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Mother of God
Q. A devout Presbyterian neighbor, who is familiar with Catholic doctrine and prayers, put this question to me: Why do Catholics refer to Mary as "Mother of God"? Surely God does not have a mother. Please advise.
A. Here’s a reply from OSV columnist Msgr. M. Francis Mannion:
When we speak of Mary as "Mother of God," we are not doing so in a literal fashion. God is the uncreated Creator and does not have a mother (though the idea of gods having mothers was a familiar part of some ancient religions).
We have to understand the title "Mother of God" as the logical conclusion of a set of important truths. The first is that Jesus is God. The second is that Mary is Jesus' physical mother. The third -- and logical conclusion -- is that Mary is, therefore, the mother of God. The declaration that Mary is mother of God means that Mary is the mother of Jesus -- who is God.
This teaching was formally defined at the Council of Ephesus held in 431 after Nestorius (d. 451) and his followers proposed that Mary gave birth to the physical (human) Christ but not to the eternal Word of God. In this view, Mary was the mother of Christ, but not of God. The council declared that Christ was "born of the Father before the ages according to divinity, but, in the latest days, he was born of the Virgin Mary, Mother of God, according to the humanity."
As with many Marian titles, the intent is to safeguard some important truth about Christ. The title "Mother of God" is meant to underline the truth of the divinity of Christ. As with many doctrinal declarations, it is shorthand for something that requires fuller explanation if it is to be understood correctly.
Q. Is it a sin to do housework on Sundays?
A. Here’s a reply from Father Reginald Martin:
The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that the precepts of the Church are “meant to guarantee to the faithful the very necessary minimum in prayer and moral effort, in the growth in love of God and neighbor” (No. 2041).
The first of the Church’s precepts obliges us to “sanctify the day commemorating the Resurrection of the Lord as well as the principal liturgical feasts honoring the mysteries of the Lord as well as the Blessed Virgin Mary, and the saints; in the first place, by participating in the Eucharistic celebration … and by resting from those works and activities which could impede such a sanctification of these days” (No. 2042).
A commentary on the Church’s Code of Canon Law remarks: “Formerly the focus was on the ‘work’ and the kinds of work that were forbidden. Now the attention is directed to the ‘purpose’ of the celebration of the day and the joy and leisure necessary for that celebration” (see Canon 1247). Few can spend Sunday altogether free from work, and some find certain household tasks relaxing. We need not necessarily spend Sunday doing nothing, but should do as little as possible that will take our minds away from thinking gratefully of God, who gives us a day of rest.
Love the World?
Q. In the Gospel of John we're told that "God so loved the world that He gave His only Son" (3:16). This implies that we, too, should love the world, since we should be like God and love as He loves.
Yet John's first epistle tells us: "Do not love the world or the things of the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him" (1 Jn 2:15). Does the word "world" somehow have different meanings in these two passages?
T. A, Seattle, Wash.
A. Here’s a reply from TCA columnist Father Ray Ryland, Ph.D., J.D
The same word, kosmos, is used in both passages. In the sense of the first passage, as you point out, we must love the world as God does -- that is, we must work and pray for the redemption of the world, for building the kingdom of God on earth.
The second passage cautions us against loving the world in terms of becoming too attached to it, of finding our meaning and security in things of the world. That would be to reject God from His rightful place at the center of our lives.
Sometimes we must choose between either obeying God or pursuing the things of this world that we desire. When that happens, we must love God more than we love the world -- by choosing to obey Him.
Q. Can a priest and pastor of a community of believers serve as a godparent?
N.N., via e-mail
A. Here is a reply from Father Francis Hoffman, J.C.D.:
To serve as a sponsor for baptism (godparent), the person should be a practicing Catholic, already confirmed and 16 years old or older. Also, the parents cannot be the sponsor.
Nothing in canon law impedes a "priest and pastor of a community of believers to serve as a godparent," but that does not mean such an arrangement is without problems.
In the first place, it would be very awkward for the baptizing minister to serve at the same time as the godparent. He would have to hold the child and baptize him at the same time, and the liturgical rubrics do not contemplate such a situation.
Even if another minister baptizes the child, the priest would place himself in a difficult position in the parish if he accepted the invitation to be a godparent for one child and not for another.
Because of the moral responsibility the godparent accepts -- that is, to raise the child as a Catholic in the event that the parents do not provide for that education -- it might be imprudent for the priest to take on that responsibility: It might limit his availability to the ministry.
In any event, a priest may be a godparent, but prudence and common sense suggest he limit his sponsorship to the children of close relatives and close friends not in the parish.
Language of the Creed
Q. With the changes in the Roman Missal coming in Advent, any thoughts on why the Apostles’ Creed was also updated? This prayer is more often used in devotionals (for example, the Rosary) instead of at Mass (rarely used).
The translation of the Roman Missal is the result of a document (Liturgiam Authenticam) issued by the Holy See in 2001. The document states: “The original text, insofar as possible, must be translated integrally and in the most exact manner, without omissions or additions in terms of their content, and without paraphrases or glosses. Any adaptation to the characteristics or the nature of the various vernacular languages is to be sober and discreet.” In short, Latin texts of prayers are to be translated — not “interpreted.”
To be sure, the Creed may be prayed more often in devotional gatherings — for example, public recitations of the Rosary — than at Mass, but the Creed remains the fundamental statement of the truth of our faith. Thus we recite the Creed whenever we gather for major liturgical celebrations, and its language should express our belief in the most exact possible theological terms. An example of this is in the Nicene Creed, in which a reference to Jesus is “consubstantial with the Father.” This may, initially, prove confusing, but a little study will demonstrate its improvement over “one in being with the Father.” The U.S. bishops’ website usccb.org/romanmissal/ will provide a wealth of useful information for those wishing to learn more.
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