A Different Day?
Q. This Lent I noticed something in the Passion of St. John’s Gospel that I hadn’t paid attention to before. Our Lord and His apostles celebrated the Passover meal on Holy Thursday evening. Yet the Jews did not enter the praetorium when Jesus was tried by Pilate the next morning,“in order not to be defiled so that they could eat the Passover” (Jn 18:28). Later, when Pilate brings Jesus out and seats Him on the judge’s bench, it says, “It was preparation day for Passover, and it was about noon” (Jn 19:14). My question is, Why did Jesus and His disciples celebrate Passover on a different day than the rest of the Jews?
Name withheld, via e-mail
A. Custodians of the Temple always celebrated Passover on the 15th day of the month of Nisan, on whatever day of the week 15th Nisan fell in their lunar calendar. The Gospels and the entire Christian tradition hold that Jesus died on a Friday. That Friday was not the day of the Passover. It was, as St. John tells us, the day of preparation for the Passover. That would make the next day, Saturday, the day of Passover.
Why did Jesus celebrate the Last Supper a day early? Simply because, according to St. John, he could not celebrate it on Saturday, the day for Passover that year. Why? He would already be dead.
Understanding Luke 14:26?
Q. I have always been made uncomfortable by the passage in Luke 14:26. Can you help me understand it?
Sophia, Memphis, Tenn.
A. The troublesome verse is, “If anyone comes to me without hating his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.”
For the Greek verb miseo, the word “hate” is a misleading translation. As used here, the verb means, “to regard with less affection,” “to love less,” “to esteem less.” Here, Our Lord is simply telling us that He must come first in our love and commitment. We truly love and serve Him only if He is the most important person in our life. On another occasion, Jesus spoke the same truth, but more plainly: “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).
The Mystical Body?
Q. What does the Church mean when it uses the term “Mystical Body”? Does this have scriptural roots?
Name withheld by request, Philadelphia, Pa.
A. At the Ascension, Our Lord left this earth in His glorified body. Now and until the end of time He dwells and carries on His redemptive mission in the supernatural body He created, the Catholic Church. The Church is not only a hierarchical society through which He continually acts. The soul of that society is the Holy Spirit. Because of this unity of the human and divine, the Church is a mystical body, hence the title “Mystical Body of Christ.” The word “mystical” is not used in the New Testament, but all the elements which the term designates are clearly spelled out. For examples, consider 1 Corinthians 12:12-31; Colossians 1:18-20; and Ephesians 1:22-23; 3:19; 4:13.
You ask about “scriptural roots” for the term “Mystical Body.” Never make the mistake of claiming or assuming the Catholic faith is somehow “based” on the Bible. We can speak only of reflections of the Catholic faith in Scripture. And why? Because members of the Catholic Church wrote the New Testament and validated the Old Testament.
The New Testament gives us the essence of the Faith once for all delivered to the apostles, but only the essence. The Holy Spirit also entrusted much about the Christian life we know by the Church’s tradition. Remember how the fourth Gospel ends? Exaggerating, perhaps, for emphasis, what it says of itself applies to all New Testament writings. “There are also many other things that Jesus did, but if these were to be described individually, do not think the whole world would contain the books that would be written” (Jn 21:25).
Luther and Maccabees?
Q. I have a question about purgatory. Catholics often cite 2 Maccabees 12:39-46, although Martin Luther, I guess, took out that book because he did not like it. I don’t understand how that passage defends purgatory. Can you explain it to me?
Kasey, Ann Arbor, Mich.
A. Take another look at 2 Maccabees 12:39-46. The very matter-of-fact way in which Judas arranged for the offerings indicate it was fairly common practice. Pope Benedict XVI reminds us that “early Jewish thought includes the idea that one can help the deceased in their intermediate state through prayer” (encyclical Spe Salvi, No. 48).
Two passages in the Gospel of Luke reflect this fact. Jesus’ parable about the rich man and the poor man tells us that when the poor man, Lazarus, died, he “was carried away by angels to the bosom of Abraham” (16:22). From the cross, Jesus promised the penitent thief, “today you will be with me in Paradise” (Lk 23:43). A footnote in the New Oxford Bible, RSV, informs us that “Paradise [like “Abraham’s bosom” in 16:22] was a contemporary Jewish term for the lodging place of the righteous dead prior to resurrection” (p. 1282; remember that this quotation is from a Protestant Bible).
