Part 3

“Contend for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 1:3)

41.  Does the Bible support the Catholic belief that, in the Mass, the bread and wine become the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ?

It certainly does! Jesus instituted the Eucharist at the Last Supper when he said of the bread, “Take, eat, this is my body,” and of the wine, “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant” (Mt 26:26-27). The bread is His Body, the wine is His Blood. St. Paul reflects this same understanding when he says that the bread and the wine are a participation in the Body and Blood of Christ (cf. 1 Cor 10:16). He goes on to say that whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord, and that anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself (cf. 1 Cor 11:27-29). This can only be so if the bread and wine are the actual Body and Blood of Christ.

In John 6, Jesus unceasingly demands this understanding of the Eucharist:

"…the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh." (vs. 51)

"Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you;" (vs. 53)

"he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day." (vs. 54)

"For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed." (vs. 55)

"He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him." (vs. 56)

"As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats me will live because of me." (vs. 57)

The crowd obviously understood him as speaking literally. They disputed among themselves, objecting to such a “hard saying” (cf. vs. 52, 60). Despite their grumbling, Jesus did nothing to correct their understanding or to give them the indication that He was speaking of anything other than His very own Body and Blood. He desired that we consume His very self, that He could come to dwell within us. When he told the Apostles, “Do this in remembrance of me,” He gave to them and to every priest who comes after them the power to make that consumption and that indwelling a reality.

The Eucharist is truly an amazing gift.

42.  Is the Rosary “vain repetition”?

As you know, the praying of the rosary requires the repetition of several prayers. As such, some non-Catholics assert that Jesus condemned prayers like the rosary when He said, “And in praying do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard for their many words” (Mt 6:7). The King James Version says, “But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions ...” But, they misunderstand this passage.

For one, the context reveals that Jesus was not condemning repetition as such, but vain repetition, that is, saying words over and over so that you can be seen and heard by men and receive their praise. Jesus is speaking against those people who pray, not out of humility and adoration of God, but so that they can be known for their so-called piety.

The rosary, however, is not vain repetition. It’s not repetition for the sake of repetition, and it’s not meant to garner the praise of men. Saying the “Hail Mary” ten times has the positive effect of focusing the mind and allowing one to enter into a meditative state as one contemplates the lives of Jesus and Mary. Surely there is nothing wrong with that!

If Jesus was condemning all forms of repetition in prayer, then we must charge Jesus Himself with praying incorrectly. After all, He repeated the same prayer three times in the Garden of Gethsemane:

And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt.” ... Again, for the second time, he went away and prayed, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, thy will be done.” ... So, leaving them again, he went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words (Mt 26:39,42,44)

Ever read the Psalms? They are filled with repetitive prayer. Psalm 136 repeats the phrase “his steadfast love endures forever” 26 times! Worship in heaven is also repetitious: “day and night they never cease to sing, ‘Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!’” (Rev 4.8).

The fact is, Jesus was only condemning vain repetition. As long as you pray the rosary with pure motivations you are fine.

43.  Does the Bible say anything about the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick?

Yes it does. The most explicit reference comes from the Letter of St. James:

“Is any among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; and the prayer of faith will save the sick man, and the Lord will raise him up; and if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.” (Jas 5:14-15)

There is also the work of the apostles, when Jesus sent them out “two by two”:

“And he called to him the twelve, and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. ... So they went out and preached that men should repent. And they cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many that were sick and healed them.” (Mk 6:7, 12-13)

In both cases, the apostles and elders of the Church heal by anointing the sick with oil, which is what takes place in our sacrament. Paul healed a man of fever and dysentery by laying his hands on the sick man (cf. Acts 28:8), which is an important part of the sacrament as well. The fact is, “many signs and wonders were done among the people by the hands of the apostles” (Acts 5:12), and one of these was the power to heal the sick (cf. Acts 5:15-16; 8:7; 19:11-12).

Note however that the benefit is not always physical. Since God does not always desire that we be cured of our infirmities, He also gave the apostles the power to strengthen the sick spiritually. So, we often see that, along with their many physical healings was also the casting out of demons (cf. Mk 6:13; Acts 5:16; 8:7) and the forgiveness of sins (Jas 5:14-15). Similarly, in the sacrament, the sick person may not be physically healed by the action of the priest, but he is always given the grace to persevere with courage, to unite his pain with that of our crucified Lord, and to resist the devil, who tempts us in our deepest suffering to renounce our faith in God.

The Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick is an amazing gift to anyone, young or old, who begins to be in danger of death.

