Ordinary of the Mass
“To Abraham were the promises made and to his seed.”
Christianity was, of course, rooted in
Judaism. God had picked the Jews as His special people. In the Garden of Eden,
the threat to the Devil—“I will put enmities between thee and the woman, and
thy seed and her seed: she shall crush thy head, and thou shalt lie in wait for
her heel.”—was actually a promise to Adam and Eve that one day one of their
descendants would undo the damage of their original sin.
Later on in the Book of Genesis, a
second promise was made to Abraham, the father of the Jewish nation:
I will bless thee, and I will multiply thy seed as the
stars of heaven, and as the sand that is by the sea shore: thy seed
shall possess the gates of their enemies.”
And I will give to thee, and to thy
seed … all the land of Chanaan for a perpetual possession, and I will be
And a third promise was made to one of
Abraham’s descendants, King David:
And when thy days shall be fulfilled, and thou shalt
sleep with thy fathers, I will raise up thy seed after thee … and I will
establish his kingdom. He shall build a house to my name, and I will
establish the throne of his kingdom for ever.
All of these promises were fulfilled in
Jesus Christ, the descendant of Adam, of Abraham and of King David. Jesus
Christ came into the world and crushed the Devil and conquered original sin.
Jesus Christ established His descendants in His Church, numbering in the
millions over the years. Jesus Christ reigns as our eternal King—Long live
Christ the King!
But, for many of the Jews of Saint
Paul’s time, the promises of God to Adam, Abraham, and David were tied up with
the observance of the Mosaic Law (which didn’t even exist until 430 years after
Abraham, and perhaps, a few thousand years after Adam). To many of these
people, it was essential to keep the Jewish feast days, to circumcise the male
children, to keep Kosher, and so forth, observing all the ritual works of the
Old Law. This presented a problem to Saint Paul, for most of his congregations
included at least a few such Jews. (He usually started his preaching in the
synagogue of the cities he visited.) They often insisted that the pagan
converts to Christianity had to begin their conversion by becoming Jewish, and
practicing the works of the Law, before being baptized.
This is what Saint Paul was refuting in
what he wrote to the Galatians in today’s Epistle. God promised Abraham and
David an inheritance.
[But] if the inheritance be of the law, it is no more of
promise. But God gave it to Abraham by promise. Why, then, was the law?
It was set because of transgressions, until the seed should come to whom
he made the promise.
The seed of Adam, Abraham, and David to
whom God made this promise was Jesus Christ. The moral precepts of the Law were
still to be observed, for they are a summary of the natural law which governs
all mankind, not just the Jews. If anything, there was now an even greater
emphasis on doing good and avoiding evil, for good works on behalf of another
were praised as doing good works on behalf of Jesus Himself: “You did this for
me when you did it for the least of my brethren.”
But, instead of observing the rituals of
the old Law, the Christian was expected to nurture the virtue of Faith (along
with doing good for the least of Jesus’ brethren).
And what is this thing called “Faith”?
It is not, as some supposed Christians would have us believe, an emotional hope
for salvation—it is not gritting one’s teeth, throwing up one’s hands, and
loudly shouting “I believe”—it is not that. It is not
coming up to the altar and “accepting Jesus Christ as my personal Lord and
Savior”—He is that, but there is much more to Faith. And, Faith is certainly
not belief in the impossible.
Faith is the virtue by which we believe
everything that God has revealed—God who cannot deceive us. That inability to
deceive, by the way, is not an imperfection for the ability to deceive is an
imperfection when compared to perfect Truth, which is what God is.
As a virtue, Faith is a free gift from
God. We receive it at Baptism, and we strengthen it through prayer and the
frequent reception of the Sacraments. But like all of the virtues, God expects
a human response. We are not born knowing the truths God has revealed, so we
must go about learning them. We learn them through reading the Bible and other
Catholic literature, from the sermons of orthodox priests, but ultimately it is
the Church that decides what is in the body of revelation that we must believe.
The Popes and bishops exercise what we call the extraordinary magisterium, or
teaching authority of the Church. The authentic teaching is found in the
documents issued by the Popes and the Ecumenical councils, which specify what we
must believe in order to be Catholics. Anything else ought to be read
respectfully, but it will always be clear when we are required
to believe something.
In normal times one can feel comfortable
in accepting the ordinary magisterial teaching of the Church. In his
Catholic Dictionary, Donald Attwater writes:
The ordinary magisterium is continually exercised by the
Church especially in her universal practices connected with faith or
morals, in the unanimous consent of the Fathers (q.v.) and theologians,
in the decisions of the Roman Congregations concerning faith and morals,
in the common sense (q.v.) of the faithful, and various historical
documents in which the faith is declared.
In summary, in order for good Catholics
to know their Faith, they will pray and receive the Sacraments regularly, be
attentive to orthodox Catholic sermons, and read good Catholic literature. But
being a scholar does not make one a saint. Sanctity comes from humble
acceptance of God’s Truth, and from doing what we can for the “least of our