Q. I’ve heard of the Magisterium, but I don’t really know what it is. Who is on it? And what do they do?
A. I like your question. The Magisterium is one of my favorite things to speak about! What is the Magisterium? Let me try to answer this question on a more personal level rather than on a purely academic level.
Jesus promised his disciples, before He ascended to Heaven, that the Holy Spirit, His Advocate, would come and lead us into all truth. Furthermore, He promised that He would be with us until the end of time. The Magisterium is one way this happens.
The main reason we need the Magisterium is that Jesus, while on earth, did not (and could not)address every question of faith and every moral question that would arise in our minds and hearts. When we look around today at our world and our culture we find many new questions of faith and morality coming forward. For example, what sort of new medical technology is permitted? Is cloning okay? Is it okay for scientists to do research on embryonic stem cells? What about modern social issues that come up like gay marriage or so called “same sex civil unions?” Or regarding our faith, how do we reconcile our belief that God created the world with theories of evolution?
These are all questions that were not directly addressed by Jesus, right? Well, on one had we can say, “No, Jesus did not address them.” But on the other hand we can say, “Yes, Jesus continues to address these questions every day!” How do we say this? That’s what the Magisterium is.
The Magisterium is simply another way of saying that Jesus Himself, by the power of the Holy Spirit, is still alive and active in this world. Specifically, the Magisterium refers to the way that Jesus is alive and active in our world regarding all our contemporary questions that come up in the area of faith and morality. Jesus does answer the questions of evolution and creation that scientists bring up. Jesus does answer moral questions about civil unions, cloning, embryonic stem cell research and much more. How does He do this? Through the pope and the bishops when they teach in union with the pope.
The Catholic Church believes that when the pope, or the pope with the bishops, teaches something as true, it is indeed true. And if we want to be in union with Jesus we must believe it! This is a way of Jesus helping us each and every day to sort through the many difficult questions that arise in our modern world. And as we look to the future, I am quite certain that many other issues that have to do with faith and morality will arise. When these questions come up we will not have to answer them alone. Jesus gives us the pope and bishops to guide us into what is true. When we believe this, stay in union with them and let them guide us, we are, in fact, letting Jesus Himself guide us.
So the Magisterium is a wonderful gift from God! Just make sure you see this gift as one of the many ways Jesus Himself continues to be alive and active in our lives!