Are You More Catholic Than the Pope?

As important as it is for Catholics to subscribe to all the tenets of the faith without exception, so too is it important that a Catholic not insist on uniformity in matters about which the Church allows diversity of opinion or custom.

Most Catholics (at least the types that read this blog) recognize and affirm the former but may not have thought much about the latter. In this post we will differentiate between and give examples of what the Church mandates (what Catholics must do) and what the Church Allows (What Catholics can do).

Mandates vs. Allows

Two examples of what the Church mandates would be the confession of one’s serious sins to a priest at least once a year:

“According to the Church’s command, “after having attained the age of discretion, each of the faithful is bound by an obligation faithfully to confess serious sins at least once a year.” (CCC 1457)

And attending Mass on Sunday and holy days of obligation:

“The Sunday Eucharist is the foundation and confirmation of all Christian practice. For this reason the faithful are obliged to participate in the Eucharist on days of obligation, unless excused for a serious reason (for example, illness, the care of infants) or dispensed by their own pastor. Those who deliberately fail in this obligation commit a grave sin.” (CCC 2181)

Notice that though Saints and even Popes have encouraged daily Mass and frequent confession, it is not mandated by the Church. To act as if real Catholics are those who go to daily Mass and attend monthly confession and that those who don’t are some how sub-Catholic is a non-Catholic position to hold, i.e. if you want to be a faithful Catholic, stop doing it!

Public Revelation Vs. Private Revelation

The reason some Catholics confuse what is mandated as opposed to what is allowed is that they don’t understand the difference between public and private revelation.

Public revelation, which has been faithfully handed down through Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition, ended with the death of the last apostle. Thus we see in Jude 1:3, “contend for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints” (my italics). The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that, “no new public revelation is to be expected before the glorious manifestation of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (CCC 66)

Private revelation would include such things as devotion to the Sacred Heart, revealed by our Lord to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque and Apparitions of the Blessed Mother such as at Lourdes and Fatima. Though the above three revelations have been deemed worthy of belief by the Church, the Church does not require Catholics to believe in them.

Addressing private revelation, the Catechism explains, “they do not belong…to the deposit of faith. It is not their role to improve or complete Christ’s definitive Revelation, but to help live more fully by it in a certain period of history.” (CCC 67)

Summing It Up

I want to make it clear that I am not encouraging a minimalistic attitude toward our faith. What I’m trying to do is prevent Catholics against insisting on uniformity in matters about which the Church diversity of opinion or custom.

I myself have a great devotion to the Rosary, go to monthly confession, appreciate the extraordinary form of the Roman rite (the Latin Mass). But while I may encourage others to do as I do, I may not -if I wish to be a faithful Catholic- act as if the Church commands that of them; she does not.

22 thoughts on “Are You More Catholic Than the Pope?

  1. Does the obligation to participate in the Eucharist mean that we have to receive the Blessed Sacrement on Sunday? I attend the Mass every Sunday but I sometimes abstain from the Eucharist if I am in mortal sin, and have not gone to confession. Is this the right thing to do?

    1. Thanks Troy, no it does not. The Catechism explains, “…’You shall humbly receive your Creator in Holy Communion at least during the Easter season'” (CCC 2042).

      1. In regards mortal sin, The Church teaches that “anyone conscious of a grave sin must receive the sacrament of Reconciliation before coming to communion.” (CCC 1385).

  2. Wow!! I thought that reconciliation was if you missed going to the church for a long time?? But what if you did not sin in that time?Except for little ones??? Is not going to church a mortal sin?

    1. “The second precept [of the Church](‘You shall confess your sins at least once a year.’) ensures preparation for the Eucharist by the reception of the sacrament of reconciliation, which continues Baptism’s work of conversion and forgiveness. ” (CCC 2042).

      If one is aware of having committed mortal sin he must receive the sacrament of confession in order to be in a state of grace, which is required to receive the Eucharist.

      If one has not committed mortal sin then one is not required to receive the sacrament because he would have nothing to confess!

      Not attending Mass is grave matter, if it is done knowingly and deliberately (i.e. “I know this is wrong, I have no good excuse not to go, but I’m going to do it anyway!) it is considered mortal and should be confessed.

  3. Also I was out of the church for a long time and went to other churches searching but found that they were all sticks from the Catholic church and none had imagination of their own all believed in the Catholic things except communion and confession and the Pope.,I came back because we are the oldest faith and the right one but *I forgot everything and allot has changed.I am still learning things.

  4. Thanks Matt! I also have had a plethora of experience with people who decide the pope is wrong and that they’re going to save the Church from his errors. (Reminds me of Martin Luther!) I’ve had people tell me that Communion in the hand is a mistake and that the pope caved in to pressure, just as he did with allowing girls to serve at the altar. I guess they know first-hand that God is displeased with girls serving and Communion in the hand? I’d like to know which Apostle they are!

