TCA Faith for November/December 2016

Glory Be Differences?

Q. I was wondering why the Glory Be, in the Breviary, is different from the “regular one.”

David Gardner, via e-mail

A. The Breviary (also known as the Liturgy of the Hours) was revised by Rome in 1970. Strangely, the English translation of the conclusion of the Glory Be was different from the one most commonly known: “as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end.” In effect, the “ever shall be, world without end” phrase was truncated to “will be forever.” Exactly why this was done is not clear. One explanation is that it would render the Glory Be (a prayer that is repeated often in the Breviary) smoother. Another explanation that some of the members of the translation committee offered was that it was more accurate.

To be fair, the Latin of the final phrase of the Glory Be is difficult to translate well into smooth English. The Latin ending is, sicut erat in principio, et nunc, et semper, et in saecula saeculorum. A literal rendering is, “as it was in the beginning, and is now, and is always, and unto ages of ages.” As you can see, “world without end” is not really what the Latin says. “Unto the ages of ages” is basically a way of saying, “for a very long time,” or, more simply, “forever” — hence the shorter version. While ignoring saecula seculorum is more accurate, it folds the idea of the ages into the word semper (“always”).

That said, the version of the Glory Be known by the vast majority of Catholics is the traditional one, which ends “world without end.” And thus there are many stumbles when people less familiar with the Liturgy of the Hours pray it together with those experienced in praying it.

Current plans are underway to retranslate the English version of the Liturgy of the Hours, as was recently done with the Mass. It is expected that the Glory Be will be put back to the older form since that will help avoid issues created with two versions of the Glory Be known by the faithful.


Q. Could you please help me understand the significance of the whirlwind, fire, horses and water in the story of Elisha’s succession of Elijah in 2 Kings 2:11?

Emmanuel, via social media

A. The verse to which you refer reads, “As [Elijah and Elisha] walked on still conversing, a fiery chariot and fiery horses came between the two of them, and Elijah went up to heaven in a whirlwind.”

Fire and whirlwind are common elements of theophany in the Old Testament. Theophany is an appearance or manifestation of the presence of God.

There are many passages in the Old Testament that speak of fire in relationship to God. For example, as Ezekiel described a great theophany he wrote: “As I watched, a great stormwind came from the North, a large cloud with flashing fire, a bright glow all around it, and something like polished metal gleamed at the center of the fire” (Ez 1:4).

Psalm 97 also says: “The Lord is king, let the earth rejoice; / let the many islands be glad. / Clouds and darkness surround him; / justice and right are the foundation of his throne. / Fire goes before him, / consuming his foes on every side. / His lightening illuminates the world; / the earth sees and trembles” (vv. 1-4).

There are many other examples, but it seems clear that fire is both a common and apt sign of God. Fire brings many blessings, but fire must also be respected. Further, nothing goes away from fire unchanged. And so it is with God.

The whirlwind, too, is a common feature of theophanies. Job hears God out of a whirlwind (see Jb 38:1, RSV). Isaiah (Is 66:15), Jeremiah (Jer 33:19) and other prophets speak to this as well. The sense of whirlwind emphasizes both the glory of God’s word and presence, but also the disconcerting quality and holy fear that it strikes within the listener. God does not fit into our little categories and notions, and He stirs up our world as we encounter Him much like a rushing wind both stirs and even breaks up the world as we know it.

Horses, too, in relation to the execution of God’s will, feature prominently in the Old Testament as well as in the Book of Revelation. Horses are strong and swift and execute the will of the rider. They also remind us of armies and therefore are an image of power and strength.

All of these images come together in the passage you cite as God takes up (assumes) Elijah into heaven.

The water that you ask about is mentioned in verse 8: “Elijah took his mantle, rolled it up and struck the water: it divided, and the two of them crossed over on dry ground” (2 Kgs 2:8). This miracle certainly reminds us of the parting of the Red Sea (see Ex 14:21) and the parting of the Jordan (Jos 3:13). Spiritually, realities like this also point to the waters of death that we must someday cross to enter God’s presence. Elijah is about to do so here.

