TCA Faith for July/August 2012

Building the Pyramids?

Q. A friend of mine, a burgeoning history major and committed liberal intellectual, has informed me that the Jews were not slaves in Egypt, nor did they “build” the Pyramids. I have no information on this beyond the text of Scripture and responded noncommittally. Beyond study Bibles and such, what could I refer to, or refer him to, in order to better clarify this?  

J.M., via e-mail  

A. The Bible does not report that the Hebrew slaves built the Pyramids. In Exodus 1:8-14 we read about the Hebrew people being enslaved and forced to build Pithom and Raamses, supply cities for Pharaoh. 

The burden of proof for disputing this record lies on your friend. Ask him for his sources. Any good history of the Old Testament people will confirm the biblical record. A reputable older history is that of John Bright, a Presbyterian scholar. 

Praying the Rosary Daily?

Q. Why do we never hear priests tell us to pray the Rosary daily as Mary told us to do at Fátima? 

Kevin, via e-mail  

A. Because praying the Rosary can be such a powerful means of intercession, all of us should make use of it. We priests generally have been negligent in not more actively encouraging the praying of the Rosary. Though praying the Rosary is strongly recommended by the Church, we are in no sense bound to use it. The revelation at Fátima is private revelation, and therefore binding only on the person(s) who received it. 

More on “Ever Virgin”

Q. In our discussions about Jesus, my Protestant friend tells me they cannot understand why Catholics believe Mary was “ever virgin.” The New Testament, they say, plainly speaks of Mary’s sons and daughters. They even gave me a list of references to Jesus’ “brothers” (Mt 12:46; 13:55; Mk 3:31; Lk 8:19; Jn 2:12; 7:3-10; Acts 1:14; 1 Cor 9:5) and His “sisters” (Mt 13:56; Mk 6:33). What can I say in response to defend the Church’s teaching? 

Name withheld by request, via e-mail  

A. In both the Old and the New Testaments the words used for “brother” and “sister” are ambiguous. They could mean blood brother and blood sister. They could also mean near-kinsman or near-kinswoman. The Church has always testified that these references to brothers and sisters denote relatives, not children, of Jesus’ mother. 

At the Annunciation our Blessed Mother was astonished at being told she was to bear a son. “How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?” (Lk 1:34). An ordinary young woman about to be married would hardly be surprised to be told she would become a mother. The Church tells us that the Blessed Virgin’s astonishment attested to her intention perpetually to remain virgin after her marriage to Joseph.  

As he was dying on the cross, Jesus gave His mother into the keeping of His apostle John. Had Mary had other children, in that culture it would have been a terrible public insult to them for Jesus to entrust His mother not to them but to St. John. 

In her life on this earth, the Blessed Virgin was “ever virgin.” 

“Two-way Traffic”?

Q. In a conversation with an Episcopal friend, I happened to mention several former Episcopal clergy who have come into the Church and been ordained priests. My friend reminded me that large numbers of Catholics (clergy and laity) have become Episcopalians. “So,” he said, “never forget that there is two-way traffic between your church and mine.” This subject may come up again. What do you suggest my response should be? 

Name withheld by request, via e-mail  

A. Try to find a copy of a book entitled “Finding Home: Stories of Roman Catholics Entering the Episcopal Church,” edited by Christopher Webber (Cowley Publications, 1997). It contains the accounts of, and lengthy quotations from, a dozen or so former Catholics (including four Catholic priests) who became Episcopalians. Read it before you lend it to your friend. Then without comment ask his reaction to it. 

Two themes stand out clearly in each of the chapters. One is subjectivism. All the contributors speak of what they did not like in the Church’s teaching. Several, and all four priests, objected to the Church’s condemnation of artificial contraception. What attracted them all was not any particular doctrines they found in the Episcopal Church, but rather the absence of Catholic doctrines they did not like. 

The name of “God” does not appear in any of the accounts. Nor does the word “truth.” According to the editor, the Episcopal Church’s advantage over the Catholic Church is that Episcopalians are free to choose what to believe and how to behave. The issue of what God has revealed, or how that revelation binds us as Christians, is never mentioned in the book. 

(The Episcopal Church offers such totally subjective and easy terms as these. A cynic might ask, Why isn’t the denomination flooded with converts? Why has Episcopal Church membership shrunk by more than 30 percent in recent decades? A realist would answer, the Episcopal Church is a shrinking denomination precisely because of its subjectivism.) 

The other and companion theme of subjectivism is ambiguity. The editor explains that many converts to the Episcopal Church from the Catholic Church are “searching for a church that seems better able to live with some ambiguity in the sexual arena.” (Now the real reason for most of these conversions to the Episcopal Church begins to emerge.) 