44.  Does the Bible say anything about having priests in the Church?

Yes it does. God told his people through the mouth of Jeremiah, “I will give you shepherds after my own heart who will feed you with knowledge and understanding” (Jer 3:15). It was through His holy priesthood that God guided his people and provided for their worship and holiness both in the Old Testament and in the New Testament.

In the Old Testament, there was the high priest (Aaron, cf. Exo 28:3), the ministerial priests (Aaron’s sons, cf. Exo 28:40-41), and the universal priests (Israel, cf. Exo 19:6). The New Testament priesthood also has three offices: High Priest (Jesus Christ, cf. Heb 2:17; 3:1), ministerial priests (the ordained bishops and priests, cf. Rom 15:16; 1 Tim 3:1,8; 5:17; Titus 1:7), and the universal priests (all the faithful, cf. 1 Pet. 2:5,9; Rev. 1:6). The whole of salvation history evidences this hierarchy within the People of God.

Note that there is a high priest and a ministerial priesthood, but there is also a universal priesthood. In other words, Catholics affirm a universal, or a “spiritual” priesthood just like Protestants do. The Church teaches that we are all incorporated into the priestly office of Christ upon our baptism. We are all priests, called “to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (2 Pet 2:5).

But, the Church also believes that, from among these people, Jesus Christ calls certain individuals to make His authority, His priesthood, His very Person present in the Church in a more profound way. These individuals make up the ministerial priesthood, those special men who God has called to make the sacraments available to us and to “feed” and “tend” the flock of the Lord (Jn 21:15-17).

In Scripture, we are commanded to obey these “elders” (Gk. presbuteros, or "priests") of the church (cf. 1 Thes 5:12-13; 1 Tim 5:17; 13:7,17; 1 Pet 5:5), and those who reject their authority are looked down upon and judged harshly (cf. 2 Pet 2:10-12; 1 Jn 4:6; 3 Jn 1:9-11; Jude 1:8-11). After all, God says of his priest that “men should seek instruction from his mouth, for he is the messenger of the LORD of hosts” (Mal 2:7).

45.  What is Pentecost?

Most people only know Pentecost as a Christian holiday, one that commemorates the day when the Holy Spirit fell on the apostles and disciples of Christ as they gathered in the Upper Room after the Ascension. While the apostles and disciples remained in Jerusalem out of obedience to Christ (cf. Acts 1:4-5), Scripture tells us that Jews from many different nations had also gathered in Jerusalem (cf. Acts 2:5, 9-11). They were present for a different reason: The Jewish Feast of Pentecost.

Pentecost is originally a Jewish holiday. Along with Passover and Tabernacles, it is one of the three Great Feasts of the Jewish calendar. The word “Pentecost” comes from the Greek word which means “fiftieth.” The feast takes this name because it occurs fifty days after the second day of the Passover.

To the Jewish people, Pentecost has both historical and agricultural significance. Historically, Pentecost commemorates the giving of the Torah to Moses on Mt. Sinai. Since God accommodated his Law to an agricultural people, it enjoins upon the Jews various grain offerings. So, agriculturally, Pentecost also commemorates the time when the first fruits of the wheat harvest were harvested and brought to the temple in the form of two cakes of leavened bread (cf. Lev 23:17).

As Christians, we may ask ourselves what significance there is to the fact that Jesus decided to pour out His Holy Spirit upon the Church on this Jewish Feast. I think there are many instances in which the Christian celebration of Pentecost proves to be a sort of fulfillment of the Jewish Feast.

The Jewish Feast celebrates the beginning of the wheat harvest by offering the first of the harvested wheat to the Lord. In the Christian Feast, we celebrate the beginning of the Christian Church, when Jesus harvested 3000 souls who were cut to the heart by Peter’s teaching and were baptized. Jesus Christ Himself is the first fruit (“of those who have fallen asleep,” cf. 1 Cor 15:20), and we too are a kind of first fruits by the grace He has given us (cf. Jas 1:18). Finally, the Spirit that the Church received on that day guides us into all truth and knowledge of God and His Will in a way that far surpasses what was given in the Torah.

So, in many ways, the Jewish feast of Pentecost was the perfect day to set in motion the Church that God had in mind from the very beginning.

46.  How does a person receive salvation?

One would think that such a simple question would have an equally simple answer. But, it doesn’t. That’s because the object in question – salvation – is itself a mysterious reality. Before we can answer this question, we must attempt to define what we mean by the word salvation. We must grasp hold of both its present and future significance.

The “Glossary” in the back of the Catechism of the Catholic Church defines salvation as “The forgiveness of sins and restoration of friendship with God, which can be done by God alone.” This definition draws out the present significance of salvation, as something that can take place here and now. After all, any time we receive the sanctifying grace of the sacraments (which happens daily all over the world), we receive “the forgiveness of sins and restoration of friendship with God.”

