Part 4

“Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt,
so that you may know how you ought to answer every one.” (Col 4:6)

61. A friend recently told me that the Book of Maccabees shouldn’t be in the Bible because it has prayers for the dead in it. How should I respond to that?

There are a handful of books in the Catholic bible that are not included in Protestant bibles. These are Sirach, Tobit, Wisdom, Judith, 1 and 2 Maccabees, and Baruch, as well as additions to Daniel and Esther. Protestants refer to these books as the “apocrypha,” or the “apocryphal books.” One reason why these books are excluded is because Protestants find in them various doctrines or practices that are supposedly at odds with the rest of Scripture. Your friend is using that argument, and there are at least two ways to respond to it.

One approach is to defend the practice of praying for the dead. After all, your friend is assuming that there is something wrong with praying for the dead, when in fact it is perfectly fine. Catholics pray for the dead because we believe in the reality of Purgatory, the state of being cleansed by God of any remaining impurities before we enter heaven. Souls undergoing this purging can benefit from our prayers because death does not separate us from the Body of Christ. As members of one Body, we can pray for each other and offer up our hardships for one another. A lengthy defense from Scripture is usually necessary before one can convince most Protestants that praying for the dead is a legitimate practice. Read the Catechism on these subjects, as well as a few articles from and you can find all the verses you need. You may also consider a different approach.

Another way to tackle this is to simply show your friend that prayers for the dead can be found in his Bible as well as the Catholic one. I like this approach because it turns his argument against him. Now, in order to be consistent, he has to start tearing out books that no one in his right mind would ever dream of excluding! Elijah (cf. 1 Kings 17:20-22), Peter (cf. Acts 9:40), and even Jesus himself (cf. John 11:41-43) are all seen praying for the dead in books that are well established in Protestant bibles. It is true that the prayer is for the person to come back to life. But, that doesn't change the fact that the soul of a dead person is still being prayed for, which, according to Protestants, is strictly forbidden. Note also that, in order for these souls to return to their bodies, they must have been in an intermediate state, since heaven and hell are irrevocable and eternal judgments. This is what "prayer for the dead" is: prayer for souls in this intermediate state. Also, in 2 Tim 1:16-18, Paul prays for the soul of Onesiphorus, that he will find mercy on the day of Judgment. So, prayer for the dead is certainly to be found in the Protestant bible.

This same two-fold approach can be used to defend the legitimacy of the other “apocryphal” books as well. If you have never read them before, I highly suggest you do!

62. Should the Bible be taken literally? Is any of it metaphor?

Well, it depends. Besides the literal sense of Scripture there is also a spiritual sense. This in turn is divided into the allegorical, moral, and anagogical senses. Each one brings a different layer of meaning to the text.

The literal sense is the sense that the human author wished to convey to his immediate audience. Once one considers the historical context in which the author lived, exactly who he was writing to, the circumstances in which they lived, and the purpose for his writing, then one is able to derive the literal sense of the text.

The spiritual sense is the meaning that the divine author – God, the Holy Spirit – wishes to convey to mankind in every age. It is the meaning that is found in a passage once that passage is read in the light of Christ and of Christian revelation. The allegorical, moral, and anagogical senses are all spiritual senses of Scripture.

The allegorical sense is the one in which persons, objects and actions depicted in a text are taken as representing other things not present in the text. With the allegorical sense, Moses becomes a type of Christ in his intercessory role for the people. The snake he raised up to heal them becomes an image of Christ crucified.

The moral sense is that element of Scripture that teaches us how to live rightly. As St. Paul says, “These things ... were written down for our instruction” (1 Cor 10:11). Within all of the suffering that the Jewish people had to endure is a moral lesson for us, to strive to do the will of the Lord in all things.

The anagogical sense provides the eternal significance to the realities and events of Scripture. It shows the reader that Scripture has an end in sight. Scripture not only speaks of the author’s day and of our own circumstance, but also of that final culmination of history, when Jesus Christ will make all things new.

Knowing now that there are multiple senses of Scripture, we must also keep in mind that Scripture is made up of many genres or styles of writing, such as history, poetry, parable, song, apocalypse, narrative, prophecy, etc. Once you know the genre of a writing then you know how best to understand it. For example, since the Book of Revelation is apocalyptic literature, we know that it is highly symbolic and thus we don’t think for a second that an actual dragon will appear with seven heads and ten horns when the world comes to an end (cf. Rev 12:3). Instead, we try to figure out what that dragon symbolizes.

Once you consider the multiple senses of a passage and the style in which it was written then you can capture the full breadth of meaning to be found in that passage.

63. Q&A Potpourri #4

Does First Communion come before Confirmation?

It depends on when your diocese has chosen to celebrate the sacrament of Confirmation. In the United States, Confirmation can be celebrated anywhere between the age of reason (7 yrs) and age 16. So, if your diocese celebrates Confirmation in the second or third grade, then it will come before First Communion. But, if your diocese celebrates Confirmation in the eighth grade, then it would come after First Communion.

What is the mystical process in which the bread and wine become Jesus?

That “mystical process” is called transubstantiation.

