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 email@example.com.
Why Light Candles?
Q. Can you tell me the significance of lighting a candle at the prayer candle area of the church?
P.H., via email
A. “Lumen Christi!” (“The Light of Christ!”), proclaims the deacon as he enters the darkened nave of the Church each year during the Easter Vigil. As he chants this hopeful note, the newly consecrated burning paschal candle is raised for all to see, and the people exclaim: “Deo Gratias!” (“Thanks be to God!”)
The ultimate significance of the lighted candle is to remind us that Christ is the Light of the world. So wrote St. John in the introduction to his lofty Gospel (see Jn 1:4–9). Whenever the faithful leave a lighted votive candle near a holy image of our divine Savior, the Blessed Mother, or the angels and the saints, the light of the candle is to hold the attention of the intercessor to pray for our intentions.
You may have noticed that most churches or shrines offer a variety of candle size: one-day, three-day and eight-day are standard. The faithful are asked to make a donation, commensurate with the size of the candle. If there is any profit left over, it should go to the support of the Church and the aid of the poor.
Mass at Home?
Q. Is it wrong to have Mass said in a private home?
J.O., Cumming, Ga.
A. Not at all, if the Mass is said by a priest who has the proper faculties to celebrate it and the necessary materials are at hand.
A dear friend of our family was recently ordained as a priest of our diocese, and the week after his ordination, he was our houseguest for two days. On both days, he celebrated Mass in our home with our family present.
It was deeply moving to have the Holy Sacrifice offered in our living room. I believe that our home will never be the same again.
Gnostic vs. Agnostic?
Q. In religious discussions I sometimes hear people talk about “Gnostics” or “Gnosticism” and “agnostics” or “agnosticism.” Are these terms related? What do they mean?
R.L., via email
A. Both terms have as their root the Greek word gnosis, which means “knowledge.” But they refer to very different belief systems.
The Gnostics were an ancient religious movement, much like today’s New Age movement, who taught that salvation comes, not through repentance and divine grace, but rather through knowledge or enlightenment. Their particular religious beliefs and practices varied widely (just as it is with today’s New Agers). But this affirmation of knowledge (often, esoteric or secret “knowledge”) as the road to salvation was fundamental to Gnosticism in all its forms and gives the movement its name.
For more about the ancient Gnostics and their religious texts, click here. [Q & A for April 24, 2009]
The prefix “a” in Greek words means “no” or “not” — as in atheism, which comes from “a” + “theism,” which means “no belief in God” or “belief in no god.” “Agnostic,” then, means “not knowing” with regard to the existence of God.
People referred to as agnostics fall into two categories: those who admit they do not know whether God exists, and those who believe that we cannot know whether God exists. The first type of agnosticism obviously assumes a more humble intellectual position than the other: It’s one thing to admit our ignorance; it’s another to claim confidently that our ignorance is invincible.
Catholic Family Traditions?
Q. My husband and I are celebrating our one-month anniversary. We are both Catholics who agree that we want to keep our faith central in our new home. We’re especially learning about Catholic family traditions. Can you recommend any resources?
H.J., Los Angeles, Calif.
A. Well, congratulations! My daughter and her new husband were wed just a few weeks ago as well, and today my wife and I are celebrating our thirtieth anniversary. I’m thrilled to hear that you want to keep the Faith central in your home, and there are plenty of resources to help you do just that. For starters, check out the parenting/family section of the Our Sunday Visitor online catalog here.
With regard to Catholic family traditions in particular, my wife, Leisa, and I published a book some years ago that continues to find an enthusiastic audience among young Catholic couples especially. It’s called “Building Catholic Family Traditions,” published by Our Sunday Visitor (1999, available here.)
We’re convinced that developing meaningful, memorable customs in the home affirms a family’s faith, draws family members closer together, strengthens family identity, enhances continuity and stability in family life, and much more. Our book examines the benefits of family traditions, suggests a strategy for cultivating them, and offers plenty of practical ideas for specific family customs you can establish, arranged according to seasons and holidays, sacraments and other family milestones, and the daily and weekly rhythms of everyday family life.
“Mary, Did You Know?”
Q. At Mass last Christmas a song called “Mary, Did You Know?” was sung, which included these words: “Did you know that your baby boy has come to make you new? This child that you delivered will soon deliver you.”
The Catechism states that “Mary, ‘full of grace’ through God, was redeemed from the moment of her conception” (491). It also says that at Mass “the texts intended to be sung must always be in conformity with Catholic doctrine” (1158). Am I being too picky, or is this a song that should not be sung at Mass?
N.N., via email
A. A song with these words is entirely inappropriate for use in the liturgy. It implies that Mary did not know who her divine Son was and what He had done for her and would do for the human race. Can you imagine our Blessed Mother responding to this ignorant question? She would be most gracious, of course, but might ask, “Have you never read Luke 1:26–35? Yes, I knew, before anyone else knew and in a way no one else could ever know.”
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