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.
Did the Roman Census Take Place?
Q. I have heard it said recently that the account in Luke’s Gospel about Mary and Joseph going to Bethlehem for the census (see 2:1-5) didn’t happen. The speaker said that it didn’t make sense for the Romans to conduct the census that way. He said this as an assertion, but provided no historical source to back it up. Are you aware of a credible historical source other than Luke that says how the Romans conducted the census, and in particular the census in question?
C.L., Las Vegas, Nev.
A. The speaker you refer to is obviously unaware of Roman policy in this matter. We know from various sources that the Roman government ordinarily followed local customs in carrying out its decrees. A census in Palestine would have followed the Jewish practice of summoning each householder to his birthplace to be enrolled in the census.
Joseph had to travel about a hundred miles to Bethlehem, the place of origin of the family of David. The birth of Mary’s son was imminent. He could not leave her behind; not only because of his love for her, but also because as foster father of the Incarnate Son of God it was fitting that he be present at the birth of Christ.
Luke 2:2 tells us that the census was taken when Quirinius was governor of Syria. Though Quirinius was later governor of Syria, Saturninus was governor of Syria at the time of Jesus’ birth. Perhaps at the time of the census Quirinius was in charge of carrying it out, under the authority of Saturninus. Tertullian (c. 160-c. 225) wrote that at the time of Christ’ birth a census was in progress when Saturninus was governor of Syria. Both Tertullian and Justin Martyr (c. 100-c. 165) state that in their time the records of this census still existed in the Roman archives.
The record outside the New Testament is clear. There was a census at the time of Jesus’ birth. It required Joseph and Mary to go to the place of origin of Joseph’s family. The only question is whether Quirinius was acting as governor for Saturninus in conducting the census. He certainly could have been. St. Luke says he was.
Q. Could you please tell me when the Marian Bible was first translated? I know there are many discrepancies between it and the King James Version and am curious as to which is older. All I really know about the Marian Bible is that the large presentation Bible my parents received for their wedding in 1962 says “Marion Bible” on the title page, and that it is a Catholic bible, versus a Protestant version such as the King James. It may be just that it was published by the Marian Association. Still, I’d expect the Catholic Bible to be an older translation than the KJV.
A.M.E., via email
A. I’ve never heard of a “Marian Bible,” and my research title didn’t come up with any Bible with that title (including a search in the Library of Congress online catalog). You’re probably right, however, that it was called the “Marian Bible” because of the publisher. (A parallel would be the “Ignatius Bible” that’s so popular today; it’s called that because it’s published by Ignatius Press.)
Given the date (pre-1962), it’s almost certainly the Douay-Rheims (DR) version, which in its earliest form did indeed come before the King James Version. (There were a number of vernacular translations of Scripture in various languages approved by the Catholic Church before the Protestant Reformation.) In fact, the King James translators sometimes consulted the Douay-Rheims as they were deciding how to word their version.
However, there were later extensive revisions of the DR, especially several by the English Bishop Richard Challoner (1691-1681) in the 1700s, and these were often influenced by the wording of the King James translators. That’s a common situation in biblical translation: If someone else has already translated a particular phrase or even an entire passage into accurate, beautiful language, why reinvent the wheel?
The Bible you have is most likely one of Challoner’s revisions of the Douay-Rheims.
Check the front matter of the book. There should be some kind of bibliographic data, including copyright information. In the meantime, maybe some of our readers might be able to help out with this question. Does anyone out there know about the “Marian Bible”?
For more information, click here.
Which Creed to Pray?
Q. I often get confused about when to pray the Apostle’s Creed and when to pray the Nicene Creed. I prefer one over the other, and since they’re so similar, does it really make a difference which I pray? Are they interchangeable?
D.O., Savannah, Ga.
A. Like all Catholic creeds, the Apostles’ and the Nicene provide something of a summary of the faith that we profess. Nevertheless, no brief creed can include every single fundamental Christian belief, and specific historical circumstances shaped which of the fundamentals were included or emphasized in each creed. The result is some variation in content, though of course not in doctrine.
Here’s an example of a fundamental tenet of faith that is not expressly stated in either creed: The Nicene notes that Christ “rose again in fulfillment of the Scriptures,” and that the Holy Spirit “has spoken through the prophets.” But it doesn’t contain, nor does the Apostles’ Creed, an explicit statement of the divine inspiration of Scripture.
Why not? Largely because, in the period when these creeds were developed, there was no serious challenge being raised by heretical factions to the truth that Scripture is divinely inspired (though there were of course heretical challenges to the Church’s choice of books to be included in the canon — the official list of texts recognized as inspired Scripture).