What is man’s earthly purpose?

According to the old Baltimore Catechism, man was made to know, love, and serve God in this life, and to be with him in the next.

Who was the first Catholic bishop?

The Catholic Church believes that the first bishops were the 12 apostles themselves. It's difficult to say which, from among the 12, became a bishop first. Perhaps it is Peter, who Jesus built His Church upon (cf. Mt 16:18).

When did the Holy Spirit originate?

The Holy Spirit is God. This means that He has no beginning or end. Thus, there is no point in time in which we can say that the Holy Spirit first came to be and there is no point in time in which we can say that the Holy Spirit did not exist.

When did Roman Catholicism begin?

The Catholic Church considers Her origin to be on the day of Pentecost, around 33 AD, when Jesus poured out His Holy Spirit upon the apostles and disciples in the Upper Room. It was this Spirit that gave the Apostles the courage to preach the Gospel with boldness and to establish local churches wherever they traveled.

Who was the first one to call the Church “Catholic”?

The first instance that historians have found of someone referring to the "Catholic Church" is in Ignatius of Antioch's Letter to the Smyrneans, where he writes, "Let no one do anything of concern to the Church without the bishop. Let that be considered a valid Eucharist which is celebrated by the bishop or by one whom he ordains [i.e., a presbyter]. Wherever the bishop appears, let the people be there; just as wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church."

64. Q&A Potpourri #5

What is the idol of gold that the Israelites created?

You may be referring to the golden calf that the Jews created once they began to doubt that Moses would ever come down from Mt. Sinai. You can read about the creation and destruction of the golden calf in chapter 32 of the Book of Exodus, from the Old Testament of the Bible.

Does a Catholic have to confess to a priest before receiving Communion?

If a Catholic has committed a mortal sin, then he must confess this sin to a priest in the Sacrament of Confession before he can receive Communion. If he has committed only venial sins, then he is free to receive Communion without going to Confession, and his reception of Communion will actually result in the forgiveness of those venial sins.

Who painted the Sistine Chapel?

Many of the greatest Renaissance artists of the day are responsible for the paintings that adorn the Sistine Chapel: Michaelangelo, Raphael, Bernini, Sandro Botticelli, Pietro Perugino, Domenico Ghirlandaio, Cosimo Roseli, Luca Signorelli, and others. Of all these, Michelangelo is most often associated with the Chapel, thanks to the dramatic scenes that he painted on its ceiling.

Who were the most influential figures of the Catholic Reformation?

There are many saints who were influential in renewing the Catholic Church around the time of the Council of Trent. These include St. Robert Bellarmine, St. Charles Borromeo, St. Ignatius of Loyola, St. Pius V, St. Francis de Sales, St. Teresa of Avila, St. John of the Cross, and St. Philip Neri.

What does the water represent in baptism?

Water is a very rich symbol in baptism. It represents death in that when you go under the water this is symbolic of a death to your old, sinful self. It represents life in that when you come out of the water, this is symbolic of a resurrection to new life. Water is symbolic of spiritual rebirth, since, just as we are physically born when we come out of the water of the womb, we are "born again" when we come out of the waters of baptism. Water is also symbolic of cleansing. Just as regular water cleanses dirt from our bodies, the water of baptism cleanses us of sin. Finally, water itself is often a symbol of the Holy Spirit since it is the Spirit that causes the various effects of baptism that are symbolized by the water.

65. Q&A Potpourri #6

What is proper behavior in a Catholic church both before and after Mass?

One should act reverently in a Catholic church both before and after Mass, and even when Mass is not being celebrated, because the Eucharist is present.

When a Catholic first enters the church building, he dips his fingers in the holy water font and makes the Sign of the Cross. Once he finds the pew in which he would like to sit, he genuflects towards the tabernacle, makes the Sign of the Cross, and enters the pew. Once in the pew, he kneels in prayer, preparing himself spiritually for the Mass that is soon to begin. Silence is observed from the moment he enters the Church, so as not to distract anyone in their prayer.

Once Mass has ended and the priest has left the sanctuary, then one is free to go, although it is praiseworthy to sing the entire closing song (or "recessional hymn"). Once the song has ended, it is customary (although not required) to kneel in the pew and say a prayer of thanksgiving, or the prayer to St. Michael the Archangel. When the Catholic exits the pew, he genuflects towards the tabernacle, makes the Sign of the Cross, and then approaches one of the exits. Before leaving, he dips his fingers in the holy water font and makes the Sign of the Cross. Silence is observed once the closing song is finished, so as not to distract anyone in their prayer.

Which sacrament is the greatest?

The Church's greatest sacrament, the source and summit of her faith and worship, is the Eucharist.

How is the Catholic bible different from other bibles?

The Catholic Bible is different from other Bibles in that it contains 7 more books (Sirach, Tobit, Wisdom, Judith, 1 and 2 Maccabees, and Baruch) as well as additions to Daniel and Esther.

What are the four main parts of the Sacrament of Reconciliation?

Those are contrition, confession, absolution, and satisfaction. To learn about each one, see the Catechism of the Catholic Church, nos. 1450-1460.

