Each day during the week of July 23 through 27 you'll find a new question and answer. Check back every weekday and scroll down to see that day's entry! Let us know what you think--or question!--by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org»
Q. Pope Benedict’s recent motu proprio allowing for the wider use of the older Latin form of the Mass has raised concerns in some quarters about a return to anti-Semitism. The liturgy contains prayers that many see as offensive to Jewish people. Does this new development reflect a reversal in the Church’s condemnation of anti-Semitism?
-- J.Q., Chicago
A. Not at all. The motu proprio (entitled Summum Pontificum, published July 7) allows for a wider use of the 1962 Roman Missal in particular. That version of the Roman rite includes revisions, made by Blessed Pope John XXIII, in the liturgical passages that were controversial and viewed by many as anti-Semitic (such as a prayer for “the perfidious Jews”).
It’s true that the revised language in the Good Friday intercessions still calls for the conversion of the Jews to Christ. Though some Jewish people may be offended by that prayer, it simply reflects the mission of the Church, who has been entrusted by her Lord with calling all people, Jewish and otherwise, to repent and believe the Gospel. This was the practice of Jesus Himself and of the Apostles, and it has been the practice of the Church ever since.
Meanwhile, Pope Benedict has clearly shown over the years through his writings and his interreligious efforts with Jewish leaders that he is firm in his repudiation of all forms of genuine anti-Semitism.
You can read more about the motu proprio in the upcoming September/October 2007 issue of The Catholic Answer. For an unofficial English translation of the relevant documents, go to www.usccb.org/liturgy/bclnewsletterjune07.pdf.
Q. What exactly are gargoyles, and why are they found on churches? -- P.J., New York
A. A gargoyle is a waterspout (usually made of stone) that projects from a roof gutter or upper part of a building to throw water clear of walls or foundations. It minimizes water erosion. The term is derived (as is the word “gargle”) from the French gargouille, meaning “throat.”
Some gargoyles are undecorated, but the memorable ones — most popular in the Gothic-style churches of the Middle Ages — are carved into fanciful, often grotesque, shapes. They may portray humans, beasts, human-beast hybrids, animal hybrids (chimeras) or demons.
By extension, any similar figure adorning a building has come to be called a gargoyle. But technically, if it’s not a waterspout, it should be called a grotesque.
So why were medieval churches adorned with these bizarre-looking characters? The short answer: We don’t really know for sure. Scholars have suggested various theories:
Maybe our readers can suggest some other theories! (Email email@example.com»)
For a look at a few gargoyles (including some contemporary ones), see the photos here on wikipedia» and here on stonecarver.com»
Q. I’ve been following the controversy over the recent statement from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, entitled “Responses to Some Questions Regarding Certain Aspects of the Doctrine on the Church” (dated June 29). It seems to me that at the heart of this controversy lies the all-important question: How do we define the term “church”? The Catholic Church is presenting here her definition. What do Protestant Christians offer as their definition? -- R.M., via email
A. I agree with your observation, and you raise a question that I think hasn’t received enough attention in this debate. Some Protestant critics of the statement seem disturbed that Rome would have the audacity to define “church” in an “exclusive” way, demanding that certain essentials be present in an institution before it can be viewed truly as a “church” or, more importantly, as the one Church of Christ in her fullness.
Nevertheless, as a former Protestant who has belonged to a variety of denominations, I can say from experience that Protestants also establish their own “exclusive” definitions of “church” (there’s no single Protestant definition), and these definitions are not consistent. How else could it be?
Some personal examples illustrate what I mean.
When I was a freshman at Yale (and a rather naïve recent convert to evangelical Christianity from atheism), I once invited my friends in a college ministry to join me in an “upper room” of an old campus building to share “Communion.” But I was startled by the sharp reaction of those who belonged to various so-called “mainline” Protestant denominations (Presbyterians, Methodists, Episcopalians, and so on).
We couldn’t do that! they insisted. We weren’t a “church.” We were just a group of Christians. In particular, I wasn’t ordained, so I couldn’t preside over “Communion.”
I responded, “Well, we’re all Christians; doesn’t that mean we’re the ‘Church,” no matter how we might be organized?” But they wouldn’t hear of it. Each of their respective denominations had specific (and varying) criteria for what constituted a “church,” and in their eyes, even the entire campus ministry group was at most only a “para-church” organization.
Years later, I was part of a ministry that met every Friday evening for worship, preaching, prayer and fellowship. After several years as an active and well-organized Christian community, the group’s leaders announced one day that it was time to become a “church.”
