Communion, Forgiveness and Life Everlasting

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9/1/2009

The 19th installment of Supreme Chaplain Bishop William E. Lori’s faith formation program addresses questions 194-217 of the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

In companies, an organized structure is intended to foster unity and encourage teamwork. Likewise, members of a loving family have varying roles and responsibilities, which are complementary and contribute to the unity of the family and to the common good.

Something similar can be said of the visible structure of the Church, which has its origin in Christ. St. Paul taught us to see how varying vocations, ministries and gifts of the Holy Spirit work together in love to build up the Body of Christ. These vocations exist for the unity and common good of God’s family.

The members of the Church, called “the Christian faithful,” are those incorporated into Christ by baptism and who thus become a part of the “People of God” — a phrase that has its roots in the Old Testament notion of the chosen people. In fulfillment of God’s promises, Christ established the new and definitive covenant in his blood. The baptized partake in Christ’s sacrifice of love and are called to proclaim and live the truth of the Gospel. This call to holiness is universal. We speak, therefore, of “a true equality among all the members of the Church in their dignity as children of God” (Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, 177).

MARY, MOTHER OF THE CHURCH Back to Top

The most important member of the communion of saints is Mary, the Mother of Christ and the Mother of the Church. Mary gave birth to Jesus and shared in his sacrifice. While dying on the Cross, Jesus entrusted his mother to his disciples with the words, “Behold your mother” (Jn 19:27). Mary is “thus recognized as the mother of salvation, life and grace” — indeed, the Mother of the Church (196).

Mary’s maternal care for the Church was evident from the beginning. After the ascension of Christ, she prayed with the Apostles as they awaited the coming of the Holy Spirit. She also worshipped with them during the celebration of the Eucharist (see Acts 2:42; Ecclesia de Eucharistia, 53).

Mary’s example of faith and charity continues to shine upon the Church today. The Virgin Mary prays with and for the Church, and she is always mentioned in the Eucharistic Prayer at Mass. Filled with the saving power of Christ’s love, she encourages us to grow in holiness. This is why we often turn to Mary as our advocate and helper, and why the Church encourages warm devotion to her (see Compendium, 197).

Sometimes, people incorrectly claim that Catholics “worship” Mary. We worship only the Trinity. However, we do have a special veneration for Mary because of her unique role in our salvation. We express this in celebrating beautiful Marian liturgical feasts and in praying the rosary, which has been described as “a compendium of the whole Gospel” (198). As we pray to Mary for her intercession, we see in her the perfection we should aspire to as we journey toward heaven (199).

Our Catholic faith teaches us that Mary, in view of the merits of her son, was uniquely preserved from all sin from the moment of her conception. Yet, we also profess in the Nicene Creed our belief in “one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.” Indeed, “The first and chief sacrament for the forgiveness of sins is baptism” (200). Christ instituted the sacrament of reconciliation, or penance, for sins committed after baptism. The Church has the authority to forgive because Christ imparted the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles and said: “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any they are retained” (Jn 20:23).

THE LAST THINGS Back to Top

The closing sentences of the Nicene Creed look at “the last things” — death, resurrection, judgment and eternal destiny. We sometimes try to forget about this, but we need to reflect on what awaits us at the end of life. Death is not the last word; we are created to share in the resurrection of Christ. The separation of our bodies from our souls at death will not last for all eternity. In a manner we cannot now imagine, even our mortal bodies will be raised and reunited to our souls. The good will share in the resurrection of life; the wicked will share in the resurrection of condemnation (Jn 5:29; Compendium, 202-205). Each day, we seek to live in Christ so that when we die, we will die in the Lord unto life everlasting (206).

At death, we will each enter into eternity and undergo the particular judgment (208). We have our “definitive meeting with Christ” concerning our eternal destiny. Those who die in the grace of Christ and have no further need of purification share the happiness of heaven. Others die in God’s friendship but need further purification, a state that is called “purgatory.” We can help our sisters and brothers in purgatory by having Masses offered for them, by prayers, good works and personal sacrifices offered in Christ (see 209-211).

Those who die in mortal sin through their own free choice are condemned to hell. Hell entails separation from God for whose love we were made. God takes no pleasure in the condemnation of sinners; yet he respects our freedom. If we choose to be separated from God in this life, we run the risk of being separated from God for all eternity (see 212-214).

The final and general judgment occurs when “Christ will come again to judge the living and the dead.” If we are truly living “in Christ,” we look forward to Christ’s coming in joyful hope. We do not know when Christ’s second coming will occur, so we live in both vigilance and hope. We should ask to share his life so completely that we contribute to that moment when God’s plan of salvation will come to completion and then, in eternity, God will be “all in all” (1 Cor. 15:28; see 215-216).

To the profession of faith that we have now studied for more than a year, we add our “Amen” — a Hebrew word that indicates our total assent to what the Church believes and teaches.