The Catholic Church teaches that there is but one God, who is infinite in knowledge, in power, in goodness, and in every other perfection; who created all things by His omnipotence, and governs them by His Providence.
In this one God there are three distinct Persons,--the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, who are perfectly equal to each other.
We believe that Jesus Christ, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, is perfect God and perfect Man. He is God, for He "is over all things, God blessed forever." [Rom. ix. 5.] "He is God of the substance of the Father, begotten before time; and He is Man of the substance of His Mother, born in time." [Athanasian Creed] Out of love for us, and in order to rescue us from the miseries entailed upon us by the disobedience of our first parents, the Divine Word descended from heaven, and became Man in the womb of the Virgin Mary, by the operation of the Holy Ghost. He was born on Christmas day, in a stable at Bethlehem.
After having led a life of obscurity for about thirty years, chiefly at Nazareth, He commenced His public career. He associated with Him a number of men who are named Apostles, whom He instructed in the doctrines of the religion which He established.
For three years He went about doing good, giving sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, healing all kinds of diseases, raising the dead to life, and preaching throughout Judea the new Gospel of peace. [Matt. xi.]
On Good Friday He was crucified on Mount Calvary, and thus purchased for us redemption by His death. Hence Jesus exclusively bears the titles of Savior and Redeemer, because "there is no other name under heaven given to men whereby we must be saved." [Acts iv. 12.] "He was wounded for our iniquities; He was bruised for our sins, ... and by His bruises we are healed." [Isaiah iiii. 5.]
We are commanded by Jesus, suffering and dying for us, to imitate Him by the crucifixion of our flesh, and by acts of daily mortification. "If anyone," He says, "will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me." [Luke ix. 23.]
Hence we abstain from the use of flesh meat on Friday--the day consecrated to our Savior's sufferings--not because the eating of flesh meat is sinful in itself, but as an act of salutary mortification. Loving children would be prompted by filial tenderness to commemorate the anniversary of their father's death rather by prayer and fasting than be feasting. Even so we abstain on Fridays from flesh meat that we may in a small measure testify our practical sympathy for our dear Lord by the mortification of our body, endeavoring, like St. Paul, "to bear about in our body the mortification of Jesus, that the life also of Jesus may be made manifest in our bodies." [II. Cor. iv. 10.]
The Cross is held in the highest reverence by Catholics, because it was the instrument of our Savior's crucifixion. It surmounts our churches and adorns our sanctuaries. We venerate it as the emblem of our salvation. "Far be it from me," says the Apostle, "to glory save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ." [Gal. vi. 14.] We do not, of course, attach any intrinsic virtue to the Cross; this would be sinful and idolatrous. Our veneration is referred to Him who died upon it.
It is also a very ancient and pious practice for the faithful to make on their person the sign of the Cross, saying at the same time: "In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost." Tertullian, who lived in the second century of the Christian era, says: "In all our actions, when we come in or go out, when we dress, when we wash, at our meals, before retiring to sleep, ... we form on our foreheads the sign of the cross. These practices are not commanded by a formal law of Scripture; but tradition teaches them, custom confirms them, faith observes them." [De Corona, C. iii.] By the sign of the cross we make a profession of our faith in the Trinity and the Incarnation, and perform a most salutary act of religion.
We believe that on Easter Sunday Jesus Christ manifested His divine power by raising Himself to life, and that having spent forty days on earth, after His resurrection, instructing His disciples, He ascended to heaven from the Mount of Olives.
On the Feast of Pentecost, or Whitsunday, ten days after His Ascension, our Savior sent, as He had promised, His Holy Spirit to His disciples, while they were assembled together in prayer. The Holy Ghost purified their hearts from sin, and imparted to them a full knowledge of those doctrines of salvation which they were instructed to preach. On the same Feast of Pentecost the Apostles commenced their sublime mission, from which day, accordingly, we date the active life of the Catholic Church.
Our Redeemer gave the most ample authority to the Apostles to teach in His name; commanding them to "preach the Gospel to every creature." [Mark xvi. 15.] and directing all, under the most severe penalties, to hear and obey them: "He that heareth you, heareth Me; and he that despiseth you, despiseth Me. And he that despiseth Me, despiseth Him that sent Me." [Luke x. 16.]
And lest we should be mistaken in distinguishing between the true Church and false sects, which our Lord predicted would arise, He was pleased to stamp upon His Church certain shining marks, by which every sincere inquirer could easily recognize her as His only Spouse. The principal marks or characteristics of the true Church are, her Unity, Sanctity, Catholicity, and Apostolicity, [Symb. Constantinop.] to which may be added the Infallibility of her teaching and the Perpetuity of her existence.
I shall treat successively of these marks.