However, Fr. Peter Stravinskas, in his Catholic Dictionary, defines salvation as “The result of being released from death through the passion, death, and resurrection of Christ, which brings us to the newness of life in heaven.” Did you catch that last part? According to this definition, salvation is something that has future significance. It is something that takes place later, when you die and consequently gain victory over death and receive eternal life in heaven.

So, which one is it? Does salvation take place now or later? I think it’s both. By God’s grace, we are every day being saved until we come to that day when God declares us fit to live with Him forever in heaven. That is why, in the Bible, salvation is referred to in the past tense (as something that has already taken place), in the present tense (as something that is taking place), and in the future tense (as something that will take place). Here are a few examples of each:

  • Past Tense: “in this hope we were saved” (Rom 8:24); “by grace you have been saved” (Eph 2:8).
  • Present Tense: “to us who are being saved” (1 Cor 1:18); “those who are being saved” (2 Cor 2:15).
  • Future Tense: “we shall be saved” (Acts 15:11); “he himself will be saved” (1 Cor 3:15).

Now that we know what salvation is, we can answer the question at hand. The Church believes that a person receives salvation both in this life, by living a life of faith and reception of the sacraments, and in the future, by persevering to the end (cf. Rom 11:22; Gal 5:1; Phil 2:12; Col 1:22-23; Heb 3:14) and standing before God with grace and faith intact. May we all “run with perseverance the race that is set before us” (Heb 12:1).

47.  What do we mean when we say in the creed that Jesus “descended into hell”? Did Jesus really go to hell?

While we use the word “hell” today to refer to the place of the damned, where there is fire, and wailing, and gnashing of teeth, the Apostles’ Creed is actually referring to a difference place.

The Greek word that we translate as “hell” in the Creed is hades, which in Biblical times was the name for the abode of the dead, the place deep in the earth where all souls went when they died (sheol is the Hebrew word that refers to the same place). We see from the parable of the rich man and Lazarus (cf. Lk 16:19-31) that, even though all souls went to Hades, their lot was not the same. “Son, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Laz'arus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish.” For the righteous, Hades was a place of comfort, but for the unrighteous Hades was a place of torment (cf. vs. 22-24).

Note that, while there was some comfort there for the righteous, it still wasn’t heaven, it wasn’t seeing God face to face, with all the knowledge and joy that comes from that vision. After all, the gates of heaven were closed to mankind once Adam and Eve were expelled from the Garden of Eden (cf. Gen 3:22-24). So, Hades was also a place of anxious waiting and longing for the day when the righteous souls could be freed from Hades and enter heaven. All of the patriarchs, and prophets, and holy men and women of the Old Testament were essentially stuck in Hades until someone could come and free them. That someone was Jesus.

When Jesus died and His body was buried, His spirit spent three days in Hades, where “the gospel was preached even to the dead” (cf. 1 Pet 4:6), to “the spirits in prison” (1 Pet 3:19), so that “at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth” (Phil 2:10). When Jesus descended into Hades, He was not abandoned there (cf. Act 2:27-31). There was no need to worry about who would raise Him from the abyss (cf. Rom 10:6-8). Jesus conquered Hades, and when He rose from the dead, He led with Him a host of captives (cf. Eph 4:8). He holds the keys to death and Hades (cf. Rev 1:17-18), and He has given us the courage to say, "O death, where is thy victory? O Hades, where is thy sting?" (1 Cor 15:55).

That is what we mean when we say that Jesus descended into hell.

48.  Q&A Potpourri #1

What is baptismal grace?

Baptismal grace is the grace that a person receives when he or she is baptized. This grace has the effect of cleansing a person of all sin.

Can you baptize your child a second time as a Catholic so as to change the godparents?

No. According to the Catholic Church, a person can only be baptized once.

Who is the patron saint of wound healing?

The patron saints against wounds are Sts. Aldegundis, Marciana, and Rita of Cascia.

What are the evangelical counsels?

The three evangelical counsels are poverty, chastity, and obedience.

Who is the most famous priest in the world?

There is really no objective answer to this question, although I would imagine that the most famous priest in the world is whoever happens to be the pope.

From what act do all the effects of the sacraments flow?

All effects of the sacraments flow from the saving work of Christ on the Cross.

Who was freed instead of Jesus?

According to the Gospels, Barab'bas was released instead of Jesus (cf. Mt 27:15-26; Mk 15:6-15; Lk 23:18-25; Jn 18:38-40).

Who was the leader of the Roman Catholic Church in 1958?

