WEEKLY CATECHESIS

Register Summary

Pope Benedict XVI elaborated on the theme of apostolic tradition during his general audience on May 3, continuing his catechesis from the previous week. More than 52,000 pilgrims attended the audience, which was held in St. Peter’s Square.

The Holy Father pointed out that the Second Vatican Council made it clear that God’s will was that everything he had revealed in Christ for our salvation should remain in its entirety and be transmitted to all generations. The 12 apostles were chosen and sent forth to proclaim the Gospel and the living presence of the risen Christ in his Church. “The apostles, the leaders of the eschatological Israel who were also 12 in number like the tribes of the chosen people, continued the ‘harvest’ that the Lord began,” Pope Benedict pointed out. “They did so, above all, by faithfully transmitting the gift they had received, the Good News of the Kingdom that had come to men in Jesus Christ.”

In every age, the Holy Father explained, the Church has preserved and transmitted what St. Paul calls “the rich deposit of faith.” Thus, Tradition can be understood as the living voice of the Gospel, proclaimed in its fullness by the apostles and passed down by their successors.

“Tradition, therefore, is the history of the Spirit at work in the history of the Church through the mediation of the apostles and their successors, in faithful continuity with the experience at its origins,” Pope Benedict XVI noted. “This chain of service continues to this day and it will continue until the end of the world.

“Through the apostolic ministry, Christ himself comes to those who are called to the faith. The distance of centuries has been overcome and the risen Lord offers himself to us, alive and at work in us and in the Church and world of today,” the Holy Father concluded. “This is our great joy. In the living river of Tradition, Christ is not separated from us by 2,000 years of distance, but is truly present in our midst and gives us the truth and gives us the light that enables us to experience and find the path to the future.”



Dear Brothers and Sisters,

During this catechesis series, we are trying to understand a little more what the Church is. Last time we reflected on the topic of apostolic Tradition. We saw that it is not a collection of things or words, like a boxful of dead things. Tradition is the river of new life that flows from its source — all the way from Christ to us — and engages us in God’s history with mankind. This topic of Tradition is so important that I would like to reflect on it again today. In fact, it is of great importance for the life of the Church.

The Apostolic Ministry

In this regard, the Second Vatican Council noted that Tradition is apostolic first and foremost in its origins: “In his gracious goodness, God has seen to it that what he had revealed for the salvation of all nations would abide perpetually in its full integrity and be handed on to all generations. Therefore, Christ the Lord in whom the full revelation of the supreme God is brought to completion (see 2 Corinthians 1:20; 3:13; 4:6), commissioned the apostles to preach to all men that Gospel which is the source of all saving truth and moral teaching, and to impart to them heavenly gifts” (Die Verbum, Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation, No. 7).

The Council goes on to point out that this task “was faithfully fulfilled by the apostles who, by their oral preaching, by example, and by observances handed on what they had received from the lips of Christ, from living with him, and from what he did, or what they had learned through the prompting of the Holy Spirit. The commission was fulfilled, too, by those apostles and apostolic men who under the inspiration of the same Holy Spirit committed the message of salvation to writing” (DV 7).

The apostles, the leaders of the eschatological Israel who were also 12 in number like the tribes of the chosen people, continued the “harvest” that the Lord began and they did so, above all, by faithfully handing on the gift they had received, the Good News of the Kingdom that had come to men in Jesus Christ. Their number expresses not only continuity with their sacred roots, the Israel of the 12 tribes, but also the universal goal of their ministry — to bring salvation to the ends of the earth. The symbolic value of numbers in the Semitic world helps us to understand this: The number 12 is the result of multiplying three, a perfect number, by four, a number that refers to the four cardinal points and, therefore, to the entire world.

