TCA Faith for March/April 2012

The Pope or the Bible?

Q. An evangelical friend who is prejudiced against the Church taunts me by saying, “You have the pope, but we have the Bible.” How can I respond in the most helpful way? 

Name withheld by request, via e-mail 

A. Under the Church’s guidance, you and I must always be on the lookout for opportunities to witness to the faith. Your friend’s comment is flippant, yet the Holy Spirit might make of it an opportunity to open your friend’s mind to Catholic truth. 

Perhaps you could say to your friend: “You say you have the Bible. Have you ever wondered why or how you have that Bible? Have you wondered who wrote it, and when? Or why Christians commonly accept it as the record of God’s revelation?” 

And then you could remind your friend that members of the early Church wrote the New Testament. And why? To record what that Church was teaching. And what Church was that? History only speaks of one Church, the Catholic Church. No other. And that same Church, and no other, guarantees the authenticity of the revelation contained in the Old Testament. 

If you sense any interest thus far, you could take your friend one step further. You can quote Blessed John Henry Newman’s common-sense dictum about revelation: “A revelation is not given, if there be no authority to decide what it is that is given.” You can add that the absence of any such authority outside the Catholic Church is the reason why we have more than 30,000 competing denominations today. 

Above all, pray for that friend to see the truth of the Church. And pray that God will help you to be, and make, a good witness. 

The Whole Truth?

Q. As a Catholic, is it correct for me to say to Jehovah’s Witnesses that the Catholic Church holds the whole truth, but other religions are good, too. They seem to believe in the same Jesus. 

N.N., via e-mail  

A. While professing to hold and teach the whole truth of Jesus Christ, the Catholic Church readily acknowledges that portions of that truth are to be found in various non-Catholic traditions. 

The Jehovah’s Witnesses tradition, however, is not Trinitarian. It professes to believe in the Holy Spirit as a power or force, not a divine Person. Therefore that denomination is not Christian. Necessarily, the Catholic Church does not recognize baptism administered by one of that tradition. 

King James Version?

Q. I have a question and a statement I read from a clearly anti-Catholic youtuber which I wish you to comment on. 

First, are Catholics advised to read Holy Scripture in a Catholic authorized Holy Bible? Specifically, I am talking about the King James Version. It is the most popular and widespread version in Christendom. The Shakespeare lingo is the one reason this is so. Should I stick with my Rheims English translation? I know the KJV doesn’t include the whole Bible canon recognized by the Church. I have traditionally acknowledged this exclusion of the eight Old Testament books as error. I wish to meet with a Christian group of various churches for Bible study. The group only discusses the KJV. This is to exclude Catholics, or is ignorance. What does the Church say on the matter? 

I read a statement which I know to be error or a lie — a lie is actually what it is! Anyway, this anti-Catholic person claimed Pope John Paul II traveled to Jerusalem wearing the inverted crucifix. I know that symbol is used in regards to St. Peter’s request to be executed upside down. I have never seen a pope wearing a garment with that symbol. The satanic groups use the inverted crucifix to mock Jesus, and I hope this man got this wrong. So, I would like you to tell me our pope doesn’t wear an inverted cross. In the event I have gotten this wrong, could you explain the situation? 

Robert, via e-mail  

A. Obviously, the Church wants her members to use translations carefully prepared by Catholic scholars. Otherwise, why would she produce them? But the Church certainly does not require us to use only Catholic editions of Sacred Scripture. 

With regard to your second question, we must recall the difference between a “cross” and a “crucifix.” According to tradition, when he was about to be martyred, St. Peter did not regard himself as worthy to be crucified in the same way as was his Lord. He therefore asked to be crucified head down. An inverted cross has become a symbol of St. Peter. 

When he visited Jerusalem, Blessed John Paul II was photographed seated in a chair in which an inverted cross had been carved. No Catholic — surely not the Pope himself — would so blaspheme as to wear a crucifix turned upside down. 

Ever Virgin?