If your friend will read “Finding Home,” then ask him to read the conversion story of a former Episcopal priest or two. You can find these stories in “Surprised by Truth,” by Patrick Madrid. He followed that book up with “Surprised by Truth 2” and “Surprised by Truth 3.” Tell your friend you agree that there are two streams of traffic between the Episcopal Church and the Catholic Church. But remind him that the stories in “Finding Home” clearly show the two streams are entirely different in every respect. 

Finally, give your friend this challenge: “Show me one Catholic who is well-informed about his faith, devoutly practices his faith, obediently and joyfully accepts the authority of the Catholic Church and all she teaches. Show me one Catholic like that who reads widely and prays hard and comes to this unshakeable conclusion — namely, that the Church which Jesus Christ established, to which He entrusted all His truth, all His authority, is in fact not the Catholic Church. It is the Episcopal Church. Show me one Roman Catholic like that who reluctantly leaves the Catholic Church simply and solely because he has discovered the Episcopal Church is the one true Church of Jesus Christ.”

It’s a safe challenge. You will never find a Catholic-turned-Episcopalian who fits this description. 

The Septuagint

Q. I am looking for an online English translation of the Catholic version of the “Greek Septuagint.” Do you know where I could find that?  

Pierre Boudreaux, via e-mail  

A. Dating from the middle of the third century B.C., the Septuagint is a translation from Hebrew to Greek of what we know as the Old Testament. Its name reflects the legend that it was made by 70 translators, working simultaneously. From the Church’s beginning, this translation has been her Old Testament. Your copy of a Catholic Bible will give you that Septuagint.  

In a council at Jamnia in A.D. 90, a group of Jewish scholars, on their own authority (they had none other), defined a shorter canon. They eliminated some portions of the Septuagint. Martin Luther adopted the Jewish canon because he did not like certain passages in books which the Jewish council had eliminated. His arbitrary action is the source of the shorter Old Testament used by Protestants.  

Why Two “Ordinances?”

Q. Why do Protestants refer to only two “ordinances,” baptism and communion, as opposed to the Catholic tradition of seven sacraments? Is there a biblical reference to the seven sacraments? I realize that the early Church Fathers recognized these sacraments from time immemorial, but I’ve had many Protestants debate this issue with me. Mostly because, as you know, they do not recognize the historical, but rely on sola Scriptura and sola fide as their defense to the Catholic tradition/doctrines of the seven sacraments. 

Rev. Father Bruce, via e-mail  

A. “Anything to be different from Catholicism!” helps explain much of the Protestant reconstruction of the Christian faith. Sola Scriptura is nowhere to be found in Scripture. It is an impossibility. Like any other writing, Scripture has to be interpreted. And interpretation can take place only by using someone’s presuppositions and background. As you probably know, none of the so-called reformers would accept any interpretation of Scripture but his own. As for sola fide, Martin Luther invented the doctrine. He justified it by adding the Greek word for “alone” to the text of Romans 3:28. 

A few years ago a Catholic publisher issued a book entitled “The Biblical Basis of the Catholic Faith.” Knowing the publisher, I wrote him protesting to the title, because it is misleading. 

I said the book should have been entitled “Biblical Reflections of the Catholic Faith.” The publisher answered quickly with only two words: “You’re right.”  

In this context, the term “bible” is used primarily to denote the New Testament. The Catholic Church’s teachings are not “based” on the Bible for a very simple reason. Members of the Catholic Church wrote the New Testament. Therefore Catholic teachings are bound to be reflected in the Church’s book. The Catechism of the Catholic Church details the many New Testament references to each of the seven sacraments.

Lefevbrite Reasoning?

Q. One of the major arguments of Archbishop Marcel Lefevbre and his organization, SSPX (Society of St. Pius X), against the deliberations and decisions of the Second Vatican Council is that Vatican II was a mere “pastoral council.” It’s my understanding that any council of the Catholic Church is at one and the same time pastoral, ecumenical and dogmatic, and that that is a view that began with the Council of Jerusalem. Where did Archbishop Lefevbre and the SSPX find their sources to back this rather self-serving position? 

Robert Mallinger, Clinton, Iowa 

A. A dogmatic council is one which specifically defines, and makes plain it is defining, distinct matters of faith and morals. Vatican II was explicitly a pastoral council.  

