By Jenna Marie Cooper
Q: I'm reading the Catechism of the Catholic Church and have a question about CCC 460. Can you please fully explain the lines: “For the son of God became man so that we might become God;” and “… might make men gods.” I am to become God? That doesn’t seem right.
A: No, Catholics do not believe we literally become God in the sense of becoming beings with the capacity to create universes out of nothing, by means of pure will; or that we become radically all-powerful or all-knowing; or that we ourselves become worthy of the worship due to God alone. There is and can only ever be one God. And even in the heavenly life of the world to come, we retain our human nature. We can’t even change our nature to become angels, as is sometimes popularly supposed. Sometimes, people mistakenly comment that a deceased child becomes an angel. As Paragraph 330 of the Catechism explains, “As purely spiritual creatures angels have intelligence and will: they are personal and immortal creatures, surpassing in perfection all visible creatures, as the splendor of their glory bears witness”.
So, how should we understand this line in the Catechism? There is helpful clarity by looking at the opening of the very paragraph you cite. CCC 460 begins by telling us that 2 Peter 1:4 states, “The Word became flesh to make us ‘partakers of the divine nature.’” That is, because we are united to Jesus and become like him through baptism, we “partake” – i.e. share in – Jesus’ own life as the Son of God. Sharing in this divine nature means, among other things, that we are able to enjoy eternal life and that we become God’s children by adoption.
It might also be helpful to note some overall context. Paragraph 460 is situated in the middle of a discussion on the mystery of Jesus’ Incarnation – that is, how the “Word became flesh” (John 1:14), or how Jesus remained fully God while being born in our human nature. The specific passages in question here were not actually written by the drafters of the Catechism, but are rather quotes from a Church Father, St. Athanasius, from his book “On the Incarnation of the Word”, and St. Thomas Aquinas, from his work, “Opusculum”. This idea that Jesus, the Word of God, took on our human nature in order that humanity might be enabled to have some share in his divine nature is a theme that actually runs throughout our faith tradition. Even during the Mass, when the priest mixes a drop of water into the wine which is soon to be consecrated, he prays quietly to himself: “By the mystery of this water and wine, may we come to share in the divinity of Christ, who humbled himself to share in our humanity.”
Q: The priest who helped with my conversion said that when we arrive before Mass we should be respectful to the people around us – to pray and sit quietly until Mass begins. Has the process changed or are we still asked to be quiet? In my church, people speak very loud before Mass; and the priest is the biggest offender.
A: Courtesy and common sense strongly suggest keeping a reverent, silent atmosphere in church.
Our church buildings are meant to be sacred spaces where people can come to be in the presence of God in an especially focused way. Before Mass, the faithful are encouraged to recollect themselves in preparation for Mass. After the dismissal, people often stay to extend their time of thanksgiving in prayer after receiving the Eucharist.
If we find ourselves occasionally bothered or distracted by other people talking in church, sometimes the best thing to do is to recall the little way of St. Therese of Lisieux, and use the noise as an opportunity to grow in patience and charity. For instance, we might try to assume that the offending priest was aiming to cheer up a lonely parishioner who is going through a challenging time.
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Jenna Marie Cooper, who holds a licentiate in canon law, is a consecrated virgin and a canonist whose column appears weekly at OSV News. Send your questions to [email protected]