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Why “Pay” for Masses?
Q. I am searching for a simple explanation of the values of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, announced intentions and the offering associated with the Mass to be offered in the parish. Many of our parishioners, especially converts, cannot grasp the concept of “paying” for a Mass. This is a subject of concern to our faith-formation commission.
P.G.F., via e-mail
A. Here’s a reply from TCA columnist Father Francis Hoffman, J.C.D.:
We don’t “pay” for a Mass, because we cannot possibly afford it, since the value of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is infinite. But it’s good for the faithful to request a Mass for a specific intention and at the same time to make an offering to the priest to help support him and the Church.
Each Mass may be offered by the celebrant for one principal intention, which is often announced at the Mass. Typically, the intention of the Mass is also printed in the parish bulletin. The intention could be for anyone, living or dead.
Canon law regulates the practice of Mass offerings very closely (see Canons 945-958) and is particularly concerned that even the “appearance of trafficking or trading is to be excluded entirely from the offering for Masses” (Canon 947). The priest is free to accept or decline a request to celebrate a Mass for a specific intention, but once he has accepted it (even if there is no offering) that Mass must be celebrated within one year.
Some priests who have adequate financial support will accept Mass offerings and then distribute them to priests in poorer regions of the world who really need that income. It is never appropriate for a priest to deny a sacrament because he would not receive an offering for it.
Q. I’m a cat-lover, and I recently heard that the Holy Father is also one. Is that true?
C.L., via email
A. Yes, it’s true. Pope Benedict’s lifelong love for felines has often been noted.
His house in Germany, whose garden is still guarded by a feline statue, was filled with cats when he lived there. The pope’s brother continues to post the current year’s cat calendar on the wall of the house, turning its pages every month as a way of honoring his absent sibling.
The city of Rome is notorious for its many stray cats. Benedict’s habit of showing them kindness since his moving there in 1982 is now legendary.
Before becoming Pope, as the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, then-Cardinal Ratzinger took care of the cats that visited the garden of the congregation’s building in the Vatican. He bandaged the wounds of those who were injured.
Sometimes the cats walked him to his office. Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone once joked in an interview with an Italian newspaper: “One time the Swiss Guards had to intervene. ‘Look, your eminence, the cats are laying siege to the Holy See.’”
Sadly, the Italian media reported that when the pope moved into his papal quarters, he could not bring two beloved cats with him.
Benedict is in fact only the latest in a line of papal cat-lovers. In the fifteenth century Pope Paul II had his cats treated by his personal physician. In the 1820s, Leo XII kept his grayish-red kitty, Micetto, in the pleat of his cassock. And Paul VI (pope from 1963 to 1978) is said to have once dressed his cat in the robes of a cardinal!
You may want to check out a new children’s book, “Joseph and Chico: The Life of Pope Benedict XVI as Told by a Cat” (Ignatius Press, 2008). It’s narrated by Chico, a real cat who took up with the Pope in his native Germany long before he became the Pope. Chico tells the story of the life of his "best friend" from his birth in Germany in 1927, through his days as a young man, priest, bishop and cardinal. Find it here.
Kissing the Papal Ring?
Q. Seeing Catholics greet the Holy Father during his recent visit to the U.S. made me wonder: Why is the Pope’s ring kissed?
M. M., via email
A. The traditional manner of greeting a bishop in the West (the Bishop of Rome included) includes kissing his ring (rather than the man himself). A kiss, of course, is almost universally regarded as a sign of affection and appreciation. So what is it about a ring that would merit a kiss?
Catholic bishops of the West traditionally wear a distinctive episcopal ring as a sign of their office in the Church. Since the ring is commonly considered an emblem of faithfulness (it has no beginning and no end), we might say that it symbolizes the bishop’s “marriage” to the Church. The “Ceremonial of Bishops,” a book that provides bishops with instruction for their liturgical responsibilities, says that the ring is to be worn always.
The unique “Fisherman’s Ring” (annulus piscatoris) is worn exclusively by the Pope, recalling that he is a successor of the first bishop to hold that office, St. Peter, the fisherman. The earliest historical mention of such a ring is in a letter of Pope Clement IV, written in 1265. Originally, it was used to impress wax seals on private correspondence, and then later, papal briefs.
The Fisherman’s Ring is placed on the third finger of the right hand of a newly elected pope by the cardinal camerlengo (the chamberlain of the papal court, who among other duties administers the properties and revenues of the Church during a vacancy in the papal office). A new one is created for each pope. When the Holy Father dies, the camerlengo ceremonially breaks it so that it cannot be misused.
The ring is made of gold, with a bas-relief depiction of St. Peter in a boat, fishing. The name of the reigning pontiff in Latin is inscribed around the image.
Non-Biblical Historical Sources for Jesus’ Life?
