Q. My question is about some puzzling teachings of other faiths and praying to Mary. I have friends that still — no matter how I try to explain to them about how we honor Mary by praying to her and that that is not our worshiping tool — say she’s dead: ”What’s the use. She won’t hear us. Only Jesus can hear us pray to him.” But God used Mary as the holy vessel to bring Jesus to lost humanity. So she’s to be honored — in this way. How can a Catholic teach on this?
Billie Kuster, Mountain Grove, Mo.
A. Perhaps you can begin by reminding your friends that the Catholic Church is the only Christian tradition which carefully defines its teaching about the faith. Indeed, because of its divine foundation, the Catholic Church is the only tradition which is authorized to teach the authentic Christian faith.
With regard to worship and veneration, the Church clearly distinguishes two terms: latria and dulia. Latria (in Greek, latreia) means “adoration,” “worship.” In the words of the Oxford English Dictionary, latria means “supreme worship which is due to God alone.” Dulia (in Greek, douleia) means “veneration,” “devotion.” Metaphorically speaking, it means to be enthralled. Again, to refer to the Oxford English Dictionary, dulia “is veneration paid by Roman Catholics to saints.”
We venerate (respect, honor, offer dulia to) the recognized saints because of their unique faith and devotion to Our Lord. We treasure the encouragement of their example. The Church uses another version of the word dulia to express our attitude toward the Blessed Virgin. Because she is the immaculate Mother of God, the veneration we offer her, and only her, is called hyperdulia. The prefix hyper means “unusual” or “greatly exceeding the norm.” A synonym for hyper is super.
We Catholics are in some degree responsible for other Christians misunderstanding our prayers to the saints. We commonly ask our Blessed Mother and our favorite saints for all kinds of help. But the fact is, only the Triune God answers prayers. When we invoke the saints, we are asking for their intercession, for their prayer for us. We are asking for their prayers, which will open powerful channels through which the grace of God can work in our lives. Our seeking their prayers is in no sense worshiping them.
The saints, above all our Blessed Mother, are not dead. They are indescribably more alive than are we on earth. They and we are all part of one great family, the Communion of Saints. Therefore, “we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses” (Heb 12:1). They are our heavenly “rooting section.”
Q. My husband and I have close friends who are devout Protestants. They keep reminding us that they and we love the same Lord Jesus. We can come to their church and receive the Lord’s Supper. So why can’t they come to our church and receive Communion? They insist we Catholics must think Protestants are not good enough. How can I explain their exclusion?
Name withheld by request
A. That non-Catholics are not admitted to Communion has nothing to do with their spiritual condition. It implies no judgment about their worthiness to receive Our Lord in the Eucharist.
The reason for exclusion lies in the meaning of the Eucharist itself.
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a clarifying statement on this issue in 1998. “Catholics,” they said, “believe that the celebration of the Eucharist is a sign of the reality of the oneness of faith, life and worship.” In other words, to receive the Eucharist is publicly to declare that one holds the Catholic faith. Given their Protestant faith, it would be dishonest for your friends to make that statement by receiving the Eucharist. The Church’s discipline safeguards their consciences by not allowing them to make that mistake.
In certain exceptional circumstances, non-Catholics may share in the Eucharist, but only according to directives of the local bishop and in accord with canon law, especially Canon 844.
“Called to Be?”
Q. Regarding “Are We All Saints?” (September/October 2011): St. Paul said “called to be” (Rom 1:7, RSV) not “are saints,” as I read it. Father, aren’t substantiated miracles through intercession of certain persons still required for canonization? Canonization distinguishes Saint from saint.
Mercia Kalloch, North Pole, Alaska
A. We must keep in mind your distinction between “Saint” and “saint.” Substantiated miracles due to a saint’s intercession are required for canonization. But the New Testament was written centuries before any canonizations took place.
St. Paul did speak of those “called to be saints” twice: once in Romans 1:7, once in 1 Corinthians 1:1. But “called to be” does not mean “not yet.” The letters of St. Paul otherwise refer to Christians in general as “saints” no less than 38 times. Other similar New Testament references bring the total to 54.
