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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Why “Good” Friday?
Q. It’s horrible that Jesus was crucified and died on Good Friday. So why do we call it “good” if it’s arguably the worst day in history?
G.H., via email
A. That’s a good question, often asked.
Good Friday is called “the sixth day, [day] of the [Sabbath] preparation” in the old Roman Missal, based on the ancient Jewish custom. It’s known as “Holy and Great Friday” in the Eastern liturgies, and simply “Holy Friday” in Vietnamese, Japanese and the Romance languages (such as French, Spanish, Portuguese and Italian). The German name comes from an old term meaning “Lamentation Friday,” and it’s known as “Passion Friday” in Russian.
The Scandinavian peoples (Danish, Swedish, Norwegian, Finnish, Icelandic) refer to it as “Long Friday” — perhaps because fasting makes it seem that way!
The origin of the term “Good” in the English name is unclear. Some say it comes originally from “God’s Friday” (just as the English word “goodbye” came from “God be with ye”).
In any case, now that the day has come to be called “Good Friday” in English, we can think of this development as providential in light of St. Paul’s statement: “We know all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28, emphasis added). “All things” include Christ’s crucifixion — especially His crucifixion.
As St. Augustine put it, God allows evil to take place because He can always bring out of it a greater good. And from the evil of, as you put it, “the worst day in history,” He brought an infinitely greater good: the redemption of the world. So we remember this day with gratitude, and call it “Good Friday.”
A most blessed and Good Friday to you all — and a marvelously joyful Easter!
Maundy Thursday — or Tuesday?
Q. There has always been some controversy around the time sequence of the Last Supper and the Passover because of a seeming contradiction in the scriptural accounts. All four Gospels agree that Jesus ate the Last Supper the day before he was crucified. But while Matthew, Mark and Luke say the Last Supper was the Passover meal, John says that Jesus’ trial (after the supper) was on “the day of Preparation for the Passover” and that those who brought Jesus to Pilate had not yet eaten the Passover.
Can you summarize for us the various explanations that have been offered to resolve this dilemma? Which do you find most convincing?
-- G.R., Savannah, Ga.
A. Here’s a reply from our TCA columnist Father Ray Ryland, Ph.D., J.D.:
The apparent discrepancy you point out boils down to this. The Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) tell us Jesus celebrated the Passover before He was arrested and condemned. The fourth gospel (John) informs us Jesus was crucified before the Passover began.
As we might expect, there are several theories to explain this seeming discrepancy. Of these, the most convincing explanation to me (which was noted by the Holy Father in his Holy Thursday homily last year) is one that seems to hold to the fourth Gospel’s chronology for the events of Holy Week. This theory reconciles the synoptic and fourth Gospel accounts of Holy Week.
It starts with the now-known divisions among the Jews of Jesus’ time. There were quite a large number of “denominations” among them, just as you find among Protestants. They were divided on many issues, especially with regard to the liturgical calendar.
The Sadducees and the priests who were in charge of the temple followed a lunar calendar of 354 days. That calendar set the date of the Jewish festivals on the basis of lunar cycles. Thus Passover was celebrated on a different weekday (on the solar calendar) each year.
When the Dead Sea scrolls were discovered at Qumran in the middle of the last century, they revealed that the Essenes, a Jewish sect of Jesus, time, had a different calendar. Theirs was a 364-day solar calendar. On this calendar, the festivals always occurred on the same day of the week.
The Jews who followed the Essene calendar always observed the Passover on Tuesday night (which for them was the start of Wednesday). Did Jesus use the Essene calendar and celebrate the Passover with his disciples on Tuesday? Was the Last Supper, therefore, held on Tuesday night instead of Thursday night? Some scholars argue rather persuasively that this is indeed what happened.
In support of their argument, they point out that an Essene community did live inside the walls of Jerusalem, in the same part of the city where, according to tradition, the upper room was located. Jesus would have been aware that if He followed the temple calendar, He would have died before He could celebrate the Passover. It is possible He decided to follow the Essene calendar and celebrate the Passover on Tuesday night.
This interpretation resolves two apparent chronological discrepancies between the Synoptics and the Fourth Gospel. According to Mark 14:1, Christ’s anointing at Bethany occurred “two days” before the Passover. Yet John 12:1 reports that event took place “six days” before the Passover. There would be no discrepancy if the Synoptics have in mind the Essene Passover on Tuesday, and the fourth Gospel, the temple Passover on Friday evening.