Who is called to defend the Catholic Church?

All Catholics are called to defend the Church, and are empowered by the sacraments to do that very thing.

66. Q&A Potpourri #7

What are the material signs of a sacrament?

The material signs of a sacrament are those elements of the sacrament that effect our senses and direct our minds to the spiritual reality that the elements signify.

Each sacrament has its own material signs:

  • Baptism: water, oil, candle, white garment
  • Confirmation: oil, laying on of hands
  • Eucharist: bread, wine
  • Reconciliation: the confession of the penitent and the words of absolution from the confessor
  • Holy Orders: oil, laying on of hands
  • Matrimony: the bride, the groom, the vows they make
  • Anointing of the Sick: oil, laying on of hands, water

Where in the Bible do you find the stories of Holy Thursday?

The readings for the Mass on Holy Thursday evening commemorate the Passover, the Last Supper, the institution of the Eucharist, and the institution of the priesthood.

  • Reading I: Exo 12:1-8, 11-14
  • Responsorial Psalm: Psa 116:12-13, 15-16bc, 17-18
  • Reading II: 1 Cor 11:23-26
  • Gospel: Jn 13:1-5

Read these different passages and you'll find the stories of Holy Thursday.

Why do Catholics honor and celebrate the rosary?

Catholics honor and celebrate the rosary because it is a time-tested method of contemplating the significant events of the life of Christ, it is a powerful weapon against the devil, and because it helps to strengthen our relationship with Christ and our devotion to His mother.

What does the priest say at the end of Mass?

He says, “Go in the peace of Christ,” or “The Mass is ended, go in peace,” or “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.” We respond by saying, “Thanks be to God!”

Does a saint have only one feast day?

Typically, a saint only has one feast day, but there are a handful of saints who have more than one. For example, St. Peter has three (Feb 22, June 29, Nov 18), St. Paul has three (Jan 25, June 29, Nov 18), and St. Joseph has three (March 19, May 1, Dec 27). Mary has 17 different feast days (!!), at least one in every month except April.

67. Q&A Potpourri #8

Who wrote the letters in the Catholic Bible?

There are many letters in the Catholic Bible and they weren't all written by the same person. Paul, the great evangelist from the Acts of the Apostles, wrote Romans, 1st and 2nd Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1st and 2nd Thessalonians, 1st and 2nd Timothy, Titus, and Philemon. Traditionally, Paul was also considered the author of the letter to the Hebrews, but his authorship of that letter is widely disputed. James, the Lord's "brother" and bishop of Jerusalem, wrote the letter of James. Peter, the Apostle, wrote 1st and 2nd Peter. John, the "beloved Apostle" and the Gospel writer, wrote 1st, 2nd, and 3rd John. Jude, the Apostle, wrote the letter of Jude.

Why is the resurrection essential to our faith?

The resurrection is essential to our faith because, if Jesus did not rise from the dead, then He did not conquer death. If He did not conquer death, then He did not pave the way for us to conquer death (and sin, the wages of which is death). If we cannot conquer death then this life is all that there is. There is no hope for an afterlife with God. There is no resurrection of the body on the last day. There is no definitive end to suffering, and evil, and death. There is no union of man with God. There is no grace. There is no Church. There is no sacraments. There is no Pentecost. Without the resurrection, the devil has won and mankind is finished.

Why is the Catholic Church based in Rome?

The Catholic Church is "based in Rome" because St. Peter, the head of the Apostles and the Rock upon whom Jesus Christ founded His Church, lived and died in Rome. His successors, who are the popes of the Catholic Church, maintained their residency in this city in his honor.

Why is a flame significant to Confirmation?

The flame is significant to Confirmation because it is a symbol of the Holy Spirit, particularly as He was poured out upon the Apostles on the Jewish Feast of Pentecost. Scripture notes that on that day, tongues of fire appeared over their heads as the Holy Spirit was given to them and they were emboldened to go out and preach the Gospel. The Sacrament of Confirmation is a sort of Pentecost event in the life of a Catholic because it results in the Holy Spirit being poured out upon that person, and him being strengthened to live his faith with boldness and to be a soldier for Christ.

68. Q&A Potpourri #9

In Baptism, what is the meaning of the anointing on the chest?

The anointing with oil on the chest is meant to give the child the grace and the strength to live the Christian life. In ancient times, athletes would massage their muscles with oil to prepare themselves for competition. Soldiers would do the same to prepare themselves for battle. In Scripture, the Christian life is equated with both of these things: a race to be won (cf. 1 Cor 9:24; 2 Tim 4:7; Heb 12:1) and a spiritual war to be waged (cf. 2 Cor 10:3-4; Eph 6:12). So, in baptism we give the new Christian his or her adequate preparation.

What was Mary’s childhood like?

Scripture makes no mention of the childhood of Mary, so it is difficult to say with certainty what her childhood was like. The Protoevangelium of James, an ancient Christian writing, says that Mary was raised in the Temple and that, at an early age, she consecrated herself to the Lord as a perpetual virgin. Since Catholics believe that Mary was conceived without any stain of original sin and that she committed no actual sins throughout her entire life, it is safe to assume that her childhood was a truly holy and precious one.