“Saints,” in general, means “holy ones.” We are not only “called” to be “saints”; by virtue of our baptism and confirmation we are “saints,” God’s holy people. The basic question in this regard is: What kind of saints are we? How faithfully do we live and manifest our exalted status?
Did Jesus Walk on Water?
Q. During a sermon one of our deacons was giving, he said it was very important to understand that the Holy Spirit that descended to Mary was not the Third Person of the Holy Trinity. Can you clarify for me and others who this Holy Spirit was?
On another totally different subject, our pastor stated that Jesus did not walk on water, stating that this story was an allegory to demonstrate that God would always be there for us no matter how hard or impossible it seemed.
These things have surprised many in our discussion group. Have we been naive all these past years?
Name withheld by request
A. Are you certain you heard the deacon correctly? I know from long years’ experience that sometimes people misunderstand what one as a homilist is trying to say. If the deacon did make this assertion, perhaps you could ask him how many Holy Spirits he thinks there are. As it stands, of course, it is totally in error. The one Holy Spirit who proceeds from the Father and the Son at one point in time descended upon the Virgin, in whom and from whom God the Son became Incarnate.
The Catholic Church teaches scriptural inerrancy. She teaches that God’s Son did walk on water on at least one occasion. Your pastor teaches the story of Our Lord’s coming to the apostles is purely allegory. Whose testimony do you trust?
Excluding the Blessed Mother?
Q. In the July/August 2011 issue, in “Remembering Heaven?” the statement was made that Our Lord was the only perfectly human person in all of creation. My question is: Does this not exclude our Blessed Mother Mary? If so, how do we explain the Immaculate Conception?
Richard Kosterman, Antigo, Wis.
A. This statement about Our Lord does not exclude the Blessed Virgin. The reason is, it is an incomplete statement. Not only was Our Lord perfectly and fully human; he was also perfectly and fully divine. Our Blessed Mother was perfectly human because she was without sin. She is the example of what you and I should be, could be, were we not infected with original sin and all its consequences.
Q. Would you have information on the charisms of the seven archangels, most especially on four of them not widely known? I have asked different people if they could help on this question but no answers.
Well-known: Sts. Michael, Gabriel, Raphael.
Not well-known: Sts. Uriel, Zadikiel, Chamasiel, Jofiel.
Evelyn Stieber, Dubuque, Iowa
A. The Book of Enoch, written in the centuries before Christ, gives us the earliest reference to a grouping of seven archangels. Neither the Jewish nor the Christian canon of the Old Testament contains this book. (The Ethiopian Orthodox Church does include the Book of Enoch in its Old Testament canon.) The Book of Enoch lists the archangels as Gabriel, Michael, Raphael, Uriel, Raguel, Remiel and Saraqael.” Pope St. Gregory I (Gregory the Great) gives the first Christian reference to seven archangels, listing Gabriel, Michael, Raphael, Uriel (or Anael), Simiel, Oriphiel and Zachariel.
The Catholic tradition honors only the first three in the list of archangels. Michael (“Who is like God?”) is protector of individuals from onslaughts of Satan, especially at the hour of death. He is patron of security forces and of the sick. Gabriel (“God’s strength”) is messenger of God’s comfort, foretelling the birth of John the Baptist and of our Lord Jesus Christ. He is patron of telecommunications and the postal service. Raphael (“God’s remedy” or “God has healed”) is patron of travelers and of the blind.
What Does “Await” Mean?
Q. There is a portion of the celebrant’s prayer in the Communion rite which has puzzled me since we first began using the new missal. It’s the phrase “as we await the blessed hope.” I keep wondering what is the content of “that blessed hope.” Any suggestions?
Name withheld by request
A. I too have often thought about this phrase. The verb “await” itself means “to expect,” “wait for,” “look for.” To await, it seems to me, is itself an act of hope. Surely, by this phrase, the liturgy means more than hoping for a hope.
As St. Paul might say, “I have no word from the Lord on this,” but I think we have here another example of what’s called Hebrew parallelism. Especially in the Psalms, very often the same thought is stated twice, the second version slightly varying in wording from the first. A familiar example is Psalm 8:5, “What is man that you should be mindful of him, or the son of man that you should care for him?” “Son of man” simply means “man.”
