Why Do Catholics Believe that Individuals Can Receive Special Revelations? *


Like many biblical characters, the ancient Israelite judge Gideon acted on a personal revelation he received from God (see Jgs 6:11-40). The stories of such special revelations are now an important part of what is called the "public" revelation of God to the Church, which includes sacred Scripture and sacred Tradition--a deposit of faith that we must take as our norm of belief (see 2 Tm 1:14).

"In times past, God spoke in partial and various ways to our ancestors through the prophets; in these last days, he spoke to us through a son" (Heb 1:1-2). Jesus Christ, the Son of God made man, is the Father's one, perfect, definitive Word, which can never be surpassed. In Christ, God has said it all. So the heritage of faith, given in Christ and contained in Scripture and Tradition, is complete. We expect no new public revelation until Jesus Christ returns to earth.

Over the centuries, however, the Church has gradually come to understand the meaning of that complete revelation more deeply. From this deposit, handed down by the apostles and their successors, the teaching office (magisterium) of the Church draws everything that it proposes to us for our belief as being divinely revealed. Catholics are obliged to accept this public revelation of God.

Do special revelations still come to individuals from heaven? The Church certainly allows for that possibility. At times she has even authoritatively recognized such messages, as with the appearances of our Lady to St. Bernadette at Lourdes. But these "private" revelations, as they are called, do not belong to the deposit of faith. Their role is not to add to or improve Christ's definitive revelation, but to help believers live it more fully in a specific period of history.

For that reason, though the Church may recommend particular private revelations as worthy of acceptance, Catholics are not bound to assent to these in the same way they would place their faith in sacred Scripture and Tradition. At the same time, Catholics should exercise caution toward alleged "revelations" that have not yet been approved by the Church. And they must firmly reject as false any that offer "a different gospel" (see Gal 1:6-9), claiming to surpass or correct the deposit of faith given in Christ.

Other related scriptures: Ps 119:29; Jer 23:13-32; Mt 24:4-5, 11; Lk 21:8; Acts 8:9-25; 2 Cor 11:4, 13-15; Eph 4:14; 2 Thes 2:1-5, 15; 1 Tm 1:3-4; 4:1-2, 7; 6:12-16; 2 Tm 4:3-4; Rv 13:11-14.

Catechism of the Catholic Church: 50-100.

*Quoted from The New Catholic Answer Bible. Wichita, Kansas, Fireside Catholic Publishing, 2005. www.firesidecatholic.com

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