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Question of the Day for Friday, December 14, 2007
Q. I just heard that the Holy Father has announced a plenary indulgence for the 150th anniversary of Our Lady’s appearances to St. Bernadette at Lourdes. Can you give us details?
A. On December 5, representatives of the Apostolic Penitentiary made the following announcement:
“The forthcoming 150th anniversary of the day in which Mary Most Holy, revealing herself as the Immaculate Conception to Bernadette Soubirous, wished a shrine to be erected and venerated in the place known as ‘Massabielle’ in the town of Lourdes, calls to mind the innumerable series of prodigies through which the supernatural life of souls and the health of bodies has drawn great advantage from the omnipotent goodness of God. … In order to draw increased fruits of renewed sanctity from this holy anniversary, the Supreme Pontiff Benedict XVI has decided to concede the gift of Plenary Indulgence to the faithful under the usual conditions (sacramental Confession, Eucharistic communion and prayer in keeping with the intentions of the Holy Father), in the following way:
“A) If between December 8, 2007, and December 8, 2008, they visit, preferably in the order suggested: (1) the parish baptistery used for the Baptism of Bernadette, (2) the Soubirous family home, known as the ‘cachot,’ (3) the Grotto of Massabielle, (4) the chapel of the hospice where Bernadette received First Communion, and on each occasion they pause for an appropriate length of time in prayer and with pious meditations, concluding with the recital of the Our Father, the Profession of Faith, ... and the jubilee prayer or other Marian invocation.
“B) If between February 2, 2008 ... and February 11, 2008, Feast of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Lourdes and 150th anniversary of the apparition, they visit, in any church, grotto or decorous place, the blessed image of that same Virgin of Lourdes, solemnly exposed for public veneration, and before the image participate in a pious exercise of Marian devotion, or at least pause for an appropriate space of time in prayer and with pious meditations, concluding with the recital of the Our Father, the Profession of Faith, ... and the invocation of the Blessed Virgin Mary.”
The decree also notes that faithful who “through sickness, old age or other legitimate reason are unable to leave their homes, may still obtain the Plenary Indulgence ... if, with the soul completely removed from attachment to any form of sin and with the intention of observing, as soon as they can, the usual three conditions, on the days February 2 to 11, 2008, in their hearts they spiritually visit the above-mentioned places and recite those prayers, trustingly offering to God, through Mary, the sickness and discomforts of their lives.”
Question of the Day for Thursday, December 13, 2007
Q. What exactly is a papal encyclical, and what kind of authority does it have? -- B. Y., via email
A. Our TCA columnist Father Ray Ryland, Ph.D., J.D., has answered that question before in the magazine. Here was his response:
The word “encyclical” comes from a Greek word meaning “a circle.” An encyclical is a circular letter issued by the pope, normally dealing with matters that concern the whole Church. Therefore it is ordinarily addressed to the patriarchs, primates, archbishops and bishops of the universal Church who are in communion with the Holy See. Sometimes an encyclical is simply addressed to all the bishops of the Catholic Church.
On occasion, encyclicals have an even wider range of addressees. Here is one: Pope John Paul II’s encyclical on human work (Laborem exercens, 1981) was addressed “to his venerable brothers in the episcopate, to the priests, to the religious families, to the sons and daughters of the Church, and to all men and women of good will.”
Now, with regard to its authority. In 1998, in his apostolic letter Ad Tuendam Fidem, Pope John Paul II added to the canons of the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Catholic Churches a profession of faith. This profession is to be made by all those who “receive an office that is directly or indirectly related to deeper investigation into the truths of faith and morals, or is united to a particular power in the governance of the Church” (no. 1).
The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith added a commentary to this papal document. The commentary speaks of two classifications of truths to be believed by all Catholics: those solemnly defined by the Church as divinely revealed (the teaching of the extraordinary magisterium), and those to be held definitively as the normal teaching of the Church (the ordinary magisterium).
In a strongly worded statement, the congregation declared that “there is no difference with respect to the full and irrevocable character of the assent which is owed to [both of] these teachings.” The only difference has to do with the virtue of faith. With regard to those truths solemnly proclaimed to be divinely revealed, “the assent is based directly on faith in the authority of the Word of God.” With regard to the teachings of the ordinary magisterium, “the assent is based on faith in the Holy Spirit’s assistance to the magisterium and on the Catholic doctrine of the infallibility of the magisterium” (no. 8).
You will find an earlier statement of this truth in the Second Vatican Council’s Dogmatic Constitution on the Church (Lumen Gentium, no. 25). The council fathers taught that all the faithful are bound to give a “loyal submission of the will and intellect” to “the authentic teaching authority of the Roman Pontiff, even when he does not speak ex cathedra” (emphasis added). In other words, “his supreme teaching authority [must] be acknowledged with respect, and . . . one must ‘sincerely adhere to decisions made by him, conformably with his manifest mind and intention.’”
One final and important point. The congregation stated that if one denies a truth of Catholic doctrine as taught by the extraordinary magisterium or by the ordinary magisterium, that person “would therefore no longer be in full communion with the Catholic Church” (no. 6).
Though Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, speaking for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, did not explain why this is so, the reason is fairly simple. When a person denies one of the Church’s teachings, he thereby takes two other steps fatal to his Catholic faith, even though he may not realize what he has done. First, he denies that the Church has authority from Jesus Christ to proclaim the truth infallibly. If she is wrong in one instance, she cannot possess that authority.