The parting of the waters shows Elijah’s great renown as a prophet and miracle worker. It also serves to isolate Elijah and Elisha from the others who were with them that day, such that only Elisha saw Elijah taken up, privileged to experience the theophany, the appearance and presence of God that day.

Salvation Outside Church?

Q. What is the Church’s current position on the statement “no salvation outside the Church”?

Paul, Reno, Nevada

A. Given the nature of your question it is best to paraphrase the Catechism of the Catholic Church (see Nos. 846-848), which teaches on this matter. This doctrine means that all salvation comes from Christ, the Head, through the Church, which is His body. Basing herself on Scripture and Tradition, the Church understands herself as necessary for salvation since the Church is the body of Christ and one cannot truly have Christ apart from His body, the Church. And not having Christ means not being saved.

Hence those individuals cannot be saved who, knowing that God through Christ founded the Catholic Church as necessary, would refuse either to enter it or to remain in it.

This affirmation is not aimed at those who, through no fault of their own, do not know Christ and His Church. 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 — these, too, may achieve eternal salvation.

Although in ways known only to God, He 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.

Birth of the Church?

Q. Could you please tell me why many within the Church refer to Pentecost as the birthday of the Church, especially in light of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (No. 766)?

Arleen, Ross Township, Pennsylvania

A. The Catechism citation you note says: “ ‘The origin and growth of the Church are symbolized by the blood and water which flowed from the open side of the crucified Jesus.’ ‘For it was from the side of Christ as he slept the sleep of death upon the cross that there came forth the “wondrous sacrament of the whole Church.”’ As Eve was formed from the sleeping Adam’s side, so the Church was born from the pierced heart of Christ hanging dead on the cross.”

Hence there arises your question as to why Pentecost is often called the birthday of the Church. I would generally be among those who do not prefer that attestation for the reason you cite. Calling Pentecost the “birthday of the Church” is more of a pious custom and is not an official teaching or declaration. The image is used since, in a way, the Church comes forth from her initial formation in the “womb” of Galilee during Christ’s public ministry. She comes forth now to begin her mission to the ends of the earth.

The problem with this image is that the Church that comes forth is no infant. She has been formed and is now clothed with power from on high to begin a mission, having been schooled, prepared and enabled. The image of birth falls short here, since birth bespeaks a helpless infant in need of complete formation. But the Church at Pentecost was far more mature.

One might argue that in the image of Eve coming forth from Adam’s side she came forth as an adult, not an infant, and thus “birthday” here can be understood in that manner. And this may be fair enough, but it is not the usual manner in which we speak of birthdays. At some point an image with too many qualifiers suggests a possible flaw in the image itself.

What Pentecost surely is, is the commissioning of the Church to go forth unto all the nations. She has been formed, purified, taught, equipped and enabled to go forth with joy and confidence. On the day of Pentecost, a fire fell on the Church. Those who had been frightened, confused disciples went forth with confidence and holy boldness, their minds made clear.

Resurrection Prophesy?

Q. I have always found comfort in Ezekiel 37, because it seemed to describe what we might expect during the future time of our own bodily resurrection. Then I read in a biblical commentary that “it has been thought, wrongly, to foretell the resurrection of the body,” but rather refers to the future restoration of Israel. Have I been wrong all these years?

Gene Walker, Monrovia, Maryland

A. The passage to which you refer is the familiar passage where Ezekiel is shown a field of dry human bones and told to prophesy over them. As he does, the flesh forms on them and they eventually arise, alive.

