Making the Mass fast

Question: Some friends were having coffee before Mass one morning, and one worried that an hour might not have passed before it was time to receive Communion. Another opined that God was not a holy stopwatch. Thoughts?

Joann Capone, via email

Answer: We need not imagine God with a stopwatch counting seconds. If one has sought to observe the fast and generally does, one need not fret if only 58 minutes have passed or, through inadvertence, one had something before Mass. That said, the fasting requirement before receiving Communion is very minor. Catholics should strive to observe it. Since Masses typically last an hour and Communion is received near the end, the fast is usually 15 minutes or less. Only those aged 14-60 are required to observe fasting, and further exemptions are made for certain illnesses and the need to take medicine and water. Since all this is so easy to observe, why not just do it?

State of creation

Question: The earth around us is in constant change. Ice ages have come and gone, and whole continents have moved and shifted about. Is it possible, therefore, to say that God is not finished creating the world, that creation is ongoing?

Jeannine Aucoin, Henniker, New Hampshire

Answer: No, we cannot speak of creation in the natural world as ongoing. Scripture says, “Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done” (Gn 2:1-2). So the creation of the natural world is finished. That we observe changes, even massive changes from our perspective, emerges from playing out of natural forces and processes already created. Though changes are evident, new creation is not the reason for this.

This is because the word “creation” refers to the act of God making something out of nothing. Merely refashioning what already is made is not an act of creation, properly understood. We might say of an artist, “She is very creative.” But, theologically, only God can create, so calling our artist creative is an informal way of speaking.

Biblical book names

Question: I sometimes see different spellings of a book in the Bible: Ecclesiastes and Ecclesiasticus. Why is there a different spelling, and is one more proper?

Name withheld, Minot, North Dakota

Answer: Ecclesiastes and Ecclesiasticus are two entirely different book of the Old Testament. Ecclesiasticus is more commonly called the Book of Sirach. Older Bibles called it Ecclesiasticus (a title that means “Church Book”). One view is that it was named this because the early Church sometimes used it as the first catechesis for catechumens. Its practical advice and godly wisdom were deemed a good introduction when people came out of a disordered world and into the Church. In more recent times the name “Sirach” has taken hold. It is so named for its author, Jesus Ben Sira.

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Ecclesiastes retains its original title and is ascribed to Qoheleth, a name that means “preacher” or “teacher.” It is the more widely known of the two books you ask about. Protestant Bibles lack the Book of Sirach (Ecclesiasticus) since Martin Luther removed it along with several other books and parts of books. Sirach is a very illuminating book. It is well worth a careful and devotional reading.

Msgr. Charles Pope is the pastor of Holy Comforter-St. Cyprian in Washington, D.C., and writes for the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., blog at blog.adw.org. Send questions to msgrpope@osv.com.