A.L., Chicago, IL
A. It is assumed that you understand what constitutes the `hierarchy' in the Roman Catholic Church. There are many who either have no idea whatsoever, or, who have only a vague idea of what constitutes the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church.
Much of the confusion has arisen from the fact that many clergymen, afraid to stand up for the faith and continue as priests in good standing with the Church, have shifted the responsibility for maintaining the teaching authority upon the laity.
This unfortunate mistake has been promoted by the late Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen who, it is said, often repeated the following: "It is the laity who will save the Church!"
As charming as this may appear at first sight, a little thought will unmask the subtle error contained in that statement.
Question: Does the `Church' need `saving'? The Church is One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic. Which mark will the laity save (Should it require `saving')? The Church, having the Holy Ghost as its vivifying principle, cannot be in need of `saving.' It is individual members in the Church who need saving.
The Church as an institution of salvation established by Jesus Christ can never fail or fall. There will always be members of the Church who will not fail. If this were not so, the Church could not exist.
The Church, it must be borne in mind is constituted by three phases: the Church Suffering, the Church Militant and the Church Triumphant. Although there is not a real distinction, but only a virtual distinction among the three, it should be evident that the Church cannot possibly be destroyed. For, how does one destroy the Church Triumphant? How does one destroy the Church Suffering? And, as for the Church Militant, Jesus had already promised that it would continue until the end of time (`Time" as we understand it in the context of our human existence this side of eternity).
If there is not a single bishop who upholds the doctrine, discipline and means of sanctification (The three powers of Jesus conferred at episcopal consecration), then we would have to conclude that the true Church has ceased to exist because one of the marks of the true Church has failed: Without a valid Roman Catholic bishop, the fourth mark of the true Church is destroyed.
No laymen nor priest of whatever holiness or learning can fill the requirement of apostolicity. Just as the reception of Holy Orders from a non-Catholic bishop does not make a layman a Roman Catholic priest, so, too, episcopal consecration in a non-Catholic sect does not make a Roman Catholic bishop.
Even if the Orders are valid, such a person cannot function as a priest or bishop in the Roman Catholic Church.
There is much misunderstanding concerning the meaning and application of the terms `valid' and `licit.'
To be sure, those who have the least knowledge of the Church and Her structure are the first to impose their unauthorized interpretations of the Church's doctrines and law (discipline).
It reminds one of those missionaries in isolated mission areas where no professional medical help is available. The missionary priest is often required to become dentist and doctor as a last resort to help the ailing. He does not have the expensive, sophisticated tools that make work easy for the professional, he has to pull teeth with whatever tool at hand; he has to sew up wounds with whatever means available. These rustic ministrations to the body do not make the missionary either a dentist or a doctor.
A dentist or doctor is out of the field of his competency when he plays theologian. The same may be said of the plumber, electrician, carpenter or lawyer.
As one bishop in the missions once said: "The new `Magisterium' is the news media!" Meaning? Simply this: The journalist, working at the behest and paid by the publisher, directs his information in such a way as to favor his boss' weltanshauung (world-view).
The Church is supernatural. This means that She cannot be understood by the carnal man. That is, by someone devoid of the supernatural grace of faith. This, unfortunately, is the case with the almost totality of those who style themselves as `Roman Catholic Traditionalists.'
Almost to a man, these `Traditionalists' are blinded by pride because they invariably reject any divinely instituted authority that is not to their liking or which they cannot control. Having usurped the teaching authority of the Church, they necessarily usurp the governing authority of the Church.
And, like the Pharisees whom they eminently emulate, they accuse the Church's divinely-appointed ministers of being the `usurpers' simply because, like St. Paul, it is the bishop who issues the call to right order _ not the layman nor the priest.
Like the Pharisees who quote Scripture without understanding its true and supernatural meaning, these `Traditionalists' quote whatever answers their immediate need.
Anyone who would be a genuine Roman Catholic, priest or layman, should be persuaded and convinced that unless one is not united to a genuine bishop of the Roman Catholic Church, one cannot be considered a Roman Catholic. The reason is simple: Those who are not united to a genuine Roman Catholic bishop are not in the true Church. False bishops _ such as those manufactured by Marcel Lefebvre and those who have obtained valid episcopal consecration either through deception or from non-Catholic bishops- are not bishops of the Roman Catholic Church.
Their ministrations are either fruitless (albeit valid in some cases) and always gravely sinful. `Fruitless' means that although a Sacrament is validly administered, the circumstances of the individuals involved create an obstacle to the reception of the graces flowing from the Sacrament.
Do not be deceived by the hew and cry of `validity' _ as if this were enough to assure the reception of the supernatural graces which are essential to living a supernatural life of grace. Even a cursory glance at the attitudes and lifestyles of so many of these `Traditionalists' shows that they are `drinking from an empty glass.' It is only the bishop who can fill that glass. This is a matter of divine faith.
The Church will always have a genuine successor of the Apostles. Like Joan of Arc who had to carry a divine message to the Dauphin of France without ever having seen the man, yet, she could not be fooled, so also, those who are led by divine grace will not be deceived by the many tricksters who use religion to enrich themselves without working, or who, in an attempt to stifle the boredom of their lives delve in matters beyond their competency.
Bottom line: If you encounter anyone, priest or layman, who would have you believe that he can represent the Roman Catholic Church without a bishop to whom supernatural obedience is promised, and the promise kept, run for your life! You have met a wolf in sheep's clothing.
The wolves will howl and scream that such words are "uncharitable" and "unchristian." Let them howl! But, as for yourself and your eternal happiness, be certain that you are really in the Roman Catholic Church. Sincerity may sometimes excuse our mistakes; but being sincerely wrong will not get us to our goal.
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