The most important document of Vatican II was the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church (Lumen Gentium). Just days before the final version of this constitution was voted on, the secretary general of the council issued this announcement: 

“A query has been made as to what is the theological qualification to be attached to the teaching put forward in the schema The Church, on which a vote is to be taken. The doctrinal commission has replied to this query in appraising the modi proposed to the third chapter of the schema The Church. [Chapter 3 discusses ‘The Church As Hierarchical.’]” 

Then the secretary general quoted from a declaration by the doctrinal commission on March 6, 1964: 

“Taking into account conciliar practice and the pastoral purpose of the present council, the sacred synod defined as binding on the Church only those matters of faith and morals which it has expressly put forward as such.” 

In fact, Vatican II did not explicitly issue any definition of faith and morals. The Lefevbrists have seized on this fact to justify their divergence from what the council did teach. They say, in effect, “If it’s not solemnly defined, we’re not bound by it.” They try to ignore the remainder of the doctrinal commission’s statement, which is as follows:

“Whatever else it [the council] proposes as the teaching of the supreme magisterium of the Church is to be acknowledged and accepted by each and every member of the faithful [‘Lefebvrists, are you listening?’] according to the mind of the council which is clear from the subject matter and its formulation, following the norms of theological interpretation.” 

Like all dissenters who still call themselves “Catholics,” the Lefevbrists have become Protestants: “Don’t listen to the Church; listen to us. We’ll tell you what is the authentic faith.” [Martin Luther, welcome your new converts!] 

Masses for Non-Catholics?

Q. As Catholics, are we permitted to have a Mass offered for a non-Catholic? If not, what are we allowed to do to pray for the repose of their soul? 

Name withheld by request, via e-mail  

A. Certainly we can, and should be willing to, pray for any person, Catholic or non-Catholic or non-Christian. So far as I know, the Church has never forbidden us to have a Mass offered for non-Catholics. 

What Can Deacons Do?

Q. Quick question about deacons. I know they can give homilies, but what sacraments can they celebrate? Can they give blessings like a priest? 

Marcus, via e-mail  

A. Deacons are empowered to celebrate the Sacraments of Baptism and Matrimony. Though they cannot celebrate the anointing of the sick, they are considered ordinary ministers of viaticum (administering the Blessed Sacrament to those critically ill or near death).

Is Doubting a Sin?

Q. At times, I find myself questioning God’s existence. During these periods of doubt, I continue to pray daily and attend Sunday Masses. I also brought the subject up during my last confession. I was assured what I had thought was true; that most Christian people have doubts concerning God’s existence sometime during their lives. 

My question is: When is doubting a serious sin? I understand there are two types, voluntary and involuntary? Can you provide examples of when doubting becomes a mortal sin? 

George, via e-mail  

A. The distinction you make between two types of doubt is clearly spelled out in the Catechism: “Voluntary doubt about the faith disregards or refuses to hold as true what God has revealed and the Church proposes for belief” (No. 2088). This kind of doubt, persistently held, could lead to entirely cutting oneself off from God, and thereby lapsing into mortal sin. 

“Involuntary doubt refers to hesitation in believing, difficulty in overcoming objections connected with the faith, or also anxiety aroused by its obscurity” (also No. 2088). Evidently your doubts are primarily involuntary. Many helps are available: regular reading of Scripture, daily prayer, adoration before the Blessed Sacrament. 

Above all, you must discuss your doubts with God in prayer. Open your heart and mind to Him and tell Him exactly what you’re thinking and feeling. Don’t let your doubts remain as a vague uneasiness. Hold them up before God and ask Him to resolve them for you. Doubts may arise in circumstances where you cannot engage in prayer at that moment. Don’t leave them lurking in the shadows of your mind. Cast them out, with a determination to tell God all about them at the first opportunity. 

Who Has Seen God?

Q. There seem to be contradictions in Scripture as to whether anyone can, or has, seen God: 

John 1:18: “No one has ever seen God.” 

Exodus 33:11: “The Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, as one man speaks to another.” 

Exodus 33:20: “But my face you cannot see, for no man sees me and still lives.” 

Exodus 33:23: “Then I will remove my hand, so that you may see my back; but my face is not to be seen.” 

Also, Jesus said anyone who “has seen me has seen the Father” (Jn 14:9)? Yet many hundreds (or thousands) have seen Christ! 

Also, God seems to be face to face with Adam and Eve. Although if Adam and Eve actually existed as a single man and a single women God may have used Jesus’ body since God is timeless. 

Leonard Loftus, Geneseo, Ill. 

