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Perpetual Adoration Rules?
Q. At our perpetual Eucharistic adoration, we have had trouble with filling all the hours, with scheduled adorers not showing up, and with no substitutes found for them. Because of this, the organizers of perpetual adoration have made a “door” that can be mounted and latched over the niche where the Lord is present in His monstrance.
They have instructed adorers to mount the door and close the chapel if the next adorer doesn't arrive and they are unable to stay. When the next scheduled adorer finally arrives, that person then dismounts the door and adores. This practice is becoming more frequent.
My instinct tells me that this is not right. I realize that it happened because all of us who spend time with the Lord love Him and do not want to have to close the chapel or limit the hours of adoration. But I think that having the laity freely “reposing and exposing” our Lord is wrong. Is the practice I have described acceptable?
R.S., via email
A. Here’s a reply from TCA columnist Father Francis Hoffman, J.C.D.:
Your instinct is correct. What you describe is not an acceptable practice, although your motives are excellent. This situation is specifically addressed in Redemptionis Sacramentum, no. 138:
“The Most Holy Sacrament, when exposed, must never be left unattended even for the briefest space of time. It should therefore be arranged that at least some of the faithful always be present at fixed times, even if they take alternating turns.”
Now, some might say that by closing the door over the niche the Blessed Sacrament is no longer “exposed” but rather “reposed,” as you say, and therefore the Blessed Sacrament is not left unattended. I don’t think so. Proper reposition of the Blessed Sacrament is to be done, ordinarily, by a deacon or priest, and he does so by removing the pyx holding the Blessed Sacrament from the monstrance, then carefully carrying the Blessed Sacrament covered by the humeral veil to the tabernacle, placing Our Lord in the tabernacle and locking it.
The practice you describe does not appear to be secure. Any person could walk in off the street and steal the Blessed Sacrament from the niche by just opening the door. Not a good solution.
It sounds like you have to “go out to the highways and byways” and round up some more folks to volunteer for adoration. If you still cannot fill the time slots, you could arrange it in such a way that the priest or the deacon exposes and reposes the Blessed Sacrament at the start and finish of adoration sessions.
Who Was St. Sharbel Makhluf?
Q. My church calendar shows that July 24 (today) we celebrate the memorial of St. Sharbel Makhluf. I’ve never heard of him (or her). Can you tell me more about this saint?
L.B., New York, N.Y.
A. Youssef Antoun Makhluf (1828-1898) was a monk and priest of the Maronite Catholic Church. He was born in a small mountain village in northern Lebanon, joined the monastery of St. Maron at Annaya at the age of 23, and took the name Sharbel in honor of a second-century martyr. He was ordained in 1858.
Possessed by a great love for Our Lady and the Blessed Sacrament, Charbel devoted his last twenty-three years to the life of a hermit. Despite temptations to wealth and comfort, he modeled the value of poverty, self-sacrifice and prayer by his strict ascetic disciplines. He was reported to have levitated at times during prayer.
In his life he seemed otherwise unremarkable except for his quiet and intense devotion. After his death in 1898, for 45 nights strange lights appeared over his grave.
Because 45 days is the traditional length of time for a body’s decomposition, the monastic authorities called for his exhumation. His body was found perfectly fresh, despite the fact that recent rains had reduced the cemetery to a quagmire, and the body was found floating in a muddy pool.
Charbel’s body was re-clothed and transferred to a wooden coffin. But a strange blood-like “oil” kept exuding from his body — so much so that the clothes had to be changed twice a week. In 1927 — 29 years after his death — the saint’s still incorrupt body was examined and found to be totally flexible. It was then re-buried in a niche in the ancient abbey church.
Pilgrims to the shrine in 1950 noticed liquid seeping from the tomb, and the coffin was opened again. The body was still incorrupt but exuding the peculiar oily sweat, to which many miraculous cures have been attributed. The body remained incorrupt for 67 years, finally decaying in 1965.
St. Charbel was canonized on October 9, 1977, by Pope Paul VI.
Origins of the King James Bible?
Q. I have fundamentalist friends who keep talking about the King James Bible. What exactly is that?
J.O., via email
A. Catholics sometimes encounter Protestant believers who insist that the “King James Version” (KJV) of the Bible is the only legitimate English version. In fact, what Americans commonly call the “King James Version” is officially designated the “Authorized Version.” It was commissioned by the Protestant King James I of England and produced by 54 biblical scholars in 1611.
The text is a revision of the earlier “Bishops’ Bible” (1568), rather than an original translation. But other previous English translations were consulted as well, such as the (Catholic) Rheims New Testament (1582), which had considerable influence on its language.
Though the Church of England had separated from Rome more than seven decades before, a battle still raged for its soul. More traditional believers, wishing to preserve many Catholic elements of faith and practice, defended the institution against the zeal of the more radical reformers, the Puritans in particular. Authorities responsible for the new version hoped to avoid these radical influences.
For that reason, they instructed the scholars to reject innovations the Puritans had made in religious terminology, such as replacing “baptism” with “washing” and “church” with “congregation.” A close examination of the text shows that other more “Catholic” terms such as “bishop” (1 Tim 3:1) and “bishopric” (Acts 1:20) were also retained—no doubt to the chagrin of radical reformers who opposed the very notion of such an office.
