We are not; in fact, popes have been encouraging Bible reading for centuries. I have before me a copy of a 1914 Douay-Rheims Bible (the Catholic English translation of Scripture used up until this century). In the front is a page containing an indulgence granted on 13 December 1898 by Pope Leo XIII for all who read the Holy Gospels for at least fifteen minutes a day! Why would the pope grant an indulgence for reading something which he did not want anyone to read? He obviously granted the indulgence to encourage the reading of Sacred Scripture.
That same page contains a short letter from Pope Pius VI (1778)encouraging the reading of Scripture by the faithful in their own languages, and a prayer to the Holy Spirit meant to be said before reading the Bible!
Now I have talked to many Catholics who tell me that in their youth (before the Second Vatican Council) they were told by nuns or priests not to read the Bible because it would "confuse" them. I can only say to them that those priests or nuns were wrong. I'm sure they were sincere, but they were not expressing the wishes of the popes. So they unfortunately created the false impression that Bible reading was somehow "forbidden" for the average layperson, which some people still have to this day.
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Catholicism is not a religion of guilt; it is a religion of grace. Grace is the very life of God imparted to our souls in Baptism, which makes us partakers of the divine nature and enables us to do good and avoid evil (I recommend you read the articles on Grace on this web site for an in-depth discussion of this wonderful gift of God).
For some reason, however, it seems that many Catholics have lost sight of grace. Catholic educators have not emphasized it, and so most Catholics are painfully ignorant of this central concept. They have been taught the Ten Commandments, the Six Commandments of the Church, and a bunch of other "do's" and "don't's", but have not been told where the power to follow all these commands comes from. So many of them try really hard to do everything right on their own, and keep falling short. They become discouraged, and guilt sets in!
Some of them were also inculcated with a hyper-strict moral system which bears more resemblance to the Jansenist heresy than Catholic moral theology. The overemphasis on sin creates scrupulosity, and coupled with repeated failure accentuates the guilt. This is why everyone thinks that Catholicism is a guilt-ridden religion!
But that's all a perversion of the true faith! The good news is that through Jesus we can share in God's very life, and the Holy Spirit will help us to do good works and avoid sin. If we fall, God is willing to forgive and restore divine life to us, because our loving Father wants us to be with Him forever. When Grace becomes central to Catholic practice, guilt tends to lose any overwhelming power.
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Catholics certainly believe that God is Light (1 John 1:5). This is actually why we use candles - to signify of the light of God, which we cannot see.
The biblical basis for using lights as part of worship is found in the Lord's command that the Israelites use lamps in the Tabernacle (Exodus 25:37; 27:21; 40:25). God was Light back then as well, but He still told them to use seven lamps in the Holy Place. Lamps were the equivalent of candles in those days. Today we use candles. They aptly illustrate the fact that Jesus Christ is the Light of the World.
Catholics even perceive the candle itself to be a beautiful symbol of Christ. The wax represents His sacred Flesh (thus candles used during the Liturgy are white and made of pure beeswax, to symbolize purity). The wick represents Jesus' human Soul, and the flame represents His Divine Nature!
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Catholic churches are built and adorned using the freewill donations of the parishoners. They are not coerced into paying for anything, but out of generosity and love for God they choose to donate money toward the stained glass windows, chalices, the tabernacle, etc., usually in memory of a beloved family member (you will often see "In Memoriam" notations on windows or plaques around the church.) In so doing, they build for themselves a beautiful house of worship to the glory of God.
For example, when my Grandma died, my cousins donated a lovely gold chalice to Grandma's parish church, with her name engraved on it. This is a beautiful way to perpetuate the memory of a desceased loved one.
If the chalices and other golden items are all donations, how can the church sell them? Would you sell a gift? Would you take that chalice donated in loving memory of my Grandma and have it melted down for the gold? That would be in very bad taste! That's why the Church does not sell all that gold. And there's really nothing wrong with adorning a church with gold, since God commaded the Israelites to make golden furniture and utensils for the ancient Tabernacle and Temple (Exodus 25:10-40; 30:1-5).
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Those "riches" are actually works of art which people donated to the Vatican in their wills. So they, too, are gifts, and like we said above, one does not sell a gift!
The gifts are in the Vatican Museum, on display for visitors to enjoy. Were they sold to private collectors, they would no longer be available for public viewing. So one might as well say "Why doesn't the Metropolitan Museum of Art or the Louvre sell their treasures and give the money to the poor?" Because they are art museums, and art museums contain art treasures. It they sold all their artwork they would no longer be art museums.