A. We must take Our Lord’s words (no one has ever seen God) and the Exodus assurance (no one can see God in this life and still live) as the final word on this subject. To say God and Moses spoke face to face is surely a metaphor to denote intimacy between Moses and God. Or consider Jesus’ statement that he who has seen me has seen the Father. He is telling us He (Jesus) perfectly reveals all that the Father is, not that He literally reveals God to our sight. TCA 

What is the Griesbach Hypothesis?

Q. I have been trying to study more about Scripture. Would you give me your opinion about the Griesbach hypothesis?

Ambrose, via e-mail  

A. The two principal explanations of the interrelatedness of the first three (“synoptic”) Gospels are the “two-source” theory and the “two-gospel” theory. The latter is known as the “Griesbach” theory in reference to its 18th-century originator. The “two-source” theory is held today apparently by a majority of scholars. It holds that of the Gospels Mark was written first. In writing their Gospels, Matthew and Luke used as their sources Mark; a hypothetical document designated “Q”; and other materials are known as “M” and as “L.” 

The modern form of the Griesbach theory was brought forth by the late William Farmer in 1964. He was a distinguished Methodist scholar who late in life was received into the Catholic Church. (Full disclosure requires my saying we were friends in Union Theological Seminary many years ago.) 

This “two-gospel” theory assumes that (as the early Church held) Matthew was written first, while the Church’s life was still centered in Jerusalem. One of its purposes was to stress the intimate relationship between Christianity and its Jewish forebears. Next came Luke, which was primarily addressed to the Gentiles. Luke was not an eyewitness of Christ’s earthly ministry. Peter’s public teaching was transcribed by Mark, protégé of Peter, into our present second Gospel. 

Not being a Scripture scholar, my opinion about the relative merits of these theories carries little weight. I will say I find the “two-gospel” theory attractive primarily because it does not have to postulate documents like “Q” and “M” and “L,” as does the “two-source” theory. The Catholic Church has no official teaching on this matter.

What do the Vestments Mean?

Q. What exactly do the vestments of a priest mean? How did the custom of wearing them begin?  

Name withheld by request, via e-mail  

A. The use of some kind of special garb in the conduct of worship seems to be universal, even among so-called primitive peoples. It reflects the conviction that ordinary dress is not appropriate, not reverent, for leading the highest of all human endeavors, worship of God. 

The Catholic Church has received a treasured inheritance of sacred architecture, elaborate liturgy, ornate and beautiful vestments, and sacred music from our Jewish background. The details of the setting of worship, the sanctuary, are elaborated in Exodus 25-27, 33, 35-38. Sacred vestments are minutely described in Exodus 28 and 39. Liturgy in general is the subject of Exodus 29; Leviticus 1-8, 12, 14-16, 21-24. 

The style of Catholic liturgical costume reflects types of secular garments worn in the Roman Empire in the Church’s early days. Over the ages many different types of priestly vestments have developed, especially those worn by bishops, archbishops and the pope himself. Always their purpose is to heighten our sense of the holy in worship. The description which follows reflects the sequence in which priests vest. 

The amice is a rectangular white linen cloth secured around the back of the priest’s neck by two strings tied in the front. The purpose of the amice (from the Latin word “to cover”) is to cover the priest’s collar and shirt. In Roman times, when criminals were condemned to death, their heads were covered in linen. The amice symbolizes Christ’s humiliation in being condemned to death. 

The alb (from the Latin word for “white”) is the long robe worn by all clerics. Its origin is the ancient Roman garment worn under the tunic or cloak. The alb is a symbol of purity. The cincture is a cord which serves as a belt around the priest’s alb. It symbolizes chastity. 

The maniple is seldom used today. It is a strip of linen whose color matches that of the chasuble. Worn draped over the left forearm, it is a symbol of the priest’s acceptance of service to God which the priest seeks to render in this life. 

The stole is a long narrow scarf worn over the alb and under the chasuble. It is of the same liturgical color as the chasuble. The stole both symbolizes the clerical office and the yoke of Christ. 

The word chasuble comes to us from a Latin word meaning “a small house.” This garment is worn over the other liturgical vestments. Its origin is the ordinary overcoat worn in Roman times. It is like a poncho, without sleeves. 

The liturgical colors also speak a language of their own. White is a symbol of joy, glory and triumph. Red represents blood, fire and the Holy Spirit. Green is a symbol of hope and life eternal. Violet is the color of penance and humility. Black is the symbol of mourning. 

Rose (the color of Gaudete Sunday and Laetare Sunday) also represents joy, as does gold. Gold may be used in place of white, red or green. 

The use of vestments modeled on first-century street garments testifies to the continuity of the Church from her beginnings and her Jewish heritage. 

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.