attempts to tell you that confessing your sins to a priest is un-Biblical and unnecessary, you can explain that it’s not only Biblical but it’s an incredible gift and blessing from God. Of course they may not like or agree with the Catholic interpretation of Scripture. But that’s ok, you can just ask them why their interpretation of Scripture is right and the Catholic one is wrong. Which is a good question for them to consider.

In the meantime, I pray you never take for granted this gift of grace God has given you. Avail yourelf of His mercy and love in this sacrament so that you can grow to be more loving like Jesus and live in peace.