    1. Hi, Fr. I know this has next to nothing to do with the article above, but what do you mean when you say that the pope caved in to pressure in the case of girls serving at the altar? I was just thinking about becoming one and read that…I still don’t quite understand it. What do you mean? If you can’t tell it all here, a resource or something like that would be nice. Thanks!

      1. I was talking about people who are more Catholic than the Pope who claim that the Pope “caved into pressure” by allowing altar girls. My point was that people who say this type of thing think they know better than the Pope, that they are right and he “caved in” on what THEY know to be the truth. I am by no means against girls serving; in fact, I have many here in my parish. I affirm what the Pope teaches. Originally, girls were not permitted to serve at the altar, and I told people that the reason was because the Pope said “no.” When Pope John Paul II changed the discipline and allowed girls to serve at the altar, I welcomed it and told people we were now doing it because the Pope said it is okay. There were some who didn’t like the idea who claimed that the Pope “caved in to pressure from the feminists” and permitted something that in their mind is clearly wrong. These are the type of people Matt Fradd is talking about in his post, and I was agreeing with him that these people have erred. The Pope was not wrong in allowing girls to serve, and I enthusiastically encourage you if you should choose to do so!

  5. Great article Matt.

    Question: You said public revelation ended at the death of the last apostle. But what about papal infallibility, like the two proclamations from Ex Cathedra about the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin? Would that no be considered public revelation?

    1. The immaculate conception and the assumption of the Blessed Mother are indeed part of public revelation or else you would not be required to believe them.

      St. Paul writes in 2 Thes 2:15, “So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter.”

      We are bound to all which the apostles taught, not just what they wrote. Both Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition constitute a single deposit of faith – this is where the Magisterium comes in. The Catechism states:

      “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. At the divine command and with the help of the Holy Spirit, it listens to this devotedly, guards it with dedication and expounds it faithfully. All that it proposes for belief as being divinely revealed is drawn from this single deposit of faith.” (CCC 86)

      Hope that’s a help!

      1. In effect, what we’re saying is that these dogmas are part of the development of doctrine. They are binding because they are the fruit of the Church’s prayerful study of what Christ left us and come directly from our logical conclusions on what is already there. They do not constitute something added later. Nothing brand new will be added to the public revelation of Christ until He returns – like the Book of Mormon would represent – but development of doctrine is routine, and the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption are perfect examples of this.

  6. The Rosary is a good example of a practice that is optional but that has been all but imposed on Catholics for generations. In the EF community to which I belong, the Rosary is seen as an integral part of the faith, to the point that a good Catholic cannot go without praying the Rosary. This is an unfortunate error that causes all kinds of problems with Protestant converts.

    1. Yes, you are right. In fact, look what Pope John Paul II did when he instituted the Luminous Mysteries: he didn’t mandate that everyone pray it this way, he suggested we do it. The wording was very careful, because by requiring it, he would be entering the rosary into public revelation and insinuating that Catholics must say the rosary. As devoted as he was to the Rosary and as integral a part of Catholic life that it is, it is still not a requirement of faith that people must pray it or be guilty of sin.

      1. Only those who have received the Sacrament of Holy Order and any whose consecration in religious life or as a Consecrated Virgin demands it are required to recite the Divine Office under pain of sin if they do not. For anyone else, it is an option that they are more than welcome to follow. Assuming you are not someone whose ordination or consecration oblige you to pray the Divine Office – in which case it would NOT be acceptable to replace it with the Rosary – feel free to pray either of them or both. You are under no obligation as a lay person to pray either one, so if you find either or both of them helpful, abbondanza!

    2. To add to what Father Carrozza said, keep in mind that lay people should foster devotions according to their state in life. The Rosary just happens to perfectly suit our state in life. We know from private revelation that Our Lady recommends that we pray the Rosary always.

      No you are not obliged to accept this private revelation, or to say the Rosary, or to go to a latin mass. But neither are you free to openly oppose what the Church has deemed worthy of belief or practice. If these devotions or apparitions exist and are given approval, they exist because of the action and guidance of the holy spirit actively guiding the Church through the saints and the actions of the magisterium.

      Take the miraculous medal for example. It is actually called the medal of the immaculate conception. It exists through the guidance of the holy spirit as a result of approved private revelation because God desires to give more glory to this aspect of the Mother of God. No you do not have to wear a medal to be considered a “good Catholic,” but at the same time you must at least accept that God wishes to give graces through it because he wishes to glorify the aspect it represents. Maybe you want to wear a brown scapular instead, or some other medal, but that doesn’t change the truth about the miraculous medal.

      The Church has many devotions to choose from, but you choose which ones to say depending on your needs and your state in life and you should make use of these to help you in your spiritual life.

  7. In a situation where the Pope is not speaking ex cathedra and is therefore not protected by infallibility, what are the rights and responsibilities of a Catholic who disagrees with the Pope’s statements; and in the virtue of prudence, how should he act to avoid being misinterpreted as questioning statements which are ex cathedra?

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