Tuesday, May 17, 2005


Pope John XXIII identified the Church as Mater et Magistra, Mother and Teacher. What does the Church teach concerning the Papal Magisterium? Since the Church "prays what she believes," she teaches Christ's faithful primarily through the liturgy. Thus, the liturgy of the Feast of the Chair of St. Peter, February 22, provides us with deep insights concerning the Teaching Authority of the Bishop of Rome, the Holy Father. In various expressions, this Mass formulary repeatedly recalls the promise of our Lord to St. Peter: "Thou art Peter and upon this Rock I will build my Church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against you. And I will give to you the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven. Whatever you shall declare bound on earth shall be bound also in heaven. Whatever you declare loosed on earth shall be loosed also in heaven" (Matthew 16: 18-19).
Reflecting on this power of Peter, Pope John Paul II taught the following: "This does not mean only the power to formulate points of doctrine or general norms of action according to Jesus. It is the power of "binding and loosing," that is, of doing whatever is necessary for the life and development of the Church. The opposing terms "binding-loosing" serve to show the totality of the power." The Feast of the Chair of St. Peter is a liturgical reminder of this undeniable reality. At the offertory of the Mass, the priest prays: "Lord, accept the prayers and gifts of your Church. With St. Peter as our shepherd, keep us true to the faith he taught and bring us to your eternal kingdom."

St. Paul was clear: "Jesus Christ is the Head of the Body, the Church" (Colossians 1: 18). He is the Invisible Head of the Church who we cannot see. By the will of Jesus Christ, the Bishop of Rome, the Successor of Peter, is the Visible Head of the Universal Church who we can see. As Pope Pius XII taught in the encyclical, Mystici Corporis: "Our Redeemer also governs His Mystical Body in a visible and normal way through His Vicar on earth."

Pope John Paul reaffirmed the Church's ancient belief regarding the Petrine Primacy. "The fact that Peter's authority was calmly recognized in the Church is due exclusively to Christ's will. It shows that the words with which Jesus assigned to the Apostle his unique pastoral authority were understood and accepted without difficulty in the Christian Community."

The First Vatican Council focused its teaching on the Supreme Authority of the Holy Father. It was emphatic that the Pope is the Vicar of Christ on earth and that when he teaches the Universal Church, he teaches in Christ's Name. "This power obliges shepherds and faithful of every rite and dignity, both individually and collectively, to hierarchal subordination and true obedience, not only in matters of faith and morals, but also in those pertaining to the discipline and government of the Church throughout the world."

When the Pope teaches, he does so with the authority of Jesus Christ and under the guide of the "Spirit of Truth" (cf. John 14: 16-17). "For the Holy Spirit was promised to the Successors of Peter not that they may manifest a new doctrine by His revelation, but rather that with His assistance, they should religiously preserve and faithfully teach the revelation that was handed down through the Apostles---the Deposit of Faith" (Pope John Paul II, General Audience of December 16, 1992, N. 2).
Every member of Christ's Mystical Body, bishops, priests, religious, deacons and laity must be united in the faith and moral teachings of the Holy Father. Can a Catholic dissent from the Papal Magisterium and still claim to be a Catholic in good standing? Can one refuse to render a "religious submission of mind and will" to the Pope's teachings? No! Absolutely not! Vatican II was clear on this fundamental point.

Moreover, Catholics must obey the teachings of the Pope both from his Ordinary and his Extra-Ordinary Magisterium. Too often, I believe, the mistake is made of restricting the infallible teaching charism of the Holy Father exclusively to the ex cathera forum. Dissident theologians have capitolized on this misinterpretation, leading many Catholics to believe that they are bound to follow only the de fide or ex cathedra teachings of the Roman Pontiff. This limitation was never the mind of the Church. It certainly was not the mind of the Fathers either of Vatican I or Vatican II.

Pope John addressed this fallacy in his discourse to a group of bishops from New York State on Octobers 15, 1988: "The Magisterium is not above the divine word but serves it with a specific carisma veritatis certum. This includes the charism of infallibility which is present not only in the solemn definitions of the Roman Pontiff and of Ecumenical Councils but also in the Universal Ordinary Magisterium (cf. Lumen Gentium N. 25). Thus, the Universal Ordinary Magisterium can truly be considered as the usual expression of the Church's infallibility."

Recall the words of our Lord to St. Peter: "Simon, Simon! Remember that Satan has desired to have you that he may sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you that your faith will never fail you. And you, when you have been converted, confirm your brethren" (Luke 22: 31-32).

"Confirm your brethren," Pope John Paul II tells us means: "Teach the faith in every age, in different circumstances and amidst the many difficulties and contradictions which preaching the faith will encounter in history; by teaching instill courage in the faithful---spread the message of faith, preach sound doctrine, reunite the "brethren"---These words of Saint Luke are very significant for all who exercise the munus Petrinum in the Church; they continually remind them of the kind of original paradox that Christ himself placed in them, with the certitude that in their ministry, as in Peter's, a special grace is at work which supports man's weakness and allows him to "confirm his brothers."

The Magisterium of the Bishops is an undeniable part of the Deposit of Catholic Faith. There are some well intentioned Catholics who staunchly profess their obedience and loyalty to the Holy Father. Yet, they would withhold loyalty to the bishop. Frankly, this is a grave error. The Second Vatican Council makes the following analogy between the College of Apostles and their successors, the bishops. "Just as in accord with the Lord's decree, St. Peter and the rest of the Apostles constitute a unique apostolic College, so in like fashion the Roman Pontiff, Peter's Successor, and the Bishops, the Successors of the Apostles, are united to one another."