Q. In a comparative religion class I attended, a Muslim professor explained his religious beliefs to the class. A student questioned the idea that Jesus was “only a prophet.” The lecturer was quite adamant that nowhere in Roman writings, documents or literature was there any mention of Jesus’ miracles, crucifixion or activities following a resurrection. Is there an independent documentation of any of Jesus’ activities during His public life? If so, where would find that documentation?
N.N., via email
A. Here’s a reply from TCA columnist Father Ray Ryland, Ph.D., J.D.:
In the light of the historical circumstances of Our Lord’s earthly life, it is unreasonable to expect that Roman authorities, civil or literary, would have taken much notice of Him. Galilee was a remote part of the Roman Empire, and the Jews were widely regarded as a superstitious people. The God they worshiped was unknown to, or despised by, the pagans.
In its early decades the Christian religion was regarded as simply another sect of Judaism. Certainly, neither Jews nor Gentiles had any inkling of the cosmic significance of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. And yet there are references to Jesus and the Christian religion in Roman writings.
Cornelius Tacitus (c. 56-c. 120) wrote that in the reign of Tiberius the founder of the Christian religion was executed under Pontius Pilate. For some time, he said, that religion was suppressed, but it later grew strong not only in Judea but even in Rome.
Tacitus regarded Christianity as an abominable Jewish sect. He related that in order to free himself of suspicion of having caused a disastrous fire in Rome, Nero had charged the Christians with the crime. Though they were innocent, Tacitus noted, they were subjected to cruel tortures and death.
Another writer of ancient Rome who took note of Christ and of Christians is Suetonius (b. c. 69). He wrote of Christ (whom he called “Chrestus”) as a seditious revolutionary who had stirred a rebellion in the reign of Claudius (41-54). Suetonius composed a biography of Nero in which he praised the emperor for his harsh treatment of the Christians in Rome.
From the first century we have a letter written by Pliny the Younger, governor of Bithynia, to the Emperor Trajan (c. 53-117), asking what to do with the Christians in his jurisdiction. Pliny told the emperor the Christians were guilty of no crime, though he regarded their belief as the worst kind of superstition. He said they adhered unwaveringly in faith to Christ, whom they worshiped as God, in meetings early in the morning. Because of that faith, he said, Christians have exalted moral principles.
Trajan told Pliny to use moderation in his dealings with the Christians.
The earliest non-Christian writer who speaks of Jesus Christ is a Jewish historian, Josephus (37-c. 100). In his “Antiquities of the Jews,” Josephus speaks of Jesus’ life, His miracles, His crucifixion, even His resurrection. He suggests also that these events tend to prove that Jesus was more than simply another man. Here is the main passage from Josephus about Jesus:
“Now about this time arises Jesus, a wise man, if indeed he should be called a man. For he was a doer of marvelous deeds, a teacher of men who receive the truth with pleasure; and he won over to himself many Jews and many also of the Greek [nation]. He was the Christ. And when, on the indictment of the principal men among us, Pilate had sentenced him to the cross, those who had loved [or perhaps rather “been content with”] him at the first did not cease; for he appeared to them on the third day alive again, the divine prophets having [fore]told these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him. And even now the tribe of Christians, named after him, is not extinct.” (Quoted by Warren Carroll, “A History of Christendom, Vol. 1: The Founding of Christendom,” Christendom Publications, Front Royal, Va., 1985, p. 296.)
Though scholars are divided over the authenticity of one sentence (“He was the Christ”), the remainder of the passage is clear testimony to the earthly life of Jesus.
So you see, your Muslim professor was not well informed on this subject. His judgment would be clouded, of course, by the fact that for Muslims, the account of Jesus’ life in the Christian New Testament has been corrupted and thus is not a trustworthy source.
Q. In my daily appointment book, which shows feasts and other observances from the traditional Church calendar, several recent days had the notation “Rogation Day.” What does that mean?
L.T., via email
A. In the traditional Church calendar, Rogation Days were certain prescribed days of fasting and prayer in the spring, associated with intercession especially for the harvest, but also asking God’s mercy and blessings in general. (The name comes from the Latin rogare, “to ask.”)
The “Major Rogation,” on April 25, adapted to Christian purposes the pagan practice (called Robigalia) of holding processions through the cornfields to pray that the crops would be preserved from mildew.
The “Minor Rogations” were kept on the Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday before Ascension Day. These rogations were derived from processional litanies established by St. Mamertus of Vienne (c. 470) to pray for relief from the volcanic eruptions that plagued his diocese. They eventually spread throughout the Roman province of Gaul, then to Rome and beyond.
The liturgical reforms adopted after 1970 officially eliminated Rogation Days from the Church calendar. But with the recent motu proprio of Pope Benedict XVI allowing for a wider use of older liturgical forms, many Catholics are rediscovering this ancient tradition.
For more information, click here.
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