TCA Faith for November/December 2013

Was Judas a Priest?

Q. Someone told me that because Jesus had made Judas Iscariot one of the first priests, he could have said Mass and offered the other sacraments. But, my informant claims, John the Baptist could not because he was not a priest. Is that correct?

Name withheld by request, via e-mail 

A. The martyrdom of John the Baptist took place well before Our Lord instituted the priesthood. Did Judas receive holy orders at the Last Supper along with the other apostles? The record is not clear. Early in St. John’s account of the Last Supper (see chapters 13-17), after Jesus had washed the apostles’ feet, He spoke of His coming betrayal. Thereafter, He dismissed Judas to carry out his traitorous mission. Since St. John does not tell us about the institution of the priesthood, we cannot know whether Our Lord dismissed Judas before or after conferring the office of priesthood. Had Judas received the priesthood, even as the worst traitor in history, he could have celebrated a valid Mass. 

Inerrancy?

Q. Regarding the March/April edition of The Catholic Answer that carried an answer to a question about the Gospel account of Jesus walking on water: The Catholic Church teaches in the Catechism of the Catholic Church: “We must acknowledge that the books of Scripture firmly, faithfully, and without error teach that truth which God, for the sake of our salvation wished to see confided in the Sacred Scriptures” (No. 107). Also, note the teaching we find in the Second Vatican Council document Dei Verbum regarding literary forms (see chapter 3). The Church does not teach “scriptural inerrancy” across the board as your answer implied. Jesus’ walking on water literally or as allegory is not essential to our salvation, which is where the teaching of the inerrancy of Scripture is applied. I think your answer needs to be revised.

Sister Kathleen Rooney, S.S.J., South Plainfield, N.J. 

A. Sister, you are saying that inerrancy applies only to those portions of Scripture which are essential to our salvation. By what criterion do you judge whether any given portion of Scripture has anything to do with your salvation? Do you see that any such attempt necessarily lands you in Protestant subjectivism, with regard to Scripture? In trying to decide whether a given scriptural passage is inspired, one could rely only on one’s opinion. The Church, of course, gives no guidance for this mistaken effort.

Far more important is the fact that the Church condemns any attempt to decide which portions of Scripture are inerrant, and which are not.

In his encyclical Providentissimus Deus (1893), Pope Leo XIII taught, “But it is absolutely wrong and forbidden, either to narrow inspiration to certain parts only of Holy Scripture, or to admit that the sacred writer has erred.” Again, “For all the books which the Church receives as sacred and canonical, are written wholly and entirely, with all their parts, at the dictation of the Holy Ghost.” It is impossible “that any error can co-exist with inspiration…. This is the ancient and unchanging faith of the Church, solemnly defined in the Councils of Florence and of Trent, and finally confirmed and more expressly formulated by the Council of the Vatican” (see No. 20).

Pope Benedict XV issued the encyclical Spiritus Paraclitus in 1920. His teaching on the plenary inerrancy of Scripture contains a number of citations (especially Nos. 16 and 17) from Pope Leo’s Providentissimus Deus. In his closing exhortation to the bishops of the Church, Pope Benedict wrote, “Urge upon all not merely to embrace under Jerome’s guidance Catholic doctrine touching the inspiration of Scripture, but to hold fast to the principles laid down in the encyclical Providentissimus Deus, and in this present encyclical” (No. 69).

Pope Pius XII, in his 1943 encyclical Divino Afflante Spiritu, spoke of Providentissimus Deus as “the supreme guide in biblical studies” (No. 2).

In conclusion, when Vatican II used the phrase “for the sake of our salvation,” it had no intention of confining inerrancy to certain undesignated soteriological passages. To insure the correct interpretation of its teaching on inerrancy, it listed Providentissimus Deus in a footnote. “For the sake of our salvation” designates God’s motive for giving us divine revelation. It is not a distinction between inspired and uninspired Scripture. 

Terminal Disease?

Q. If a person is diagnosed with terminal cancer and doesn’t want to go through chemotherapy or radiation, and thereby lets the cancer take its natural course, is he or she jeopardizing his or her chance for salvation?

Chris, Sheridan, Wyo. 

A. The answer clearly is no. We are not morally obligated to use extraordinary means to prolong our lives when we incur a terminal disease. 

Wasting a Priest’s Time?