Q. My question is this: I heard on Catholic Radio today that Jesus was born in the same manner that anyone of us was born, but if Mary was “ever Virgin,” would that not negate her virginity because of the “opening of the womb”? I have always thought that the birth of Jesus was just as mysterious and spiritual as His conception by the Holy Spirit. I hope you can give me a clear answer to this question. The only mention of the birth was, “She brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes” (Lk 2:7, KJV). 

Carolyn Blanscet, Port Orchard, Wash.  

A. Assume for the moment that the process of Jesus’ birth was a miracle quite different from the normal birth process. Do you see how this belief would undercut the reality of the Incarnation? We believe and profess that in His Incarnation Jesus was like us in “all things” but sin. The Incarnation would be incomplete — and without redemptive grace — if Jesus had not been born as you and I were. 

The opening of the Virgin’s womb, and her bringing forth through labor her divine Son, has nothing to do with her virginity. The word “virgin” commonly refers to a person who has not had sexual intercourse. 

Graven Images?

Q. In St. Ignatius’ “Spiritual Exercises” (“Living History,” July/Aug, 2011 issue), the eighth rule advises adherents to “praise . . . images, and to venerate them according to what they represent.” The Bible, however, commands us not to make any graven images. How does Ignatius (and the Church) seemingly get around God’s rule? 

Also in the Bible, Jesus tells us to “call no one on earth your father” (Mt 23:9). Yet our Catholic Church calls all priests “father,” just what Christ asked us not to do. Why does our Church take such simple, direct instructions and do the opposite? 

Patrice, via e-mail  

A. Recall Exodus 20:4-5: “You shall not carve idols for yourselves … you shall not bow down before them or worship them.” The Bible forbids us to worship graven images; forbids us to regard any created thing as itself divine. 

On the other hand, St. Ignatius recommends “venerating” (treating with greatest respect) images of the saints or of holy events. Venerate them — that is, “according to [in other words, because of] what they represent.” In the same sense you and I “venerate” (again, treat with great respect and affection) photographs of family members and dear friends. You’re in no danger of worshipping old Grandfather by respecting his picture, are you? 

As to your second question, it is important to consider all that Jesus said on this subject: “As for you, do not be called ‘Rabbi.’” You have but one teacher, and you are all brothers. Call no one on earth your father; you have but one Father in heaven. Do not be called ‘Master’; you have but one master, the Messiah” (Mt 23:8-10). 

Fundamentalists have asked me how I can square the practice of calling priests “father” with Our Lord’s clear rejection of the title. My response has always been, “Call no man ‘father’? Do you takes Jesus’ words literally? Then what do you call your mother’s husband? You call your pastor ‘Doctor,’ which is simply the Latin word for ‘teacher.’ That’s not taking Jesus’ command literally.” 

Jesus sometimes exaggerated to emphasize a point. “‘If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away … if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away” (Mt 5:29-30). Here Our Lord is enjoining an abhorrence of sin, not bodily mutilation. 

In the same spirit of exaggeration, Jesus urges us not to aspire to honorific titles such as “father” or “rabbi” (“teacher”) or “master.” He is condemning the spirit of self-seeking, not the titles themselves. He designated His apostles to be teachers. The New Testament epistles refer frequently to the work of teachers of the faith.  

The concept of priesthood is closely associated with fatherhood in both Testaments. In Judges 17:10 and 18:19 we read of middle-aged men pleading with a young Levite to be for them “father and priest.” St. Paul assured the Corinthian Christians, “Even if you should have countless guides to Christ, yet you do not have many fathers, for I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel” (1 Cor 4:15). 

Private Prayer?

Q. We have been reciting the Rosary after our Saturday morning Mass for many years. Our group has now been told that the Church considers the Rosary a “private prayer” and cannot be recited in a group in Church. Is this true? It seems that one of our previous priests or deacons would have mentioned this to us. 

Dan McKevitt, Carol Stream, Ill. 

A. It is true that the Rosary is a “private prayer” which one can pray alone if he chooses. But there are many other “private prayers,” acts of devotion, which the Church approves and commends. She has never forbidden us to pray the Rosary or other acts of devotion in the Church outside of Mass. Indeed, quite the contrary. The Church grants a plenary indulgence for praying the Rosary in a family or in a group in the Church. 

