Infallibility, per se, covers the formal definition of a Doctrine, which we must believe, by the Pope, in his Office of Supreme Pastor and Teacher of all the Faithful. This gift is extended to the College (or Body) of Bishops who, perhaps in an Ecumenical Council, in union with the Pope, propose, as coming from God, a Doctrine for our belief. For a more detailed explanation of Infallibility, see the Catechism of the Catholic Church, 890-892. See also the Vatican Council document, Lumen Gentium, 25.
How does this freedom from error in the Teaching of Catholic Dogma work? We know, for example, how certain changes have been made to the outward way (i.e. the language and actions) that Mass has been offered. The essence of the Mass, however, is unchanged. Acting in the person of Our Lord, who commanded, “Do this in memory of Me”, Father, our priest, still re-enacts the once-and-for-all Saving Sacrifice of Calvary for our participation; he changes bread and Wine into Jesus Himself, offers Him for us all to the Heavenly Father, Who Himself offers Jesus to us in Holy Communion.
During the coming week we will recall two other great defenders of the Truth: Monday, Convert and Theologian, Saint Augustine of Hippo; Tuesday, Saint John the Baptist, beheaded for publicly defending God’s Laws regarding Marriage. Then, on Wednesday, comes the memorial of Saints Margaret Mary Clitherow, Anne Line and Margaret Ward, three of the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales, all of whom were put to death for hiding, sheltering and protecting Catholic Priests. May their Prayers strengthen all who are called to be our Shepherds!
Monday marks the Memorial of Pope Saint Pius X. He is sometimes referred to as 'the Pope of the Holy Eucharist' as it was he who decreed that children should receive their First Holy Communion as soon as they were capable, through reason, of acknowledging that, at the Consecration, the Bread and wine, though appearing unchanged to the senses of sight, touch, taste and smell, were completely changed into Jesus Himself, Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity.
Thanks to this Pope our children have the great joy and privilege of receiving Jesus round about the age of 7. St Pius X also worked hard, as Pope, to ensure that those who sought to deny or 'water down' the Church's Teachings were not allowed to mislead the Faithful, who had the right to receive the whole Truth, challenging though this can be. Having worked tirelessly to achieve a peaceful resolution to the then growing hostilities in Europe, he died, some say of a broken heart, in 1914.
On Tuesday we celebrate the Memorial of the Queenship of the Blessed Virgin Mary, acknowledging Mary as Mother and Queen. Jesus, as He hung, Dying on the Cross, gave her to us (in the person of the Apostle, John) as our very own Mother. In the 5th Glorious Mystery of the Most Holy Rosary, we meditate on Her Coronation as Queen of Heaven and Earth. How seriously do we take Mary’s Queenship? How often do we call on her ever available help in following God? How apt the words of St Louis Marie de Montfort, “to Jesus through Mary”.
Then, on Thursday, with Masses at 7.30am and 10am as usual, we come together to celebrate the Feast of the Patron Saint of our own parish, Saint Bartholomew. His name comes from the Aramaic ‘bar-Tȏlmay’, meaning ‘son of Talmai’.
Take a look at the mosaic above the central door of our church. Here we see Saint Bartholomew, portrayed holding a flaying knife. He accepted the fate of being skinned alive rather than deny God! This gruesome death led him to be declared the Patron Saint of tanners, that is those who convert animal skins into materials such as leather.
In an age when there is often determined opposition to, and rejection of, the Church's Teachings, especially in the area of Morality, we can never have too many of these exemplary helpers! May we never be led astray but, rather, may we, through the Examples and Prayers of Our Lady and the Saints, live so as to, through our example, '...bring home the lost sheep...'.
Saint Bartholomew, pray for us.
This coming Tuesday, we shall celebrate, as a Holy Day of Obligation, (i.e. we are obliged to go to Mass as we are on a Sunday) the Assumption of our Blessed Mother, Mary, body and soul into Heaven, at the end of her life on Earth. This Truth, to be believed by the Faithful Worldwide, was officially proclaimed by Pope Pius XII on 1st November 1950, in the Apostolic Constitution, Munificentissimus Deus, although, as research will show, this Privilege of Our Lady had been celebrated by the Faithful in various parts of the world for a long time prior to this.
