In this series of morceaux we’re considering the two types of authority used by bishops, their “power of holy orders” and their “power of governance” (also called “power of jurisdiction”). Using both kinds, they offer leadership to the Church in three broad areas: they teach, they sanctify and they govern. And last time and this time, we’re focusing on the first of these: the Church’s teaching office, often known by the Latin term magisterium.
It was at this point that the charism of infallibility was mentioned in my last morceau. This means that the pope and bishops cannot err when teaching those “divinely-revealed doctrines which must be adhered to with the obedience of faith.” Everything that’s necessary for salvation falls into this category, which generally-speaking is known as the “deposit of faith.” This would include most things that are expounded in the Creeds of the Church: that God exists; that He is a Holy Trinity of Persons but One God; that Jesus is the only-begotten Son of God, both true God and true man; that he died and rose for our salvation; etc. By extension, they also include God’s will for us. We usually call this the “moral law,” including God’s Ten Commandments and all of the other guides for our personal behavior whereby we can avoid sin and develop virtuous habits.
Yet the “deposit of faith” which the magisterium teaches also includes other foundational truths that God wishes us to know. Much of what we might call “sacramental doctrines” are of this type. Thus the Church definitively teaches those things that constitute the essentials of our sacraments. For instance, that only wheat bread and grape wine may be consecrated into the eucharist; that only a bishop or priest may sacramentally anoint the sick; or that certain words must be pronounced to bring about sacramental reality in baptism, confirmation, eucharist, anointing and ordinations, etc. In teaching these things the Church understands her own God-chosen leadership to be holding fast to His design and will. Thus magisterial teaching is always to be accepted by the faithful Catholic as definitive.