If this phrase in question does follow the pattern of parallelism, then “blessed hope” would be simply another way of speaking of Our Lord.
The Father or Jesus?
Q. When I pray, am I praying to our Father, Our Lord, or Jesus? I know our Father is creator of heaven and earth.
If Father and Son and Holy Spirit are one person, how could Jesus come to suffer for us? Wouldn’t that be the Father suffering? If you could help with this, I would be so grateful.
Beverly Peterson, Mondovi, Wis.
A. All prayer, ultimately, is addressed to the Father. Yet we must pray through the Son. “No one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son wishes to reveal him” (Mt 11:27).
The power to pray comes to us from the Holy Spirit. “The Spirit too comes to the aid of our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit itself intercedes inexpressible groanings … the Spirit, because it intercedes for the holy ones according to God’s will” (Rom 8:26-27). We pray to the Father through the Son by the power of the Holy Spirit.
The Father, Son and Holy Spirit are one God, but they are three Persons. By the theological principle of “appropriation,” we attribute certain operations to each one of the divine Persons, though all operations are those of the one God. Following the data of revelation, we speak of God as “Father,” of Son as “Redeemer,” of Holy Spirit as “Sanctifier.” By virtue of His incarnation, through His passion and death, the Son redeems the human race and, indeed, the whole of the cosmos.
Florence vs. Vatican II?
Q. I teach some RCIA classes and was asked the following question. Why do the decrees of the Council of Florence (1438-1445) and of the Second Vatican Council, regarding salvation outside the Catholic Church, seem to be contradictory?
Florence teaches, “It firmly believes, professes and preaches that all those who are outside the Catholic Church, not only pagans but also Jews or heretic and schismatics, cannot share in eternal life and will go into the everlasting fire which was prepared for the devil and his angels, unless they are joined to the Catholic Church before the end of their lives.” On the other hand, Vatican II teaches in summary that non-Catholic Christians as well as non-Christians can achieve salvation outside the Catholic Church. How can both these seemingly contradictory teachings be infallible?
Damien Durbin, via email
A. There is no contradiction between the teaching of these two official sources. We must distinguish between the teaching of the Council of Florence, which refers to the means of salvation, and the Vatican II teaching, which refers to the scope of salvation.
First, Vatican II and the scope of salvation: Every religion, no matter how primitive or limited, has some truth of God. As Romans 1 assures us, every person has some knowledge of God. Every person can be saved if he or she responds to God as best he or she can on the basis of the best knowledge he or she has of God. Wherever any of God’s truth is to be found, it will always be present by virtue of the revealing activity of God’s Word. This is why we know that all salvation comes through Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Word.
Now to the Council of Florence and the means of salvation: Jesus Christ redeemed the world through His natural body and no other. Until the end of time He will apply that redemption to individuals through His supernatural body, the Mystical Body, the Church, and through no other. Through the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Blessed John Paul II taught that Jesus Christ and His universal redemption cannot be separated from His Church. In other words, the Catholic Church “has, in God’s plan, an indispensable relationship with the salvation of every human being” (Dominus Iesus , No. 20).
The phrase used by the Council of Florence, “outside the Catholic Church,” is subject to misunderstanding. It does not mean that anyone who is not an actual member of the Catholic Church is forever lost. Rather, it means there is no salvation apart from Jesus Christ as he reveals himself through His mystical body, the Catholic Church. Only the truth of Jesus Christ is redemptive. Only through His mystical body, in His own ways, does He make that truth known.
Quoting Vatican II’s Lumen Gentium, the Catechism of the Catholic Church sums up the means of salvation. The Catholic Church “‘is taken up by him [Christ] also as the instrument for the salvation of all,’ ‘the universal sacrament of salvation,’ by which Christ is ‘at once manifesting and actualizing the mystery of God’s love for men’” (No. 776).
Q. The Letter of St. James tells us, “You ask but do not receive, because, you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions” (4:3). Is this the definitive statement explaining why prayers are not answered and that we should not pray for anything for ourselves?