Before the Second Vatican Council, it was not uncommon for people to pray the Rosary during Mass, interrupting the prayer only to gaze at the Blessed Sacrament at the two elevations. That was a misuse of the Rosary. Properly to worship during Mass, one must focus one’s whole attention on Our Lord and His passion.  

Pronouncing “Blessed”

Q. In the Hail Mary we say the word “blessed” twice. In the original language, are the words verbs or adjectives? My son pronounces the first one as an adjective and the second one as a verb. Is there a proper pronunciation, or does it not matter either way? 

Diane Gorges, Boswell, Okla.  

A. Both words are adjectives. They differ only in their endings. The first, addressed to the Blessed Virgin, is benedicta (feminine). The second, referring to Our Lord, is benedictus (masculine). Except for their endings, they are pronounced the same. 

Where Is Heaven?

Q. On All Saints Day, our priest, in his homily, reflected on the actual physical location of heaven. Quoting Blessed John Paul II he articulated and convincingly stated that God and heaven are everywhere, as well as are the souls who have earned a place with God in heaven. My question: If the above is true, and I believe it is, where does the Church teach that Christ’s and our Blessed Mother’s physical bodies are? 

Anonymous, Pismo Beach, Calif.  

A. First of all, please be reminded that no one can “earn” a place in heaven. Life with God in heaven can come only as a gift of His grace. 

When He spoke of heaven at the Last Supper, Jesus used four words which have spatial meaning: “In my Father’s house there are many rooms; if it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And when I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way where I am going” (Jn 14:2-4, RSV). 

The word translated “rooms” is monai, which means “a stay in any place; an abode, dwelling, mansion.” The Greek word for “place” is topos, which means much the same as monai. The word for “way” is odos, “a means of access, approach, entrance.” 

The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines heaven in these terms: “This perfect life with the most Holy Trinity — this communion of life and love with the Trinity, with the Virgin Mary, the angels and all the blessed — is called ‘heaven’” (No. 1024). Nowhere does it resort to spatial terms except by way of analogy. 

We know by revelation that God himself is omnipresent; everything exists only in Him. A human soul is not, cannot be, omnipresent. If it could, it would not be a human soul; it would be God. 

Our Lord and our Blessed Mother exist not in their physical bodies, but in their glorified bodies. We certainly know one dimension in which Our Lord’s glorified body exists: in the blessed Sacrament, under forms of bread and wine.  

“Before I Formed You…?”

Q. I am a Catholic convert, thanks be to God and my wife’s faith and example. Every day I realize more and more how happy I am to be a Catholic. I wait each month in anticipation to read The Catholic Answer publication. My question is about the Book of Jeremiah, when God says to Jeremiah, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I dedicated you, a prophet to the nations I appointed you” (1:5). Could this mean that our souls are there long before we were conceived and our life really began when our souls were formed? Could this apply not only to Jeremiah, but to all of God’s children? 

Bill Spratt, Hobson, Mont. 

A. In God, of course, there is no “before,” or “after,” or “when.” The entire universe — including you and me — has been in God’s “mind” from all eternity. In that sense, you and I have somehow “existed” from all eternity. Does that mean our souls have “existed” from all eternity? We don’t know. 

We do know that at given points in time God incarnated our souls in bodies He conceived. At that instant our earthly, human life began. That is the important fact for us who live today in a culture of death, which murders countless millions of unborn, unwanted children. 

Many years ago I read a statement on this passage in Jeremiah by the distinguished evangelist Billy Graham. He said that one day, as he meditated on Jeremiah 1:5, the Holy Spirit made it clear to him that human life begins at conception. From that moment on he was completely committed to the sanctity of all human life, from conception to natural death. 

“Let the Dead Bury the Dead?”

Q. In Matthew 8:22, Jesus declares, “Follow me, and let the dead bury their dead,” in response to the man who wanted to bury his father first and then follow Jesus. I don’t understand what Jesus is saying. We can’t attend funerals? Do we have to abandon our families to be good followers of Christ? Do priests have to leave their parents behind? 