It is true that the historical context of this vision of Ezekiel was not one which envisioned the resurrection of the body, but rather the raising up of Israel as a nation. Both Israel, and later Judah, suffered terrible destruction at the hands of the Assyrians and Babylonians. Ezekiel foresaw a time when they would rise from their ruins and be reunited. The key to interpreting the passage begins at verse 11:

“He said to me, Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They are saying, ‘Our bones are dried up, our hope is lost, and we are cut off.’ Therefore prophesy and say to them: Thus says the Lord God: Look, I am going to open your graves; I will make you come up out of your graves, my people, and bring you back to the land of Israel. You shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves and make you come up out of them, my people! I will put my spirit in you that you may come to life, and I will settle in your land” (Ex 37:11-14).

It would be a mistake however to identify this passage merely with a political or national resurgence and lock it away as a brief historical moment. The Jewish people did not so easily divide the spiritual and the world as we do. They often spoke of spiritual blessings in worldly ways. Further, God’s word speaks to all times beyond the merely historical context in which it was given.

Thus it is not inauthentic to see this passage spiritually and allegorically as a word of encouragement to all of God’s people of all times that He will raise them up to better things and restore them. Even more, that he will raise them from the final blow that this world inflicts, which is death.

Easter Dates?

Q. Why do some people think we should have a fixed date for Easter? Is that a good idea?

Marvel, Sun City, Arizona

A. It may be because we live in times where convenience, control and planning are prized very highly. Everyone knows when Christmas will be every year. But Easter floats a bit since its date is fixed as the Sunday following the full moon that follows the vernal equinox. Some years the full moon occurs close to the equinox, and thus Easter is early in April or even late March. In other years the full moon does not occur until weeks after the equinox and Easter moves to later in April.

This does present challenges to churches and other institutions since Easter, a key date in Church (and even civic) observances is different each year. Many would prefer a date that was fixed and which permitted more long-range and consistent planning for both Easter and other events that will vary based on it.

But do not expect a move to a fixed date. The reason is that in the early Church a significant fight broke out over the dating of Easter. The debate, often called quartodecimanism, divided the Church quite severely, especially between East and West. The matter is too complex to detail here, but its solution involved councils, the pope and emperors. Long and tense negotiations in the fourth century yielded the system we have now, and for this reason it is unlikely to change.

Thus what people may desire today for simplicity’s sake would more likely lead to byzantine complexities given the historical tensions.

Holy Helpers?

Q. Who are the Fourteen Holy Helpers?

Bill, via social media

A. They are saints: Acacius, Barbara, Blaise, Catherine of Alexandria, Christopher, Cyriacus, Dionysius of Paris, Erasmus, Eustace, George, Margaret, Pantaleon, Vitus and Giles.

The devotion began in Germany during the 14th century, at the time of the Black Death. The saints each assisted in some need of spiritual or physical health, or for healing in the family. The devotion is most commonly known among German Catholics for historical reasons, but the devotion was known throughout Europe until modern times when it has waned a bit. There is a beautiful basilica in Bavaria named for the Fourteen Holy Helpers that helps keep this devotion promoted. Though less well known today, there is at least one parish in the United States named for the Fourteen Holy Helpers (in West Seneca, New York). There is a litany devoted to them as well as other private devotions.

The following describes the circumstance for which each saint is invoked: St. Christopher and St. Giles were invoked against the Black Death itself. St. Denis was invoked for relief from headaches; St. Blaise for diseases of the throat; St. Elmo for abdominal illnesses; St. Barbara for release from fevers; St. Vitus for assistance to those with epilepsy. St. Pantaleon was the patron saint of doctors, St. Cyriacus helped against temptation on one’s deathbed, and St. Christopher, St. Barbara and St. Catherine were all appealed to for protection against a sudden and unprepared for death. St. Giles assisted for a good confession and St. Eustace was healer of family troubles. St. Margaret of Antioch is the patron for safe childbirth.

Rev. Msgr. Charles E. Pope has a Master of Arts in Moral Theology from Mount St. Mary’s University, Emmitsburg, Md. He was ordained to the priesthood on June 24, 1989, and is currently a pastor in Washington, D.C.