What does “INRI” stand for?

INRI is the acronym for the Latin phrase, "Iesvs Nazarenvs Rex Ivdaeorvm," which means: "Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews." Pontius Pilate had this phrase written in Latin, Greek, and Hebrew and placed on the cross upon which Christ was crucified (cf. Jn 19:19-22).

Does every saint have a feast day?

No. There are thousands of saints, so it would be impossible for every single one of them to have their own feast day (unless we decided to devote each day of the calendar to several different saints). Instead, only those saints who had the greatest impact on the Church or around whom a fervent devotion has grown are celebrated with feast days in the liturgical calendar.

What is the importance of apostolic succession?

Apostolic succession is important because it preserves for the Church the power to teach, to sanctify, and to govern that was first given to the apostles by Jesus Christ. Bishops receive this power and priests participate in it through the Sacrament of Holy Orders. In this way, the Catholic Church continues to be a truly apostolic Church, both in her teaching and in her authority.

69. Q&A Potpourri #10

Is the Eucharistic Prayer considered part of the Liturgy of the Eucharist, or is it a separate rite?

The Eucharistic Prayer is considered to be part of the Liturgy of the Eucharist.

Lately the Eucharistic Ministers have been permitted to return to their seats once they are finished distributing the Eucharist. I thought they weren’t supposed to return to their seats until the priest dismissed them.

During the training that was recently conducted, the extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion were instructed to return to their seats once they have finished distributing Communion and they have returned the vessels to the altar. Fr. John, Brett Ballard, and I are not aware of anything in the rubrics of the liturgy or in the theology of the Mass that would require the ministers to remain in the sanctuary (the area immediately surrounding the altar) once their job is done. The former practice can actually become a distraction because one's attention tends to be drawn towards the crowd of people up front rather than towards the Eucharist that one has just received.

During Holy Week, are Catholics obligated to attend the Masses on both Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday?

You can celebrate Easter either by going to the Easter Vigil Mass on Saturday night or by going to one of the Masses on Easter Sunday. You don’t have to do both.

If someone's birthday falls on Ash Wednesday or Good Friday, are they allowed to have birthday cake?

I don't know of a specific rule that applies to this. I think that, as long as you observe the fast that is required on those days (one regularly-sized meal, two smaller meals that if combined would not be greater than the one regular meal, no snacking in between), then you can have some cake for your birthday. It would simply be a part of your one regularly-sized meal.

Beyond the cake, another concern is the festive nature of most birthdays, which usually involve a party or some similar revelry. I think that such things are contrary to the spirit of Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, which are solemn days with a very somber undertone. If your birthday falls on one of those days, you can either celebrate your birthday in a more subdued manner (for example, by simply having family and friends over for a meal and conversation), or you can move the celebration of your birthday to another day.

70. What’s the difference between nondenominational churches and the Catholic Church?

Nondenominational churches (as their name suggests) are not affiliated with any particular denomination. This means that there is nothing distinctive about their theology or their governance that aligns them with any particular denomination. The Catholic Church, however, has a very distinctive theology and governance that separates it from other Churches or ecclesial communions. It follows from this that nondenominational churches do not have many of the things that make the Catholic Church distinctly Catholic. This includes things like:

  • The pope, bishops, or a formal hierarchy
  • Seven Sacraments
  • The Sacrifice of the Mass
  • Prayer to the saints
  • Devotion to Mary
  • The four Marian dogmas
  • Sacred Tradition
  • Apostolic Succession
  • A distinction between mortal sin and venial sin
  • A belief in Purgatory
  • The use of statues and icons
  • Veneration of relics

In virtue of being nondenominational, they vary greatly in theology from church to church, but in general, nondenominational churches tend to focus on the basic Gospel message and do not stray very far beyond that. “Jesus is God, He died for your sins, have faith in Him and you will be saved.” The Catholic Church, of course, preaches the Gospel as well, but She also preaches many other things that, while not the Gospel message per se, are still true and thus must be taught and believed. This would include many of the items listed above.

Nondenominational churches may or may not also differ with the Catholic Church on various issues of morality, such as abortion, contraception, homosexual marriage, divorce, embryonic stem cell research, euthanasia, capital punishment, etc. How much any nondenominational church differs with the Catholic Church on these matters basically depends on the nondenominational church in question. Some may differ greatly with the Catholic Church on these matters, while others may be perfectly aligned with us.

What makes them even more difficult to compare and contrast with Catholicism is the fact that most nondenominational churches, in their desire to remain nondenominational, usually refrain from making dogmatic statements. If it doesn’t have a direct bearing on the Gospel message or on a person’s salvation, then they usually leave it up to the believer to decide.

71. What does Jesus mean when he says that, when the “Son of man” comes, “two men will be in the field; one is taken and one is left. Two women will be grinding at the mill; one is taken and one is left” (Mt 24:40-41)?

