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Can a Deacon Lead Benediction?
Q. We have a novena at our parish every Tuesday night. Then, immediately after, there is Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament. Both have been directed by a deacon. Is this theologically incorrect? Our new parish priest has told us this must be discontinued.
A.A., via e-mail
A. Here’s a reply from TCA columnist Father Francis Hoffman, J.C.D.:
I like this kind of question. It’s very simple and easy to answer.
Yes, the Church allows a deacon to lead a novena, and a deacon may also officiate at the Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament, because he is an “ordinary” minister of the Holy Eucharist.
As for why your new parish priest has told you that this practice must be discontinued, you should talk to him further about it. Perhaps he has other reasons for his decision.
Does the Holy Spirit Have a Form?
Q. In the Scripture, the Holy Spirit seems to have one form or another when He appears—a fire or dove, for example. Does the Spirit have a physical form of some type?
J.G., Atlanta, Ga.
A. The Holy Spirit, as one of the three Persons of the Blessed Trinity, has no physical form. He is God, and God has no physical form, since matter (the stuff of which physical forms are constituted) is His creation, not a part of His essence. (God the Son, of course, has a physical form—a body—in that He has taken to Himself our human nature, joining it to His divine nature through the Incarnation, Our Lord Jesus Christ. But His divine nature has no physical form.)
Nevertheless, in Scripture the Holy Spirit sometimes assumes an appearance (such as fire or a dove) that can be seen by human beings, making it easier for them to perceive His activity. The same is true of angels. The Scripture sometimes describes them as appearing in human or other forms, but they have no physical form of their own, being purely spiritual beings.
Q. I recently read a reference in a Church history book to the “Robber Council.” What in the world was that?
B.B., Mobile, Ala.
A. In August of the year 449, the Roman emperor Theodosius convoked a council of mostly eastern bishops in the city of Ephesus (in what is now Turkey) to try to deal with unrest arising from the condemnation of a heretical teacher by an earlier council at Constantinople. The latter gathering was dominated by the Patriarch of Alexandria, who taught the same heresy, so the bishops at that meeting ended up acquitting the heretic, deposing certain orthodox bishops, and insulting the legates of Pope St. Leo the Great who had come on his behalf.
The decisions of the heretical council were reversed by the orthodox ecumenical Council of Chalcedon in 451. The Ephesus meeting was consequently dubbed by Pope Leo as a “Robber Council” (Latin latrocinium) because of its illegitimate nature.
Half-Tribes of Israel?
Q. In the Old Testament, the descendants of each son of the patriarch Jacob (Israel) were considered a tribe, carrying that son’s name. All, that is, except for Joseph. But there are “half-tribes” mentioned. Are these related to Joseph?
P.S., Nashville, Tenn.
A. Yes. According to the biblical account, the descendants of each of Joseph’s eleven brothers became a tribe that carried the brother’s name: Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Dan, Naphtali, Gad, Asher, Issachar, Zebulun, Benjamin (see Gen 29:31—30:24, 35:16–18). Joseph himself had two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh.
Joseph’s father, Jacob (Israel), blessed these two grandsons on his deathbed, adopting them as his own sons, saying that Joseph’s descendants would be known by their names, and prophesying that the descendants of both sons would be numerous. Thus the two resulting “half-tribes” were known as Ephraim and Manasseh; eventually they came to be recognized fully as “tribes” (see Gen 48:5–6, 19; Num 1:33, 35; 32:33, 34:14).
Q. This is a question about the phrase “sister churches,” which I have read in various contexts. As I recall, Pope Paul VI once spoke of the Anglican Communion as a “sister church” during his visit to England. (This was extremely gratifying to Anglo-Catholics.) Pope John Paul II has referred to the Orthodox churches as “sister churches” on several occasions. Does the use of this term put the Catholic Church and all the Orthodox churches on the same level? Or, for that matter, the Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion on the same level? Please explain.
N.N., via email
A. Here’s a reply from TCA columnist Father Ray Ryland, Ph.D., J.D.:
In June 2000, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) sent a letter to all Episcopal Conferences and Oriental Synods to clarify the meaning of the term “sister churches.” In an accompanying letter, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger explained why clarification is necessary.
He noted that use of the phrase with regard to the Orthodox churches, for example, has led some to think that the one true Church of Christ will exist only when the Catholic Church and the Orthodox churches are fully reconciled. Phrases such as “a theology of sister Churches” and “an ecclesiology of sister Churches” have also been used with regard to the Catholic Church’s relationship to the Anglican Communion and other non-Catholic ecclesial communities.
Properly speaking, only particular Churches (patriarchates or metropolitan provinces) can be called “sister churches.” The particular Church of Rome may rightly be called “sister” of other particular churches, such as the Greek Orthodox Church. The phrase may be used to designate the relationship of the particular Church of Rome only to those ecclesial communities that have preserved valid orders and valid sacraments, especially the Eucharist. This means that only particular churches of the Eastern Orthodox tradition (such as the Greek Orthodox Church, for example) can be called “sister churches” with the particular Church of Rome. No other non-Catholic particular church (such as the Church of England) may be called a “sister church” of the Church of Rome.
It is wrong to say that the Catholic Church herself is the “sister” of a particular church or a group of churches (as with the Eastern Orthodox churches). “It must always be clear, when the expression sister churches is used in this proper sense, that the one, holy, Catholic and apostolic universal Church is not sister but mother of all particular churches” (CDF, Note on the Expression “Sister Churches,” no. 10).
This note, approved by Pope John Paul II, corrects language which that pope himself had used in his encyclical on ecumenism, Ut Unum Sint, no. 59. There he had spoken of the Catholic Church and the totality of the Orthodox churches as “two churches.” The Note says such formulations as “our two churches” must be avoided.
When applied to the Catholic Church and the Orthodox churches as a whole, the phrase “two churches” implies “plurality not merely on the level of particular churches, but also on the level of the one, holy, Catholic and apostolic church confessed in the creed, whose real existence is thus obscured” (Ibid., no. 11).
The general sense of the CDF note, it seems to me, is that in ecumenical dialogue the phrase “sister churches” is so subject to misunderstanding that perhaps even its correct usage should be avoided.
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