Indeed, the Council teaches that the Pope has full, supreme and universal power over the entire Church. Our Lord placed Simon alone as the rock and bearer of the keys of the Church and made him the shepherd of the whole flock. Nevertheless, in hierarchal unity, "individual bishops, who are placed in charge of a particular diocese, exercise their pastoral government over the portion of the People of God committed to their care . . . Bishops (must) promote and safeguard the unity of faith and the discipline common to the whole Church, to instruct the faithful to love the whole Mystical Body of Christ" (Lumen Gentium, N. 13).

This ecclesial understanding closely follows the teachings of Vatican I and previous Councils. According to Pope John Paul II, the bishops, as Successors of the Apostles, were given the mission of preaching the gospel to the ends of the earth. They are "united among themselves by the will of Christ and under Peter's authority. "The Second Vatican Council," he further taught, "does not present this doctrine (of Episcopal collegiality) as something new, except perhaps in its formation, but as the content of a historical reality which receives and fulfills the will of Christ, as it comes to us in Tradition."

"Bishops by divine institution have succeeded to the place of the Apostles as shepherds of the Church. He who hears them hears Christ, and he who rejects them, rejects Christ and Him who sent Christ (cf. Luke 10: 16). In the bishops therefore, for whom priests are the assistants, Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Supreme High Priest, is present in the midst of all who believe." Catholics must render the "obedience of faith" (Romans 1: 5) to the Holy Father and the bishops as they defend and proclaim the Deposit of Faith which the Lord has entrusted to His Church. The faithful Catholic must be obedient to the Magisterium.

Moreover, we read in the Council's Decree on the Office of Bishops: "Individual bishops who have been entrusted with the care of a particular church---under the authority of the Supreme Pontiff---feed their sheep in the name of the Lord as their own, ordinary and immediate pastors, performing for them the office of teaching, sanctifying, and governing."

The Papal Magisterium is a divine gift to the whole Church which guarantees that it will never fall into doctrinal error. It is precisely for this reason that Vatican II, more firmly and consistently than previous councils, recognizes and affirms the supremacy of the Papal Magisterium. It teaches that: "The college or body of bishops has no authority unless it is understood together with the Roman Pontiff, the Successor of Peter as its head. The Pope's power of primacy over all, both pastors and faithful, remains whole and intact---The order of bishops, which succeeds to the College of Apostles and gives this body continued existence, is also the subject of supreme and full power over the universal Church, provided we understand this body together with its head the Roman Pontiff and never apart from this head."

Therefore, bishops must teach in solidarity with the Holy Father. Individually or as a body, they cannot go off on their own, so to speak, rendering opinions that contradict or conflict with the teachings of the Successor of Peter. Thus bishops, either as a body or as individuals, always must teach CUM PETRO ET SUB PETRO, (With Peter and Under Peter).

Let us take the question of abortion as a specific example. When Bishop Rene Gracida, Bishop Emeritus of Corpus Christi, Texas, taught that every direct abortion is an, "intrinsic evil---which violates both the laws of nature and of God," he was teaching Magisterially. As the first teacher of Catholic faith in his diocese, he stood in full collegiality with the Supreme Pontiff. Bishop Gracida was teaching "CUM PETRO ET SUB PETRO." Therefore, to remain a Catholic in good standing, one must obey this teaching of Bishop Gracida.

Conversely, at times, we have heard from a few bishops who, either explicitly or implicitly, have advocated the ordination of women to the Priesthood of Jesus Christ. This absolutely is opposed to constant Church teaching. Repeatedly, the Holy Father and his predecessors have taught that the Church, in fidelity to Sacred Tradition, "calls men to the Priesthood and does not call women."

A Bishop who opposes this papal teaching does not teach, CUM PETRO ET SUB PETRO. Therefore, Catholics are not bound to observe these dissenting speculations. Moreover, with due respect to the dignity of the episcopacy, views of this nature must be resisted. The Holy Father is the highest authority in the Church. In fidelity to Catholic faith everyone in the Mystical Body, including bishops, always must remain united to the Pope in his faith and moral teachings.

Thus, the true test of orthodox Catholic faith is unity with the Holy Father in all of his faith and moral teachings. Can one truly be Catholic and pro-abortion or pro-contraception or advocate same sex marriages? Of course not! Always, in all questions of faith, morals and the discipline of the Church, we must render the "obedience of faith," to the Vicar of Jesus Christ on Earth, the Holy Father. In our day, we must be united with Pope Benedict XVI.

The expression of the Second Vatican Council, CUM PETRO ET SUB PETRO (see the Council documents, Ad Gentes N. 38;cf. Christus Dominus, N. 2 & 3) has deep and profound significance. Catholics do not have the liberty of following any wind of change that comes along and tickles their fancy. Catholic politicians cannot vote for abortion legislation. No, if we are to be Catholic, we must be united with the Vicar of Chriat on Earth, the Holy Father. May God grant that we always have the humility required to have the "obedience of faith," (Romans 1: 5).

Father Richard J. Rego


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you Fr. Rego, for such a clear and methodical presentation of the Papal Magisterium. I particularly like that you provide so many references. This should serve as a model for others making presentations on Church topics. You show a great respect for each person's ability to make determinations on matters of Faith and Morals...those who care for their charges will instruct clearly and carefully.

11:28 AM  
Blogger Fr. Richard J. Rego said...

Thank you anoymous and God bless.

9:23 PM  

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