Tim LaHaye’s Left Behind books popularized the notion that this passage is a reference to “the rapture,” the taking up into the air of all true Christians before the tribulation takes place so that they can dwell in a parallel kingdom in heaven while the rest of us hapless souls struggle against the anti-Christ on earth. But, this is not Catholic teaching, and I think there is another interpretation that fits better.

Immediately before the passage cited above, Jesus makes a reference to Noah and what took place when God drowned the whole world with a flood. In many ways, that was an end-times event for everyone alive at that time. Jesus compares that event to what will take place upon the Second Coming. He says:

“As were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and they did not know until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of man.” (Mt 24: 37-39)

These words of Jesus provide the context for what he says next, when he says, “two men will be the field, one is taken and one is left,” and so on. This means that, just as the wicked in Noah’s time were “swept away,” one will be “taken,” and just as Noah’s family was spared, the other will be “left.” This passage you are asking about does not refer to some being raptured and others being “left behind.” Instead, it means that, when Jesus comes, some will have their life taken from them, and others will live. This is the effect of the General Judgment, which the Church says all men will experience when the Son of Man finally comes again.

This passage also means that our day, our time here, does not always come when we expect it. God may call us home even amid the mundane chores of every day life (working in the field, grinding at the mill, etc.). Jesus’ words remind us that we must always be ready, for “of that day and hour no one knows” (Mt 24:36).

As with every difficult Scripture passage, it is important to utilize the context of the passage, and to always read Scripture with the mind of the Church. During this season of Advent, let’s make sure that we are making ourselves ready so that on “the day of Christ Jesus,” we will be found fit to live forever with Him.

72. What are the O Antiphons?

An antiphon is a short verse from a psalm or other usually biblical source that is chanted (or at least recited) before and after a psalm. The O Antiphons are the antiphons chanted during the Octave of Christmas, the seven days before Christmas Eve, Dec. 17-23. On each day, a different O Antiphon is sung during Evening Prayer, which is the portion of the Liturgy of the Hours that is prayed at sunset. They are called “O” antiphons because each one starts with the exclamation “O”, followed by a title of the Savior. They are meant to heighten our awareness of the coming of the Lord as we approach those precious few days before Christmas.

The seven O Antiphons are: O Sapientia (Oh Wisdom), O Adonai (Oh Lord), O Radix Jesse (Oh Root of Jesse), O Clavis David (Oh Key of David), O Oriens (Oh Rising Sun), O Rex Gentium (Oh King of the Nations), and O Emmanuel, which means “God is with us.” Each one is named after the title of the Savior that begins the antiphon. Here are the antiphons for each day, in full, followed by the passages from Isaiah that inspire them:

Dec. 17 - O Sapientia: “O Wisdom, O holy Word of God, you govern all creation with your strong yet tender care. Come and show your people the way to salvation.” (cf. Isa 11:2-3; 28:29)

Dec. 18 - O Adonai: “O sacred Lord of ancient Israel, who showed yourself to Moses in the burning bush, who gave him the holy law on Sinai mountain: come, stretch out your mighty hand to set us free.” (cf. Isa 11:4-5; 33:22)

Dec. 19 - O Radix Jesse: “O Flower of Jesse’s stem, you have been raised up as a sign for all peoples; kings stand silent in your presence; the nations bow down in worship before you. Come, let nothing keep you from coming to our aid.” (cf. Isa 11:1, 10)

Dec. 20 - O Clavis David: “O Key of David, O royal Power of Israel controlling at your will the gate of Heaven: Come, break down the prison walls of death for those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death; and lead your captive people into freedom.” (cf. Isa 9:6; 22:22)

Dec. 21 - O Oriens: “O Radiant Dawn, splendor of eternal light, sun of justice: come, shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.” (cf. Isa 9:2)

Dec. 22 - O Rex Gentium: “O King of all the nations, the only joy of every human heart; O Keystone of the mighty arch of man, come and save the creature you fashioned from the dust.” (cf. Isa 2:4; 9:7)

Dec. 23 - O Emmanuel: “O Emmanuel, king and lawgiver, desire of the nations, Savior of all people, come and set us free, Lord our God.” (cf. Isa 7:14)

Besides praying these during the Liturgy of the Hours, families can also make up their own prayer services using the O Antiphons. For example, everyone could recite the Antiphon for the day together, then the father could read the appropriate passage from Isaiah, and then the service would end with everyone singing “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.” During Advent, it is always good to set aside some time to pray as a family.

73. Q&A Potpourri #11

Which days other than Sundays are Catholic obliged to attend Mass?

Besides Sundays, Catholics are also obliged to attend Mass on Holy Days of Obligation. In the United States, the Holy Days of Obligation are:

  • January 1: the solemnity of Mary, Mother of God;
  • Thursday of the Sixth Week of Easter: the solemnity of the Ascension;
  • August 15: the solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary;
  • November 1: the solemnity of All Saints;
  • December 8: the solemnity of the Immaculate Conception;
  • December 25: the solemnity of the Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

Whenever January 1, the solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, or August 15, the solemnity of the Assumption, or November 1, the solemnity of All Saints, falls on a Saturday or on a Monday, the precept to attend Mass is abrogated.

