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What Catholics Believe - Chapter Two

God Speaks to Us

(U.S. Catholic Catechism for Adults - Chapter 2)

In the Rite of Ordination of a Bishop, the sacrament is conferred when the ordaining bishop lays his hands on the ordinand’s head and then offers the ordination prayer. A dramatic gesture accompanies this prayer. Two deacons, one standing on each side of the new bishop, hold the open Book of the Gospels over his head as the prayer is sung. The bishop is quite literally ordained “under” the word of God.

The meaning of this ritual action is abundantly clear. The Scriptures are God’s revealed word. We live under God’s word. A bishop’s primary responsibility is to proclaim that word to his people and to the world. Every committed Christian strives to live by that word and to share it with others. Sharing the word of God is the work of evangelization, the responsibility of all the baptized.

At the end of each of the readings at Mass, the lector says “The word of the Lord.” The assembly responds “Thanks be to God.” “The word of the Lord”…so much meaning is contained in these few words. How wondrous it is that the God who created us has spoken His word to us -- a word of love. Our God graciously communicates Himself to us, calling us into intimate and life-giving communion with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. And God, who desires that all be saved and come to know the truth, teaches us how to live in that love. God’s revelation to us is both invitation to friendship with Him and instruction in the way that leads to salvation.

The Catholic tradition rejoices in the gift of the human intellect. We are confident that by reason alone, we are able to know the truth of many things…even to know that God exists. As the First Vatican Council declared, however, “there is another order of knowledge which man cannot possibly arrive at by his own powers: the order of divine revelation” (Dei filius).

God’s revelation unfolded through history, as we see in the biblical record from Genesis to Revelation. The Scriptures are a story, expressed in many types of literature, of God’s drawing near to humankind and inviting us into the relationship with God that the Bible calls covenant. “I will be your God and you will be my people.” The Old Testament is a tapestry of revelation and faith woven of numerous moments of encounter between God and the people of Israel, the chosen people of the First Covenant. God began to form this covenant people with Abraham, and gave them the law through Moses. The prophets reminded the people of Israel of their covenant responsibilities, and prepared them to look for the coming of a Messiah, an agent of God who would bring salvation for all.

We Christians believe that the fullness of revelation is Christ, God’s Son, the Incarnate Word of God, the fulfillment of Old Testament longing for the Messiah. “In times past, God spoke in partial and various ways to our ancestors; in these last days, He spoke to us through a son” (Heb 1:1-2). Jesus Christ is the Father’s definitive word of revelation. In Christ, the Second Vatican Council reminds us, we discover not only who God is, but who we are. “In reality it is only in the mystery of the Word made flesh that the mystery of man truly becomes clear” (Gaudium et spes, 22).

At the time of His ascension, Jesus entrusted His own mission to the apostles, and through them, to the Church. “Go, therefore, and teach all nations…” (Mt. 28) This ministry of teaching entrusted to the apostles by Christ continues in the ministry of the bishops, who are successors of the apostles. Divine revelation is handed on through the ages by apostolic tradition and sacred Scripture.

We will give further attention to the way divine revelation is transmitted in a future essay. We should be grateful to God for speaking His word of love to us, the word that shows us the way to salvation. May our gratitude be like that of the psalmist:

Your word, Lord, stands forever;
It is firm as the heavens.
Through all generations your truth endures;
Fixed to stand firm like the earth.
Your word is a lamp for my feet,
A light for my path.

(Psalm 119)

Bishop Richard J. Malone

What Catholics Believe is an ongoing Harvest series on the United States Catholic Catechism of Adults.