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.
Q. Is it proper that the priest come down from the altar and shake hands with parishioners at the sign of peace during Mass?
N.N., via email
A. Here’s a reply from TCA columnist Father Francis Hoffman, J.C.D.:
A lot depends on the circumstances. The General Instruction of the Roman Missal(GIRM, No. 154) addresses your question in these words:
“The priest may give the sign of peace to the ministers but always remains within the sanctuary, so as not to disturb the celebration. In the dioceses of the United States of America, for a good reason, on special occasions (for example, in the case of a funeral, a wedding, or when civic leaders are present) the priest may offer the sign of peace to a few of the faithful near the sanctuary.”
Use of the Term “Transubstantiation”?
Q. Was the term “transubstantiation” used before the Council of Trent to describe the transformation of bread and wine into Christ’s Body and Blood in the Eucharist?
J.M., via email
A. Yes. The term was in widespread use among theologians by the late twelfth century, and it was formally defined as part of Church dogma by the Fourth Lateran (ecumenical) Council of 1215. The Council of Trent (1545–1563) reaffirmed the dogma in light of Protestant challenges.
Q. Why didn’t they have last names in the Bible?
J.J., Lawrenceville, Ga.
A. Last names (or surnames) are a relatively recent development in history; their use became popular many centuries after biblical times. In Europe, surnames came into use only in the twelfth century. It was several centuries later before the majority of Europeans used them.
The primary purpose of the surname was to distinguish people with the same given (first) name from one another. In thirteenth-century England, for example, about a third of the male population was named William, Richard or John — so you can imagine why surnames were needed!
Some surnames came about through a person’s occupation, such as Baker, Hunter, Fisher, Cook, or Smith. Others came about through nicknames (Long, Short, White, Young) or the residence of the name’s bearer (Woods, Hill, Fields, Ford). Still others came from identifying a person by a parent or other ancestor (Johnson, Williamson, Thompson).
The closest we have to surnames in Scripture is the occasional use of a word or phrase after the given name that identifies someone’s affiliation (“Simon the Zealot,” probably a member of the Zealots, a political party); father (Peter’s original name, “Simon bar Jonah,” means “Simon, son of Jonah”); or residence (“Mary Magdalene” was from the town of Magdala).
One exception to the late historical development of multiple names was the custom among ancient Roman citizens of using three names: the given name (praenomen), the name of the clan (nomen) and the name of the family line within the clan (cognomen). Scripture reflects this custom when it identifies the Roman governor who ordered Jesus’ crucifixion by both his nomen (Pontius) and his cognomen (Pilate).
Other Saints in Apparitions?
Q. Do we have a record of any apparitions in which one of the saints other than Our Lady has appeared?
M.G., via email
A. Yes, we do. In fact, the earliest surviving record of an apparition of the Blessed Mother reports that St. John the Evangelist appeared along with her.
According to St. Gregory of Nyssa, when St. Gregory the Wonderworker (c. 213–268) learned that he was to be made a bishop, he asked God to help him know and teach the true faith, especially about the Blessed Trinity, because there were great heresies raging at the time. Then Gregory had a vision in which John appeared to reassure him and point him to Mary, who also appeared and instructed John to explain the Trinity to Gregory. John gladly complied, and after Gregory’s questions were answered, both John and Our Lady disappeared.
In much more recent times, in the Apparition at Knock, Ireland (August 21, 1879), St. Joseph and St. John the Evangelist appeared alongside Our Lady, several angels, and an altar with a lamb and cross on it.
Apparitions and locutions (words rather visions) have allegedly been received from other saints as well. For example, St. Joan of Arc reportedly was guided at times by the voices of St. Margaret and St. Catherine of Alexandria.
Did Jesus Know?
Q. Did Jesus know He was divine when He was a little boy, let’s say around two years of age?
D.L., Camarillo, Calif.
A. Here’s a reply from TCA columnist Father Ray Ryland, Ph.D., J.D.:
Join me in speculation; that’s all we have with regard to your question. We know from divine revelation that in His earthly life Jesus was like us in all things but sin (see Heb 4:15). This means He perfectly lived a human life. That life necessarily involved continuing development: “And Jesus advanced [in] wisdom and age and favor before God and man” (Lk 2:52).
My opinion is that Jesus at the age of two knew himself to be divine in ways and to the extent that a perfect two-year-old boy would be capable of knowing. But, I think, no more. Otherwise, the Incarnation would be incomplete. He would not have entered fully into the human situation.
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