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Feast of the Presentation?
Q. What exactly are we commemorating in the Feast of the Presentation of the Virgin Mary?
G.F., via email
A. Several ancient but apocryphal books, such as the Protoevangel of James, the Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew, the Gospel of the Nativity of Mary, and other writings claim that Our Lady, at the age of three, was brought by her parents to the temple, in fulfillment of a vow, to be reared and educated. (This story, of course, does not appear in Scripture.) A feast commemorating that “presentation” began in the East, probably in Syria. In the Eastern Churches it is known as the Feast of the Entry of the Theotokos (Mother of God) into the Temple.
In time the feast was introduced into the West as well, and by the late medieval period, a number of European dioceses celebrated it, but by no means all. Pope Sixtus IV received it into the Roman Breviary; Pius V suppressed it in 1568; and Sixtus V restored it in 1585.
According to the Liturgy of the Hours, on this feast day “we celebrate that dedication of herself which Mary made to God from her very childhood under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit who filled her with grace at her Immaculate Conception.” Though we may not know for certain the historical truth about her childhood, we can still honor on this day Our Lady’s consecration of herself to the will of God the Father.
Q. Some time ago, I read a reference to an archangel named Ariel. I no longer remember the source, but what can you tell us about him if he actually exists?
B.R., via email
A. Biblical scholars suggest that the Hebrew name “Ariel” means either “lion of God” or “hearth of God” (the latter applying to a part of the altar in the temple at Jerusalem; see Ez 43:15–16). The term appears in Scripture, but not as the name of an angel. Ezra 8:16 mentions a man named Ariel in a list of “men of insight,” and the prophet Isaiah uses it as a symbolic name for the city of Jerusalem (see Is 29:1, 2, 7).
By the time the Jewish people returned to Israel from their exile in Babylon (in the fifth and sixth centuries B.C.), the rabbinical teaching that had developed apparently included a speculative tradition about the names and special roles of angels, perhaps influenced by pagan Babylonian traditions. “Ariel,” “Uriel” and other names eventually began appearing in apocryphal literature as names of archangels.
As early as the second century, St. Irenaeus tells us, the name Ariel had already been appropriated by the Gnostics (an early heretical movement) to identify one of the multitude of “aeons,” or spiritual powers, in their mythology (see his Refutation of All Heresies, V, 9). Since that time, Ariel and other speculative “angel” names have been used by the Gnostics’ spiritual descendants, such as Kabbalists and New Agers.
In short: The only three angels whose names are known in Scripture and firmly established in the Catholic tradition are Michael, Gabriel and Raphael. Ariel is not among them.
Saints and Angels
Q. In a recent Q&A [click here for question from 10/16/08)] you indicated that saints and angels were separate and distinct “species,” and that humans could not become angels, but of course, could become saints. I agree; however, this being the case, why do we refer to St. Michael the Archangel, St. Gabriel, and St. Raphael as saints, since all are known to be angels?
A.N., via email
A. The confusion arises from the fact that the word “saint” literally means “holy one,” and it can have either that general meaning (applicable to any person who is holy, human or angel) or the more specialized meaning of a perfected human being enjoying the Beatific Vision in heaven. In the New Testament, the Greek term is hagios (feminine, hagia), and the equivalent Latin term is sanctus (feminine sancta), from which we derive the English word saint.
In Latin, then, the three archangels whose names we know from Scripture are referred to as “Sanctus Michael,” “Sanctus Gabriel,” and “Sanctus Raphael,” in the general sense: “Holy Michael,” “Holy Gabriel,” and “Holy Raphael.” When those names came into English, the “Sanctus” was translated as “Saint” rather than “Holy.”
“I Believe” Instead of “Amen”?
Q. A few years ago, when receiving the Eucharist, I began responding to the words “the body of Christ” and “the blood of Christ” by saying “I believe.” My rationale was that it seems that “Amen” has become more or less a rote response, even though I am aware that the term implies a great deal.
Recently, a deacon told me that it is preferable for me to respond with “Amen.” Since he told me this I have complied, but I have been wondering if I would be violating any doctrinal norms by going back to “I believe.” Any guidance you can provide will be greatly appreciated.
K.M., Austin, Texas
A. Here’s a reply from TCA columnist Father Francis Hoffman, J.C.D.:
Would you be violating any doctrinal norms by responding “I believe” instead of “Amen” when you receive Holy Communion? Yes, I think so, because you would be lacking in your fulfillment of the liturgical norm of unity in word and action with the rest of the congregation. But I doubt anyone will get on your case about responding “I believe.”
Nevertheless, if you choose to respond “Amen” you will avoid singularity — that is, setting yourself apart from the other worshipers — and that is always a good thing. Moreover, the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (no. 161) specifically indicates that we are to respond “Amen.”
Your desire to avoid routine in your piety is extraordinarily important, and you should be congratulated for that. I suggest that in your time of private thanksgiving to our Eucharistic Lord after Communion, you open your heart to Him and tell Him repeatedly, “Lord, I believe in you.” You might also find yourself gently nudged by the Holy Spirit to echo those words of the desperate father in the New Testament, “Lord, I believe, but help my unbelief!”
Absolution and Purgatory
Q. I have the following question for which I would like to receive a clear understanding. Say that absolution is given by a priest after a good confession of sins, and the person who made the confession says he will sin no more and intends to sin no more, and will try harder not to commit the same sins again. The person also immediately does the penance. What if this person were to be in an accident that would take his life immediately following his confession and absolution. Would he be subject to time in purgatory?
N.K., via email
A. Here’s a reply from TCA columnist Father Ray Ryland, Ph.D., J.D.:
At the outset we should note that “time” in the earthly sense is not a category applicable to the experience of purgatory. When we die we leave “time” as we know it behind.
In the hypothetical situation you pose, the penitent’s receiving absolution would remove all guilt of his sins. It would reconcile him not only to the Father, but also to the community that has been harmed by his sins.
With regard to the person’s failure to complete his penance, the Catechism reminds us that “the confessor proposes the performance of certain acts of ‘satisfaction’ or ‘penance’ to be performed by the penitent in order to repair the harm caused by sin and to re-establish habits befitting a disciple of Christ” (no. 1494).
A person’s failure (or even refusal) to carry out an assigned penance would detract from the sincerity of his repentance and cast doubt over the absolution he had received. The failure of the hypothetical person to perform his penance was not his choice; he failed because of circumstances beyond his control. For him, then, the absolution is valid without the penance he would and should have carried out if he had the opportunity.
Nevertheless, absolution does not take away the punishment due to our sins. This reality is reflected in the Church’s definition of an indulgence. “An indulgence is the remission before God of the temporal punishment due for sins already forgiven as far as their guilt is concerned” (William T. Barry, C.SS.R., trans., “Enchiridion of Indulgences: Norms and Grants,” Catholic Book Publishing Co., 1969, p. 21; emphasis added).
Your hypothetical penitent would still be subject to purgation of the temporal punishment due to his sins. This fact should impress on us the importance, indeed urgency, of accepting the Church’s gift of indulgences.
If, in addition to all your hypothetical penitent did, he had fulfilled the requirements for a plenary indulgence, and had then died soon thereafter, he would not have further cleansing to undergo in purgatory.
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