If by "leader" you mean "the pope," then the leader of the Catholic Church in 1958 was either Pope Pius XII, who's reign ended in that year, or Pope John XXIII, who succeeded Pope Pius XII in that same year.

What is the adoration chapel?

It is a place reserved for the adoration of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist. In such a chapel, the Eucharist is placed in a Monstrance so that it can be seen and worshipped.

Who is Gregorian chant named after?

"Gregorian chant" takes its name from Pope St. Gregory the Great, who reigned as Pope of the Catholic Church from 590 to 604 A.D.

49.  Q&A Potpourri #2

How long does it take for a person to become Catholic?

It depends on the individual. The Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) process can take anywhere from 8 months (the typical length) to 2 years (the recommended length), but some people go through years of personal study into the Catholic faith before they finally make the decision to enter the process.

What is a catechumen?

A catechumen is a non-Christian who is receiving religious instruction in preparation for the sacraments of initiation and membership in the Catholic Church. A non-Catholic Christian receiving the same instruction is called a "candidate"

How many times is the word “water” present in the Bible?

It depends on the translation you are using. The word "water" is found 407 times in the Revised Standard Version, 363 times in the King James Version, and 345 times in the Douay-Rheims version.

What happened to Jesus’ body after He died?

First it was laid in a tomb owned by Joseph of Arimathea. For three days it remained there, lifeless, while Jesus' soul preached to the righteous in Hades. On the third day, His soul reunited with his body, causing it to come alive again, and for forty days He appeared to his disciples and apostles. At the end of forty days, He ascended, body and soul, into heaven.

What is the name of the Catholic Church’s response to the Protestant Reformation?

The response in question is commonly referred to as the "Catholic Reformation" or the "Counter Reformation." Historian William V. Hudon has also suggested the term "Tridentine Reformation." Christopher M. Belllitto, in his book Renewing Christianity: A History of Church Reform from Day One to Vatican II, chooses the term "Catholic reformations" (note the lower-case "r" and the plural) so as to refer not to one specific response but to all of the attempts to reform the Church that took place just before, during, and after Martin Luther came on the scene.

How often must a priest say Mass?

According to the Code of Canon Law, priests are "earnestly invited to offer the eucharistic Sacrifice daily" (Can. 276 § 2).

50.  Q&A Potpourri #3

What should I do to become Catholic?

Call the Director of Religious Education or the Pastor at your local Catholic church and inquire about entering the RCIA process. If you have to wait several months before you can begin the process, then spend that time reading the Catechism of the Catholic Church in order to get the best possible understanding of what the Catholic Church teaches.

Are there any disadvantages to being a Catholic?

Well, the main disadvantage of being Catholic is discrimination by the worldly, by people who reject what we believe or who misunderstand our beliefs and practices. Often times, it seems that anti-Catholicism is the last acceptable prejudice. But, by the grace of God, this becomes not a disadvantage but an opportunity to suffer with Christ and in Christ. Remember the words of Jesus, “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you” (Jn 15:18).

Is there an exact number of Catholics who have been canonized as saints?

I am not aware of an exact number. The Patron Saints Index has 5,950 saints, beati (those who have been beatified), and venerables. It is by far the most exhaustive list available online, so it may give you some indication of how many saints have been canonized over the years.

During Lent, what three things do we do to reflect and prepare for Easter?

The three practices most highly encouraged are fasting, praying, and almsgiving.

Who or what is St. Monica the patron saint of?

St. Monica is the patron saint of abuse victims; alcoholics; alcoholism; Archconfraternity of Christian Mothers; Bevilacqua, Italy; difficult marriages; disappointing children; homemakers; housewives; Mabini, Bohol, Philippines; married women; mothers; victims of adultery; victims of unfaithfulness; victims of verbal abuse; widows; and wives.

What does the biblical name "Nahum" mean?

According to Hitchcock's Bible Names Dictionary, Nahum means "comforter" or "penitent."

How many times is the word “church” used in the letters of Paul?

In the Revised Standard Version, the word "church" is found 45 times in the Pauline epistles, including the Letter to the Hebrews. Excluding this letter, the word appears 43 times.


51.  Someone told me that, when we go to heaven, we will see God face-to-face. Is that true?

Indeed it is. Theologians call this the "Beatific Vision" (the word “beatific” is the adjective form of the word “beatitude,” which means “a state of supreme joy”).

Scripture says that the angels already behold the face of God:

"See that you do not despise one of these little ones; for I tell you that in heaven their angels always behold the face of my Father who is in heaven." (Mt 18:10)

Paul says that we will see the Lord face to face on the day when everything imperfect will pass away:

"For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall understand fully, even as I have been fully understood." (1 Cor 13:12)

John echoes this same sentiment:

"Beloved, we are God's children now; it does not yet appear what we shall be, but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is." (1 Jn 3:2)

There are two other passages of Scripture that scholars think may pertain to this vision as well:

"Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God." (Mt 5:8)

"As for me, I shall behold thy face in righteousness; when I awake, I shall be satisfied with beholding thy form" (Psa 17:15).