Q. I would greatly appreciate your comments. I prefer to go to confession every other week to receive grace from this sacrament. My wife of 53 years and I live simple lives since she suffers from multiple sclerosis and related health problems. In truth, I find it difficult to identify even venial sins, but still I am drawn to frequent confession. Do you have any suggestions for me so I do not feel as though I am wasting the priest’s time.

Bob, via email 

A. You should thank God for your being drawn to frequent confession, surely the work of the Holy Spirit. What preparation do you make for going to confession? At least once a day, perhaps before retiring, you should take time for an examination of conscience. How have I offended God today, whether by act or thought or by sins of omission? Before you enter the confessional, spend some time asking the Holy Spirit to bring to your mind those things he wants you to confess.

With regard to your receiving the Sacrament of Penance, never think of yourself as wasting the priest’s time. He was ordained to be Christ’s servant of the people entrusted to his care or who seek his help. The priest’s greatest privilege, of course, is to offer the Holy Sacrifice. His second greatest privilege is to be a confessor, to be present when a penitent is reconciled to the Father. Recall that Our Lord told us there is great joy in heaven over one person who repents (see Lk 15:7). The confessor shares that joy in the confessional. 

Suffer, Die and Rise?

Q. I have been Catholic all my life. In the past dozen years I have been reading the Bible carefully, and my questions are these. I cannot find anywhere the statement that the Christ must suffer, die and rise on the third day. Even in the Creed there is the statement that it is according to the Scriptures. I can’t find it. There are statements in the Gospel, however these are ex post facto.

Donald, via email 

A. The clearest prophetic passage regarding the sacrificial death and resurrection of the Messiah is the fourth Suffering Servant song in Isaiah 52:13—53:12. In seeking biblical basis for the creedal words “in accordance to the Scriptures,” the Gospel accounts cannot be dismissed as “ex post facto.” Read again Matthew 16:21, 17:22-23 and 20:17-19. Here are three promises by the Son of God that His death and resurrection on the third day will take place. The Gospels further report in detail that these promises were carried out. The creedal phrase “in accordance to the Scriptures” is not recorded in Scripture. Its purpose is to sum up scriptural teaching about the life, death and resurrection of Our Lord. 

What Happens Here?

Q. The Bible says that we are to take Communion and remember that He (Jesus) promised to come again. If the bread and wine actually become Jesus, He would be in us, and we wouldn’t have to wait till He came again. He would already be here. Further, Jesus said that it was good that He went away so that the Comforter (the Holy Spirit) could come. If the bread and wine became Jesus literally, it would contradict this because Jesus said that He needed to be gone in order for the Holy Spirit to come. Last, if the bread and wine literally become Jesus, what happens to those elements? Wouldn’t we eventually eliminate them through bodily processes? Thank you for taking the time to address my concerns with the Catholic view of the Eucharist.

Ian, via email 

A. Each of your questions arises out of misunderstanding Jesus’ sacramental presence in us.

When we receive the Body and Blood of Jesus, He remains in us in the form of bread and wine only so long as these elements exist as bread and wine. His sacramental presence in us ends when the digestive process absorbs the consecrated bread and wine. When Jesus comes again “in glory,” He will come in His glorified body in which He appeared to the apostles after His resurrection. 

Doing Penance?

Q. I have debated with a Protestant who claims that doing penance after confession is un-biblical because Jesus accomplished all that was necessary by dying on the cross. I referenced Luke 19:1-10, in which Zacchaeus promised to give half his wealth to the poor and restore fourfold to anyone from whom he has taken by false accusation. I also asserted that if Jesus had been a Protestant He would have told Zacchaeus, “Don’t do that. That’s not necessary because of what I will accomplish on the cross.” Would you agree that what Zacchaeus promised is a New Testament example of doing penance?

Mike Robinson, Levittown, N.Y. 

A. Yes, I would agree Zacchaeus undertook substantial penance. In Catholic moral theology, penance is first of all a supernatural virtue. The primary exercise of this virtue is a detestation of one’s own sins, basically because sin offends God. The virtue of penance, like any other virtue, must find existence in acts of penance. True penance involves the desire to make amends for harm done by one’s sin, if possible. Sincere acts of penance can testify to the depth of a person’s repentance.

In other words, the purpose of penance is ongoing conversion. The three basic forms of interior penance specified by Our Lord are fasting, prayer and almsgiving (see Mt 6:1-18). The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us these three dimensions of penance “express conversion in relation to oneself, to God, and to others” (No. 1434). Furthermore, “every sincere act of worship or devotion revives the spirit of conversion and repentance within us and contributes to the forgiveness of our sins” (No. 1437). They contribute to our forgiveness because, and only because, they help make us more open, more receptive, to God’s forgiveness.