Keep in mind that they weren’t even part of a denomination with official regulations about what constitutes a “church” and what doesn’t. But it seemed obvious to them that their little institution had to take on certain essentials if they were to become a real “church,” including an ordained clergy and the (at least occasional) practice of “Communion.”
In the same way, among these Christians adherence to certain essential doctrines were expected of a real “church.” Mormons, for example, might call themselves a church, but they were not. Because of their heretical beliefs, they were a “cult.”
Here’s the point. Most Christians, whatever their tradition, take seriously the reality that the Church as a human institution within history must take on a specific, concrete form. They recognize that the form must have essentials to distinguish it from other things. The Catholic faith simply has more demanding criteria than other Christian institutions, and for good reason: Those criteria derive from the teaching and practice of Our Lord and His apostles.
You can read more about this document in the upcoming November/December 2007 issue of The Catholic Answer. For an official English translation of the full text of the “Responses,” click here»
Q. Someone told me it says somewhere in the Bible that you cannot get any type of tattoos on your body or mutilate yourself. Is that true? -- J.R., via email
A. The comments you’ve heard about tattoos and piercings probably refer to laws in the Old Testament book of Leviticus. Leviticus 19:28 says: “You shall not make any cuttings in your flesh or tattoo any marks upon you.” A similar law is given in Deuteronomy 14:1, which says: “You shall not cut yourselves or make any baldness on your foreheads for the dead.”
The words from Deuteronomy and other passages suggest that these practices were forbidden to the ancient Israelites because they were a part of the pagan religious customs of the peoples they encountered. The Hebrews needed to avoid such practices in order to maintain purity in their worship of the one true God.
Some of the laws given in these Old Testament books had to do with eternal moral principles, such as laws in the same chapter forbidding idolatry (Lv 19:4), stealing and lying (Lv 19:11), and in the previous chapter, forbidding homosexual acts and bestiality (Lv 18:22-23). Other laws, however, were dependent on the culture of the time, because their primary intent was to keep the Israelites separated from pagan cultures, which often included horrendous customs (such as sacrificing a firstborn to a god by burning the infant alive — see Lv 20:2).
The two laws about tattooing and body mutilation probably fall in the second category. Though someone today could perhaps make a case against these practices for other reasons (even religious reasons), it would be problematic to use these particular verses to support the idea that God forbids people today to get tattoos or piercings — just as you wouldn’t claim that the law in the same biblical chapter against trimming beards (Lv 19:27) would apply today. The same goes for the Old Testament dietary laws forbidding the ancient Israelites to eat pork or shellfish.
For Christians, the biblical laws separating believers in God from non-believers, given to the ancient Israelites, no longer apply except in cases where an eternal moral, theological or spiritual principle is involved. For more about this issue, read Acts 10:1–48; 15:1–35.
Just for fun we should note that there’s actually a Bible verse in which God uses tattoo imagery to refer to Himself. The Lord says to His people through the prophet Isaiah: “See, upon the palms of my hands I have written your name” (Is 49:16).
Like a man who tattoos the name of his sweetheart on his arm, the Lord has “tattooed” our name on His hand, as a sign that He’s always thinking of us, and we’ll always be His. That’s important to remember the next time things aren’t going right, and you’re tempted to conclude that God has forgotten all about you.
Q. What is an anti-pope, and who were they? -- B.W., via email
A. An antipope is someone who makes a false claim to be the pope, based on a process of election, installment or even self-appointment that is contrary to the Church’s laws. Historians typically recognize as antipopes only those false claimants with a significant following, such as large numbers of the faithful, powerful political backing, or some portion of the college of cardinals.
Lists of antipopes compiled by scholars vary because questions have arisen in particular cases over how to harmonize historical criteria with those of theology and canon law. The Annuario Pontificio (Pontifical Yearbook), the annual directory of the Holy See, lists 37 antipopes, beginning with Hippolytus, whose false claim to St. Peter’s throne lasted from A.D. 217 to 235, and ending with Felix V (1439–1449). There are actually a few people today who claim to be the true pontiff in opposition to Pope Benedict XVI, but none of them have a substantial enough following to be included in the Church’s list.
Antipopes in the early Church were typically promoted by rival ecclesiastical parties in Rome. In later centuries, they were more often puppets of secular rulers attempting to undermine or co-opt papal power. A few, however, had broad enough international support within the Church itself to become serious rivals to the popes they opposed.
For more information and a complete list, see the article here on antipopes from Matthew Bunson’s Pope Encyclopedia here»
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