The language of the KJV is quite beautiful and has exerted extensive influence on English literature and speech. Nevertheless, as the English language itself changed, and as scholarship in ancient languages and archaeology made new discoveries, Protestant authorities called for revised versions and new translations. One of the best known is the Revised Standard Version (RSV), published in the United States in 1946 and 1952, which was actually a revision of the KJV and also has a Catholic edition (1965) approved by the Church.
Protestants today who insist that the King James Bible is the only legitimate English version of Scripture tend to view the Catholic Church unfavorably. So they might be startled to learn that the first edition of the KJV actually included the deuterocanonical books—that is, the books of the Catholic Bible that are lacking in present-day Protestant Bibles.
In addition, since many contemporary editions of the KJV include extensive commentaries presenting fundamentalist teachings, its devotees might be surprised to learn that such notes were originally banned from this version. The scholars were instructed to avoid sectarian ideas by including only the marginal notes necessary to explain certain Hebrew or Greek terms.
Do Sacramentals Change?
Q. On Palm Sunday, as the pastor of our small community blessed the palms, this question arose in my mind: What, if anything, takes place in the substance of the palms (the word “substance” taken in its philosophical sense of “that which stands under” the physical medium)? Does the blessing represent a merely symbolic act, or is there an actual change in the substance of the palms (or water, or oil, or the fields, as the case may be with other sacramentals)?
Please cite your references so that I can pursue your answer in greater depth.
B.R., Lakehills, Texas
A. Here’s a reply from TCA columnist Father Ray Ryland, Ph.D., J.D.:
Transubstantiation occurs only in the Eucharistic consecration, when the substance of bread and wine are changed into the Body and Blood of Our Lord. The blessing of palms in no way changes their substance. Rather, by the blessing they are dedicated to be symbols of the palm branches waved by the crowds during Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem.
We display the palm branches in some prominent place in our homes. There they serve as constant reminders not only of the Jerusalem crowd’s initial enthusiasm, but also of the false expectations the crowds entertained. They wanted an earthly ruler; they were given a divine Savior. Then, on Ash Wednesday, we receive on our foreheads ashes from burned palm branches, symbolizing the futility of purely human hopes.
Vatican II’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy speaks of sacramentals as “sacred signs which bear a resemblance to the sacraments. They signify effects, particularly of a spiritual nature, which are obtained through the Church’s intercession” (Sancrosanctum Concilium, no. 60). The constitution goes on to say that by use of sacramentals people are “disposed to receive the chief effect of the sacraments, and various occasions in life are rendered holy.”
For more information on sacramentals, one should study the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy (nos. 59-63) and the Catechism of the Catholic Church (nos. 1667-1673).
Messianic Stone Tablet?
Q. I just heard about an ancient tablet recently discovered that some are claiming could undermine Christian claims about the uniqueness of Jesus’ resurrection account. Can you provide more details?
Y.J., via email
A. You’re most likely referring to a three-foot-tall stone tablet with 87 lines of Hebrew inked (not engraved) on it, which scholars believe dates from the decades just before the birth of Jesus.
Actually, the stone isn’t a new discovery. It was found about ten years ago, probably near the Dead Sea in Jordan, then bought from a Jordanian antiquities dealer by an Israeli-Swiss collector who kept it in his home in Zurich. An Israeli scholar analyzed it a few years ago and published the analysis. Interest in the artifact has been growing since then, and now there are a number of scholarly articles written about it, with more to come soon.
The stone’s authenticity has not faced any serious challenges to date. But it’s broken, and some of the text is faded. So crucial parts of the text are missing, and the meaning of the words is wide open to debate.
At least one scholar insists that “Gabriel’s Revelation,” as the text has been dubbed, tells about a suffering messiah who dies and is resurrected after three days. Others challenge that reading, saying it fills in too many of the gaps with mere speculation.
So why is the stone creating such a stir? Nearly all scholarship about this historical period has concluded that the notion of a suffering messiah — especially one who dies and is resurrected after three days — was original to the Christian movement. If the speculation about the meaning of this text is correct, the history of Jewish thought and culture for this era would have to be rewritten. Some scholars say this would “shake the basic view of Christianity” and provide a “shocking … challenge to the uniqueness” of Christian theology.
Personally, I don’t think there’s much of a “shock” here. If the speculative reading should prove to be accurate, the history books would need to be rewritten, but the find would offer no challenge to the Christian faith. After all, the Gospel writers made it clear that Jesus saw himself as fulfilling prophecy, and that the people of His time had various expectations about the prophesied messianic role. Some of those expectations He fulfilled, and some He contradicted.
Even some ancient pagan prophecies seem to have been fulfilled by Christ’s coming. Why, then, should we be scandalized if His death and resurrection fulfilled, or at least paralleled, a prophecy from within Jewish culture that originated outside of Scripture?
In fact, in one way these new claims would actually support Christian belief. In the Gospels Jesus makes specific predictions of His suffering, dying and rising again on the third day; Christians accept these Gospel passages as reliable accounts of what Our Lord actually said. But skeptical New Testament scholars have insisted instead that, since there was no such idea previously present in the Jewish culture of Jesus’ day, such predictions must have been added to the texts by later Christian writers. That kind of skeptical speculation would be undermined by this new evidence.
In sum: Christ’s uniqueness doesn’t consist in some kind of novel claims made about the details of His messianic role; even the detail about “three days” in the tomb was something He saw foreshadowed in the story of Jonah (see Mt 12:39–41). Rather, Our Lord is unique in that He is the perfect union of the divine nature and human nature in one Person.
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