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Q. I am looking for information about the history of the Eucharistic Congresses in the Catholic Church and the reasons we have them.
P.D., via email
A. Here’s a reply from TCA columnist Father Ray Ryland, Ph.D., J.D.:
St. Peter Julian Eymard (1811-1868) is the father of the Eucharistic Congress movement. He was greatly concerned about indifference and ignorance among Catholics of his time.
In a periodical he founded, St. Peter wrote: “A love of God which no longer finds or centers its life in the Sacrament of the Eucharist can render no account of the basis of its vitality. It is soon extinguished like a fire that lacks fuel. It rapidly becomes merely human love.”
His solution: “Return to the source of life, to Jesus — not simply to Jesus who lived in Judea or to the glorious Jesus in heaven; but always and especially to Jesus present in the Eucharist.”
St. Peter’s zeal for the Eucharist deeply influenced Emilie Tamisier (1834-1910), who for several years was a member of a religious congregation of women founded by St. Peter (the Congregation of the Sister Servants of the Blessed Sacrament). She is credited with bringing about the first Eucharistic Congress held in Lille, France, in 1881. Since then there has been a total of 48 congresses, including one in Guadalajara, Mexico, in 2004.
The purpose of the Eucharistic Congresses has been to manifest and deepen the Church’s love for the gift of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist. Several have focused on the social dimensions of Christ’s love for us in the Eucharist. All witness to the Church’s worldwide communion centered in the Eucharist.
Original Scriptural Texts?
Q. Are the original manuscripts of any biblical books still around?
L.F., via email
A. No. The books of the Bible are so ancient, and were hand-copied so many times over the centuries, that all we have surviving are copies of copies of copies. In no case do we have what biblical scholars would call the autograph of a book — that is, the original copy, such as one of the actual letters that was penned by the Apostle Paul.
Think how priceless — both materially and spiritually — even one of these original manuscripts would be. So why did God allow them all to be lost?
According to one speculation, God knew that people would be tempted not just to venerate but to idolize the original manuscripts if we had them in our possession. So He has kept them from us. But only the Lord himself knows for sure His reasons for allowing them all to be lost.
Divine Activity Before Creation?
Q. What was God doing in the time before He created the universe?
K.K., Manassas, Va.
A. Did you know that people were asking this same question at least sixteen centuries ago? In his Confessions, St. Augustine of Hippo (325–430) notes that he had been challenged to answer it.
His answer was rather impish: Before He created the universe, Augustine said, perhaps God was busy creating hell for people who are too curious about such matters!
Of course, he was joking — just one more piece of evidence that the saints have a fine sense of humor. But the truth is that we can’t truly speak of a “time” before the creation of the universe, because that act of the Almighty included the creation of time itself.
Nevertheless, we can say that even in the absence of a created universe, God would have been doing what it is His nature to do: to love and enjoy. “God is love,” 1 John 4:8 tells us, and joy is the fruit of love.
Without creatures to love, you might ask, what would have been the object of God’s love? Within the Triune Godhead, from before all eternity, the Father has loved the Son, and the Son has loved the Father, with a Love that is in fact a divine Person himself: the Holy Spirit. Just think of the abyss of joy flowing within that infinite Trinity!
Baptizing the Baptizer?
Q. Who baptized John the Baptist?
M.K., via email
A. We have no indications in Scripture or elsewhere that St. John the Baptist received baptism. When some Scripture translations refer in Acts 1:22 to “the baptism of John,” they mean Jesus’ baptism by John, not John’s being baptized himself.
Keep in mind that the baptism John offered was not the same as the sacramental baptism administered by the Church.
In the Book of Acts, Paul met some believers in the city of Ephesus who said they were baptized. He asked them, “Into what then were you baptized?” When they answered, “Into John’s baptism,” he had them baptized instead “in the name of the Lord Jesus” (see Acts 19:1–5).
Clearly, the Apostle wouldn’t have administered sacramental baptism to them if they had already received it from John. John’s baptism, he told them, was “the baptism of repentance” to lead them to Christ and, presumably, to sacramental baptism.
In this light we can see that it was not necessary for John himself to receive such a baptism.
The question still remains, however, whether John ever received sacramental baptism. Toward the end of his life, such a baptism would have been available, because Jesus’ disciples were already baptizing before John was arrested and beheaded (see John 4:1–3). But again, we hear nothing of John receiving Christian baptism before his death. It seems reasonable to assume that if he had, at least one of the Gospels would have recorded such an important event.
When the angel Gabriel appeared to Zechariah to tell him about the coming birth of his son, John the Baptist, he said, “He [John] will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb” (Luke 1:15). Not long afterward, the unborn child John leapt in his mother’s womb when she (Elizabeth) was visited by Our Lady, carrying Our Lord in her womb.
Since ancient times, biblical commentators have often concluded that John was sanctified in the womb at that moment. This sanctifying action of the Holy Spirit would be the equivalent of a “baptism” in the womb. If this is indeed the case, then John would have had no need of sacramental baptism.
For more on this subject, see the TCA Question of the Day for July 1, 2007.
Statute of Limitations?
Q. Is there a statute of limitations on the presumptive death of a former spouse in order that the remaining spouse may obtain the Church’s blessing on his marriage to a new wife? My pastor has advised me that my marriage in the Church in December 1946 may now be considered over inasmuch as my former wife left me after three years, divorced me in another state, was remarried twice more and then disappeared completely.
My attempts to locate her using several professional personnel locating agencies have been fruitless. She allegedly disappeared in Hawaii and was listed as being in very poor physical health.
This information was related to my pastor, who subsequently advised that, because of the ensuing 50 years of absence, her poor health and the inability to locate her now, I could now consider myself free of my marital obligations with her. A renewal of my new marriage vows then took place during a Sunday Mass.
I am now seeking a more authoritative answer to my dilemma.
L.R., Savannah, Ga.
A. Here’s a reply from TCA columnist Father Francis Hoffman, J.C.D.:
No, there is not a statute of limitations on the presumptive death of a spouse. But your case has already been contemplated in Canon 1707 of the Code of Canon Law, which I think is best to copy here in its entirety:
Canon 1707.1: “Whenever the death of a spouse cannot be proven by an authentic ecclesiastical or civil document, the other spouse is not regarded as free from the bond of marriage until the diocesan bishop has issued a declaration that death is presumed.”
1707.2: “The diocesan bishop can give the declaration mentioned in [1707.1] only if, after making suitable investigations, he has reached moral certainty concerning the death of the spouse from the depositions of witnesses, from hearsay and from other indications. The mere absence of the spouse, no matter for how long a period, is not sufficient.”
1707.3: “In uncertain and involved cases, the bishop is to consult the Apostolic See.”
Your local pastor acted with pastoral sensitivity, but he jumped the gun by witnessing the renewal of your new marriage vows without the proper documentation and certification regarding the death of your first spouse.
So now what should you do? Don’t panic. You should contact your local bishop and present him with your case. Ask your bishop to issue a declaration that death of your first spouse is presumed. If the bishop thinks your case has merit — and it seems to — he will issue such a declaration, and then you are free to marry.
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