In 1 Corinthians 3:12-15, St. Paul reflects the Church’s teaching about the purging, cleansing process most of those who die in Christ will undergo before entering heaven. Pope Benedict XVI, again, notes that “the belief that love can reach into the afterlife, that reciprocal giving and receiving is possible, in which our affection for one another continues beyond the limits of death — this has been a fundamental conviction of Christianity throughout the ages and it remains a source of comfort today” (Spe Salvi, No. 48).
Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds?
Q. Please tell me when the Church stopped saying the Apostles’ Creed in Mass and started using the Nicene Creed. Or did we always say the Nicene Creed?
Pam Pappas, Denver, Colo.
A. The Church has never stopped using the Apostles’ Creed. According to the new Roman Missal, “Instead of the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed, especially during Lent and Easter Time, the baptismal symbol of the Roman Church, known as the Apostles’ Creed, may be used.”
The Nicene Creed, a fuller outline of the Catholic faith, is more commonly used. It is the creed authorized by the ecumenical council of Constantinople in 381, which expanded the creed of the Council of Nicaea in 325). Centuries later, to clarify the creed’s Trinitarian teaching, the Catholic Church added the word filioque: the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and from the Son.
“A Sword Will Pierce”?
Q. Simeon told Our Lady, “(and you youself a sword will pierce), so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed” (Lk 2:35). This last part of the prophecy has puzzled me for many years. What does it mean?
Name withheld, via e-mail
A. By your reference to the last part of the prophecy, I take it you mean “that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.” These words of Simeon were not addressed to Our Lady. This parenthetical remark to her “(and you youself a sword will pierce)” anticipate the maternal suffering she will undergo.
But the revelation of “the thoughts of many hearts” will follow from the Child’s being the cause of “the fall and rise of many in Israel” and his being “a sign that will be contradicted” (see v. 34). Bishop Fulton Sheen tells us Simeon was calling the Holy Child a “Divine Disturber.” In his book “Life of Christ,” he wrote: “The nearer Christ comes to a heart, the more it becomes conscious of its guilt; it will then either ask for His mercy and find peace, or else it will turn against Him…. Thus He will separate the good from the bad, the wheat from the chaff. Man’s reaction to this Divine Presence will be the test.”
Q. When Jesus came to John the Baptist for baptism, Scripture tells us so great was John’s astonishment that he would have prevented Jesus from being baptized. The reason Jesus insisted on John’s baptizing Him was, “it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness” (Mt 3:15). I still wonder why Our Lord insisted on being baptized. Any thoughts on this?
Name withheld, via e-mail
A. Prior to His baptism, Our Lord’s life was lived in obscurity. Our Lord required baptism from John as the initial act of His public ministry. Thereby He identified himself with sinners — that is to say, with humanity. According to St. Thomas Aquinas, “When the time came for Him to teach, to work miracles, and to draw men to himself then did it behoove His Godhead to be attested from on high by the Father’s testimony, so that His teaching might become the more credible” (Summa Theologica, 3,39,8).
Our Lord’s baptism anticipated the gifts of the Sacrament of Baptism. He symbolically underwent cleansing, He received the gift of the Holy Spirit in His humanity, and the Father’s voice proclaiming Jesus’ sonship prepared us for becoming adopted sons and daughters through baptismal waters.
Q. I am very angry with a friend of mine who tells me that children born out of wedlock are illegitimate and the evil product of fornication. Are they really evil? Can we even get them baptized? What about kids of parents who had an annulment? Are they illegitimate, too? And evil? Help!
Name withheld by request, via email
A. Evidently, you are angry because you find your friend’s opinions objectionable. First of all, give up the anger. Pray for the friend to be led to and open to the truth in these matters.
The terms “legitimate” and “illegitimate” are purely legal terms. They designate births from parents who did not comply with the state’s requirement of a marriage license. In themselves the terms carry no moral judgment.
It is true that conception by unmarried parents is an act of fornication. But in no sense is a child so conceived “evil.” The child is a precious gift from God who certainly knows the marital status of the parents. God continually works through human sin to accomplish His good purposes in His children. Certainly, an “illegitimate” child (remember: no moral connotations attached) can and must be baptized.