Ronald Cooper, Sergeant Bluff, Iowa
A. This verse in James tells us God will not answer requests which reflect purely selfish desires. Our infinitely loving Father will not grant such requests because granting them would be harmful to us.
On the other hand, this verse does not explain why some prayers seem to receive no answer.
Someone has said, perhaps a bit simplistically, that God always gives one of three answers to our prayers: “yes,” “no” or “not now.” Legitimate prayers may seem to receive no answer because we are not really listening, or perhaps even because we don’t like what we hear God telling us. Certainly we are encouraged in sacred Scripture to pour out our hearts to God repeatedly: “Pray without ceasing” (1 Thes 5:17).
Catholics and Predestination?
Q. What is the Catholic position on predestination, and how does it differ from the Calvinist position? I have felt for a long, long time that I must be one of the damned as I have not received the gift of faith.
Name withheld by request
A. The Calvinist doctrine of (double) predestination holds that some are predestined for heaven, some for hell. This, of course, denies scriptural assurances that God wants all men to be saved. It also denies the reality of free will. Strictly understood, it denies free will.
The Catholic doctrine of predestination holds that God intends that all men should be saved, but all remain free to reject him if they so choose. The fact that God knows the future does not lessen the reality of free will. “To God, all moments of time are present in their immediacy. When therefore he establishes his eternal plan of ‘predestination,’ he includes in it each person’s free response to his grace” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 600).
You must not think of yourself as “damned.” Only the person who clearly rejects God right up through the moment of death is damned. How earnestly have you prayed? What have you done to enable you to receive the gift of faith? TCA
What is Begotten?
Q. I have a question. For a long time I have searched for a definition of “begotten,” but have not seen a written definition. Also, if you could, I would like a written definition of “proceeds” as the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son.
Name withheld, Frazier Park, Calif.
A. May I offer an explanation rather than a written definition of these terms? First, the word “begotten.” It’s the past participle of the verb “to beget.” Though we don’t often use the word “beget,” we all know what it means. “To beget” is to become the parent of something of the same nature as yourself. A man may make a table or a chair; he begets a son or daughter.
When we speak of Our Lord as “the only begotten Son of the Father,” we mean He is of the same nature as His Father. The Nicene Creed places greatest emphasis on this fact: “God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, consubstantial with the Father.”
Again, the Creed speaks of “the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son.” Consider this: The Father eternally loves the Son with a love which perfectly expresses all that the Father is. The Son eternally loves the Father with a love which perfectly expresses all that the Son is. That love which eternally flows between Father and Son is also a Person, the Holy Spirit. Another way of referring to this flow of love which is the third divine Person is to say the Holy Spirit “proceeds” from the Father and from the Son.
After the Eastern Churches, generically known now as Eastern Orthodox, went into schism from Rome, they rejected the Latin term filioque, which means “and from the Son.” They now claim to believe the Holy Spirit “proceeds from the Father” only. You can see, I think, that their usage does not fully express the reality of the Blessed Trinity. The Holy Spirit is the love which flows between Father and Son. Therefore, we must say He “proceeds” both from the Father and from the Son.
Descended into Hell?
Q. The Apostles’ Creed states that Jesus descended into hell and on the third day rose and ascended into heaven. Is this true about “descending into hell”? I cannot understand that part. Please explain.
Elaine, via email
A. This terminology of the Apostles’ Creed can be misleading. According to the original Greek form of the prayer, Jesus descended into hades. This word does not mean “hell” in the ordinary sense. It was used to translate the Hebrew word sheol. Both refer to the place of departed spirits, not the state of damnation. We read in 1 Peter 3:19 the account of Jesus’ “descent”: “he also went to preach to the spirits in prison” — that is to say, in “hades,” or in “sheol.” Our Lord went backward in time, so to speak, to take the Gospel to those who had not received Him but who served God as best they could in their circumstances.
Father Ray Ryland, Ph.D., J.D., serves as chaplain for several national Catholic apostolates, an adjunct professor of theology at Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio, and an assistant pastor at St. Peter’s Church in the same city.