Early one morning Father Ignatius received a phone call from Mother Superior. Sister Josephine had been called away to visit a very sick relative; would he take on her Catechism class of 7 and 8 year-olds.
He sat down at her desk and said, “Let’s start where Sister Josephine left off last week. What did she teach?”
A young boy put up his hand and said enthusiastically, “She said the Pope does not make any mistakes. He is unflappable!”
“No stupid …” interrupted a young girl, “Sister Josephine said the Pope is inflatable!”
“I remember it was inf something …” explained little Dennis to the priest, “in follicle I think …”
“I’m sure his Holiness would be pleased to learn that you consider him unflappable and inflatable!” said Father Ignatius gently, “I think Sister Josephine said that he is infallible.”
“It means he does not make any mistakes,” explained Dennis eagerly.
“Does it mean he can do all his sums right?” asked William.
“I don’t think so,” said Rose, “because algebra is very difficult. Everyone makes mistakes in algebra.”
“I hate algebra,” declared Derek, “and chemistry. Are you good at algebra, Father?”
The priest tapped the ruler gently on the desk to get them to settle down.
“No Derek, I have never been good at algebra,” he confessed, “I found it a little difficult too.”
This had the desired effect of quietening them down.
“Now then,” he continued, “what did Sister Josephine mean when she said that the Pope is infallible?”
“He makes no mistakes,” said Sophie.
“Yes,” said Father Ignatius, “what I’m sure Sister Josephine explained is that the Pope, when speaking for the Church, and teaching about Christianity, he does so in a correct manner, which we should accept and obey.”
“Does this mean he is always right when answering Catechism questions?” asked Marcel.
“It means that he is guided by the Holy Spirit, who teaches him and tells him what to say. You know who the Holy Spirit is; do you?” Father Ignatius asked the youngsters.
“He is a pigeon,” declared Alfred, “because I have an image of Jesus in the water with John the Baptism and a pigeon. Dad said it is the Holy Spirit.”
“No …” replied Monica, “the Holy Spirit is fire which went on the Gospels heads when they were in the house, only it didn’t burn their hair. It made them speak many languages.”
“Yes … that’s true” confirmed Steve, “it made them speak in Arabaic.”
“No, it’s Aramaic …” corrected Dennis, “they spoke in all languages in the world except French!”
“Jesus spoke in English,” said Derek, “that’s why all the Bibles in the world are written in English!”
“No, He spoke in Latin. That’s why the priest says Dominus Vobiscum in Latin,” explained Harry who’d remained quiet up to now.
The priest tapped the ruler gently again on the desk to get them to stop talking. Obviously he had a lot of ground to cover to explain in simple terms to these enthusiastic youngsters the many mysteries of Christianity.
He told them how God at first spoke to us through the prophets, and then He sent Jesus to speak to us personally as a human being, although He is also God. It would have been difficult for people at the time to understand and fathom out the Holy Spirit, and the mystery of the Holy Trinity. So God allowed the Holy Spirit to appear in terms which people could perhaps understand, a dove, a voice from above, and indeed tongues of fire.
These mysteries are still difficult for some people to understand even today. That’s why we must pray often about them and ask God to help us believe, even if we don’t fully understand.
At this point the bell rang to signify the end of lesson.
As the children left Father Ignatius remembered that Sister Josephine was scheduled to take on his Catechism class this Friday.
“I wonder what booby traps she’ll lay for me with that lot?” he asked himself.
The Pope's infallibility is a subject sometimes raised by non-Catholics when discussing our Faith and beliefs.
What we have perhaps not made clear is what we mean by the Pope's infallibility.
In effect it means that he is totally dependable and fail-safe when pronouncing Catholic dogma which we are to accept and believe. This is known as speaking "ex cathedra" - that is, when in the exercise of his office as pastor and teacher of all Christians he defines, by virtue of his supreme Apostolic authority, a doctrine of faith or morals to be held by the whole Church.
In all of our Church's history this speaking ex cathedra has only happened twice.
In the Constitution Ineffabilis Deus of 8 December 1854, Pope Pius IX pronounced and defined that the Blessed Virgin Mary "in the first instance of her conception, by a singular privilege and grace granted by God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Saviour of the human race, was preserved exempt from all stain of original sin."
That is to say, the Virgin Mary was born without original sin.
This is not in the Bible, but a dogma of the Catholic Church.
About 100 years later, by promulgating the Bull Munificentissimus Deus, on 1 November 1950, Pope Pius XII declared infallibly that the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary was a dogma of the Catholic Faith.
That is to say that she was raised to Heaven both body and soul. Her body did not decay in the ground as would happen if buried.
Again, this is not in the Bible, but Catholic dogma.
At no other time did a Pope speak ex cathedra.