“Upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates beyond shall not prevail against it.” – Matthew 16:18.
Jesus’ promise to build His Church would be fulfilled at Pentecost, and some two thousand years later, the Catholic Church remains. In this article, I will seek to provide a brief overview and history of the Church and its structure. I will conclude by examining the purpose of the “mystical body of Christ.”
In a very real sense, it is impossible to talk about the history of Western civilization without talking about the Catholic Church. The history of the Roman Empire, as well as the history of Europe, is inextricably linked with the Catholic Church.
The Catholic Church traces its origins to Pentecost. It is at Pentecost that the Holy Spirit descends on the apostles and thus completes the paschal mystery.
Based on the words spoken by Jesus (“Upon this rock I will build my Church), Peter is considered the first pope. Under Peter’s direction and strengthened by the Holy Spirit, the apostles formed house churches. Indeed, house churches were essential to the growth and ultimate triumph of Catholicism during the first three centuries after Pentecost.The spread of Catholicism through these house churches enabled believers to challenge the social order of the day. They have become witnesses – through their words, their lives and their sufferings.
The New Testament provides several references to house churches. They were family homes where Catholics gathered and meditated on the life and message of Jesus while growing in their faith. (See Acts of the Apostles 2:46).
Despite opposition and persecution, the disciples spread the gospel message throughout Asia Minor and throughout the Roman Empire. In addition. 313, the first Catholic church, San Giovanni Laterano, was built in Rome.
In addition. 380, the Roman Empire officially declared Christianity as the religion of the Empire. At the height of the Empire, its expanses included much of what is now Western Europe. As such, Catholicism spread to Europe and eventually to the new world of the Americas.
The Roman Empire is long gone, but the Basilica of San Giovanni, like Catholicism itself, remains.
Within the Church there are six levels of clergy included in the Sacrament of Holy Orders. The pope is the head of the visible body of the Catholic Church. It is essential to make a distinction here. The Church is the mystical body of Christ, and as such its head is Jesus. The pope, as vicar or representative of Christ, is the head of the Church on earth. In other words, the pope is the successor of Peter at the head of the apostles.
Cardinals are the principal bishops as well as members of the College of Cardinals. Their most important duty is to participate in the papal conclave, which is to choose a new pope. Additionally, cardinals are often involved in the governing body of the Church, known as the Roman Curia.
Below the cardinals are the archbishops. Archbishops are bishops of crucial importance. They oversee large areas of churches called archdioceses. Finally, archbishops are responsible for overseeing and managing bishops within their geographic region.
Bishops are ordained ministers who act as heads of a diocese or eparchy (the Eastern Orthodox equivalent of a diocese). Bishops are responsible for teaching and delegating the teachings of the Church to priests, teachers and catechists. They are also responsible for training and supplying priests in their area of responsibility. Finally, bishops must ensure that the sacraments of the Church are properly administered.
After the seminary, and after the diaconate, a man undertakes the rite of ordination. This ordains them to the priesthood. The priest celebrates the ceremony of the Eucharist, hears the confession and proceeds to the anointing of the sick. Priests can also perform sacred marriage. The Catholic Church distinguishes between two kinds of priests: religious and diocesan. Diocesan priests lead individual parishes. They serve the people of their parish and are not required to take the same vowels as religious priests. This type of priest is more common in secular countries without a strong traditional Catholic population.
Religious priests, however, dedicate themselves to a religious order, like Dominicans. They wear special religious clothing and take additional vows of poverty and obedience. They usually live in a group house alongside other members of the order.
The last level of clergy is that of deacons. The role of deacons is to assist priests in preaching, granting baptism, solemnizing marriages and administering parishes. Often deacons are seminarians studying for the priesthood.
While the pope is the head of the visible Church, he acts in accordance with the curia. The curia is the set of departments or ministries that assist the sovereign pontiff in the government of the Catholic Church. Essentially, the curia is the governing body of the Church.
Yet within the curia there are divisions or congregations called dicasteries. Dicasteries deal with various administrative and ecclesiastical tasks functions. For example, the Department for the Doctrine of the Faith is responsible for safeguarding the doctrine of faith and morals.
In a very real sense, the purpose of the Catholic Church is summed up in the words of Christ. “Go therefore, make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and teach them to observe all that I have commanded you. » (Matthew 28:19-20).
It is the responsibility of the Church to support, clarify and spread the message of the Gospel. As the words of Jesus indicate, there are certain activities or rituals entrusted to the Church. These activities or rituals are called sacraments. Without going into the specifics of each sacrament, it will suffice to say that God has entrusted seven sacraments to His Church. “The purpose of the sacraments is to sanctify men, to build up the body of Christ, and finally, to render worship to God.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 1123).
Therefore, we can say that the purpose of the Catholic Church is to make people holy, to work to bring about the Kingdom of God, and to render righteous worship which is due to God.
In this article, I have sought to provide an introduction to the history, structure, and purpose of the Catholic Church.
I have delineated the types of clergy and provided an overview of the organization of the Church. Finally, I suggested that the purpose of the Catholic Church is to work for the realization of the Kingdom of God. This is done through the administration of the sacraments, and it is done through the proper worship of God.