Second, he takes up a non-Catholic stance toward everything else the Church teaches. He makes himself the final authority on what constitutes true Catholicism. He has embraced the Protestant position. Therefore, as the congregation says, he has put himself outside the communion of the Catholic Church, even though he remains a nominal Catholic.
Question of the Day for Wednesday, December 12, 2007
Q. I’ve heard that an archaeological find in Georgia has provided early historical evidence for the cult of Our Lady of Guadalupe, even in a place that far from Mexico. Do you know anything about this? -- J. A., Atlanta, Ga.
A. Most Americans don’t realize that the Catholic faith was established in what’s now the southeastern United States a full two centuries before Blessed Junipero Serra planted Franciscan missions in California. (More about this someday soon.) The discovery you note is an intriguing detail of the larger picture still being assembled by archaeologists and historians attempting to reconstruct the events of that period.
Archaeologists were examining artifacts recovered from a site in northwest Georgia where in 1560 a Spaniard named Ensign Mateo del Sauz had passed through on an expedition to the native chiefdom of Coosa, along the Coosawattee River. They found the remains of a Native American child who had died at an early age, and on his chest was a copper plaque.
Researchers eventually concluded that the plaque had been made in Michoacan, Mexico, and taken to that site on Sauz’s expedition. Infrared, ultraviolet and X-ray tests revealed the figures of three persons on the plate: St. Juan Diego, the Virgin of Guadalupe, and a representation of the devil.
For an extensive discussion of the historical sources for the events associated with Our Lady of Guadalupe, with brief reference to the copper plate in Georgia, click here and here. For more about Our Lady of Guadalupe, click here.
Question of the Day for Tuesday, December 11, 2007
Q. One more question about the fearing God/loving God issue from yesterday (click here). You noted that St. Augustine taught how the fear makes a place for the love, and when the fear has gone, the love remains. Do you suppose that any form of the fear of God remain in our hearts permanently, no matter how perfect our love for God may become? -- M. C., Chattanooga, Tenn.
A. Certainly in the ebb and flow of our earthly progress in the spiritual life, before we reach perfection in heaven, we live from day to day in a varying mix of fear and love toward God. Yet even in eternity, I’m convinced, we’ll never become so familiar with God that we totally lose that “primal” fear of the creature before the Creator, that natural and fitting awe in response to His awesomeness. This particular fear, however, will come to be joined to our love in such a way that the love will actually be transformed by it.
When my son was a preschooler, I used to chase him around the house as a game, roaring like a lion. Being a small child, he felt a genuine chill of fear — Daddy was indeed bigger, faster, stronger and (maybe a little) smarter than he was. But when Daddy finally caught him, scooped him up in his arms, and held him tight in a big, growling, loving hug, the little boy squealed with delight. His fear was one with his love, and that love was heightened and sharpened by the fear.
The creepy chill had become an exquisite thrill. Just imagine, my son exulted; this person who is so terrifyingly big and strong and fast and smart is the same one who loves me and wants me close!
And so it is with God.
Question of the Day for Monday, December 10, 2007
Q. Last week you said the Scripture tells us to “fear the Lord.” But Scripture also tells us: “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love” (1 Jn 4:18). How do we reconcile these biblical texts? -- S. M., Las Vegas, Nev.
A. Yes, Scripture commands us both to love God and to fear Him (for the biblical citations in last week’s discussion about fearing God, click here). [link for entry on Wed., Dec 5] The fear of God is obviously a great good, so how is this fear compatible with the love of God, and how does love “cast out” fear?
First, we must recognize that in the course of obeying God as a result of fear, we come to know Him more deeply. As we imitate God’s ways, we ourselves become like Him, and that allows us to recognize Him for who He is, to understand and appreciate Him more.
Once we know God more intimately, we discover all those things in Him that are so worthy of love. In time, that love grows until it overwhelms the fear.
In a sense, the fear is displaced. St. Catherine of Siena echoed the thoughts of many earlier Catholic teachers when she observed that fear of God begins as the fear of servants toward their master — the fear of punishment. But as love grows, in time we learn instead the fear of friends — that is, fear that something will damage our relationship. We are repelled by whatever would come between us, because we’ve come to love God for Himself.
As St. Catherine pointed out, at the Last Supper Jesus described the growth in their relationship with Him in such terms: “I no longer call you servants …. Instead, I have called you friends” (Jn 15:15).
Meanwhile, the more this fear of God teaches us about ourselves — the more we know our limitations, our sinfulness and the fate we deserve — the more we come to love God for His surpassing mercy and grace. The more holy we become through obedience, the less terrifying His holiness becomes; instead, it appears more attractive to us, more “lovable.”
Finally, the more we obey, the less we need fear the chastisements of God’s justice. This is the specific kind of fear St. John writes about, the fear that “has to do with punishment,” which is “cast out” by love (1 Jn 4:18).
To sum up, we might use the homespun image offered by St. Augustine: A needle pierces cloth but brings the thread behind it, and when the needle is gone, the thread is left behind. Thus the needle makes room for the thread.
Fear of God is a needle, he concluded, and love of God is a thread. The fear pierces the heart painfully, but it makes a place for the love, and when the fear has gone, the love remains.
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