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Witness at a Non-Catholic Wedding?
Q. There have been so many changes and exceptions made in the Church about weddings. I have been asked by a family member to be matron of honor at a non-Catholic ceremony. Can I do that?
I said no because I didn’t think I could. But she said others have, and it is okay. I plan on asking my pastor tomorrow, but I thought I’d ask so that others get the same answer.
N.N., via email
A. Here’s a reply from TCA columnist Father Francis Hoffman, J.C.D.:
There certainly has been a great deal of confusion about what the Church teaches about marriage, but if you examine the facts carefully, the Church has not made any significant changes or exceptions about marriage in its teachings. Nor can the Church change on this sacrament because it was instituted by Christ.
Yet thank you for asking that question because many Catholics face the same situation. In short, you may be the witness (in this case, the matron of honor), of any marriage that you consider to be valid, Catholic or not. You can not be the matron of honor at an invalid marriage.
Generally, non-Catholics can marry validly in any kind of ceremony (we’ll leave aside here the discussion of marriage rituals for the Orthodox), but Catholics must marry in a Catholic ceremony unless they have a specific dispensation from the required canonical form from the competent ecclesiastical authority. That official dispensation would normally be communicated on a Church certificate embossed with the bishop’s seal.
Your pastor will know the answer, but the question is still helpful for others.
How Were the Jews Enslaved?
Q. I was in a discussion yesterday in a Catholic faith-sharing group and this question came up: How did the Israelites come to be Egyptian slaves, and how long were they in captivity until Moses led them out of Egypt? Where can this be found in the Bible?
H.V., via email
A. The last portion of the Book of Genesis (chapters 37–50) tells us that Abraham’s grandson, Jacob (also called Israel) immigrated with his extended family (the earliest Israelites) to Egypt to escape the famine in the Promised Land, Canaan. They found a place of refuge there because many years before, Jacob’s son, Joseph, had been sold as a slave by his brothers to a merchant caravan. By God’s providence, Joseph had ended up in Egypt and eventually risen to become the Egyptian Pharaoh’s trusted right-hand man.
The first chapter of Exodus tells the next part of the story:
“Now Joseph and all his brothers and that whole generation died. But the Israelites were fruitful and prolific. They became so numerous and strong that the land was filled with them.
“Then a new king [Pharaoh], who knew nothing of Joseph, came to power in Egypt. He said to his subjects, ‘Look how numerous and powerful the Israelite people are growing, more so than we ourselves! Come, let us deal shrewdly with them to stop their increase; otherwise, in time of war they too may join our enemies to fight against us, and so leave our country.’
“Accordingly, taskmasters were set over the Israelites to oppress them with forced labor. … Yet the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and spread. The Egyptians, then, dreaded the Israelites and reduced them to cruel slavery, making life bitter for them with hard work in mortar and brick and all kinds of field work — the whole cruel fate of slaves” (Ex 1:6-14).
Historians of ancient Egypt tell us that some portions of the land were ruled for a period by a foreign dynasty, a Semitic people related to the Canaanites. Some have speculated that the Pharaoh who made Joseph his national administrator may have been part of that dynasty. If so, when these foreign rulers were finally overthrown and replaced by native rulers (“a new king, who knew nothing of Joseph”), we can imagine that the Israelite immigrants from Canaan would have been despised and feared as former collaborators with the foreign regime.
Praying for the Dead?
Q. The Bible addresses what to do after the death of a loved one in Sirach 38:20: “Turn not your thoughts to him again; cease to recall him.”
The Councils of Lyons and Florence both affirmed that souls go immediately after death to heaven, hell or purgatory.
However, the modern tradition in most Catholic parishes is to encourage Masses to be offered and for prayers to continue for the deceased. This seems to contradict the two positions noted.
D.H., El Paso, Ill.
A. Masses and prayers have been offered for the dead in the Catholic Church since ancient times, as attested by ancient tombstones as well as texts. These sacrifices and prayers are offered because those who have died in friendship with God, but not yet perfected in holiness, need our prayers as they are purged of the effects of their sins — the process called purgatory. The two councils you note in fact affirm that ancient practice, because they teach that one of the three immediate destinations of those who have died is purgatory. The suffering souls there need our prayers.
