Question: I’m curious about the jump in the Apostles Creed from “born of the Virgin Mary” to “suffered under Pontius Pilate.” That jump excludes Jesus’ three-year ministry, which I believe was exceedingly important. There are different ways in which his ministry could have been captured in just a few words. Is there a reason it has not been included? The Apostles Creed is an amazing summary of the Lord’s life and work, but it seems to me it would be far richer if his ministry had been acknowledged in that phrase.
— Jim Buysse, via email
Answer: A creed is not a full catechism or a Gospel narrative. Its purpose is not to list moral directives or cover all aspects of the Faith. The creeds, (e.g. the Apostles Creed, the Nicene Creed, Athanasian Creed) were written in the early centuries of the Church to emphasize Trinitarian and Christological teachings that were often misunderstood or controversial at times among certain dissenters. In order to teach clearly, the Church crafted these creeds to both teach and insist upon proper teaching among the faithful in these specific matters. Pope St. Paul VI wrote a lengthier creed entitled “Credo of the People of God,” which accomplishes some of what you seek. Here is an excerpt:
“He dwelt among us, full of grace and truth. He proclaimed and established the Kingdom of God and made us know in Himself the Father. He gave us His new commandment to love one another as He loved us. He taught us the way of the beatitudes of the Gospel: poverty in spirit, meekness, suffering borne with patience, thirst after justice, mercy, purity of heart, will for peace, persecution suffered for justice sake. Under Pontius Pilate He suffered” (No. 12).
Confession and purgatory
Question: If our sins are truly forgiven in the Sacrament of Confession, then why must we still fear and face purgatory? Are our souls not wiped clean?
— Name withheld, Northridge, California
Answer: The Sacrament of Confession brings reconciliation with God by restoring us to God’s grace and rejoining us with him in an intimate friendship (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 1468). But reconciliation does not mean that all the effects of sin disappear. If someone drives recklessly, causes an accident that brings forth injuries to him and others and destroys both cars, his going to confession restores him to friendship with God but does not make the injuries to himself or others disappear or cause the cars to become brand new. Further, habitual sins, such as excessive drinking or the use of pornography, create compulsions and attachments to sin that do not vanish upon exiting a confessional. These effects are called the “temporal punishment” that sins cause. So, while Confession restores us to grace, to friendship with God and union with the Church, injuries and attachments still need healing and the damage caused requires reparation and restoration. If such effects of sin are not fully healed and removed before death, purgation is required to complete this work.
The Catechism says: “It is necessary to understand that sin has a double consequence. Grave sin deprives us of communion with God and therefore makes us incapable of eternal life, the privation of which is called the ‘eternal punishment’ of sin. On the other hand, every sin, even venial, entails an unhealthy attachment to creatures. … A conversion which proceeds from a fervent charity can attain the complete purification of the sinner in such a way that no punishment would remain … [but it must be] purified either here on earth, or after death in the state called Purgatory. This purification frees one from what is called the ‘temporal punishment’ of sin. These two punishments must not be conceived of as a kind of vengeance inflicted by God from without, but as following from the very nature of sin” (CCC, No. 1472).
Question: Where did the practice of clergy wearing clerics come from?
— Paul VanHoudt, Erie, Colorado
Answer: The clothing of clergy has varied over the centuries. The distinctive garb of priests seems largely to have come from monastic robes. In the very beginning, these were simply practical clothing that took on a distinctive appearance as clothing among the laity changed. The distinctive garb also helps communicate that religious and priests were set apart by God to be a sign of God in the world. The current use of a modified business suit for priests and bishops is relatively new and became especially common in the 20th century. Before that time, the black robe known as a cassock was more commonly worn.