Question: For some time I have been mulling over two columns you wrote in the past year in which you said that the creation stories in Genesis (chapters 1 and 2) in the Bible are symbolic. Can you explain further what you mean and reference some authoritative Church document other than your own opinion? I am somewhat confused.
— Name and address withheld
Answer: When I wrote those columns I believe I quoted Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI) on the symbolic nature of the biblical creation stories. This time I will quote from the United States Catholic Catechism for Adults. The starting point on this matter has to be the fundamental truth that symbolic does not mean unreal, without substance or unworthy of belief. The U.S. Catechism states: “In language, symbols are often used to communicate a truth. Symbolic language in Scripture, as in literature in general, may use poetry, parable, story comparisons or metaphors, or other literary forms. In today’s world, we often use novels, films, plays, songs and other creative works to communicate reality in a manner that simple factual presentations cannot do as effectively” (Page 56).
Applying this to the creation stories, the U.S. Catechism states: “In the first of two creation stories (see Gn 1-2:4), Scripture describes the creation of the visible as a succession of six days of divine ‘work,’ after which God ‘rested’ on the seventh day, the Sabbath. From the earliest times, Christian writers and biblical scholars have been aware that the language in the story is symbolic, for the six ‘days’ of creation could hardly be solar days, since Genesis says that the sun was not made until the fourth day. The sequence of creation reported in Chapter 1 of the Book of Genesis is not literal or scientific, but poetic and theological. It describes a hierarchy of creatures in which human beings are the summit of visible creation. By ending the sequence of creation with the Sabbath, the story points to the adoration of God the Creator as the focal point of all the works of creation” (Page 55).
The U.S. Catechism ends its treatment of this matter by saying: “Through the stories of creation in Chapter 1 and 2 of Genesis, God reveals himself as the Creator of all that exists, showing particularly a tender love for the high point of all creation, man and woman. The majesty and wisdom of God’s creation are celebrated in the eloquence of the prophets, the lyricism of the Psalms and the Wisdom writings of the Old Testament” (Page 56).
Question: In our parish, there is a group of people who say their private devotions out loud together before and after Mass. The rest of the congregation does not participate and is prevented from saying their own private prayers by the noise. Do you have any suggestions to relieve this situation?
— R.W.R., city withheld, California
Answer: The problem here seems to be a practical one: how to create an environment before and after Mass in which the whole congregation is able to pray. I would suggest that you take up the matter with the pastor (if you have not already done so). The obvious solution is to ask small groups who pray aloud before and/or after Mass to leave a period of time (maybe 15 minutes) before and after the liturgy in which there is quiet throughout the church, so that all are able to pray and meditate personally.
Msgr. M. Francis Mannion is a priest and theologian of the Diocese of Salt Lake City. Send your questions to Pastoral Answers, Our Sunday Visitor, 200 Noll Plaza, Huntington, IN 46750 or to firstname.lastname@example.org. Letters must be signed, but anonymity may be requested.