I think the Beatific Vision should be the passionate desire of every Christian, just as it was of Job:

"For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at last he will stand upon the earth; and after my skin has been thus destroyed, then from my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see on my side, and my eyes shall behold, and not another. My heart faints within me!" (Job 19:25-27)

What’s amazing about the Beatific Vision is that within the invisible God is the Son, who took on a visible body in the person of Jesus Christ. Our minds aren’t yet capable of grasping such a thing, but when we stand before Him, we will finally understand, and we will bask in the glow of the amazing mystery that is our Trinitarian Lord and Savior.

52.  What is transubstantiation?

Transubstantiation is what takes place in the Mass when the bread and wine become the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus Christ. It is basically a way of explaining how the change from "bread" to "Jesus" takes place. In transubstantiation, the accidents of the bread and wine remain the same while the substance of the bread and wine are changed.

Of course, in order to understand this, you have to know what "accidents" and "substance" is. The accidents are those properties of a thing that the senses perceive. What it looks like, smells like, tastes like, sounds like, feels like — these properties are the accidents of a thing. They are not the thing itself, but merely the perceptible qualities or characteristics of the thing. The substance, however, is the thing itself, or the essence of the thing.

So, take for example the bread used in Mass. The accidents of it are: roundness, whiteness, crispiness, bread-like smell, bread-like taste. The substance of it is: "bread."

In every case in the universe but one, when the substance changes, the accidents of it change too, since the accidents are attached to the substance. For example, when a caterpillar becomes a butterfly, the change in substance from “caterpillar” to “butterfly” also results in a change in the accidents or outward appearance, from fuzzy, long, and multi-legged to multi-colored and winged.

Only in the transubstantiation of the Eucharistic elements do the accidents remain even though the substance changes. Maybe an illustration will be helpful. I saw a magic trick once where a man in a black costume stood in the middle of the stage. Some assistants pulled up a curtain around him. There was smoke and flashes of light. When they dropped the curtain to the floor there stood a woman in the same black costume. Transubstantiation is sort of like that. The "costume" of bread is suspended ("in mid air" so to speak) while the underlying substance (or thing that wears the costume) is changed.

I hope that helps you to make sense of this mystery. If you would like to read more about transubstantiation, I highly suggest Chapter 18 from Frank (“F.J.”) Sheed’s book Theology for Beginners. Sheed is a master at explaining complex mysteries in an accessible way.

53.  What is Sacred Tradition and why do Catholics believe in it?

Sacred Tradition is basically all the ways in which the teaching of the Apostles, the "deposit of faith," is passed on and preserved by the Church. This deposit was preserved and passed on through the writing of Sacred Scripture, which was inspired by the Holy Spirit, but it is also found in the ordinary teaching of the bishops, in the writings of the early Church Fathers, in the authoritative documents of the Church, and in the liturgical worship of the faithful.

Since the teaching and preaching of the Apostles has a divine origin, as does the consigning of that preaching to writing, both the preaching and the writing comprise the "Word of God" and thus "must be accepted and honored with equal sentiments of devotion and reverence" (Dei Verbum, no. 9).

So, you see, Catholics commit themselves to this Sacred Tradition because we believe that it too is a source for what God wants us to know about Himself and His Church. Even Scripture recommends this Tradition. St. Paul in particular speaks in many places about this:

  • He presents Scripture and Tradition as standing alongside each other: 2 Thes 2:15; 2 Tim 3:10, 14-15
  • He affirms the Tradition that his audience received: Rom 10:8, 17; Gal 1:11-12; Eph 1:13-14; Col 1:5-7; Titus 1:3
  • He commands them to follow it: Phil 4:9; 1 Thes 4:1-2; 2 Thes 3:6-7; 2 Tim 1:13
  • He praises them when they follow it: 1 Cor 11:2; 15:1, 3, 11; 1 Thes 2:13
  • He indicates that this Tradition will continue forever: 1 Tim 6:20; 2 Tim 2:2.

Note that, whenever "tradition" is condemned in Scripture, for example, by Jesus (cf. Mt 15:3-9; Mk 7: 8-13) or by Paul (cf. Col 2:8), what is being condemned are the traditions of men, or traditions that are contrary to the Word of God. The authentic, Sacred Tradition of the Church, however, has its very source in Jesus Christ and is preserved by the Holy Spirit working in the Church.