Some people have actually estimated the amount which the Vatican could get if it auctioned off all its priceless artwork. When they divided that amount by the number of poor people in the world, they came up with about thirty cents. In other words, if the Vatican sold everything and distributed the proceeds evenly to the poor, every poor person in the world would get about thirty cents! Not a lot of money, huh? It would hardly make a difference in their poverty.
I guess Jesus' words stand true: "The poor you will have with you always" (Matthew 26:11). Incidentally, he said that in response to His disciples when they objected to a woman pouring expensive oil on His body; they thought that she should have sold the oil and given the money to the poor (vvs 8-9). But Jesus told them that there was nothing wrong with her lavishing this expensive oil on Him. Even so, there is nothing wrong with people donating gold and precious items to adorn a beautiful church building, since this is done to the glory of God.
(This is not to put down charity work, however. Helping the poor is very necessary, and the Catholic Church does a lot of that as well, through such groups as Catholic Charities, Catholic Relief Services, the Missionary Sisters of Charity, etc. Even the proceeds from "Peter's Pence", the annual donation Catholics make to the Pope, go to helping the less fortunate! So the Church can hardly be accused of not caring for the poor.)
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Even a church cannot function without money nowadays. Churches still have to pay utility bills and buy candles, wine, altar breads, etc. You'd probably be surprised if you knew how much it costs to run a parish!
We lay people pay our own bills and living expenses by getting jobs. But priests cannot get outside jobs since they dedicate all their time to serving us. Among other things, they provide daily Masses, Confession, counseling and make emergency sick calls any time, day or night. This is in addition to their private prayer time, which is most necessary; if they are going to minister to us spiritually, they have to have a deep spiritual life themselves. With such a packed schedule, they could not possibly hold down a job like we do!
So the only way the priests can pay the bills is with the freewill offerings of parishoners. We are not "buying" their services (which would be the sin of simony); we are providing for the upkeep of our local parish.
Tithing is practice rooted in the Bible. Scripture tells us that all the tribes of Israel received land to farm in the Promised Land except the tribe of Levi. Their sole job was to serve God in the Temple at Jerusalem. Since they did not grow their own food, God commanded all the Israelites to give 1/10 of their farm produce to the priests and Levites, hence a "tithe". Even in the Hebrew Scriptures, a full-time priesthood supported by lay donations is God's plan for His people!
Now, tithing was commanded in the Mosaic Law, which is no longer binding on Christians under the New Covenant of Christ. We are only required to give to the Church according to our means. Some Catholics use the tithe system as a guideline for their charitable giving; they are free to choose to do so, even though it is not required. A few Catholic parishes have promoted tithing in an attempt to procure sufficient financial support for running the parish, but this is always presented as a free decision, not a requirement.
In Matthew 10:9-10, when Jesus sent His disciples out to preach and heal, He told them not to carry money with them, but to accept whatever other people might give them. So Jesus Christ Himself wanted the leaders of His Church to receive freewill offerings from the people. This is God's will for the Church.
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A stipend is a small, suggested donation to cover the various expenses of the Mass, such as the altar breads, the wine and the cost of heating and lighting of the Church. It is not the "price" of the Mass; for the Eucharist is not for sale! No one is absolutely required to give a stipend, especially if one is poor. The priest is not allowed to refuse to say Mass for anyone who cannot afford even the small stipend (usually about $5 in the USA). If a priest did refuse, he could be reported to the bishop.
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First, some background. There were three inquisitions in Church history: the Medieval Inquisition, the Roman Inquisition and the infamous Spanish Inquisition. Each one was separate from the other, and each differed in severity. For more info on these inquisitions, see The Inquisition tract from Catholic Answers or the (very long!) Article on the Inquisition from the Catholic Encyclopedia.
The least severe of these was the Roman Inquisition, an official Church tribunal established in 1542 and later renamed the Holy Office. In 1908 the Holy Office was renamed the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF). This is the name it bears to this day.
The CDF primarily issues declarations on various issues facing the modern Church and investigates dissident Catholic theologians. Though the direct descendent of an "Inquisition", it does not engage in any kind of torture or other horrific acts generally associated with the term. (The Spanish Inquistion is primarily responsible for giving the word "Inquistion" a bad name, since it was the most severe of the three mentioned above. But as noted, the Roman Inquisition was more fair and the least severe, and that's the one which evolved into the CDF.)
For more info on the CDF, see its page on the Vatican Website.
Thank you for your help, and to everyone who has responded so far! God bless you.
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