Which early Church father is commonly referred to as the “Doctor of Grace”?

"Doctor of grace" is a title commonly attributed to St. Augustine, because of his many brilliant works on the subject of grace.

How could the souls in Purgatory be assisted?

The Catholic Church teaches that the souls in purgatory are assisted by our prayers for them, and by our works of penance, or other good works, on their behalf.

Why do some people kneel on one knee in front of the Eucharist but other times they kneel on both knees?

The gesture of reverence depends on the degree of presence: the greater the presence, the more profound the gesture. When the Eucharist is in the tabernacle, you genuflect on one knee, since the Eucharist is present, but you can’t see it. However, when the Eucharist is exposed in a monstrance, then you can see it, so you kneel on both knees (and even bow with your face to the ground). As an aside, this also explains why we make a reverent bow (bending slightly at the waist) when we walk past the altar. The altar too is a symbol of the presence of Christ because it is there where the Sacrifice of the Mass — His sacrifice — takes place. But, Jesus is not as profoundly present in the altar as He is in the tabernacle or when the Eucharist is exposed for adoration, so that’s why we bow to the altar instead of genuflecting or kneeling.

74. Q&A Potpourri #12

Is the Communion Rite considered to be part of the Liturgy of the Eucharist, or is it a separate rite?

It is part of the Liturgy of the Eucharist. The General Instruction of the Roman Missal divides the Mass into four parts: Introductory Rites, Liturgy of the Word, Liturgy of the Eucharist, Concluding Rites.

I've noticed that the silent prayers (e.g. Lord, wash away my iniquity) are no longer used during Mass. When were they omitted?

These have not been omitted. The priest is supposed to say them quietly to himself, so you may not hear him say these silent prayers, but he definitely still says them.

Why is there always a different preface dialogue of the Eucharistic Prayer (i.e. right after everyone says "it is right to give him thanks and praise")?

For Eucharistic Prayers 1 - 3, there are dozens of possible prefaces for the priest to choose from, depending on the Eucharist Prayer he chooses and the particular feast day or liturgical season we are celebrating.

When did the Song of Praise (formerly referred to as the Meditation Song) became part of the Mass? I never encountered it until I began attending Mass at Blessed Mother.

As far as I know, the “Song of Praise” has always been an option in the Ordinary Form of the Mass. The General Instruction of the Roman Missal, no. 88 says, “When the distribution of Communion is finished, as circumstances suggest, the priest and faithful spend some time praying privately. If desired, a psalm or other canticle of praise or a hymn may also be sung by the entire congregation.” Typically, Brett Ballard, our Director of Music and Liturgy, decides to include a Song of Praise on holy days of obligation and during the Christmas and Easter seasons.

I heard that a new English translation of the Mass will be coming out soon. Why is this necessary?

In 2001, the Vatican released the document Liturgiam Authenticam, which outlined rules for translating the liturgy into the vernacular. Once this document was released it became necessary to revise our current translation of the Roman Missal. The texts of the revised translation, which should be finished by the end of 2010, are marked by a heightened style of English speech and a grammatical structure that more closely follows the Latin text. In addition, many biblical and poetic images, such as “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof” (Communion Rite) have been restored.

For more information about the new translation, see the helpful website from the USCCB.

75. Should I participate in Blessed Mother’s upcoming Bible study on the Gospel of John? I don’t know very much about the Bible at all. I’m afraid I’ll just get lost or make a complete fool of myself.

I understand, honestly I do. Sometimes I’m afraid to lead it! But, if we keep giving in to that fear then we’ll never overcome it. Wouldn’t you like to not be afraid of studying the Bible? How are you ever going to overcome your fear of studying the Bible if you keep avoiding that study? I think the key here is for me and for you to do that very thing that we are afraid of doing.

I’m not saying that when you come to the end of our study you’ll be a full-fledged Bible scholar ready to submit articles to academic journals. But, you’ll have some knowledge and familiarity with John’s Gospel that you never had before. You’ll have ears equipped to hear what God is trying to say to you and to the world about Himself. If you go through this study, the next time you hear a passage from John’s Gospel during Mass it will actually mean something to you! On the drive home you’ll be able to tell your family what Jesus meant when he said, “Destroy this temple and I will rebuild it in three days” (Jn 2:19), or when he said, “Before Abraham was, I AM” (Jn 8:58). You can come to a point where Scripture actually excites you, instead of it being something that frustrates you and makes you feel insecure.

That is, in a sense, the fruit that I dangle in front of you. I hope you will take it. With the Stewardship Drive and the season of Lent fast approaching, now is the perfect time to get involved, both in your own spiritual life, and in the life of this parish. Our upcoming Scripture study is one way to do that.

There will be sign-ups today and next Sunday, January 24th, after the 10 AM Mass, in the lobby area of the Family Life Center. You can also register by calling me, sending me an email, or coming by the office. Please register as soon as possible so that I can have your materials ready for you on the first session. We will be meeting every Tuesday night at 7 PM in the Parish Hall, starting February 2nd. If there is enough interest, we will also meet on Monday morning at 10 AM. When you register, make sure you tell me which day and time you would prefer. The cost of the study is only $20, which is a significant reduction of the actual retail price of each study guide. Each session will last about an hour and a half. This is a 30-week study, which means that we will probably go into September. I realize that this requires a significant commitment on your part, and I realize that not everyone will be able to come to every meeting. All I ask is that you try the best you can. I can give you any info that you miss.