I hope that answers your question. There are many different ways to articulate what Sacred Tradition is, and what the relationship is between Tradition, Scripture, and the Magisterium (or teaching office) of the Church. I highly suggest reading the Catechism, nos. 74-95, and Dei Verbum, the Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation, from the Second Vatican Council.

54.  Is it always a sin to be angry?

Feelings in and of themselves are not sinful, just as temptations in and of themselves are not sinful. Morality only comes into play when there is a movement of the will. In other words, it’s what we do with the feeling or how we respond to it that is important. There are certain responses to anger that are sinful, but there are also responses to anger that are good, so good in fact that it would be a sin not to “get angry.”

Anger is sinful when it leads to the harboring of ill will against a person, when it desires that a person be harmed, or seeks vengeance upon a person who does not deserve it. If it is contrary to love of God, or love of neighbor, or is rooted in our own wounded pride then it is usually sinful. An example would be flying into a rage because someone borrowed your pen, or wishing that someone would die because that person insulted you, or hoping that the star athlete on the opposing team would fall and break his leg so that your team would win.

Anger is good when it is rooted in love of God, love of his Church, love of Truth, or a desire that His Will be done in all things. This type of good or just anger is typically called “righteous indignation.” So, for example, the anger we feel at the fact that millions of unborn babies are dying because of the atrocity of abortion – that’s righteous indignation. Or, when we respond passionately to falsehood, to the profanation of the sacraments, or to people who disparage the Church, we respond rightly. In fact, to not have our feelings aroused by these injustices can be a sin if it is rooted in “lukewarmness” or apathy. We should love God, love Truth, love life, and love justice enough to reject in no uncertain terms anything that is contrary to these things.

There are many examples in Scripture of righteous indignation. When Jesus drove out the money changers (cf. Mt 21:12), called the Pharisees a “brood of vipers” (Mt 3:7), and condemned the wicked servant (cf. Mt 18:32), he was displaying righteous anger. Other examples include Moses’ slaying of the idol worshippers (cf. Exo 32:15-29) and God’s destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (cf. Gen 19).

55. Did St. Paul really mean to say that bishops must be married?

In one of Paul’s letters, he wrote, “Now a bishop must be above reproach, the husband of one wife” (1 Tim 3:2). Some non-Catholic Christians try to use this as proof that bishops should be married. However, that is not in fact what Paul is trying to say. Here is the passage again, this time in context:

1 Tim 3:1-5 The saying is sure: If any one aspires to the office of bishop, he desires a noble task. 2 Now a bishop must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, sensible, dignified, hospitable, an apt teacher, 3 no drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, and no lover of money. 4 He must manage his own household well, keeping his children submissive and respectful in every way; 5 for if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how can he care for God's church?

Now, this passage is not saying that a bishop must be married. Instead, it is saying that if he is married, he must be married only once . In other words, he can't have multiple wives, or divorce his current wife and marry someone else.

It really would not make sense for Paul to say that all the bishops must be married. For one, Paul himself is a bishop and he was never married! He would be disqualifying himself if he said such a thing. Secondly, if "the husband of one wife" (vs. 2) means that he must be married, then by the same logic, "keeping his children submissive and respectful" (vs. 4) would mean that he must have children. Are non-Catholic Christians really willing to go so far as to exclude from the ministry men who don't have children yet or who had children that are now dead? What about men who only have one child (after all, Paul says "children")? Many people would no longer be able to pastor their churches if these Christians were consistent in their logic.

The main point of the passage is found in the last verse: “if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how can he care for God's church?” All Paul is trying to say is that a bishop must be someone who has all of his affairs in order, who is a good steward of everything in his care. In the first generation of the Church, the priests came from men who already had families. But, over the years, the Church came to discern that men who were called by God to be celibate were better equipped to handle the demands of being a priest and shepherd of God’s flock.

56.  What is the difference between mortal and venial sin?

The “Glossary” in the back of the Catechism of the Catholic Church defines mortal sin as:

A grave infraction of the law of God that destroys the divine life (or “sanctifying grace”) in the soul of the sinner, constituting a turn away from God. For a sin to be mortal, three conditions must be present: grave matter, full knowledge of the evil of the act, and full consent of the will.

On the other hand, venial sin is:

Sin which does not destroy the divine life in the soul, as does mortal sin, though it diminishes and wounds it. Venial sin is the failure to observe necessary moderation, in lesser matters of the moral law, or in grave matters acting without full knowledge or complete consent.

