The Church is multi-faceted but, primarily, the Catholic Church is the Instrument by which God wills to save humanity through the ministry of His Priests, who have been given Divine Authority to baptise, to forgive the sins of Her members and to nourish them with the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, truly present in the Eucharist, under the guise of bread and wine.
The Church is the hospital of sinners, the Instrument of Salvation, wherein mankind is reconciled to God, redeemed by the Blood of Christ and granted to share in the Life of the God Himself, by virtue of the sanctifying Grace restored by Baptism and by partaking in the Holy Eucharist.
Who is Jesus Christ?
Jesus Christ is, as St Peter said, 'the Christ, the Son of the Living God, the Messiah, the Saviour of the World'. Jesus Christ was not merely a 'good man' or a 'wise teacher'. Jesus Christ was, is and always be, the Eternal Word, Second Person of the Blessed Trinity. In His Incarnation in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Lord Himself became flesh, a man, for our sake. For our sake He built His Church on Peter, the Prince of the Apostles and the other Apostles.
For our sake Our Lord Jesus Christ was crucified under Pontius Pilate, undergoing a cruel and horrific death as the only perfect Sacrifice that would reconcile man with God the Eternal Father. Jesus Christ is truly God and truly man, not a cocktail of human and divine, nor half man and half God, but fully God and fully man. As a man, He was like us, and is like us, in all things but sin. After His Resurrection, He ascended to the Eternal Father in glory to sit at His right hand, pleading for humanity and for His Church. In His resurrected Body He is now in Heaven, the place where we hope to follow Him in the next life, by following Him in this life.
Who is the Pope?
The Pope, now Pope Benedict XVI, is the Successor of St Peter who was the first Pope. The current Pope, as well as all who come after him, can trace their succession back to St Peter. What is special about St Peter? St Peter, was among the disciples when Jesus asked 'Who do people say that I am?'
"Thou art the Christ, the Son of the Living God, the Messiah, the Saviour of the World."
By Divine Revelation, Peter infallibly recognised and proclaimed Jesus to be God. Christ responded to Peter:
"Flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in Heaven. And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven."
This is the root of the Church's belief, which has been held since Peter, that Peter and his Successors alone can speak infallibly when defining Faith and Morals from the Chair, ex cathedra. Catholics are bound, therefore, to all infallible Papal decrees concerning Faith and Morals, including such doctrines as the Assumption, Body and Soul, of Our Lady, the Blessed Virgin Mary into Heaven.
Christ made Peter the rock of the Church, the Prince of the Apostles, the spiritual Guardian of the Faithful and the leader of the Universal Church. He gave to Peter the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven and entrusted the stewardship of the Church to him, promising him that his was the power to bind and indeed to loose, souls on Earth.
After the Resurrection, Christ asked thrice to Peter, "Do you love me?" Thrice Peter answered positively, a reaffirmation of his fidelity to the One whom he had denied in cowardice when he was asked whether he was one of Jesus's followers at Our Lord's trial. Christ commanded him, "Feed my lambs, feed my sheep," by which we understand that Peter and his successors have a special commission by Christ to nourish and guide the Faithful by the Apostolic teaching authority given to Peter and handed down to his Successors. It is the Supreme Pontiff's solemn and special duty to guard the Deposit of Faith handed down by Christ to His Apostles and from the Apostles to the Pope and Bishops of the present day.
Bishops are successors of the Apostles. They are bound to obedience to the Supreme Pontiff, the Vicar of Christ on Earth. Priests are those ordained by Bishops to continue the Christ's ministry of redemption achieved by His Life, Death and Resurrection. Christ gave the Apostles and their Bishop successors a special teaching ministry within the Church. He said to His Apostles:
"Whoever hears you, hears me."
After the Resurrection, He commissioned the Apostles to "go throughout the whole World, preaching the forgiveness of sins and baptising in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit".
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