From Age to Age

The community to which the proclamation of the Gospel gave birth recognized itself as called together by the word of those who first experienced the Lord and were sent out by him. They knew that they could count on the guidance of the Twelve and of those who, over time, were associated with them as their successors in the ministry of the Word and in their service to the communion. Consequently, the community felt a commitment to hand on to others the “joyful news” of the Lord’s current presence and of his paschal mystery, which is made operative through the Spirit. This is evident in some passages of Paul’s epistles: “For I handed on to you as of first importance what I also received” (1 Corinthians 15:3).

This is important. St. Paul who, as we know, was originally called by Christ with a personal vocation, is a true apostle; yet what counted, even in his case, was a basic faithfulness to all that he had received. He did not want to “invent” a new “Pauline” Christianity, so to speak. For this reason, he insisted, “I handed on to you what I also received.” He handed on the initial gift that came from the Lord and it is the truth that saves. Later, towards the end of his life, he wrote to Timothy: “Guard this rich trust with the help of the Holy Spirit that dwells within us” (2 Timothy 1:14).

An early testimony of the Christian faith, written by Tertullian around the year 200, demonstrates this in a very effective way: “After first bearing witness to their faith in Jesus Christ and establishing churches throughout Judea, the apostles went forth immediately afterwards into the world and preached this same doctrine and this same faith to the nations and founded churches in every city. The other churches, then, derived the tradition of the faith and the seeds of doctrine from these churches and they continue to derive them so that they might be churches. In this way, they, too, are considered to be apostolic since they are the offspring of the churches of the apostles” (De praescriptione Haereticorum, 20: PL: 2, 32).

The Living Gospel

The Second Vatican Council made the following comment: “Now what was handed on by the apostles includes everything which contributes toward the holiness of life and increase of faith of the peoples of God; and so the Church, in her teaching, life and worship, perpetuates and hands on to all generations all that she herself is, all that she believes” (DV 8). The Church transmits all that she is and all that she believes; she transmits it in worship, in life, and in doctrine. Therefore, Tradition is the living Gospel, which the apostles proclaimed in its fullness based on the richness of their unique and unparalleled experience. Through their efforts, the faith was communicated to others, finally reaching us and reaching the ends of the earth. Tradition, therefore, is the history of the Spirit at work in the history of the Church through the mediation of the apostles and their successors, in faithful continuity with the experience at its origins.

Pope St. Clement of Rome made this clear toward the end of the first century. “The apostles,” he wrote, “proclaimed the Gospel to us and were sent by our Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ was sent by God. Christ, therefore, comes from God and the apostles come from Christ: Both proceed in an orderly way from God’s will. …Our apostles knew through our Lord Jesus Christ that disputes would arise regarding the office of bishop. Therefore, perfectly foreseeing the future, they established who were their chosen ones and ordained them so that at the time of their death other men of proven virtue would assume their service” (Ad Corinthios, 42.44: PG 1, 292.296).

Our Great Joy

This chain of service continues to this day and it will continue until the end of the world. In fact, the mission that Jesus entrusted to the apostles has been handed on by them to their successors. Besides their unique and unparalleled experience of personal contact with Christ, the apostles handed on to their successors the solemn sending out into the world that they received from the Master. In fact, the word “apostle” comes from the Greek word apostellein, which means “to send.” This sending out of apostles, as the text of Matthew 28:19-20 shows, involves a pastoral service (“make disciples of all nations”), a liturgical service (“baptizing them”), and a prophetic service (“teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you”), guaranteed by the Lord’s closeness to them until the end of the ages (“I am with you always, until the end of time”).

Thus, though in a manner different from the apostles, we, too, have an authentic and personal experience of the presence of the risen Lord. Through the apostolic ministry, Christ himself reaches those who are called to the faith. The distance of centuries has been overcome and the risen Lord offers himself to us, alive and at work for us, in the today of the Church and the world. This is our great joy. In the living river of Tradition, Christ is not separated from us by 2,000 years of distance, but is truly present in our midst and gives us the truth and gives us the light that enables us to experience and find the path to the future.

(Register translation)

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