76. Can you tell me more about the Gospel according to John that we will be studying here at Blessed Mother?

The Gospel of John was written by one of Jesus’ 12 apostles. He was the youngest of the 12 and “the one whom Jesus loved” (cf. Jn 13:23; 19:26; 20:2; 21:20,24). With James and Peter, he was part of the “inner circle” of apostles who were closest to Jesus and who alone were privileged to witness important moments in Jesus’ ministry, such as the Transfiguration (cf. Mk 9:2). John was the only apostle who stayed with Jesus at the Crucifixion, and Jesus gave His mother Mary into the care of John shortly before He died. Finally, besides the Gospel, John also wrote three letters and the Book of Revelation, which are found in the New Testament.

Scholars date the composition of the Gospel to around 90 AD. Since the Gospel shows detailed knowledge of Jewish feasts, a familiarity with Palestinian geography, and makes many allusions to the Temple, it was probably written for Jews and Jewish Christians living throughout the Mediterranean world. As for the purpose of the Gospel, John specifically says, “These are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in his name” (Jn 20:31). John is also writing in order to “fill in the blanks” left by the Gospels according to Matthew, Mark, and Luke. John informs us of many facts and events that are not found in the other Gospels.

John’s Gospel is a truly beautiful work, rich in meaning and deeply spiritual. John himself is symbolized by an eagle because his Gospel soars to new heights of contemplation upon the divinity of Christ. John proves with certainty that Jesus is God. His Gospel is also very familial: it focuses on God as a family of Persons — Father, Son, and Holy Spirit — and upon mankind as initiated into that family through faith in Christ. In relation to the other Gospels, the Trinity finds its fullest expression in John’s Gospel. Life, truth, light, glory, and “bearing witness” are common themes found throughout. Faith and love are also very important.

Finally, John’s Gospel is very sacramental. He speaks explicitly of Baptism (cf. Jn 3:3,5), Eucharist (cf. Jn 6), and Confession (cf. Jn 20:21-23). Jesus gives marriage new sanctity with His presence at the wedding feast at Cana (cf. Jn 2:1-11). John speaks indirectly of Confirmation by including Jesus’ promise to send the Holy Spirit to the Apostles (cf. Jn 14:26; 16:13). The priesthood is even seen in Jesus’ priestly prayer in Jn 17, where Jesus intercedes as High Priest to the Father on our behalf and offers himself as a holy victim.

This is truly an amazing work, and I hope you will join us in studying it.

77. What is the resurrection of the body and what proof do you have that it will actually take place?

The resurrection of the body is an event that will take place when Jesus comes again. At that moment, every soul that has ever lived will be reunited to its body. In other words, every human body that has ever lived will come back to life again.

These bodies will be immortal and “incorruptible,” which means that they will not deteriorate or decay. The bodies of the righteous souls will have the benefit of being “glorified,” which theologians traditionally take to mean that they will not undergo pain, they will be more physically robust and agile, and they will even glow with radiance. The bodies of the wicked souls will simply add a physical dimension to the spiritual suffering that they were already enduring in hell.

There are many passages in Scripture that speak of the resurrection of the body. Here are just a few:

Dan 12:2 And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.

Isa 26:19 Thy dead shall live, their bodies shall rise.

Jn 5:28-29 Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice 29 and come forth, those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of judgment.

Jn 6:39 and this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up at the last day.

Jn 11:23-25 Jesus said to her, "Your brother will rise again." 24 Martha said to him, "I know that he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day." 25 Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live

Acts 26:8 Why is it thought incredible by any of you that God raises the dead?

Rom 8:11 If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit which dwells in you.

The resurrection of the body is a great source of hope for Christians because in it we have the cure for all of the bodily suffering that we currently endure, as long as we remain united to God.

78. What are the gifts of the Holy Spirit?

The gifts of the Holy Spirit are listed in Isa 11:2-3. The Douay-Rheims translation reads as follows:

And the spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him: the spirit of wisdom, and of understanding, the spirit of counsel, and of fortitude, the spirit of knowledge, and of godliness. And he shall be filled with the spirit of the fear of the Lord...

They are given to us at our Baptism and strengthened in the Sacrament of Confirmation. Their purpose is to make us docile to the promptings of the Holy Spirit. He works in us through these gifts and each one helps us to progress towards holiness.

It can be difficult to distinguish between the different gifts of the Holy Spirit because they are so much alike. For help, I turn to the Modern Catholic Dictionary, by Fr. John A. Hardon:

Wisdom: It makes the soul responsive to God in the contemplation of divine things. It allows our minds to penetrate the very essence of divine truths.

Understanding: It is given to the mind for grasping revealed truths easily and profoundly. It gives insight into the meaning of what a person believes.