On the other hand, the Nicene Creed had its origins in the Church’s response to an ancient heretical movement (Arianism), which taught that God the Son was a creature made by God the Father, and thus was not fully equal with Him. That’s why this creed emphasizes and elaborates the full divinity of Jesus Christ: He is “the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father; God from God, Light from Light, True God from True God; begotten, not made, one in Being with the Father; through Him [that is, through God the Son] all things were made.”
The Apostles’ Creed, having developed under different historical circumstances, speaks of Him simply as “Jesus Christ, His [God the Father’s] only Son, our Lord.”
So which creed, you ask, is best to pray? It depends on the circumstances. The Nicene is normally designated (though not always) as the creed to be recited during Mass, and of course during Mass we should be praying together whichever words the Church has carefully chosen for the liturgy.
When we pray the rosary, on the other hand, the Apostles’ Creed is traditionally the one we pray at the beginning. You could of course use the Nicene instead if you’re praying alone, but if you’re praying the rosary with others, it’s better to be praying in unison.
The Apostles’ Creed is also the one typically taught to younger children, since it’s shorter and thus easier to learn. But we should never underestimate the power of little ones to memorize!
As for your personal devotions, I would encourage you to vary which creed you use. Since each one has distinctive features, each one has something distinctive to profess and to ponder.
What does it mean, for example, when the Nicene Creed says that the Holy Spirit “proceeds from the Father and the Son”? And what does it mean when the Apostles’ Creed says that Christ “descended into hell”? That alone is enough to meditate upon for a long time.
Dormition of Mary?
Q. Last week when we celebrated the Feast of the Assumption, I heard a reference to the “dormition” of Mary. What does that mean?
Y.M., Macon, Ga.
A. Dormition is from a Latin word dormitio, which literally means “falling asleep.” (It’s related to our words “dormant” and “dormitory.”) It’s a figurative term for death (see, for example, 1 Corinthians 15:18), and it’s the preferred term among Eastern Christians (both Catholic and Orthodox) for the event that Latin Rite Catholics celebrate on the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. That feast, and the Eastern “Feast of the Dormition of the Theotokos” (“the Mother of God” or, more literally, “the God-Bearer”), are celebrated on the same day (August 15) within the Catholic Church.
Catholic and Orthodox Christians agree that both Mary’s soul and her body were taken into heaven, a token of God’s promise that He will one day resurrect the bodies of us all. But the difference in these terms reflects a difference in traditions about what exactly happened at the end of Our Lady’s life.
In the East, the common belief has been that she died a natural death before her body and soul were taken to heaven. There is a place in Jerusalem known from ancient times as “Mary’s Tomb,” where she is believed to have been buried in the short interval between her death and her resurrection.
In the West, on the other hand, the question has been left open whether she actually died before she was “assumed,” both soul and body, into heaven. When Pope Pius XII promulgated the Apostolic Constitution that formally defined the dogma of the Assumption (Munificentissimus Deus, 1950), his wording allowed for either possibility. It stated that the Blessed Virgin, “having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory.”
Concerts in Churches?
Q. Our pastor allows the local university to come into our church and give concerts. They do sing some religious music, but it’s what they do to our sanctuary that concerns me most.
They push our altar toward the back of the sanctuary, and they move our ambo, priest chairs, candles and sometimes the processional cross. Then they put up four-tier bleachers in the sanctuary area. The Blessed Sacrament is removed to a wooden box in the sacristy. There is also a charge for the concert.
Do Catholic Church regulations allow all this?
N.N., via email
A. Let’s begin this answer by calling to mind what is stated in the Code of Canon Law regarding the use of a Catholic church: “In a sacred place only those things are to be permitted which serve to exercise or promote worship, piety and religion. Anything out of harmony with the holiness of the place is forbidden. The Ordinary may, however, for individual cases, permit other uses, provided they are not contrary to the sacred character of the place” (Canon 1210).
Therefore, concerts of sacred and religious music are allowed in churches only with the express permission of the ordinary, which is to be given on a case by case basis and never for an entire concert series. The relevant document which deals with this matter is “Concerts in Churches, Protocol number 1251/87, Nov. 5, 1987,” a declaration on the matter from the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments.
Among other points, that declaration specifies: “Entrance to the church must be without payment and open to all; the performers and the audience must be dressed in a manner which is fitting to the sacred character of the place; the musicians and the singers should not be placed in the sanctuary; the greatest respect is to be shown to the altar, the president’s chair and the ambo; and the Blessed Sacrament should be, as far as possible, reserved in a side chapel or in another safe and suitably adorned place (Cf. C.I.C., can 928, par. 4)” (Prot. No. 1251/87, no. 10).
So Catholic Church regulations do not allow all of what you have described.
Catholic Faith Resources | For Catholic Parishes | Order OSV Products | RSS | Advertise | About Us | Contact Us | Jobs