In making my own confession, I have often been given what seem like standard acts of penance: “Say three Hail Marys,” “say three Glory Bes,” or “say three Our Fathers.” They bear little or no relation to what I have confessed. In my opinion, acts of penance assigned in confession ought to be tailor-made, so to speak, directly related to a sin or sins which the penitent has just laid before the Father. 

True Christianity?

Q. When I was a baby, I was baptized in the Catholic Church. However, before I became old enough to take Communion or confirmation classes, my parents, unfortunately, got a divorce. I guess that took a large toll on both of their faiths, since neither attended Catholic Mass anymore. My father found the United Methodist Church better suited for him, so he got baptized there and enrolled me in Sunday school. I was not baptized in the Methodist Church, so I do consider myself a “non-practicing” Catholic. I do feel a connection to Jesus Christ and enjoy serving others, but I’m not completely sure whether Catholicism or Protestantism is right for me. I’m a bit more reluctant of Catholicism because I always hear Protestant friends and even my parents criticizing it as un-Christian. If I chose Protestantism, what is the Catholic viewpoint of my life as a Christian? Is Catholicism the true Christianity?

Shannon, via email 

A. The answer to your last question is the answer to all your questions. Jesus Christ founded one Church, the Catholic Church. Through her until the end of time, He carries on His redemptive mission, bringing His life to the human race. To enable her to carry on His work, Our Lord endowed His Church with infallible authority to speak in His name.

All other Christian traditions — Orthodox, Anglican, Protestant — are breakaways from the Catholic Church. All have retained elements of Catholicism: the Orthodox much, Anglicans and Protestants less. But all cast aside Jesus’ authority expressed through His Church and substituted erroneous opinions of those who led them in the breakaway.

Jesus Christ is the redeemer of the universe. The fullness of Jesus Christ’s teaching, the fullness of His means of grace, the fullness of His guiding authority are found only in the Catholic Church. Therefore, Catholicism is necessarily “right” for every human being. As Blessed John Henry Newman once counseled a potential convert to the Church, ask not what you can believe, but ask what you should believe. I will pray for you to be led to your true home on earth, the Catholic Church. 

Believing Marian Apparitions?

Q. As Catholics, are we obliged to believe in Marian apparitions? I heard that we do not have to, but someone else said we do.

Name withheld by request, via email 

A. We are not obliged to believe in Marian apparitions. However, we would be ill-advised to ignore those apparitions approved by the Church. The more our love deepens for our Blessed Mother, the more powerful become her intercessions in drawing us to her divine Son. 

Teachings on Homosexuality?

Q. I stand by the Church’s teaching on the subject of homosexuality, but I would like to know where this comes from. Are there specific Scripture passages or words of Jesus that support this teaching.

Mary Beth Patterson, via email 

A. In a number of instances, sacred Scripture classifies homosexual acts as “acts of grave depravity” (see Catechism, No. 2357). The Catechism references Genesis 19:1-29, Romans 1:24-27, 1 Corinthians 6:10 and 1 Timothy 1:10. We have no words of Jesus specifically dealing with same-sex attraction. Yet His teaching on marriage reveals it as necessarily, and only, a heterosexual union of persons.

In her teaching about homosexuality, the Catholic Church clearly distinguishes three dimensions of same-sex attraction. First is the person. Each one of us is created in God’s image and likeness, each is equally the object of Jesus Christ’s redeeming love, each person is an essential good.

Next, the Catechism tells us, the inclination to homosexual actions is “objectively disordered” (No. 2358). However, it is not in itself a sin. It is “disordered” because it tempts a person to acts which go against his nature as created by God. The Church does not say that persons with this inclination are themselves “disordered.”

Finally, homosexual acts are “intrinsically disordered” because “they are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity” (No. 2357). Homosexual acts fall under the same condemnation as fornication or adultery, any sexual acts outside the bond of marriage.

All persons, whatever their inclination, whatever their calling, are called by God to persevere in chastity. Like all other persons, homosexual persons “are called to enact the will of God in their life by joining whatever sufferings and difficulties they experience in virtue of their condition to the sacrifice of the Lord’s Cross” (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons, Oct. 1, 1986, No. 12). None has written more profoundly about the proper way for us to handle human suffering than Pope John Paul II did in his 1984 apostolic letter on the Christian meaning of human suffering (Salvifici Doloris). 

Is Garabandal Approved?

