Part 3

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

41.  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).

42.  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.

43.  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).

44.  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.

45. 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.

46.  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.

47.  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.

48.  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.

49.  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).

50. 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.

51.  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.

52.  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.

53.  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.

54.  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.

55.  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.

56. 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!

57. 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 Bible is a Faith book.

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.

58. 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.

59 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

60. 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.