Question: In Luke’s Gospel it says that “in the sixth month” Mary was visited by the angel Gabriel. The feast of the Annunciation is March 25 and does not seem to relate to a sixth month. Is there some other meaning to the “sixth” month?
— Paul Vanhoudt, Erie, Colo.
Answer: The sixth month, as you suspect, is not a reference to an external calendar or time reference. It refers to the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy. This is contextually clear when we look at the previous verses: “After this time [of Zechariah’s ministry] his wife Elizabeth conceived, and she went into seclusion for five months, saying, ‘So has the Lord done for me at a time when he has seen fit to take away my disgrace before others.’ In the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of Galilee called Nazareth” (Lk 1:24-26).
Holy Spirit prayer
Question: There is a widely said prayer to the Holy Spirit that goes: “Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in them the fire of your love. Send forth your Spirit and we shall be created. And You shall renew the face of the earth.” I tend to think I am already created and so I am puzzled as to why we ask this. Please explain.
— Name, location withheld
Answer: The translation actually says, “they” shall be created, not merely “we” shall be created. This is important, because the prayer is quoting Psalm 104. While it is true that the psalm speaks to God’s work of creating all things, it also richly speaks to how he sustains all things by his providence. Thus, it says, he sends the rains and the winds, he brings forth food and richly endows all things, including humanity, with what we need.
So, the context of this well-known prayer to the Holy Spirit is to acknowledge that the Lord is the creator and sustainer of all things and to invoke his ongoing providence for us.
The logic of the prayer goes something like this: “Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in them the fire of your love [even as you say in your holy Word about all your creation]: Send forth your Spirit and they shall be created. And You shall renew the face of the earth” (Ps 104:30).
State of purgatory
Question: A priest recently preached that purgatory is a happy place where we await heaven and take a spiritual shower. Is this a good metaphor?
– Robert Bonsignore, Brooklyn, New York
Answer: There is a certain happiness there, as all who are there know that they are in the very vestibule of heaven. The doors of earth’s sorrows are closed, and soon enough the doors to heaven’s joy will open. That said, there is likely some suffering there since purification is being accomplished.
Rather than a shower, St. Paul uses the image of fire (1 Cor 3:10-15) and speaks of our works being tested and purified by that fire. The Book of Revelation (21:4) uses a more tender image. Regarding the dead, it says that Jesus will wipe every tear from their eyes. So, there are sufferings there (fire and tears), but there are consolations and healings that are underway.
In the past there was a tendency to emphasize the suffering of purgatory. Indeed, some images were quite horrific. Today there often is an emphasis on the healing found there. As with all things, some balance of the two is best when speaking of purgation after death.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.