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Reflection on the Catholic Catechism: Revelation and the Church

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Since the mission Jesus gave to the apostles was for all time, in order to preserve the full and living Gospel, the apostles needed to entrust their mission to others who would continue it after their death

God graciously arranged that the things he had once revealed for the salvation of all peoples should remain in their entirety, throughout the ages, and be transmitted to all generations. This article covers three ways that God continues to transmit his Revelation.


KNOXVILLE, TN (Catholic Online) - The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) states, "God graciously arranged that the things he had once revealed for the salvation of all peoples should remain in their entirety, throughout the ages, and be transmitted to all generations" (#74). This next section of the Catechism covers three ways that God continues to transmit his Revelation: apostolic Tradition, Sacred Scripture, and the Magisterium of the Church.

Shortly after Jesus had risen, he met the apostles in Galilee and said, "Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age" (Mt 28:19-20).

Apostolic Tradition:

For all practical purposes, apostolic Tradition began when the apostles started preaching the Gospel. The Gospel message represents all that Jesus told them and showed them by his example, and by the prompting of the Holy Spirit. The apostles transmitted the Gospel message through the spoken word, in writing, by their example, and by the institutions they established.

Since the mission Jesus gave to the apostles was for all time, in order to preserve the full and living Gospel, the apostles needed to entrust their mission to others who would continue it after their death. Saint Irenaeus, a bishop and Early Church Father, said that "the apostolic tradition is manifested and preserved in the whole world by those who were made bishops by the apostles and by their successors down to our own time" (Lumen Gentium #20).

It is through Tradition, then, that "'the Church, in her doctrine, life, and worship perpetuates and transmits to every generation all that she herself is, all that she believes'" (CCC #78). She "transmits in its entirety the Word of God which has been entrusted to the apostles by Christ the Lord and the Holy Spirit" (CCC #81).

Sacred Scripture:

The apostles and other disciples also committed the Gospel message to writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. The first generation of Christians did not have the New Testament Scriptures. They were a product of Tradition. So the Church "does not derive her certainty about all revealed truths from the holy Scriptures alone" (CCC #82). However, both Tradition and Scripture are treated with equal devotion and reverence.

According to the Catechism, Scripture and Tradition are "'bound closely together and communicate one with the other. For both of them, flowing out from the same divine well-spring, come together in some fashion to form one thing and move towards the same goal.' Each of them makes present and fruitful in the Church the mystery of Christ . . ." (#80).

Dr. Scott Hahn helps us understand how Scripture and Tradition come together to make Christ present in the Church in his book, Letter and Spirit: From Written Text to Living Word in the Liturgy. He says that the Scriptures make the most sense when read and interpreted during Mass, where Revelation climaxes in Christ's actual appearance under the form of bread and wine.

The Gospel story of Emmaus is a perfect example. In this story two of Jesus' disciples were walking from Jerusalem to the village of Emmaus and bemoaning his crucifixion and the disappearance of his body from the tomb. Jesus appeared to them, but they did not recognize him.

"And he said to them, 'Oh, how foolish you are! How slow of heart to believe all that the prophets spoke! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and enter into his glory?' Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them what referred to him in all the scriptures. As they approached the village to which they were going, he gave the impression that he was going on farther. But they urged him, 'Stay with us, for it is nearly evening and the day is almost over.' So he went in to stay with them. And it happened that, while he was with them at table, he took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them. With that their eyes were opened and they recognized him, but he vanished from their sight. Then they said to each other, 'Were not our hearts burning [within us] while he spoke to us on the way and opened the scriptures to us?'" (Lk 24:25-32).

This story shows us that there is a movement from the Word of God to the person of God. It is a movement from Scripture to liturgy, from the liturgy of the Word to the liturgy of the Eucharist. Consequently, the Scriptures lead us to the sacrifice of the Mass and the Living Word (the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus). Dr. Hahn says this is one of the main movements of and reasons for for the Scriptures, to lead us to encounter the Living Word.   

Magisterium of the Church:

The task of interpreting and preserving God's Revelation found in Tradition and the Scriptures belongs to the Magisterium of the Church, that is, the "bishops in communion with the successor of Peter, the Bishop of Rome" (CCC #85). "Yet this Magisterium is not superior to the Word of God, but is its servant. It teaches only what has been handed on to it" (CCC #86).

There is much that can be said about the Magisterium, but this important discussion is covered in detail in another section of the Catechism. When we get to that section, we will look at its foundation, its structure and its necessity. At this point, let us merely recall that it is because of the Holy Spirit that our understanding of "the heritage of faith is able to grow in the life of the Church" (CCC #94).

Jesus not only told the apostles that he would be with them until the end of the age, he also told them that "The Advocate, the Holy Spirit that the Father will send in my name-he will teach you everything and remind you of all that [I] told you" (Jn 14:26). Jesus also said, "I have much more to tell you, but you cannot bear it now. But when he comes, the Spirit of truth, he will guide you to all truth. . ." (Jn 16:12-13).

"It is clear therefore that, in the supremely wise arrangement of God, sacred Tradition, Sacred Scripture, and the Magisterium of the Church are so connected and associated that one of them cannot stand without the others" (CCC #95). Thus it is that God continues to transmit his Revelation until the end of time.

Michael Terheyden was born into a Catholic family, but that is not why he is a Catholic. He is a Catholic because he believes that truth is real, that it is beautiful and good, and that the fullness of truth is in the Catholic Church. He is greatly blessed to share his faith and his life with his beautiful wife, Dorothy. They have four grown children and three grandchildren.



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