Each day during the week of October 22 through 26, you'll find a new question and answer. Check back every weekday 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. Some of my Protestant acquaintances accuse the Catholic Church of not interpreting the Bible “literally.” What should I say to them?
K.L., Houston, TX
A. Here’s a reply from Father Ray Ryland, Ph.D., J.D., one of our columnists for The Catholic Answer:
Perhaps you should begin by asking for specific reasons why your Protestant friends make this claim. You can turn this charge back on them by asking them, for example, if they literally interpret John 6 (“eat my flesh, drink my blood”), and if not, why not.
It would be far more important, however, for you to explain to them how the Catholic Church does interpret Scripture. Sections 109-119 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church will tell you that the Catholic Church has always concentrated both on the literal and on the spiritual senses of Scripture.
There are three facets or three dimensions to the spiritual sense of Scripture. One the Church calls the allegorical sense, in which we see events of the Old Testament, for example, prefiguring Jesus Christ and his mission of salvation. The common example given in the Catechism is that the Israelites’ crossing of the Red Sea points to, is a sign of, Christian baptism.
Another is the moral (or tropological) sense, which leads us to act virtuously.
The third is the anagogical sense (from the Greek word for “leading”). This third sense involves seeing the eternal dimension of events recorded in Scripture, and letting that vision impel us on our way to heaven. Again, the Catechism example is Scripture’s pointing to the Catholic Church as a sign of the heavenly Jerusalem.
A very helpful explanation of all this is Mark Shea’s Making Senses Out of Scripture (Basilica Press, 1999).
In the meantime, always remember: Both the literal sense and these three spiritual senses can be properly understood only under the guidance of the Church, who is the divinely appointed custodian of revelation.
In his Essay on the Development of Doctrine (chapter 7), John Cardinal Newman shows that in the early Church, those persons who insisted on the literal interpretation alone invariably wound up in heresy. He reminds us that the school of Antioch, the foremost training center for literal interpretation in the early centuries, was “the very metropolis of heresy.”
Drawing on his vast knowledge of Church history, Newman wrote: “It may be almost laid down as an historical fact, that the mystical [what we call the spiritual] interpretation and orthodoxy will stand or fall together.”
Question of the Day for Thursday, October 25, 2007
Q. What exactly is a papal encyclical?
A. The word “encyclical” comes from a Greek word meaning “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 other occasions, it’s addressed to the hierarchy of a particular country (for example, the encyclical of Pope Leo XIII addressed “to the English” in 1896: Apostolicae Curae, “On the Nullity of Anglican Orders”).
Occasionally, encyclicals have an even wider range of audience. For example, the encyclical of Pope John Paul II 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.”
To find the full texts of particular encyclicals, click here, here and here.
Question of the Day for Wednesday, October 24, 2007
Q. If a priest in a state of mortal sin celebrates Mass or provides other sacraments, are these still valid?
B.Q., San Diego, CA
A. Here’s a reply from Father Francis Hoffman, JCD, a canon lawyer and columnist for The Catholic Answer:
Yes, they are valid, as long as the minister of the sacrament intends to do what the Church does. The theological principle at work here is ex opere operato, explained in the Catechism of the Catholic Church this way:
“The sacraments act ex opere operato (literally: ‘by the very fact of the action’s being performed’). … It follows that ‘the sacrament is not wrought by the righteousness of either the celebrant or the recipient, but by the power of God.’ From the moment that a sacrament is celebrated in accordance with the intention of the Church, the power of Christ and His Spirit acts in and through it, independently of the personal holiness of the minister” (no. 1128).
Nevertheless, the personal holiness and piety of the priest can have a huge impact on the lives of the faithful he serves. For that reason priests are encouraged to celebrate the holy sacrifice of the Mass daily, go to confession regularly and pray frequently.
Question of the Day for Tuesday, October 23, 2007
Q. I remember from my youth a popular song entitled “When the Swallows Come Back to Capistrano.” I’ve heard that this refers to some annual event related to the old California mission of St. John Capistrano. What’s the connection?
G. H., New York, NY
A. Today is the memorial of San Juan (St. John) Capistrano (1386–1456). He was a Franciscan preacher, reformer and soldier who helped lead the Christian army at the Battle of Belgrade (1456), a significant military engagement in which the Muslim Turks were prevented from overtaking that city and overrunning Europe. One of the old Spanish Franciscan missions in California, San Juan Capistrano, was named for him.
The roof of that mission’s chapel collapsed during an earthquake in 1812. But the exposed stone arches have long made a wonderful nesting place for migrating cliff swallows, which flock to the ruins every year with great regularity to build their little mud nests on or near St. Joseph’s Day (March 19).
Local legend has it that long ago, after the town grew up around the little mission, a merchant in town chased the little birds away from his store one day and knocked down their “dirty” nests. But a kind padre at the mission who witnessed the event invited them to nest at the mission instead — and that’s been their home ever since.
When the swallows arrive each spring, great crowds gather from all over the world to welcome them with church bells ringing, a great fiesta and a parade. The birds remain there till October, leaving again each year around St. John’s day, to return to their other home in Goya, Corrientes, Argentina. It’s a remarkable 7,500-mile trip they complete in only 30 days!
For more information, click here.
Question of the Day for Monday, October 22, 2007
Q. Does the Church teach that only Catholics can be saved?
Y.M., St. Louis, MO
A. The Church accepts Christ’s declaration that He is “the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through” Him (John 14:6). She also recalls His words to her that warn those who would turn away from her: “Whoever rejects you rejects me. And whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me” (Luke 10:16).
If Jesus Christ is the only way to salvation, and the Church is His body on earth, we can understand why the Church fathers often declared: “Outside the Church there is no salvation.” Put another way: “All salvation comes from Christ the Head through the Church which is His body” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 846).
Does this mean that only Catholics can be saved? No. The Second Vatican Council made the following affirmations about the possibility of salvation for those outside the Catholic Church:
Those who know that God founded the Catholic Church through Christ as the necessary means to salvation, yet still refuse to enter it or remain in it, cannot be saved (Lumen Gentium, 14).
“Those who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or His Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and, moved by grace, try in their actions to do His will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience — those too may achieve eternal salvation” (Lumen Gentium, 16, emphasis added).
“Although in ways known to himself God can lead those, who through no fault of their own, are ignorant of the Gospel, to that faith without which it is impossible to please Him, the Church still has the obligation and also the sacred right to evangelize all men” (Ad gentes, 7).
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