See the difference? Mortal sins are always very serious in nature. Typically, any sin that directly breaks one of the Ten Commandments is a serious sin. If you commit such a sin with full knowledge that what you are doing is sinful and if you freely choose it (as in, nothing is forcing you to do it), then you commit a mortal sin. If the act is sinful but it doesn’t fulfill all three of the above requirements, then it is a venial sin.

Most of the sins that we commit every day are venial sins. These can be forgiven through an Act of Contrition (or some other prayer that shows God we are sorry for our sin and we desire His forgiveness) or by going to Confession. Venial sins are also forgiven whenever we receive the Eucharist. If we die with venial sins on our soul, we can still go to heaven because venial sins do not destroy the divine life within us, they simply wound it.

However, that does not mean that we should have a cavalier attitude towards it. We should strive to avoid all sin, including the lesser ones. Venial sins too can be dangerous because the more we sin venially, the more likely we are to commit more serious sins. We know that sin leads to death; it is better to not even go down that road.

When a person does commit a mortal sin, then the divine life in him is destroyed. He no longer has God’s saving grace. If he were to die in this state, then he could not go to heaven. His only recourse is the Sacrament of Confession. If you have a mortal sin on your soul, then you cannot receive the Eucharist until you go to Confession.

Some people deny that there is even a difference between mortal and venial sin. They say that all sins are equal in the eyes of God. Scripture clearly refutes this (cf. 1 Jn 5:16-17) as does common sense. After all, I think we all intuitively know that killing someone is not quite the same as picking on your brother.

57.  What is Purgatory?

People tend to think of Purgatory in a variety of ways:

  • “Purgatory is a place where souls who don’t deserve heaven get a second chance to be with God”;
  • “Purgatory is the best that I can hope for in the afterlife, since heaven is only for really holy people”;
  • “Purgatory is a place where souls work their own way into heaven, since God’s grace is not enough.”

Purgatory is in fact none of those things. Instead, it is simply the final act of purification, or “purging,” that God performs for us after we die in order to make us worthy for entrance into heaven.

We can die in unity with God but still have imperfections on our soul. These include things like venial sins, concupiscence (the inclination or propensity to sin), attachments to sin (the state of finding certain sins attractive or appealing), and insufficient reparation (the state of not having adequately made up for the negative effects of one’s sin). Since heaven is a place where no unclean thing shall enter (cf. Rev 21:27), God desires to purge these things from the persons who die in union with Him.

The first description listed above is a misconception because Purgatory is only for souls that are already in a state of grace or friendship with God. These souls have persevered to the end. The divine life in them remains. If a soul is not fit for heaven, then it is not fit for Purgatory. There are no “second-chances” in the afterlife.

The second description is a misconception, first of all, because Purgatory is not a final destination. Souls don’t go to Purgatory and stay there forever. Eventually, they move on to heaven. Secondly, Jesus Christ did not die on the Cross for a select few. No, He died for all mankind (even you!). Our hope should be in heaven, and in the power of God’s grace to actually get us there.

The third description is a misconception because it attributes a soul’s release from Purgatory to his own suffering, instead of to the work and suffering of Christ. Yes, there is suffering in Purgatory. After all, it is a state of being refined in the burning fire of God’s love (cf. 1 Cor 3:12-15; Heb 12:29, Songs 8:6). We certainly can’t expect that to be pleasant! But, our suffering only has meaning and is only meritorious (or, worthy of receiving grace) because of the grace of God. Purgatory is a final application of the grace that He won for us on the Cross. So, it is ridiculous to say that Purgatory is somehow at odds with the Cross.

I hope that helps you to understand Purgatory better.

58.  What is a prophet?

In the Old Testament, a prophet was someone who brought the word of God to the people by the power of the Holy Spirit. “He has spoken through the prophets,” as we say in the Nicene Creed.

Sixteen books in the Old Testament (the “prophetic books”) are by these prophets. The four “major prophets” are Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel. The 12 “minor prophets” are Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi. Of course, Moses, the greatest Old Testament prophet, is traditionally regarded as the author of the first five books of the Bible. There are also many noteworthy prophets who did not contribute to the canon of the Bible, such as Samuel, Nathan, and Elisha. There were female prophets too: Miriam, Deborah, Huldah, Anna, and Philip’s four daughters.

Sometimes, in speaking for God, a prophet would foretell the future, and the legitimacy of his prophetic office was confirmed when his prophecies came true. Often his role was to convict the Israelites of their sin and to implore them to return to the Lord and remember the covenants He established with them. A prophet would also interpret current events in light of God’s plan for his people and warn them of His impending judgment (which usually came by way of the Israelites being conquered by their enemies). After the exile, when all the nations of Israel were scattered, the prophetic message was one of accepting the justice of God’s punishments and preparing for the coming Messiah.

