Pastoral Letter of Joseph Rudderham --- Bishop of Clifton

Joseph by the Grace of God and favour of the Apostolic See,
Bishop of Clifton. Lent. 1953

To the Clergy, Secular and Regular, and to all Faithful of our Diocese,
Health and Benediction in the Lord.       

Dearly Beloved Brethren and Dear Children in Jesus Christ


od the Son was made man, we read in the Catechism, "to redeem us from sin and hell and to teach us the way to heaven." That is the whole purpose of the Incarnation : that we might be able to win salvation. Our Lord's whole life and teaching, His Passion, Death and Resurrection were all designed to this end : to make it possible for men to get to heaven. What now remains for us to do in order actually to win salvation is to follow out the rule of life which Our Lord has laid down, and to be united to Christ by Sanctifying Grace.Joseph Rudderham - Bishop of Clifton


t is therefore necessary that we should know this rule of life, and should know it with certainty as the rule of life which Christ has laid down. It is also necessary that we should have access to this Sanctifying Grace without which we cannot be united to Christ.


or the Apostles and disciples of Our Lord this need was met by their personal fellowship with Him. To meet the need for the rest of mankind - to give them also the opportunity of certain knowledge of His rule of life and ready access to Sanctifying Grace, Our Lord instituted the Catholic Church, whereby, as He assures us, He will be with us "all days, even to the consummation of the world." That then is the origin and purpose of the Catholic Church : to continue for all men for all time the work which Our Lord began in His human body during His lifetime on earth. The Catholic Church is indeed a true and perfect society; but it is much more than this. It is in a very real sense the continuation not merely of Christ's work, but of His life : it is the perpetuation on earth of the Incarnation.


t must not be thought that this is a mere figure of speech. When St.Paul spoke of the church as "the body of Christ," and of us as its members and Christ as its Head, he did not, of course, mean that Church is the body of Christ in the same sense as one speaks of Christ's body on the Cross or in the Blessed Sacrament. What he was stating was, in different words, the truth which Our Lord had already taught when He spoke of Himself as the Vine and of us as the branches. When we are baptized into the Church we receive Sanctifying Grace, and it is then that the Holy Spirit comes into our souls. And this is the bond which unites all Catholics as members of the Church, members of that Mystical Body of which Christ is the Head, the divine Spirit who, as St. Thomas Aquinas says, "numerically one and the same, fills and unifies the whole Church."


ow the purpose of this indwelling of God in each baptized soul is to enable us to work out our salvation as Christ has laid it down. It is in this very real sense then that the Church is the continuation of Christ, for it is only through Christ's Incarnation that it was made possible for us to receive Sanctifying Grace. It is then manifest that in the Church, in membership of the Catholic Church alone can we have access to this Sanctifying Grace. Were we to separate ourselves from the Catholic Church we should thereby separate ourselves from the sole means of grace. We have no difficulty in understanding that had any of the Apostles left Christ during His life, their salvation would thereby have become impossible. And the only possible way of regaining their salvation would have been to return to Christ. And that is exactly our position with regard to the Catholic Church. For a Catholic to leave the Church, no matter for what reason, it is for him to leave Christ. In leaving the Church he would cut himself off from Christ and therefore from all hope of salvation unless and until he should again submit to the Church and return to her fold. We cannot cut ourselves off from the Church and at the same time remain united to Christ.


t is not just a question that, if I leave the Church, I shall be disloyal to it or to God : still less that by leaving the Church I shall hurt others. It is far more fundamental than that. In the Catholic Church, and in the Catholic Church alone can a Catholic ever hope to achieve salvation. Nothing can take the place of that anymore than salvation could have been possible without Christ Our Lord. For the Church, the Mystical Body of Christ, is the means whereby Christ continues for all time the work which He became man to do. And just as there is only one Jesus Christ, so there is only one Church of Christ - our Mystical Body of Christ - the Holy Catholic Church.


hat is why the Catholic Church is necessary to salvation. It is not for us to attempt to set limits to God's mercy, nor to pass judgement on those who have never known the truth of God's Church. But for us to whom God has given the inestimable privilege of being Catholics, for us there is no salvation outside our continual actual membership of the Catholic Church. Once we properly understand this, we shall readily understand that we cannot (not merely may not, but cannot) join with any who deny the Catholic Church in any act of worship without ourselves implicitly denying our membership of Christ's Mystical Body, the Church.


nce we understand the true nature of the bond which unites Catholics to one another and to the Church, and therefore to Christ, we shall also readily understand the urgent necessity of doing all in our power by prayer and example, to bring more and more of our fellows into this bondage of Christ, His own Catholic Church, and understanding this, please God be moved to action.

Given at Clifton on the Feast of St. Agatha, Virgin and Martyr, and appointed to be read in all Churches and Chapels of the Diocese on Quinquagesima Sunday, 1953.

† JOSEPH RUDDERHAM --- Bishop of Clifton