We find ourselves in the middle of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. This past Wednesday, our Holy Father, Pope Benedict, said to us,
During this Week of Prayer, let us ask the Lord to strengthen the faith of all Christians, to change our hearts and to enable us to bear united witness to the Gospel.
What do we Catholics believe about the unity of the Church?
1. We believe that Jesus Christ, the Lord, the Son of God—the Way, the Truth, and the Life, risen from the dead, ascended into heaven—we believe that He rules as the sole Head and King of the Church and of the universe.
2. We believe that every man, woman, or child who has been baptized in water and in the name of the Blessed Trinity is a Christian, a member of the Church.
We generally give to the clergy the office of baptizing people. But, when you get down to it, everyone possesses the competence to baptize.
Water + the words = Holy Baptism = a Christian.
3. We Catholics believe that the written Word of God bears witness to the truth in such a way that the Bible must be our constant study and rule of life. God Himself speaks to us when we read or listen to the Bible. At the same time, we must study the sacred books for what they are, namely the work of human beings written in particular circumstances at particular times.
When it comes to how people interpret the Bible, we Catholics don’t call our brother- and sister-Christians ‘liberals’ or ‘fundamentalists,’ because neither of these terms really does anything to help people understand each other.
4. We Catholics believe that Christ gave everything essential in our religion to His Apostles, and they, in turn, gave everything to the first generation of Christians. Ever since then, the entire sacred patrimony has been handed down from one generation to the next.
Considering what the Lord gave us, the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church shines gloriously, perfect in every respect. At the same time, considered as a human institution, the Church is nothing other than a hospital for sinners, constantly in need of reform and renewal.
5. We believe that, given the way human societies work, the Lord Jesus knew that His chosen band would need a leader, so He chose St. Peter for this office. The office has been filled ever since. The current occupant is Benedict XVI. The Pope governs Christ’s Church on earth.
6. We Catholics believe that we have a duty to stand up for truth and justice, for the right to life, for fairness in everything. We believe that we owe it to ourselves to help the poor. In all these enterprises we gladly co-operate with everyone who seeks to fulfill the same Christian duties, be they Catholic or not.
7. We believe that our Lord made marriage a sacrament and an unbreakable bond. We believe that the marriage of two baptized Christians is a sacrament. We know that some of our separated brethren don’t even teach that marriage is a sacrament, but nonetheless our faith binds us to regard any marriage of two baptized Christians as a sacrament. We believe that the Church, and the Church alone, has the authority to declare null any particular marriage vows, taken by any Christian man and woman.
8. We Catholics love the saints in heaven. We love our Lady, and we constantly beg her help. We worship only the Triune God.
We worship all the Persons of the Trinity. We worship everything that is personally united with the eternal Son. We worship, therefore, His Sacred Heart and the Blessed Sacrament of His Body and Blood.
9. Christ instituted the Mass at the Last Supper. He made His Apostles the first priests of the New Covenant. Ever since then, the sacred priesthood has been handed down by the laying on of hands.
We believe that only a duly ordained priest can celebrate Christ’s Holy Eucharist. We believe that Catholic and Orthodox priests are duly ordained. We believe that the Protestant clergy are not. That said, we believe that whenever two or three Christians gather together, the Lord is there in the midst of them.
We do not take communion at non-Catholic services, and we do not invite non-Catholics to take Holy Communion at Mass. That said, we rejoice whenever we pray with anybody and whenever anybody prays with us. We have nothing but respect for every man’s Christian faith. False pretenses of unity do not serve the cause of Christ. But, of course, neither do pride or disrespect.
…Please God we get there, will we find a big coffee hour in heaven, with Protestants holding heavenly Styrofoam cups right next to us? Maybe. Only God knows the answer to such questions. I, for one, would like to ask Him if we could have a Tina Turner concert in heaven. But I know better than to expect an answer at this point.
We Catholics concern ourselves with our getting to heaven. The Lord has given us the means of getting there; He has given us every reason to hope for it.
One of the means we have of getting to heaven is: Loving Protestant and Orthodox Christians as our brothers and sisters.