Q. I am wondering if the Garabandal apparitions (in Spain) are approved by the Vatican.

Sister Mary Antony, via e-mail 

A. I have not been able to find authoritative word that the apparitions have been approved. Quite a number of notable persons have spoken very highly of them as though they were truly supernatural. We await the Church’s verdict. 

Not Teaching the Faith?

Q. Can you help me in answering this question? What errors could result from not teaching the Catholic faith organically and systematically? Specifically, in what ways could this impede catechumens from really grasping the faith and deciding not to convert?

Jennie, via email 

A. The RCIA classes of whose content I have some knowledge have hardly taught the faith “organically and systematically.” Their apparent intent is to make catechumens feel at home in the Church. That intent in itself is commendable, but leaves much to be desired. My basic concern is that catechumens may not be taught, and may not realize, the commitment to Church authority required in becoming Catholic. Without that commitment a catechumen will be vulnerable to the rampant heresy (euphemistically called “dissent” or “progressivism”) which is widespread in the Church. We must impress on them that when the Church speaks authoritatively, it is Jesus Christ himself speaking, summoning us to live the truth He proclaims.

Who is Melchizedek? 

Q. I was at an ordination a few weeks ago, and there was reference to Melchizedek. Who was he, and why is he so connected with the priesthood?

Thomas, via email

A. After Abram [later to be named “Abraham”] defeated the forces of King Chedorlaomer, “Melchizedek, king of Salem, brought out bread and wine. He was a priest of God Most High. He blessed Abram with these words: ‘Blessed be Abram by God Most High, / the creator of heaven and earth; / And blessed be God Most High, / who has delivered your enemies into your hand!’ And Abram gave him a tenth of everything” (Gn 14:18-20). Like other kings of this time, Melchizedek carried out priestly functions. Here, as in Psalm 76:3, Scripture identifies “Salem” with “Jerusalem.”

Psalm 110 begins, “The Lord says to my lord.” In Matthew 22:41-45, Jesus tells us the psalmist is David, and that he is addressing the Messiah when he sings, “You are a priest forever in the manner of Melchizedek” (Ps 110:4). The end of that verse can also be translated as “because of the word of Melchizedek.” Hebrews 7:17 addresses the words “you are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek” to Our Lord as the divine high priest.

The first Eucharistic prayer calls a roll of notable offerings — those of Abel, of Abraham and of Melchizedek — as prefigurings of the redemptive sacrifice offered by the divine Son of God.

Who Wrote the Letter to the Hebrews?

Q. Who wrote the Letter to the Hebrews? I have heard there is a theory that it was St. Paul. Why is it some writers seem not to like the letter very much?

Ambrose, via email

A. In the early centuries of the Church, the East generally held that either Paul himself or a disciple wrote the Letter to the Hebrews. This view began to prevail in the Church in the West by the fourth century. In the Church of the Middle Ages, Hebrews was generally regarded as one of Paul’s letters. The Council of Trent listed it among the letters of Paul, but this fact did not authoritatively settle the question of the letter’s authorship. Today, it seems reasonable to ascribe the letter to Paul because of its doctrinal content, and to a disciple because of the style.

I can only speculate on the question of why some writers (Scripture scholars? theologians?) might not like the Letter to the Hebrews. The letter is unique among New Testament writings in two respects. It focuses on the high priesthood of Jesus Christ and by implication on Christian priesthood. It devotes more attention to covenant theology than does any other writing.

Protestants might not appreciate the letter’s teaching about priesthood. I encountered this attitude in my first semester of seminary at Harvard Divinity School. Our professor of New Testament was internationally known, a charming man. Leading us through the New Testament documents, he called a halt when we came to the Letter to the Hebrews. Scholar though he was, he told us he had no idea what the author was talking about, and so we would simply skip Hebrews in our study of the New Testament.

I was surprised and puzzled by the professor’s cavalier dismissal of Hebrews. “If he doesn’t understand the letter, why doesn’t he try to find out how to understand it?” was my thinking. As I came to know him and know about him, I began to see why the book of Hebrews was so foreign to his thinking. He was a leading Quaker, and also (I could say, therefore) Unitarian. For him, Jesus was a great moral teacher. Period. Priesthood and high priesthood were no concern of his.

God rest his dear soul. He knows better now.

Father Ray Ryland, Ph.D., J.D., serves as chaplain for several national Catholic apostolates, an adjunct professor of theology at Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio, and an assistant pastor at St. Peter’s Church in the same city.