You ask about the status of children whose parents have obtained an annulment. Again, the legal terms “legitimate” and “illegitimate” have no application. If the parents who receive an annulment married with a marriage license, all children of that union are “legitimate.” Period.
Not one single child of God is ever “evil.” We are all created in the image and likeness of God. All of us at times do or think evil things — that is, we are all sinners. But we are not evil.
Shorter Christian Prayer?
Q. Several years ago, our pastor started a Saturday morning prayer group using the Shorter Christian Prayer books. At that time, I purchased my own copy and have been using it daily. It has now worn out, and when I went to the Catholic store to replace it, I found the much larger Christian Prayer book, which I bought. Although it is more complicated, I have been using it and really like it. But an acquaintance told me that if I really wanted to prayer the Prayer of the Hours I needed to get the four-volume set. Can you tell me what is the difference between the prayer book I now use and the four-volume set? Is it that much better than what I am using? I priced the four-volume set, and it is about five times more expensive than the Christian Prayer book I now use.
Ken Glaser, Denver, Colo.
A. The title page of the 1976 edition of Christian Prayer which I have (but do not use) states that it contains “selections” from the Liturgy of the Hours. The four-volume Liturgy of the Hours contains more than four times the amount of material included in Christian Prayer. In this case is more better? I think so.
In my prayer, using the fullness of the breviary, I am praying the same liturgy as the pope, all the bishops, all clergy, all religious and countless laypersons around the world. I find deep satisfaction in the awareness of this unity, in addition to all the other blessings which come from using the full breviary. Pray for guidance in deciding what to use in your devotions.
Death Penalty Changes?
Q. Sorry if this has been asked before, but is it true the Church’s teachings on the death penalty have changed over the centuries? That is what a Protestant friend told me.
Daniel, via email
A. The Church has never officially condemned the death penalty, though many groups in the Church are working for its elimination. The Church’s thinking about the death penalty is developing. Think particularly of St. John Paul II’s cautionary teaching: death penalty only in most extreme cases.
The death penalty is never an end in itself. It reflects society’s attempt to deal with persons who wantonly destroy human life. Properly understood, it is not an act of vengeance by the state. It can be understood as the strongest possible statement of the sanctity of human life. If you take life from another, you must forfeit your own life.
It is possible that some day the Church may condemn the death penalty. That would be the result of development guided by the Holy Spirit, leading to the judgment that the evil effects of killing another can best be dealt with by life imprisonment of the guilty person.
Always and Everywhere?
Q. Might you explain to me — so I can explain it to some relatives — the Church’s teaching on contraception when not used for the prevention of conceiving life? I mean, medically approved use of contraception for other medical issues such as endometriosis. They are arguing that the use of contraception is always and everywhere morally unjustifiable. Is this true?
Janet, Newark, N.J.
A. If the use of a contraceptive drug is necessary to treat a physical problem, and if the user has no desire for the possible side effect (prevention of conception), it would be justifiable to use contraceptive medicine.
Lord’s Name in Vain?
Q. My kids are wondering about using the Lord’s name in vain. They know that using God as a swear word is bad, but what about exclamations such as, “Oh my God!” What exclamations are OK?
Betty, Kalamazoo, Mich.
A. The Second Commandment is quite clear: “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.” Think about the meaning of the phrase “in vain.” The dictionary tells us “in vain” means “without effect or avail; to no purpose,” “in an improper or irreverent manner.”
God’s name is holy. What does the Church tell us? “Respect for his name is an expression of the respect owed to the mystery of God himself and to the whole sacred reality it evokes” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 2144). It must not be used except “to bless, praise, and glorify” God’s name (see No. 2143).
Our common exclamations which use the name of God are quite self-centered. They express surprise, anguish, disgust or whatever. But they do not “bless, praise, and glorify” God’s name. If we must exclaim, we should pick out something harmless.
I know a devout Catholic father of a large family who on occasion expresses deep negative emotions with a simple word: “Argh!” Tell your children to use their imagination and choose suitable exclamations for liberation of feelings.
Q. Pope Francis talks a lot about Ignatian spirituality. What exactly is that? Can anyone practice it?
Thomas, via email
A. Speaking as a Jesuit, the pope necessarily reflects his own deep formation.
The basic text of Ignatian spirituality is the Spiritual Exercises, written by St. Ignatius of Loyola, the 16th-century founder of the Jesuit order. Anyone who is willing to study these exercises is welcome to practice them.