Counsel: It enables a person to judge promptly and rightly, as by a sort of supernatural intuition, what should be done, especially in difficult situations.

Fortitude: It gives a person a special strength of will. This gift confers an extraordinary readiness to undergo trials for love of God or in fulfillment of the divine will.

Knowledge: It gives a person the ability to judge everything from a supernatural viewpoint. The object of this gift is the whole spectrum of created things insofar as they lead one to God. Through infused knowledge the faithful can see the providential purpose of whatever enters their lives.

Godliness (or “Piety”): It produces an instinctive filial affection for God and devotion toward those who are specially consecrated to God. It is a ready loyalty to God and the things of God.

Fear of the Lord: A solemn respect for the almighty power and glory of God. It fills us with reverence for Him and dread of offending Him who loves us so completely.

I pray that the Spirit will arouse these gifts within you as you contemplate your role and mission in the Church.

79. What is the proper gesture of reference towards the tabernacle both during Mass and outside of Mass?

Our outward gestures, especially those that take place within the context of liturgy and prayer, should reflect our inner disposition, our own thoughts and feelings about what we are doing. That is why a question like this is an important one: it is an opportunity for us to make sure that our gestures are an accurate reflection of genuine Catholic sentiment regarding the tabernacle.

The tabernacle is a boxlike container where the Blessed Sacrament is kept, or “reserved.” Consecrated hosts are kept there so that the Body of Christ is available to take to the sick, and so that the faithful have the opportunity to adore our Lord in the Eucharist.

Outside of Mass, the proper gesture of reverence towards the tabernacle is a genuflection, in which you kneel on your right knee, make the Sign of the Cross, and then rise to your feet again. Note that this is a more profound act of humility and reverence then a bowing of the head, or a bowing at the waist. This is because Christ’s Presence in the tabernacle is more profound. Jesus is more substantially present in the tabernacle than He is in the Word of God found in Scripture or, generally speaking, in the hearts of men. Thus, the tabernacle calls for a greater gesture of reverence.

The purpose for the genuflection you make when you enter and exit the pew is to venerate the tabernacle. But, note that this takes place before Mass starts and after it has ended. While Mass is being celebrated, there is no sign of reverence made towards the tabernacle, at least not by the priest, deacon, and other liturgical ministers. The General Instruction of the Roman Missal says, “If, however, the tabernacle with the Most Blessed Sacrament is present in the sanctuary, the priest, the deacon, and the other ministers genuflect when they approach the altar and when they depart from it, but not during the celebration of Mass itself” (cf. no. 274).

I’m not entirely sure why that is. Perhaps it is to draw our attention to the altar, where the Sacrifice of the Mass is taking place. Genuflection signifies adoration, so it could also be that, by removing the sign of reverence towards the tabernacle, the Church is trying to place the emphasis on what is being consecrated in front of us, instead of on what was already consecrated during a previous Mass. Or, it could be that, since you already reverenced the tabernacle when you entered the pew before Mass, and you’re going to do it again before you exit the pew, that those gestures are sufficient and it’s not necessary to do them again. I am not an expert on the liturgy, but those are my educated guesses.

80. Lent Potpourri 2010

Why do we put ashes on our forehead on Ash Wednesday?

Ashes are a symbol of mourning, mortality, and penance. After all, “you are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Gen 3:19). That was God’s reminder to Adam after he commited the original sin. During Old Testament times, God’s people would cover themselves with ashes in times of mourning, or to make reparation for their sins (cf. Esther 4:1; Job 42:6; Dan 9:3). We do the same in order to remind ourselves of our own sins and of the fact that we are entirely dependent upon God for every second of our being. Therefore, we must make of this life all that God desires it to be, and remove from our lives anything that would hasten our spiritual death and keep us from Him.

What is Lent?

Lent is a period of about 40 days, not counting Sundays, in which we spiritually prepare ourselves for the Resurrection of the Lord on Easter Sunday. Lent is a somber time of personal reflection, of penance, prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. It is a time for calling to mind our sins, all the times in which we helped drive the nails into the hands and feet of Christ. It is a time for redoubling our efforts to grow in our prayer life and to experience God in the Sacraments of the Church. It is also a time for doing good works, for loving one another as Christ loved us.

What does it mean to “fast” and to “abstain.” When do we do these things? Who is required to do them?

To “fast” means, at minimum, eating one regularly-sized meal and two smaller meals, with no snacking in between. Such fasting is obligatory on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday for all Catholics age 18 - 60 years old.

To “abstain” is to refrain from eating the flesh and organs of warm-blooded animals. This abstinence is obligatory on Ash Wednesday and every Friday during Lent for all Catholics age 14 and up.

Why do people “give up” something for Lent? Is this something that we have to do?

While this is not strictly required, traditionally, Catholics choose something to give up, or refrain from doing, during Lent so as to embrace the penitential character of this season. Some people take this opportunity to overcome bad habits, like biting your nails, or smoking, or cursing. Others will give up something they enjoy, like ice cream, or television, or Facebook. Whatever you do during Lent to unite yourself to the “Suffering Servant” is a good and laudable thing.