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Mary, Mother of God
Q. I was recently talking to a Protestant neighbor about the Rosary. I explained the Hail Mary to him, and when I told him that the second part of the prayer was “Holy Mary, mother of God,” he said, “God has no mother.” How should I respond?
— D.B., Crawfordsville, Ind.
A. Here’s a reply from OSV columnist Msgr. M. Francis Mannion:
The assertion that Mary is mother of God, formulated formally at the Council of Ephesus in 431, is not meant so much to make a claim about Mary, but to underline the truth that Jesus is God. There are three parts to the argument at Ephesus. The first is that Mary is the mother of Jesus (hardly disputed); the second is that Jesus is God (often disputed); and the third is that Mary is, therefore, the mother of God.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church states the matter this way: “Called in the Gospels ‘the mother of Jesus,’ Mary is acclaimed by Elizabeth, at the prompting of the Spirit and even before the birth of her son, as ‘the mother of my Lord.’ In fact, the One whom she conceived as man by the Holy Spirit, who truly became her Son according to the flesh, was none other than the Father’s eternal Son, the second person of the Holy Trinity. Hence the Church confesses that Mary is truly ‘Mother of God’ ( Theotokos )” (No. 495).
To say that Mary is the mother of God is not to say that she is the mother of the Father or of the Holy Spirit. It is simply to say that Mary is the mother of Jesus — who is God.
Holy Days by Region
Q. I heard that some countries have different holy days of obligation than we do in the United States. Why would that be?
A. Here’s a reply from Father Reginald Martin:
The Church’s Code of Canon Law reminds us, “Sunday is the day on which the paschal mystery is celebrated in light of the apostolic tradition and is to be observed as the foremost holy day of obligation” (Canon 1246). The Catechism of the Catholic Church, quoting canon law, reminds us of our obligation to participate at Mass “on Sundays and other holy days of obligation” (No. 2180).
What are these “other” holy days? In the United States, they are Christmas, the Solemnity of Mary the Mother of God, the Immaculate Conception, the Assumption, the Ascension and All Saints’ Day. Elsewhere they include Epiphany, Corpus Christi, and the feasts of St. Joseph and Sts. Peter and Paul.
Why do the days vary from place to place? Probably because the United States is not a predominately Catholic country. Some of these holy days would fall on workdays, and the obligation to attend Mass would pose a hardship for many Catholics. For this reason American bishops transferred the feasts of Epiphany, Corpus Christi and the Ascension to Sundays.
Only the pope can establish, transfer or abolish feast days (see Canon 1244), but he can allow bishops’ conferences to abolish them or transfer them to a Sunday (see Canon 1246.2).
Gifts of the Holy Spirit?
Q. Why do we receive the gifts of the Holy Spirit at confirmation, when the Holy Spirit came down on Jesus at baptism?
D.M., via e-mail
A. Here’s a reply from TCA columnist Father Ray Ryland, Ph.D., J.D
Our first sacramental encounter with the Holy Spirit is at our baptism. Recall some of the themes in our baptismal liturgy for children. “Send your Holy Spirit to dwell with him (her)”; “We now ask God to give this child new life in abundance through water and the Holy Spirit”; “By water and the Holy Spirit” the child will “receive the gift of new life from God, who is love”; speaking to the child, the celebrant tells him (her) that God has “given you a new birth by water and the Holy Spirit.”
Then notice the address to the parents and godparents after the child is baptized. “In confirmation he (she) will receive the fullness of God’s Spirit.”
To understand what the Church means by receiving the “fullness of God’s Spirit,” try this analogy. A young man is sworn into the Navy. From that moment on, he is the Navy’s man. Later, he receives orders to go on active duty. Then he begins to live his state of life bestowed on him at his swearing in.
Baptism makes us integral parts of Christ’s mystical body. We will never belong to Christ more fully than we do after baptism. The strengthening gifts of the Holy Spirit we receive in confirmation — “the fullness of God’s Spirit” — constitute our orders to active duty. The youth who receives confirmation publicly accepts the responsibility for living the Christian life.
Playing for Protestant Services?
Q. I am 17 years old and starting to play the organ for Mass at my parish. My organ teacher plays at an Episcopal church and wants me to substitute for her on occasion. She says, “It’s just a job and doesn’t have anything to do with your faith.” She says she wants me to get experience playing at different churches with different choirs and congregations, and most of these would be Protestant churches.
I want to know what position the Church takes on a Catholic playing the organ for a Protestant service.
D.B, via e-mail
A. Here is a reply from Father Francis Hoffman, J.C.D.:
You would not be asking this question if, as your teacher says, “it doesn’t have anything to do with your faith.” Your on-board-faith radar system is alerting you to a possible danger — namely, indifferentism, or the idea that “it doesn’t matter what religion you practice so long as you are a good neighbor.”
If playing the organ in a non-Catholic setting would put your own faith or morals in danger, then you should not take the job.
On the other hand, I do know a man who has been a devout Catholic priest for close to 50 years, and, when he was your age, he played the organ at an Episcopal church. I also know a Protestant who plays the organ at a Catholic Church, but only because he is a talented musician and doesn’t cost too much. Happily, he is now in RCIA.
So go ahead and play the organ and help our separated brethren worship God. (I assume that you’re aware you should not receive Communion at a non-Catholic service.) Nevertheless, be smart enough to realize that those services are missing something essential — namely, the Real Presence of the holy Eucharist.
Roman Collar Origins
Q. What is the origin of the black suit and roman collar the clergy (and seminarians) wear?
Henry McCloud (“Clerical Dress and Insignia of the Roman Catholic Church”) argues the Roman collar had very simple origins: “the shirt collar turned down over the cleric’s … common dress … a fashion that began toward the end of the 16th century.”
Today’s Code of Canon Law states, “Clerics are to wear suitable ecclesiastical garb in accord with … norms issued by the conference of bishops … in accord with legitimate local custom” (Canon 284). Customs reflect the culture of a priest’s home, and in 19th-century America, three Councils of Baltimore (which gave us, among other things, the Baltimore Catechism) stressed the importance of modest and distinctive clerical dress: a cassock and Roman collar for church events, and a suit and collar for other activities.
Additional statutes prescribed clerics’ haircuts and forbade both beards (except in religious communities that had traditionally worn them) and wearing rings, unless these were signs of office or academic degrees.
The purpose of this legislation was (and is) to provide external signs to identify clergy, while reminding priests, as canon law continues, they are “to refrain completely from all those things which are unbecoming to their state [and] things which, although not unbecoming, are nevertheless alien to the clerical state” (Canon 285).
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