Roman Catholicism traces its origins to the apostolic age

Father John A. Kiley

A local interfaith group is proposing a Web-site with brief explanations of Rhode Island's various religious traditions.

This is the offering I hope to propose from the Catholic perspective. Roman Catholicism traces its origins back to the apostolic age: specifically, to the ministry of reconciliation entrusted by Jesus Christ after his resurrection to his faithful apostles guided by the office of Peter on whom Christ bestowed the personal charism of unfailing headship for his believing community. Jesus entrusted the apostolic church with basic beliefs and moral imperatives that have guided the Catholic community ever since. Roman Catholics profess a firm belief in the one God in whose divine nature the three divine persons – Father, Son and Holy Sprit - subsist from all eternity. The church appreciates the Father as Creator of the entire universe, the Son, who became the man Jesus Christ, as the Redeemer of the human race from mankind's primordial sin, and the Holy Spirit as the life and light of the continuing church down through the ages.

Catholics believe the Incarnation and resurrection of Jesus Christ are the central events of salvation history. The Catholic Church believes that history will lead to a fulfillment in eternity where justice informed by mercy will be dispensed to all, determining those who have embraced the truth in Christ and those who have rejected it. The church reveres those faithful who have especially persevered in holiness honoring them in death as saints, often invoking their intercession with God in heaven. The Virgin Mary as Mother of God is pre-eminent among the saints.

Roman Catholicism is a hierarchical, priestly community in which all the baptized share in the worship of the Father through the Son and in the Holy Spirit chiefly through the offering of the body and blood of Jesus at Mass effected through the instrumentality of an ordained priest.

This priestly community worships in communion with the bishops throughout the world and in union with the chief shepherd, the Bishop of Rome, currently Pope Benedict XVI. As a worshipping community, the church welcomes new members through the sacramental rituals of baptism by water, confirmation through anointing, and the Holy Eucharist, the sacrificial meal of Christ's body and blood. Members who might fall from grace are restored to active church life through the sacrament of penance. The church increases its membership through the sacrament of matrimony in which a man and a women open to new life pledge their permanent and exclusive love. The church spiritually cares for its membership through the ordained priesthood consisting of deacons, who care for the fabric of the church, priests, who minister at the altar, and bishops, who preach and teach. Members in failing health are comforted and strengthened through the anointing of the sick.

The Catholic Church greatly respects Christian tradition which is essentially divine revelation consisting of the perennial teachings and consistent practices of the believing community in union with the bishops and the Holy Father. The canonical Scriptures, the inspired Bible, form a principal part of this tradition.

The church treasures the natural law, common to all societies, which it understands to be expressed succinctly and conveniently in the Ten Commandments and generally but sometimes obscurely in the heart of every man. Christian morality therefore is based on reason enlightened by faith. The Catholic Church takes human history very seriously, working to enshrine the will and work of God in daily life especially by its efforts toward charity and justice. Consequently, the church relishes its scriptural mandate to be the defender of orphans and widows.

The Roman Catholic Church believes that it has preserved the original deposit of faith entrusted by Christ to his first community in its full authenticity. These basic beliefs and practices have been amplified and intensified but their essential truths have not been compromised. Much of this apostolic tradition is shared with other Christian communities and to a certain extent with Judaism and even Islam. It is a fundamental Catholic belief that God desires that all men should be saved and come to the knowledge of his truth and that Jesus died on the cross for all men. Accordingly the church recognizes that other great world religions share rays of truth that come from God himself through the light of natural reason. The church especially relishes its four marks of authenticity: 1) The church is one, (that is, unified in teaching and practice throughout the world.) 2) The church is holy, (that is, its primary focus is on the things that are above where Christ sits at the right hand of the Father.) 3) The church is catholic, (that is, always and everywhere present.) 4) And the Church is apostolic, (that is, rooted firmly and exclusively in the teachings Jesus Christ entrusted to his first disciples.)