According to St. Ignatius, the purpose of his “spiritual exercises” is “to conquer oneself and to regulate one’s life in such a way that no decision is made under the influence of any inordinate attachment.” In other words, to grow in our capacity to discern and follow God’s will. Indeed, this is the ultimate objective of all the Church’s many different spiritualities.
Q. According to the doctrine of transubstantiation, at the consecration, the substance of the bread becomes the body of the Risen Christ, and the substance of the wine becomes His blood. Yet the accidents — the outward appearances — remain unchanged. At the wedding feast of Cana, Jesus changed water into wine (see Jn 2:1-11). The essence of water was changed to the essence of wine and the accidents were also changed. The headwaiter bears witness when he says,“You have kept the good wine until now” (v. 10). Did Jesus perform the first miracle of transubstantiation at the wedding feast of Cana, with the added dimension of the change of accidents?
John Seibert, Pawlys Island, S.C.
A. The miracle of Cana was not a miracle of transubstantiation. The event at Cana is totally different from the event at the Last Supper. At Cana, Our Lord performed a miracle to solve a present problem, which would no longer exist as the wedding feast ended. (There might still be a problem of excess wine; the miracle changed 120 gallons of water into wine!) Then, too, as you say, at Cana there was a change of “accidents.”
But there are far more important distinctions between these two miracles. Rather than solve an embarrassing situation, at the Last Supper Our Lord provided the means whereby He would nourish the people of His Church to the end of time. There He provided the visible means by which we can adore Him until the end of time. There He provided the center of all worship of the Divine Trinity until the end of time.
What is the Gospel of Thomas?
Q. What is the Gospel of Thomas? Was it widely read in the early Church? What is in it that made it unacceptable to the Church. And what does it have to do with the Nag Hammadi?
Carl, Cleveland, Ohio
A. In the Church’s beginning she had to contend with the widespread heresy of Gnosticism. The Gnostics claimed to be the “knowers” of the truth about Jesus. They declared He only seemed to be human; there was no true incarnation. Traces of the Church’s response in the New Testament occur in the opening chapter of the First Letter of John.
A collection of manuscripts of Gnostic writings was discovered near Nag Hammadi in Egypt in 1945. This group of writings has come to be known as the Nag Hammadi Library. Among them was one entitled “Gospel of Thomas,” written probably in the second or third century. It is a collection of 114 sayings of Jesus, some of which are taken from the canonical Gospels.
Many of the so-called sayings of Jesus are simply absurd. Typical is the final item, number 114: “Simon Peter said to them, ‘Make Mary leave us, for females don’t deserve life.’ Jesus said, ‘Look, I will guide her to make her male, so that she too may become a living spirit resembling you males. For every female who makes herself male will enter the kingdom of heaven.’”
May you ever tell a lie?
Q. My 9-year-old daughter asked me this, and I figured I would pass it along to you. She wants to know if it is ever OK to tell a lie? Does the Church recognize “white lies”?
Patrick, Salt Lake City, Utah
A. What is a lie? To begin with, it’s denial of truth, and therefore implicitly a denial of our Lord Jesus Christ, who tells us, “I am … the truth” (Jn 14:6).
Moreover, a lie is an attempt to deceive another, which itself is a sin. Finally, we must say a lie is the work of Satan himself: “There is no truth in him. When he tells a lie, he speaks in character, because he is a liar and the father of lies” (Jn 8:44).
Certainly, the Church does not “recognize” what we call “white lies.” The term itself is a lie. There is no such thing as a “white” (and therefore justifiable) lie. You can enlarge your daughter’s vocabulary by telling her that something called “white lie” is a euphemism: trying to make something sound good when it’s really bad.
As many of our readers are aware, Father Ray Ryland passed away on March 20 at the age of 93 in Steubenville, Ohio, where he served for so long. As a result, this will, sadly, be Father Ray’s last column for TCA Faith. Next month, we will offer a special collection of some of Father Ray’s answers over the years, from his first TCA Faith column to this year. To read my farewell to Father Ray, please go to Page 4 and my regular column, “Thanks for Asking.”
Father Ray Ryland, Ph.D., J.D., was formerly professor of religious studies, University of San Diego, and adjunct professor at Franciscan University of Steubenville. He authored “Drawn from Shadows into Truth.”