After His arrest, and before His crucifixion, Jesus was subjected to lengthy legal procedures. He was brought before Annas (John 18:13, 19-23); before Caiaphas (John 18:24); before the Sanhedrin (Luke 22:66-71); before Herod (Luke 23:6-11); before Pilate (John 18:28-40). All this could hardly have taken place in only a night and part of a day. The theory that Jesus celebrated the Passover on Tuesday night allows time for all these proceedings.
Three ancient sources agree in saying that Jesus presided at the Last Supper on a Tuesday night: a second- or third-century document called the Didascalia Apostolorum; St. Victorinus (third century) and St. Epiphanius (fourth century). The first two sources also tell us this is why early Christians fasted and did penance on Wednesdays and Fridays. These two days bracketed the time of the beginning and end of Jesus’ passion.
Of one thing we are assured. The Gospels do not contradict one another. “Holy Mother Church has firmly and with absolute constancy maintained and continues to maintain, that the four Gospels…, whose historicity she unhesitatingly affirms, faithfully hand on what Jesus, the Son of God, while He lived among men, really did and taught for their eternal salvation, until the day when he was taken up” (Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation, 19).
There is an explanation for the seeming discrepancy we have been discussing. We simply cannot at this point be certain what the explanation is.
How Fast Is the Church in America Losing Members?
Q. I recently read about a survey that showed the Catholic Church in America was losing lots of members. Do you know the numbers?
K. M., Los Angeles, Ca.
A. The study you refer to is probably the “U.S. Religious Landscape Survey,” published a couple of weeks ago by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life and based on interviews with more than 35,000 Americans aged 18 and older. We should note that those who gathered the information for the survey relied on people’s self-descriptions of their religious affiliation, regardless of specific beliefs or active membership in a church.
This study found that more than one of every four American adults (28 percent) have left the faith in which they were reared. If you include changing affiliations among various Protestant denominations, a full 44 percent of adults have changed their religious status.
The so-called “mainline” Protestant denominations (such as Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians, Lutherans and Episcopalians) have suffered a major decline in recent decades, while evangelical Protestants (often gathered in local congregations without a broader denominational affiliation) have grown.
As for Catholic losses, the Pew survey noted that while 31.4 percent of Americans were reared Catholic, among adults only 23.9 percent still consider themselves Catholics. In fact, the study estimated that approximately 10 percent of all Americans are former Catholics. (Someone once observed that if ex-Catholics in America constituted their own denomination, it would be bigger than any formal Protestant denomination; only the Catholic Church would have more members.)
Extensive immigration from Catholic countries has actually kept Catholic numbers from dropping even further. The survey says that a full 46 percent of immigrants are Catholic, many of these from Latin America, Vietnam and the Philippines.
There’s also an increase in the number of those not affiliated with any religion. The Pew study reports that 7.3 percent of the adult population says they were unaffiliated when they were growing up, but for adults, this number more than doubles to 16.1 percent. All religious groups are affected by this trend. Of those who are currently unaffiliated with any particular religion, 44 percent were raised Protestant and 27 percent were raised Catholic.
Catholics also have a low percentage of converts: 89 percent of American Catholics were raised in the faith.
As with other religious groups, the Catholic population is aging. Forty percent of American Catholics are age 50 or older, compared to 41 percent of Americans overall who are in this age category.
On a personal note, these stats don’t at all surprise me, given my spiritual journey.
Years ago, before I became Catholic, I too was moving from one Protestant group to another looking for a spiritual home. Born into a family that was Lutheran and then Presbyterian, I was later affiliated in one way or another (through membership or formal ministry positions) with Southern Baptists, Methodists, Episcopalians, the (Pentecostal) Assemblies of God, and independent Charismatics of various stripes.
In the “mainline” Protestant denominations, we often heard the dismal numbers about our hemorrhaging membership. In the evangelical Protestant congregations not affiliated with a denomination, we saw rapid growth. In the congregation where I was ordained and served as associate pastor, about a third of our membership was composed of former Catholics.
Brothers and sisters, we have work to do!
Last Rites for Comatose Patient?