A genuine Old Testament prophet was always directly called by God Himself, and he received the message he was to deliver by way of visions, dreams, and audible encounters. The prophets always spoke the “hard truths” that no one wanted to hear, and as a result they were often persecuted by their own people. The last and greatest of the prophets was John the Baptist, who was the immediate precursor of the Messiah and paved the way for Him with his message of repentance.

Jesus, of course, is the Priest, Prophet, and King par excellence, and in Baptism we are empowered to participate in that three-fold ministry of Christ. We are prophets today whenever we speak the truth with boldness, convict people of their sin, bring people to Christ, or share the teachings of His Church with others. Such actions often require sacrifice, just as they did in Old Testament times, but it is a calling that we all have been given and that we must undertake.

59.  What does Gen 3:15 mean when God says that he will place “enmity” between the serpent and the woman?

In order to answer this question, we need to know what “enmity” is, as well as the identities of the “serpent” and the “woman.” First, some background information.

So, Eve has been persuaded by the serpent to disobey God and eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil; Adam has done likewise. This is the “original sin” that we all inherit and that brought sin and suffering into the world. God responds by declaring certain punishments. Here are God’s words to the serpent, once Eve tells Him that she was tricked by the serpent:

Gen 3:14-15 The LORD God said to the serpent, "Because you have done this, cursed are you above all cattle, and above all wild animals; upon your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life. 15 I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel."

Let’s dissect what is going on here. First, the word “enmity”: it refers to deep-seated, mutual hatred or animosity, as might be felt for an enemy. The serpent, of course, is the devil. He is “a murderer from the beginning . . . a liar and the father of lies” (Jn 8:44). He is “that ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world” (Rev 12:9).

The identity of the woman is a little trickier. Since Scripture can have several layers of meaning, the woman can take on different identities. Some say the woman is Eve. Others say she is the nation of Israel, or more generally, the people of God. Catholic scholars often say that the woman is Mary. Each interpretation is correct in its own way. I would like to address the Marian interpretation.

Scholars say that this woman is Mary for many reasons. Jesus referred to His mother as “woman” at the wedding at Cana (cf. Jn 2:4) and as He hung on the Cross (cf. Jn 19:26). Also, it is her seed, Jesus, who ultimately defeats the devil. He bruised the devil’s head (which, to a serpent, is a lethal blow) when He conquered sin and death with His own death and resurrection.

If the woman is indeed Mary, then the enmity between her and the devil is seen in her own protection from original sin. It is in that way that Mary and the devil are utterly opposed. The devil breeds nothing but sin and destruction. But, since God protected Mary from inheriting original sin and thus committing any sin in her life, the devil was not able to wound her with his poison, as he does the rest of mankind. We see in Rev. 12 that, no matter how hard he tries, the devil cannot overtake the woman. This is a frustration that he will take to his grave.

60.  I always hear people speak of Mary’s “fiat” and her “magnificat.” What are these things?

Mary’s fiat is found in Lk 1:38. It is her “yes” to God, which she declared once the Angel explained to her that she would conceive a son by the power of the Holy Spirit. Her specific words were, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord: be it done to me according to thy word.” In Latin, it is, "Ecce ancilla Domini; fiat mihi secundum verbum tuum." The Latin word for “be it done” (or “let it be done”) is fiat, so that is the name used by scholars to refer to Mary’s response to the angel.

Mary’s fiat is special because it is through this act of humble submission to the will of God that the Son of God makes his entrance into human history, taking on a human nature and becoming one like us in all things but sin. It is an example to us of obedience and a lively faith in the Lord. Just imagine if all people responded to the will of the Lord by saying, “Let it be done!”

The magnificat, also called the “canticle of Mary,” is the song of praise proclaimed by Mary after Elizabeth rejoiced at Mary coming to visit her. It is from Lk 1:46-55:

"My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has regarded the low estate of his handmaiden. For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed; for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name. And his mercy is on those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm, he has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts, he has put down the mighty from their thrones, and exalted those of low degree; he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent empty away. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his posterity for ever."

The first few words in Latin are, "Magnificat anima mea Dominum . . .” so that is why these words of Mary are referred to as the magnificat. This canticle is noteworthy because it is a beautiful example of praise and thanksgiving to God for all that He has done for His people and for those in need. We tend to only pray to God in our down times. We could all learn a lesson from Mary here and redouble our efforts to pray to the Lord in good times as well as in bad.

Most people don’t know what the fiat or the magnificat is because they aren’t familiar with Latin. But, Latin is a revered language that the Church has been using in her worship and her authoritative documents for many centuries. It is good to know at least a few Latin words, at least for the simple purpose of preserving our Catholic traditions and ways of speaking.