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Question of the Day for Friday, November 2, 2007
Q. We know that it’s a very good thing to pray for the souls in purgatory. What happens to our prayers that are offered for a particular soul, such as a parent, if that person is already in heaven? Do those prayers help a soul that still remains in purgatory? And if so, would the prayers be used to help an anonymous soul, or would they go to help another one of your loved ones that might still be in purgatory?
N.R., Winchester, MA
A. That’s a timely question for All Souls’ Day! But as far as I can tell, the Church doesn’t give a definitive answer to your questions; our knowledge of the purgatorial process is rather limited.
Perhaps the most important observation to make here is that our prayers are never wasted. That’s true not only in praying for the holy souls in purgatory, but also when praying for people on earth.
Just consider: We don’t always know what another person truly needs, or needs most. But when we pray for that person, if what we ask for isn’t what he or she really needs, God understands the good intention of our prayer nonetheless, and He responds to it with an outpouring of graces: for the person prayed for, for the one praying, and for others as well. We may not be praying for the right particulars, but our prayer still contributes to that person’s welfare, and it transforms us in the process as well.
Keep in mind that all prayer, including intercession, is less a mechanical operation than the deepening of a relationship with God and with others. When we draw close to Him through prayer, we also draw close to those who need our prayer. The spiritual power that results from that deepening communion of saints has dynamic effects far beyond what we can imagine.
Also remember that God is outside of time. Perhaps He simply takes all the prayers offered for a particular person until the end of time, gathers them together, and responds to them with the graces that the soul in purgatory needs, as he or she needs them. Whatever the case may be, we can rest assured that every prayer has its reward.
If you still have concerns, I would try this approach: Just tell Our Lord your intentions in the matter. You might pray, for example, that if it’s ever the case that a deceased person you’re praying for is in heaven and no longer needs prayers, you would ask Him to count them as prayers for other loved ones who are deceased. Or maybe you’d prefer that He consider them as prayers for those deceased who have no one else to pray for them.
Then leave the rest to Our Lord. He is a good, faithful and merciful God, and He knows how to handle the situation in a way that will bring blessing to everyone involved.
Question of the Day for Thursday, November 1, 2007
Q. What’s the difference between All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day? What exactly are we celebrating on these days?
A.N., Escondido, CA
A. On All Saints’ Day (Nov. 1), we honor all the saints of God, known and unknown, which means all those who have been fully perfected and united to Him in love in heaven. Though thousands of these holy ones have been formally recognized by the Church and have their own memorial days on the Church calendar, many more have never been canonized. Because of this celebration, the unrecognized saints have a feast day as well — no one is left out!
On All Souls’ Day (Nov. 2), we remember all the faithful departed — those who have died in friendship with God but are not yet saints because they are still in the process of being purged and perfected. It’s a time not only to remember and honor these Holy Souls in purgatory, but also to offer on their behalf prayers, good works and the holy sacrifice of the Mass.
Question of the Day for Wednesday, October 31, 2007
Q. Is Halloween a pagan or a Christian holiday? Every year I hear people argue it one way or the other.
F.K., Knoxville, TN
A. In terms of its origins, Halloween is both pagan and Christian. In terms of its practice, that depends on who’s celebrating!
Before the coming of the Christian faith to Celtic lands (the British Isles and Brittany), a pagan feast that seems to have been associated with the harvest and New Year’s Eve on the Celtic calendar took place on the night of October 31. In the Druid religion (practiced by the Celts), the night of October 31was considered a time when the lord of death, named Samhain, allowed the souls of the dead to roam. (Some scholars, we should note, have disputed some specifics of these historical claims.)
After the Christian faith had spread among Celtic peoples, that same night eventually came to be observed in the Church calendar as the eve of All Saints’ Day, which honors all the Christian saints in heaven, both known and unknown. In fact, the name “Halloween” is a contraction of “All Hallows’ Evening.” “Hallows” means “holy ones,” or saints.
As for its current practice, whether the holiday is Christian or pagan depends largely on whether the emphasis is on the demonic and macabre, or on the memory of those who reign with Our Lord now in heaven. Obviously, the secular culture, lacking faith, emphasizes the former. But many Christians, Catholic and otherwise, have found ways to observe the day that are both entertaining and spiritually focused.
Question of the Day for Tuesday, October 30, 2007
Q. Why do Catholics and Protestants number the Ten Commandments differently?
O.G., Charlotte, NC
A. Though Catholics and Protestants agree that God gave Moses ten commandments, not everyone numbers them the same way.
How did these differences in numbering come about? Is the Catholic numeration system, as some Protestants claim, a recent revision intended to obscure an alleged divine ban on religious images? For answers, let’s take a closer look at the scriptural texts involved and the history of numbering the commandments.
The divine commands given to Moses that we call the “Ten Commandments” (also the Decalogue) are recorded twice in the Old Testament, once in Exodus (20:1–17) and once in Deuteronomy (5:6¬–21). The two lists are almost identical, though their ordering is slightly different with regard to prohibitions against coveting.
The Scripture itself makes no explicit division or enumeration of these commandments. Their division into verses in our modern Bibles, as with the entire system of scriptural chapters and verses, is of course not found in the original text; that organizational system was added in the Middle Ages.
The differences in numbering the commandments begin with the first one. In the arrangement used by Catholics, the first commandment is concerned broadly with false worship. The “other gods” (Deuteronomy 5:7) of the pagan peoples, which God forbade the ancient Israelites to worship, were typically represented by a “graven image” (v. 8). So it’s logical not to divide these two statements into separate commandments, but rather to see them as a single prohibition of idolatry.
