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.
Better Not to Attend at All?
Q. I have been a Catholic since my birth, so to say; my wife is a convert. We always go to the Catholic Mass on Sundays and holidays. Several weeks ago, we visited a very good friend of ours in Dallas. She is a devout Christian, but she is Anglican.
The suburbs in Dallas are not notorious for many Catholic churches. We are old people; I am over 80 years old. We flew to Dallas and depended totally on our friend for transportation. So that Sunday we went to the service in the Anglican church of our friend.
We were both surprised how very similar if not identical is the service, including the crossing with the blessed water. Would it have been better to go to no religious service at all, due to the circumstances, rather than to another Christian church? (By the way, our Dallas friend, when she is with us here, goes with us to the Catholic Mass; I guess this is good.)
J.H.K., Colonial Heights, Va.
A. Here’s a reply from TCA columnist Father Francis Hoffman, J.C.D.:
If it is physically or morally impossible to attend Mass on Sunday or Holy Days of obligation, you are not obliged to attend. But attending a service in a Protestant Church — no matter how good the music, the preaching or the experience — does not fulfill your Sunday Mass obligation.
If you are impeded from attending Sunday Mass, one could make the argument that it would be better to attend a service in a Christian Church than to not worship God at all, so long as you take precautions to safeguard your own faith and morals and not develop an attitude of religious indifferentism, which leads people to think that one religion is as good as another, so long as you are a good person.
Christening vs. Baptism
Q. Our grandson is being baptized this Easter. His other grandparents (they are also Catholic) refer to his baptism as his being “christened.” Are baptizing and christening the same thing, or different?
G.N., via email
A. No need to worry — “christening” is indeed just another name for infant baptism, though the term is more often used these days among Episcopalians than Catholics. The word is of course related to the word “Christian”; the “christening” is so called because it’s the occasion when the child receives his or her “Christian” name.
If your grandson is being “christened” by a Catholic priest, then you should assume that it’s a normal baptism; the other grandparents are simply calling it by a different name.
What was the Decapolis?
Q. The Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark refer to the cities (and the region) of the “Decapolis.” What and where was this region?
D.I., via email
A. Decapolis, which means in Greek “ten cities,” is the name given in Scripture and by other ancient writers (such as Josephus, Ptolemy, Strabo and Pliny) to a region in Palestine lying to the east and south of the Sea of Galilee. It took its name from a political alliance of the ten cities that dominated the area (though the area included other cities as well).
The Decapolis is referred to in the Gospels three times: Matthew 4:25, Mark 5:20 and Mark 7:31. Many Gentiles (non-Jews) lived in the region, including veterans of the army of Alexander the Great who had conquered the Middle East.
Today the cities of the Decapolis, with the exception of Damascus, are deserted ruins. I once toured the ruins of Gadara, on the Sea of Galilee, where Jesus cast the demons out of a man into a herd of pigs. I was struck by how Greek a city it had been, with Hellenistic architectural styles and buildings, including a theatre and forum.
In addition to Damascus and Gadara, another city of the Decapolis of special interest to Christian history is Pella, the city in the Jordan Valley where Christians fled at the first siege of Jerusalem (in obedience to Our Lord; see Mt 24:15-16).
Why Did Jesus Weep?
Q. When Lazarus died, why did Jesus weep? He knew he was going to rise again, so why the tears?
T.T., via email
A. Perhaps Our Lord was weeping, not so much for grief at losing His friend temporarily, but for grief over the universal predicament that had caused the death of Lazarus and of the whole human race: the rebellion of the human race He himself had created, with its terrible consequence, original sin. It may well be that those infinitely precious tears were shed for all of us, typified at that moment by Lazarus, who must suffer the pangs of bereavement and death.
If this is indeed the case, it should be comforting to know that Jesus was weeping for you and me, sharing our grief whenever we lose a loved one or must come to face to face with our own mortality. It should remind us, too, that we can trust Our Lord to raise us all up on the last day.
Scripture and Tradition
Q. A Protestant friend recently commented to me that the Catholic Church is wrong to rely on Tradition as well as Scripture. How should I respond?
P.Z., via email
A. Here’s a reply from TCA columnist Father Ray Ryland, Ph.D., J.D.:
You can also tell him that he too, like all Protestants, also relies on tradition. He invokes that tradition (called sola scriptura, scripture alone) when he demands scriptural proof for belief in saints. It’s an extra-biblical axiom that Protestants assume, incorrectly, is itself scriptural.
Ask him to show you where the Bible says that all Christian teaching must be explicitly spelled out in Scripture. Scripture nowhere teaches — indeed, nowhere even implies — that all Christian belief must be “proved” from Scripture.
I once heard a priest tell of having met a fundamentalist preacher in a ministerial meeting. The preacher introduced himself aggressively: “I’m Brother So-and-So. You know, I belong to the Church that’s based on the Bible.”
The priest responded by giving his name, and said, “And I belong to the Church that wrote that Bible.”
The priest’s response was not a put-down. It was a statement of fact. Members of the Catholic Church wrote the New Testament. Out of dozens upon dozens of writings from the early centuries, the Catholic Church decided which were to be canonical.
The criterion for including a text in the Church’s canon was simple: Does a given book authentically reflect the Church’s tradition? On this basis the Church selected the twenty-seven books which all Christians now have in the New Testament.
G. K. Chesterton was once asked what the Bible says on a particular topic. He replied that the Bible doesn’t say anything. He said you can’t put the Bible in a witness chair and ask it questions and get answers. Like all other books (in this basic regard), the Bible has to be interpreted.
The New Testament is the Church’s book. She wrote it. She alone understands it correctly. In the light of her total life (her “Tradition”) she is guided by the Holy Spirit in her interpretation of Scripture.
She does not seek to “prove” her teachings from her book. Rather, she shows how her teachings — which came to her from Christ through the apostles — are reflected in the books she wrote under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.
Apart from the Catholic Church’s teaching authority, which she received from Christ, there is no way to gain certain knowledge of scriptural teaching. Look at what happens to those Christians who are separated from that authority. There are over thirty thousand separate denominations, all claiming to be based on the Bible, and all contradicting one another in some or in many respects. And the number of new denominations grows steadily, year after year.
Catholic Faith Resources | For Catholic Parishes | Order OSV Products | RSS | Advertise | About Us | Contact Us | Jobs