How does today’s Solemnity relate to this? As we know, God did not abandon our First Parents as they clearly deserved. He promised that, in the fullness of time, He would send his Son, in human form, through a Virgin Mother, to live among us, undo the consequences of man’s sin and so lead us back onto the ‘road’ to Heaven, that destiny which Original Sin had denied us. In order that His Son would ‘take flesh’ the Father chose and prepared a very special Mother. As a member of the Human Race Jesus would, as are all babies, be conceived (in His case through the Power of the Holy Spirit rather than through a human father) and grow in His Mother’s Womb for nine months. As Perfect God-made-man, Our Lord would come to us through a Perfect human Mother. Those of us who are familiar with the history of Mary’s appearances to Saint Bernadette in Lourdes, in 1858, will recall that Our Lady, when asked by Bernadette for her name, replied, “I am the Immaculate Conception”. This Teaching had, at the time, only recently been formally proclaimed by Pope Pius IX, on 8th December 1854, in the papal bull, Ineffabilis Deus, as an article of Faith, to be believed by us all. Put simply, it means that from the very moment she was conceived through the love of her human Parents, Saints Joachim and Anne, the stain of Original Sin was prevented from touching her soul. God, being Infinite, seeing past, present and future, applied the Saving Merits of Jesus’ Passion, Death and Resurrection to Mary’s soul at its creation; she was, from the very start of her existence, ‘Full of Grace’ as Adam and Eve had been in their state of innocence, before they sinned. What Mary never lost, we regain through Baptism. The Church also holds that, in addition to her perfection of soul and freedom from any inclination to sin from conception, Mary, endowed as we all are, with Free Will, never committed any personal sin throughout her life.
We all live, grow old (please God) and die. Our body, through burial or cremation, returns ‘to the dust of the Earth’. Our soul, if we die in the State of Grace, enters Heaven, usually by way of purification in Purgatory (unless we die as Saints!). The Church teaches that, at the end of time, our bodies, then perfect, will be restored to us. As Perfect Mother of God, Mary was not to have to wait for her bodily glorification until the end of time; Through today’s Solemnity, the Church continues to teach that Mary, at the end of her earthly life, however that end actually came, was Assumed (or taken, body and Soul) into Heavenly Glory. This Solemnity of the Church is sometimes referred to as the ‘Dormition’ (or ‘falling asleep’) of Mary.
Mary watches over us, her children, ever calling us to, “Do whatever He tells you”.
“O Mary, Conceived without sin, Pray for us who have recourse to thee!”
In the Gospel account, the humanity and humility of Saint Peter are demonstrated in his offer to construct some kind of earthly dwelling for Jesus, Moses and Elijah. Of course, as The Father reminds him (and us), what is needed for our worship of God and consequent Salvation is firstly internal, i.e. our loving acceptance of and positive response to the Truth.
As created beings of flesh and blood, we are called to and certainly must employ our God-given bodies and our senses in participating in the Life of the Church. Today’s Feast firmly grounds all that we think, do and say on the ‘Truth that comes from God…’ which, alone, can strengthen us against and, ultimately, free us forever from the constant ‘pull’ of our Fallen Nature. Through the Teachings of the Church, challenging as they undoubtedly can be in this life, and through the Mass and the Sacraments, we are provided with a sure ‘route-map’ to our Heavenly destiny. God has endowed Humans, His highest Creation, with intelligence; we are capable of reason and can discern right and wrong. While intimately knowing our weakened Nature and making full allowance for our being misled, through ignorance, into genuine error, He will respect any choices we make with full knowledge and understanding for or against His Laws.
Perhaps we can interpret The Father’s words to the Apostles that day as reminding us that although, being Human, we must live as and where God has put us, we have immortal spiritual Souls and so we must keep our sights firmly set on our true purpose, to ‘know, love and serve God in this life so as to be Happy forever with Him in Heaven’. May God continue to grant us the Gifts of Faith, Hope and Charity, ever drawing us Homewards! May we ever, ‘…listen to Him...’.
Thoughts on the traditional teachings, devotions, seasons and matters of the Catholic Church