According to this way of numbering, then, the precept against taking the Lord’s name in vain (Deuteronomy 5:11) is the second commandment; the injunction to keep the Sabbath (Deuteronomy 5:12) is third; and so on. The two final commands against coveting (Deuteronomy 5:21) are numbered separately, according to the order given in Deuteronomy: The ninth commandment forbids coveting a neighbor’s wife, and the tenth forbids coveting a neighbor’s property.
Though both these commands have to do with coveting, it certainly makes sense to separate them, because a neighbor’s wife isn’t in the same class as his property. This ordering recognizes that sins against things differ fundamentally from sins against persons. (It’s true that servants are persons, but in this context, the desire for another person’s servants seems to be not a lust to have sex with them, but rather a coveting of their productivity as financial assets.)
Adultery and theft belong to two different categories of immoral conduct, so the same must be said of the desire to commit these sins.
The Catholic system was laid out by St. Augustine in the fifth century. So we can soundly reject the notion that it’s some kind of recent innovation, invented to defend the use of religious images against Protestant objections.
In fact, this ancient system of enumeration was followed by Martin Luther, a central leader in the Protestant Reformation. To this day most Lutherans, following his lead, number the Ten Commandments the same way Catholics do. So this is not essentially a Catholic-Protestant disagreement.
Nevertheless, Protestants in the traditions stemming from the Church of England and the Reform leaders in Switzerland (John Calvin, Ulrich Zwingli) adopted a different way of numbering the Decalogue.
In this second system (which is more commonly used in contemporary American culture), the injunctions against having other gods and making graven images are considered separate commandments (the first and the second). The injunction against taking God’s name in vain is thus viewed as the third commandment, and so on. Then, both commands against coveting are grouped together as one, ordered according to the list in Exodus list rather than the one in Deuteronomy.
Like the first way of numbering, this one is also ancient, having been used by the first-century Jewish historian Josephus, the third-century Christian theologian Origen, and others. Eastern Orthodox Christians typically follow this enumeration as well. Since their worship tradition enthusiastically embraces the use of religious images, they no doubt find quite odd the claim by some Protestants that this second numbering system somehow exposes a divine ban on religious images.
As a side note: Both Catholics and Orthodox would advise the opponents of religious images to read the rest of God’s instructions here. He actually commanded the Israelites to store these same commandments, carved in stone, within a sacred container (the ark) to be decorated with golden images of angelic beings called cherubim (Exodus 25:10–22).
He also commanded the people to decorate the places where they worshiped with gold, bronze and wooden images of animals and plants (Exodus 25:33–36; 26:1; 1 Kings 6:23–7:51; 2 Chronicles 3:10–11:22). Clearly, the commandment against graven images was not a ban on the use of religious images in worship.
Interestingly enough, in the only place where Scripture refers specifically to these statements of God as being ten in number (Exodus 34:28), they aren’t called commandments. Literally translated, the Hebrew text speaks instead of ten “words” or “sayings” (see the RSV note on this passage).
With this in mind, we can see how the Jewish people, to whom the Commandments were originally given, have traditionally numbered them in yet a third way. In this enumeration, the first “word” is not a commandment at all, but rather the beginning declaration, “I, the Lord, am your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt” (Exodus 20:2; Deuteronomy 5:6).
This particular approach should serve us as a firm reminder: However we may number the commandments, we shouldn’t let our disagreements in this regard obscure our focus on the One who gave them. Why should we obey the Decalogue? Because through these instructions, the Lord God, our Creator and Redeemer, teaches us how to be holy as He is holy.
Question of the Day for Monday, October 29, 2007
Q. Protestants recite a version of the Our Father with final words that Catholics don’t say: “For Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.” Which version is correct?
K. K., Sarasota, FL
A. The text of this prayer, also known as the Lord’s Prayer, is found in Matthew 6:9–13. The words you cite are known as a concluding doxology (a prayer of praise to God).
Some early manuscripts of this Gospel, both in the original Greek languages and in translations, include these words in various forms, but many do not. Most modern translators of the Bible have concluded that the doxology was not in the original text and should appear, if at all, only in marginal notes. In addition, we should note that a parallel passage in the Gospel of Luke (11:2–11) does not include the doxology.
On the other hand, early Catholic liturgies sometimes concluded the Our Father with some kind of doxology. In the Didache (for more about this ancient Christian text, click here) [Cathy; link to entry for Friday, August 31] we find: “For yours are the power and the glory forever.”
Another ancient Christian text, the Apostolic Constitutions, adds to the beginning of the doxology “the kingdom.” The fourth-century Church Father St. John Chrysostom cites the prayer in this form.
This version is now used in the ordinary form of the Roman rite. The Our Father is prayed, then the doxology is spoken by the assembly after the priest prays: “Deliver us, O Lord, from every evil, and grant us peace in our day. Keep us free from sin and protect us from all anxiety, as we await in joyful hope the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ.” (See also the Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2760, 2855.)
For all these reasons, we can’t really say that one version is “correct” and the other is “incorrect.” Instead, we should view the Our Father, however it’s prayed, as one of the common prayers that unite Christians of all kinds. According to one estimate, on Easter Sunday last year, 1 billion Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant Christians prayed this little prayer in a multitude of languages in churches all around the world. Praise God for that!
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