Q. I once saw a priest give Last Rites to a dying and unconscious Catholic patient. The patient never made an indication that she was aware of what was happening. Does the Church allow for the possibility that someone in a coma may still be able somehow to respond to the grace of that sacrament?
What about someone who seems to have expired only moments before the priest arrives? Can she still legitimately receive the sacrament? I’ve seen that done, too.
A.B., via email
A. Here’s a reply from our TCA columnist and canon lawyer Father Francis Hoffman, J.C.D.:
So long as there is some hope that the patient may have wanted to receive the Anointing of the Sick and/or Absolution from his sins, a priest may conditionally administer these Sacraments to dying and unconscious patients if there is some indication that he might still be alive. Obviously, it is much better to receive these Sacraments while the patient is still conscious and better able to profit from the grace. Don’t hesitate to call the priest to prepare our brothers and sisters for a holy death.
Recycle or Go to Hell?
Q. What are all these media headlines screaming that the Vatican has “updated” the seven deadly sins? I even saw one that said “Recycle or Go to Hell, Warns Vatican.” What in the world are they talking about?
C.G., via email
A. Excuse me while I first sigh deeply. Here we go again.
Secular media outlets are once more showing their ignorance about all things Catholic and, in some cases, their blatant hostility toward the Church. As usual, in this case the most outrageous claims have been made by the British press, which has long been consistently and loathsomely anti-Catholic. (The London Telegraph first published the “Recycle or Go to Hell” headline you mentioned, which was taken up by some media in the U.K., the U.S. and elsewhere.)
The English-speaking press around the world wasn’t much better. In Canada, the Globe and Mail; in Australia, the Age and the Sydney Morning Herald; and in the U.S., the Reuters news agency, ABC News and National Public Radio all ran ridiculous stories claiming that “the Vatican” has “rewritten” the list of “seven deadly sins” and offered a list of “replacements.”
We are compelled to ask in this situation the same question we asked when the press recently claimed (erroneously, of course) that a new Vatican document declares “non-Catholics aren’t Christians”: Do these reporters ever actually read the documents they presume to report about?
At the center of this silly tempest in a teapot is a piece in the Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, dated March 9, in which journalist Nicola Gordi interviews Archbishop Gianfranco Girotti. The archbishop is regent (not “head,” as the news stories claimed) of the Apostolic Penitentiary.
The Penitentiary is the oldest office of the Roman Curia. It’s essentially a “tribunal of mercy,” dealing specifically with “the internal forum and indulgences” — that is, ruling on issues related to the forgiveness of sins, such as censures and irregularities; examining and resolving cases of conscience; resolving doubts in moral and juridical cases, and the like. (For more information about the Penitentiary, click here, here, and here. If you read this interview (you can find an English translation here), you’ll see that the media reports are a sensationalized perversion of what Girotti actually said.
Nowhere in the interview does he even refer to the traditional “seven deadly sins” (or, more accurately, the “seven capital vices”: pride, envy, greed, lust, wrath, gluttony, sloth). Much less did he claim that the Church was “updating” them. He was simply offering some private comments on how Catholic teaching about sin must be applied to modern conditions in the world, especially with regard to social conditions.
The notion of “social sin” might be identified as one of several themes in the interview, but only one; many other issues were discussed. “If yesterday sin had a rather individualistic dimension,” he noted, “today it has a value, a resonance beyond the individual, above all social, because of the great phenomenon of globalization.” The consequences of our sins, he pointed out, are now able to ripple out and hurt others around the world in new ways because of our shrinking globe.
When asked by Gordi if there were any “new sins,” the archbishop provided examples of what he called “new forms of social sin” (emphasis added), such as the genetic manipulation of human embryos, environmental degradation, and drug trafficking. Also cited were forms of “social inequality” and “social injustice” that result from the “unstoppable process of globalization.”
In short, these aren’t “new” sins at all. Rather, as the archbishop said, they are new forms of sin, in the sense that they are committed in circumstances and by means that modern developments have only recently made them possible, or at least widespread.
All this goes to prove the value of a warning I repeat more often these days than ever before: Don’t trust the secular media on stories that have to do with anything Catholic.
Catholic Faith Resources | For Catholic Parishes | Order OSV Products | RSS | Advertise | About Us | Contact Us | Jobs