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Who Created God?
Q. My 8-year-old son always asks me, If God created everything, then who created God? Where does he come from? Who does he descend from? Please help! I told him no one really knows, and he now has turned on his faith.
A. Here’s a reply from Father Reginald Martin:
Gaudiem et Spes, a document of the second Vatican Council states, “Without a creator the creature vanishes” (see Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 308). This is an invitation to look at ourselves and the world, and to conclude that the harmony we observe reflects an ordering principle. We may also conclude this principle is eternal and uncreated, because nothing could come into existence were it not caused by something that already exists.
Human reason can determine the necessity for the existence of a “first cause,” according to St. Thomas Aquinas, which we call God, but this is a rather sterile — if unquestionably logical — notion. Only the grace of Faith enables us to discern the qualities or attributes that make God lovable. Thus, the Catechism teaches, “faith comes to confirm and enlighten reason” (No. 286).
To those who argue that faith is unscientific, and, therefore, of little value, we may quote St. Augustine, who said, “I believe, in order to understand.… I understand, the better to believe.” Likewise, the First Vatican Council (1869-70) emphasized the superior value of faith, but stated that science and faith cannot, ultimately, contradict one another, because both are derived from God, and “truth [cannot] ever contradict truth” (Catechism, No. 159).
Who Were the Gnostics?
Q. I've heard of a group in the past called the Gnostics. Could you explain who they were?
Gnosticism derives its name from the Greek word “gnosis,” which means “knowledge.” Present-day cults and the revival of interest in witchcraft are modern manifestations of Gnosticism, but the term usually refers to some beliefs by some early Christians. The term “Gnostic” was first used by (orthodox) Christian writers to describe individuals claiming to possess wisdom derived from sources other than Scripture or apostolic tradition. Tertullian, St. Irenaeus, St. Augustine and others defended Christian teaching against Gnostic distortions.
Gnostic teachings were extremely varied, but common elements included belief in a God altogether removed from the world, or belief that the material universe is utterly corrupt, or the work of an evil deity. A special “gnosis” offered protection against such ills or a path of salvation unknown to the common person.
The New Catholic Encyclopedia provides an extensive overview of the elements that constitute the vast array of Gnostic beliefs, and the Catechism of the Catholic Church offers this helpful summary: “Since the beginning the Christian faith has been challenged by responses to the question of origins that differ from its own.… All these attempts bear witness to the permanence and universality of the question of origins. This inquiry is distinctively human” (No. 285).
Q. I recently read a reference to rogation days in the traditional calendar of the Church. What exactly were these days?
George Hasbruck, New York, N.Y.
A. Here’s a reply from TCA columnist Father Ray Ryland, Ph.D., J.D:
In earlier times the Church repeatedly took over -- in effect, "baptized" -- pagan traditions and practices that contained elements of truth. The custom of rogation days is one of those instances.
From early pre-Christian times the Romans celebrated a festival to conciliate Robigus, the god of mildew, blight and rust. A procession went out from Rome to a sacred grove where a pagan priest sacrificed to Robigus a rust- colored dog and a sheep, with wine and incense.
The word "rogation" comes from the Latin rogare, meaning "to ask." In the sixth century, Pope St. Gregory the Great regulated a customary celebration held on April 25. (It has no connection with the feast of St. Mark, which was set on this date much later.) Called the "Major Rogation," it was a day of fasting and prayer, in reparation for sin and in petition for good harvests.
"Minor Rogations" were introduced by a French bishop in the sixth century. This celebration embraced the Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday before Ascension.
In the 1960s the Church dropped rogation days from the liturgical calendar. The current Sacramentary, however, provides propers (prayers designated for particular celebrations) for Masses for productive land and for thanksgiving after the harvest. Various national hierarchies, including our own, have also issued books of blessings that contain prayers for the rogation intentions.
Indulgences for Others?
Q. Could you tell me, first, what exactly is an indulgence, and, second, can you earn them for others? I know there are partial and plenary indulgences.
Mary Hawn, Butler, Pa.
A. Here’s a reply from TCA columnist Father Francis Hoffman, J.C.D.:
Here's a brief definition from the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
"Indulgences are the remission before God of the temporal punishment due to sins whose guilt has already been forgiven. The faithful Christian who is duly disposed gains the indulgence under prescribed conditions for either himself or the departed. Indulgences are granted through the ministry of the Church which, as the dispenser of the grace of redemption, distributes the treasury of the merits of Christ and the saints" (No. 312).
You may earn indulgences for other people, but you can apply them only to the souls in purgatory. You may also earn the indulgence for yourself. But you cannot apply an indulgence to another living person; that person (unlike someone in purgatory) can still earn one for himself.
Q. Recently on a Catholic television program a priest said that the Rosary is the most important prayer of Catholicism. It seems to me that the Mass is the most important prayer of Catholicism. Please comment.
Name and address withheld
A. Here’s a reply from OSV columnist Msgr. M. Francis Mannion:
Your judgment is on solid ground. While it is certainly the case that the Rosary is the most popular nonliturgical prayer of the Church, a proper sense of proportion would tell us that the Mass is the most important prayer of Catholicism.
The official liturgy of the Church and popular prayers and devotions are not in competition. Popular devotions such as the Rosary flow from the liturgy and find their fulfillment in the liturgy, especially the Eucharist and the Liturgy of the Hours (which, historically, inspired the Rosary).
The more that Catholic prayers and devotions have a liturgical character, the more they are on the right track. By the same token, the more that our personal prayers and devotions lead to a fuller participation in the sacraments, the more authentic they are.
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