As for the verse you quote from Sirach, let’s read the passage in context:
“My son, shed tears for one who is dead with wailing and bitter lament; as is only proper, prepare the body, absent not yourself from his burial: Weeping bitterly, mourning fully, pay your tribute of sorrow, as he deserves, one or two days, to prevent gossip; then compose yourself after your grief, for grief can bring on an extremity and heartache destroy one’s health. Turn not your thoughts to him again; cease to recall him; think rather of the end. Recall him not, for there is no hope of his return; it will not help him, but will do you harm. Remember that his fate will also be yours; for him it was yesterday, for you today. With the departed dead, let memory fade; rally your courage, once the soul has left” (Sirach 38:16-23).
Clearly, the point of the passage is not that we shouldn’t pray for the dead. The point is that grief should not be excessive and unending, that we should not ceaselessly pine for the deceased, that we must not forever fret over our loss.
If we need confirmation that Scripture isn’t telling us to refrain from praying for the dead, we need only read another biblical passage. The twelfth chapter of 2 Maccabees praises a Jewish general for encouraging the people to offer prayers and sacrifices for the deceased, calling it “a holy and pious” thing to “make atonement for the dead that they might be freed from this sin” (12:45-46).
Was “Jesus” His Familiar Name?
Q. The name “Jesus” was a very common name in Jesus’ time. Was this the name that was used by His family and friends?
M.N., via email
A. The actual derivation of our Lord’s name has been debated. Most scholars have assumed that it was a Hebrew/Aramaic name, given Jesus’ Jewish origins, though a few early Christian writers believed that it was originally Greek (the common tongue of that part of the Roman Empire into which He was born). I think the Hebrew/Aramaic derivation to be the most likely.
If that is indeed the case, the English form of Our Lord’s personal name, Jesus, comes to us by way of the Latin form Iesus, itself from the New Testament Greek form Iesous, from the original Hebrew and Aramaic form Yeshua or Yehoshua. When the Hebrew form of the name is translated directly into English (in the Old Testament documents, for example), it’s usually rendered Joshua or Jeshua.
Yeshua and Yehoshua were, as you note, rather common names in Jesus’ time among His people. I see no reason to doubt that this would have been the name used by His family and friends, at least during His earlier years. (Judging from the Gospels, after His public ministry began, those friends who were also His disciples tended to address Him as either “Lord” or “Rabbi.”)
Of course, we must recall as well the common practice in many cultures of using diminutives, nicknames or other terms of endearment, especially for children. Perhaps in His childhood Our Lord went by a short version of Yeshua, the same way we often use Josh as a short form of Joshua.
Why Sunday Instead of Saturday?
Q. Why did the Church change the day of worship from Saturday (the Jewish Sabbath) to Sunday?
L.M., via email
A. Here’s a reply from TCA columnist Father Ray Ryland, Ph.D., J.D.:
God commanded the ancient Israelites to worship and rest on Saturday, the seventh day of the week, known as the Sabbath (see Ex 20:8–11). But Sunday, the first day of the week, has been the Christian day of worship from the very beginning of the Church. The Book of Acts almost casually refers to the first day of the week as the day to “break bread” (20:7).
The basic reason for this arrangement is that our Lord rose from the dead on Sunday, the first day of the week (see Mt 28:1; Mk 16:1; Lk 24:1; Jn 20:1). Sunday therefore has always been “the Lord’s Day” for Christians, as St. John refers to it in the Book of Revelation (1:10).
St. Ignatius of Antioch, writing to the Church at Magnesia around the year A.D. 110, spoke as well of the Christian day of worship, Sunday, as the “Lord’s Day”: “Those who lived according to the old order of things have come to a new hope, no longer keeping the [seventh-day] Sabbath, but the Lord’s Day, in which our life is blessed by him and by his death” (see the Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2175).
St. Justin Martyr, writing a generation later, also witnessed to Christians’ worship on “the Lord’s Day.” “We all gather on the day of the sun [Sunday],” he wrote, “for it is the first day [after the Jewish Sabbath, but also the first day] when God, separating matter from darkness, made the world; and on this same day Jesus Christ our Savior rose from the dead” (CCC, 2174).
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