Q. Is christening another name for Baptism? What are the differences, if any?
A. There are reasons that the Church refers solely to the sacrament of Baptism and doesn’t use the term “christening.” It’s true that the latter finds its roots in “Christ,” and there’s nothing wrong with that. But some Protestant denominations don’t believe that the effects of baptism can take root in infants, and so they began to refer to the ritual as “christening.” For Catholics, it seems advisable to follow the vocabulary the Church uses and refer to the incorporation into the Body of Christ as “Baptism.”
Q. When were the words “Holy Ghost” changed to “Holy Spirit”?
A. The two terms are interchangeable in many ways, however the usage of “Ghost” when referring to the Third Person of the Blessed Trinity has fallen from use in the last half-century or so for a variety of reasons. Included among those is the most likely: namely, the demonic or deathly connotations attached in recent decades with the word “ghost,” which comes from Old English and German. But then there’s the fact that the English word “Spirit,” which comes from the French, is a better translation of the Latin words “Spiritus Sanctus.” If used in the proper context, though, “Ghost” is certainly still permissible for use in private prayer.
Q. Is there any way to tell if a family member makes it into heaven or not, and if so how?
A. The Church is unsure of how many people are in heaven. We do know, however, that the saints are there. We know this through the Church’s solemn declaration of the evidence of their holy lives of virtue and their heavenly intercession on behalf of us on earth. That does not mean others are not in heaven. We celebrate all those in heaven whose names are known only to God on All Saints Day each Nov. 1. But it is solely the Church’s responsibility to declare if someone is in heaven. And even then, it’s based on the incontrovertible evidence available. Therefore, when it comes to deceased relatives and friends, our obligation is to pray for them. One day we hope to join them for all eternity, but for now, our faith in eternal life is expressed in our hope that they enjoy God’s presence forever.
Q. How many angels are there?
A. We do not know exactly how many angels there are. We are unable to detect them through the human senses. Angels are pure spirit and have no physical body. Angels are created to be God’s servants and messengers. We can begin to grasp in some small way the immensity of the number of angels since the Church teaches that each human person has a guardian angel. This is addressed in The Catechism of the Catholic Church (No. 336), which quotes St. Basil the Great: “Beside each believer stands an angel as protector and shepherd leading him to life.” Nonetheless, there is no clear indication through revelation of how many angels exist.
We are grateful to all of you who have sent in questions this week or in the past. We’d like to thank especially the sixth-grade catechetical students who sent in a list of questions from St. Francis Xavier Parish in Knowlton, Wisconsin. Please keep your questions coming!
Michael R. Heinlein is editor of The Catholic Answer magazine. Follow him on twitter at @HeinleinMichael.