Each weekday, you'll find a new question and answer. Check back for the new question and scroll down to see previous day's entries! Let us know what you think - - or question! -- by emailing us at email@example.com.
Which Gospel Came First?
Q. Which of the four Gospels was written first?
Q.S., via email
A. Since Scripture itself says nothing explicit about this matter, it’s been debated by biblical scholars since ancient times. Nearly everyone agrees that Luke was not written first, and that John was written last, but the chief argument is whether Matthew or Mark came first.
The “Matthew first” hypothesis dates all the way back to St. Augustine in the fourth century. It’s the oldest explanation, following the order in which the Gospels appear in the canon, and it’s the one that was generally accepted by Catholics until the mid-twentieth century. This hypothesis still has some support among scholars.
The opposing hypothesis, more popular these days, is that Mark, the shortest Gospel, was written first.
The matter is quite complicated, because scholars base their various theories about which Gospel is prior on certain features of the four texts that can be interpreted in contradicting ways.
In particular, there is considerable overlap in material among the three synoptic Gospels, as they are called (Matthew, Mark and Luke). So one or more of the evangelists (Gospel authors) most likely drew some of the material for their composition from one of the others, to which they added their own unique material. In addition, they may have drawn from another source that was known to all of them.
If we could figure out who borrowed from whom, we’d have a better idea of the order in which the books were written. Since Mark is the shortest Gospel, did Matthew and Luke draw from him in composing their Gospels, adding to it from other sources? Or did Mark draw from Matthew, condensing his material?
The truth is that none of the many scholarly hypotheses proposed to sort out the relationships between these Gospels — not just the order in which they were written, but also who borrowed from whom — is fully satisfactory. Each one fails to account for some feature of the four texts that have come down to us.
Meanwhile, on a happier note, today is the feast day of St. Mark the Evangelist. Buona festa!
Q. Why do so many Catholics use the orans position [hands held upward] in prayer? Is it legitimate?
J.K.M., via email
A. Here’s a reply from TCA columnist Father Francis Hoffman, J.C.D.:
Not only can this position be legitimate for lay people in private prayer, it can also be very powerful!
I’m reminded of the time when Moses stood on the promontory of a hill overlooking the battle plain below as Joshua raged against the enemy forces of Amalek. As long as Moses held his hands upward in prayer to God, the Israelites were victorious. He grew weary, however, and Aaron and Hur helped him hold his arms up until the Israelites had vanquished Amalek (see Ex 17:10).
During the Mass the celebrant often extends his arms in prayer as indicated by the rubrics, but in no place are the faithful directed to do the same. Nor are they prohibited. However, in some countries — for instance, Italy — faithful that wish to pray this way during the Our Father are legitimately allowed to do so. At this point that is not the case in the United States.
The U.S. bishops have debated allowing this posture of prayer during the Our Father at Mass, perhaps as a way to eliminate the practice of holding hands. But so far they have not reached a consensus on this point. The best advice is not to pray with your hands extended during the Mass unless the bishops specifically approve that posture.
Is Easter Pagan?
Q. I have some Christian friends who insist that Catholics celebrate a pagan holiday of Easter! What can I say to justify our calling Resurrection Sunday by the name “Easter”?
M.N., via email
A. The English name we use for the greatest of Christian feast days, “Easter” (and its cognate in German) may well have pagan roots. Scholars have long debated its origins, so we don’t know for sure. But the festival itself, commemorating Our Lord’s resurrection, is of course anything but pagan. Christians have observed it from the beginning as the holiest day of the year.
In other languages, Easter is typically called “Great Day” or “Resurrection Day” or, most often, some term derived from the Greek name, Pascha, which is itself derived from Pesach, the Hebrew festival of Passover. The connection between Easter and Passover should be clear, as St. Paul noted: “For Christ, our Paschal [Passover] Lamb, has been sacrificed. Let us, therefore, celebrate the festival” (1 Cor 5:7-8). (See also the question and answer posted yesterday; click here.)
The Catholic Church has no inherent connection with the term “Easter,” as is clear from the fact that most English-speaking Protestants use that term as well. In fact, references to the day in Catholic liturgy just as often call it the “Paschal feast.”
If your friends feel uncomfortable calling a day by a name with a pagan derivation, then I suggest that they simply refer to Easter as “Pascha” or “Resurrection Day.” But I’m curious: If they have such strong objections to using pagan names for days, what do they call the days of the week?
The English names for the days of the week — Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and all the rest — were named for pagan gods and goddesses. And what about our names for the months, some of which have similar derivations?
If they object to the use of pagan-derived names but still use these common English names for days of the week and months of the year, they are being rather inconsistent.
Q. In a recent Bible study the story of the Passover was read. It said that we should keep this ordinance forever (see Ex 12:14, 17, 24). What does the Church teach about the practice of the Passover supper?
E. K., via email
A. Here’s a reply from TCA columnist Fr. Ray Ryland, Ph.D., J.D.:
The Church celebrates the Passover every year in her observance of Easter. The deliverance of the Jewish people from slavery in Egypt is a type, an anticipation or foreshadowing, of the true Passover — the sacrifice of God’s Son, when He delivered the world from the power of sin.
In the opening statement at the Easter Vigil, the celebrant declares, “This is the Passover of the Lord.” In the Easter Proclamation the deacon sings, “This is our Passover feast, when Christ, the true Lamb, is slain, whose blood consecrates the homes of all believers.” This feast is the high point of the year in the Church’s liturgical cycle.
Who Was St. Anselm?
Q. Who was St. Anselm?
I.N., via email
A. There are at least two canonized saints with this name; I assume that you’re asking about the one who is best known, whose feast day is celebrated today.
St. Anselm (c. 1033-1109) was a medieval Italian abbot who became Archbishop of Canterbury, England. He spent much of his time defending the rights of the Church against power-hungry English kings. But he is best known as a preeminent theologian, a Doctor of the Church.
St. Anselm has been called “the Father” of the Christian school of philosophy and theology known as Scholasticism, whose most famous representative was St. Thomas Aquinas (c. 1225-1274). Anselm insisted that revelation and reason can be harmonized. He was the first to incorporate successfully into Christian theology the philosophical insights and method of the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle.
The saint’s works have influenced great thinkers all the way down to modern philosophers such as Descartes and Hegel. He is perhaps best known for his treatise on the Incarnation, Cur Deus Homo (“Why God Became Man”). For the text of that profound document, click here.
Catholic Faith Resources | For Catholic Parishes | Order OSV Products | RSS | Advertise | About Us | Contact Us | Jobs