Question: Why does Matthew in his Gospel list the ancestors of Jesus, when they are really those of his stepfather Joseph, with whom he shares no genes?
— Salvatore Leone, Tampa, Fla.
Answer: The purpose of a genealogy for ancient Jews was more complex and rich than to simply demonstrate physical descent. The modern science of genetics, chromosomes and the genetic code were unknown in the ancient world.
But even among us moderns, relationships are set up both by blood and by marriage. That is to say, two people can be related either by direct physical descent, or “legally” through the marriage of themselves or others in their family. And thus, while Joseph and Jesus shared no physical genes, Joseph’s family and Jesus are one through Joseph’s marriage to Mary. So, Joseph’s family tree “matters” to us and to those in ancient Israel because, through Joseph and his marriage to Mary, Jesus relates to many others in Israel.
In ancient Israel, genealogies existed to show that one was in fact a member of the nation of Israel. They located them in a particular tribe and also to show they’re in relationships with others. These are Matthew’s main purposes — namely, that Jesus belongs to the family of Israel both as a son of Mary, and through his relationship to Joseph, the husband of the Virgin Mary.
Matthew also has other complex purposes in mind in the names he highlights and the way he groups them in patterns of 14, all laid out according to different periods of salvation history. So, as you can see, there is more than a question of physical descent involved in the recitation of ancient genealogies. Human beings relate in more than physical ways, but also through a complex network of relationships we call families, tribes and nations.
Protestant Our Father?
Question: This Sunday our priest had us sing a Protestant version of the Our Father. The congregation really enjoyed it, but is it approved for use in the Catholic Mass?
— Carolyn Pohlen, Hutchinson, Minn.
Answer: Presumably you refer to the well-known version by Albert Hay Malotte, which has the soaring doxology at the end: “For thine is the kingdom and the power and glory for ever and ever. Amen.”
Liturgically this presents two problems. One is the translation of the doxology, which though the difference is minor, is at variance with the approved Catholic translation.
The second problem is that the musical arrangement does not reasonably allow the celebrant to proclaim or sing what is known as the “embolism,” the prayer that begins “Deliver, Lord we pray from every evil, graciously grant peace in our days ... .” This is because the musical arrangement of the Malotte Our Father is reaching a climax and moves right into the doxology. To stop the song at that moment and have the celebrant recite the embolism is clumsy at best and does dishonor to the musical setting as well. Hence when the Malotte Our Father is proposed for use in the Catholic Mass it is usually sung straight through. But this is improper liturgically. Thus beautiful though it is, the Malotte Our Father cannot reasonably be used during the Mass. It would seem that it can, however, be used in other liturgical settings with minor adaptations.
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 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.