Name withheld by request, via e-mail  

A. The Jews regarded as sacred the duty of burying the dead. In His encounter with would-be followers, in no sense did Jesus tell us not to attend funerals.  

Jesus was simply telling the man that discipleship demands immediate allegiance. I once read of a missionary in the Middle East who became acquainted with a brilliant young Muslim student. The missionary urged him to travel in Europe after completing his education. The young Muslim said, “First of all I must bury my father.” When the missionary offered condolences, the Muslim explained that his father was in good health, but that he, the student, could not leave home until after his father’s death. 

To be a disciple of Jesus does not require us to abandon our families, but it does require us to put them in second place in our hearts. “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me” (Mt 10:37). This requirement applies to priests’ relationship with their families. TCA

What is Ecclesia supplet?

Q. What does the term Ecclesia supplet mean? And how does it work? 

Ambrose, via email  

A. The phrase means “the Church supplies.” The Church’s Code of Canon Law provides, “In common error about fact or about law, and also in positive and probable doubt about law or about fact, the Church supplies executive power of governance both for the external and for the internal forum” (Canon 144.1). 

The most common application of this principle involves priests’ celebration of the sacraments. 

To perform priestly functions, a priest must have permission (“faculties,” “jurisdiction”) from the bishop of the diocese. 

It may occur that a priest visiting in another diocese will hear a confession or offer the Holy Sacrifice, even though he does not have faculties in that diocese. He may have forgotten that fact. If he does what the Church intends to do in celebrating the sacraments, they will be valid. His lack of jurisdiction will be supplied (made up for) by the Church.

Who wrote the Pentateuch?

Q. Who wrote the Pentateuch? And why are the books called the Pentateuch? 

Name withheld by request, via e-mail  

A. The first five books of the Old Testament are commonly called “the Pentateuch.” The word literally means “five cases.” It designates the five boxes in which were kept the individual rolls containing the five books. 

Who wrote the Pentateuch?  

Samplings from Sacred Scripture reflect the general assumption that in some sense Moses is the author. Exodus 24:4 tells us Moses “wrote down all the words of the Lord.” Exodus 24:7 reports that Moses “took the book of the covenant,” and “read it aloud to the people.” There are several passages which indicate that Moses kept written record of events in the wilderness. Moses wrote down the wanderings of the chosen people, according to Numbers 33:2: “By the Lord’s command Moses recorded the starting places of the various stages.” That Moses wrote the book of Deuteronomy is attested by Deuteronomy 31:9,22,24. 

Both Old and New Testaments speak of the books of the Law as reflecting the authority of Moses. They are designated as the “Book of Moses” (five times); the “Law of Moses” (22 times); the “Book of the Law of Moses” (four times); the “word of the Lord by Moses” (four times). In 32 instances the Old and New Testaments regard Moses as responsible for the contents of the Pentateuch. 

From early centuries, both in Judaism and in Catholicism, Mosaic authorship was almost universally assumed. Occasional scholars questioned it, theorizing that the Pentateuch is the composite of several sources. In modern times this theory has been widely accepted. In its present form, the so-called documentary hypothesis originated in the mid-18th century. In its present form it holds that our Pentateuch was formed by the blending of four basic documents. They are unimaginatively designated as J, E, P and D, according to key words in, or characteristics of, each document: J stands for “Jahwist,” E for “Elohist,” P for “Priestly” and D for “Deuteronomic.” 

This theory has been widely held among Protestant scholars, and also among some Catholic scholars, in recent generations. In 1906, the Pontifical Biblical Commission affirmed Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch in general terms. The commission acknowledged that Moses probably did not write everything contained in the Pentateuch. Others may well have been involved in its authorship. Yet the Pentateuch was conceived by Moses under divine inspiration and faithfully reflects his own thoughts and experience. This statement by the Biblical Commission is authoritative, but not binding. 

In recent decades, more and more scholars (Catholic and Protestant alike) have seriously questioned the presuppositions and principles of the documentary hypothesis. They tend to hold to Mosaic authorship somewhat in the sense specified by the Biblical Commission at the beginning of last century. 

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.