Q. At the celebration of the feast of the Chair of St. Peter the Apostle I was troubled by words in the opening collect: “For you have set us fast on the rock of the apostle Peter’s confession of faith.” They seem to confirm the Protestant claim that the Church is founded not on Peter himself, but rather on the confession of faith he had just made: “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God” (Mt 16:16). Please explain.
Name withheld by request
A. Strictly construed, these words you quote do seem to support the Protestant interpretation of Matthew 16:18, “You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church.” The Catholic interpretation of Our Lord’s words is not clearly set forth in the Latin original of this collect. It invokes God’s protection of those “whom you have established on the rock of the apostolic faith.” No specific mention of Peter, here. At best, the English translation is quite loose.
At root, Protestantism is based on an axiom: the rejection of the papacy. Naturally, these separated brothers and sisters yearn to justify their axiom by their interpretation of words of the collect under discussion. Yet the scriptural context itself clearly rules out that attempt. If the Church is based on a doctrine (see Mt 16:16), how could Jesus entrust the governing of the Church (the “keys to the kingdom” [v. 19]) to a doctrine?
Or how could Our Lord authorize a doctrine to “bind” and “loose?” No institution can be founded simply on words, even though those words be divine.
The existence of thousands of conflicting Protestant denominations — and the number steadily grows — is the ultimate refutation of their attempt to redefine Jesus’ commission to Peter.
We can hope and trust that future revision of the liturgy will make this collect for the Chair of St. Peter the Apostle clearly state the true and Catholic meaning of Matthew 16:18.
How Did Christ Pray?
Q. Do theologians have any ideas of the why and the how of Christ’s prayers to the Father when He occasionally went off by himself to pray? If we are intended to model our prayer life after that of Christ, we have only the example of the Our Father as mankind’s authorized approach to the Father. When the Gospels describe Christ’s going off to pray, they tell us nothing about the content of His prayer. Given the absolute unity of the Trinity, what could there be left to say in prayer between the Son and the Father? Communication among the Persons of the Trinity certainly didn’t require words and was undoubtedly instantaneous. Can you offer some insight?
Robert Beyerle, via email
A. We are made in the “image and likeness” of God. Perhaps, therefore, a human analogy can be helpful in considering this important question.
On the human level, the potentially deepest adult relationship is that of marriage. Imagine an elderly couple whose love for one another has steadily grown through long years together. The deeper their love, the more they want to spend time together. In their time together, almost without willing it, they can communicate their love even on a nonverbal level. Yet, at their best, they remain two persons, never able to achieve perfect union.
The Father, Son and Holy Spirit are of one substance. Therefore their love for one another is perfect. When the Incarnate Lord went apart to pray, He had nothing to report to the Father.
Yet, I think, in His perfect human nature, Our Lord shared with all of us a continuing need for renewal of strength to carry out our divinely appointed missions on earth. That human need was not forced on Him. He freely accepted it, and allowed it to be fulfilled through extended time in prayer.
But think. If the Incarnate Lord had need for extended prayer, how much greater is our need! God, help us in letting Him fulfill our need for His love and guidance.
Changing His Mind?
Q. The letter entitled “Changing God’s Mind” (TCA Faith, September/October 2011) raised more questions for me. Much of what we pray for — world peace, end to tyranny — depends on how man chooses to use free will. Since God does not interfere with that will, how should we pray for those things? Do we pray that the tyrants, dictators and suicide bombers who kill the innocent will somehow be changed? Can the Lord do that without interfering with free will? Or this. If God wills that a child die from a life-threatening disease, how do we pray for that child? If we ask that he be healed, but it is God’s will that he die, are we not asking God to “change His mind”?
Marilyn Paperman, Houston, Texas
A. The will of those who do evil is not free. They have yielded their will in bondage to Satan. When we pray for them, we are asking God to deliver them from their bondage. In other words, we are asking Him to give freedom to their will so that they can choose and do the good by God’s grace.
We must be guided by the Church in praying for healing of others, or of ourselves. In the liturgy for the anointing of the sick, not one of the many prayers for healing is qualified by such phrases as “if it be your will.” Historians of liturgy tell us that in all the Church’s prayers there is not a single instance of this qualification. In the Garden of Gethsemane our Lord Jesus agonized in prayer that He might be spared the torture of crucifixion. Yet he gave us the necessary conclusion for prayers of healing, nevertheless: “Your will be done” (Mt 26:42).
Following this lead, we must always pray for healing of others.
At the same time there must always be in our minds the desire for God’s will to be done. If healing does not take place in this life, we know that must be part of God’s intention for that person. In God’s perfect plan for each person, He has something better for the person whose life He allows disease or injury to bring to an end.
What Is Necessary?
Q. In “What Is Absolutely Necessary” (TCA Faith, November/December 2012), you affirm that the Church teaches that outside of the Church there is no salvation. The Fathers, doctrine and dogma certify that statement. However, I could not find any teaching, dogma, doctrine or Church Fathers’ writings that states unequivocally that the Church recognizes non-Catholic communions as a means to salvation. Please explain or show me where this is recognized by the Church.
Austin D. Nixon, Port Orange, Fla.
A. The Catholic Church does recognize and even rejoice in the salvific benefit of the separated denominations. The Second Vatican Council’s Decree on Ecumenism (Unitatis Redintegratio), as prime example, repeatedly affirms this recognition. Here are a few themes from the decree.
All persons who have been validly baptized are “incorporated into Christ; they therefore have a right to be called Christians, and with good reason are accepted as brothers by the children of the Catholic Church.”
Again, “some, even very many, of the most significant elements and endowments which together go to build up and give life to the Church itself, can exist outside the visible boundaries of the Catholic Church” (No. 3).
The decree then specifies such elements as “the written Word of God; the life of grace; faith, hope and charity, with the other interior gifts of the Holy Spirit, as well as visible elements.” Then the decree explains, “All of these, which come from Christ and lead back to Him, belong by right to the one Church of Christ.” Many of the liturgical actions of the Christian religion carried on in separated communities and denominations “most certainly can truly engender a life of grace, and, one must say, can aptly give access to the communion of salvation” (No. 3)
Finally, again, the Spirit of Christ uses these traditions “as means of salvation, which derive their efficacy from the very fullness of grace and truth entrusted to the Catholic Church” (No. 3).
In other words, it is the Catholic truth — not the error — in these communities that makes them salvific.
Q. Confusion has arisen in our small religious community when we reflect on the mystery of the Incarnation. One member understands that Jesus Christ was begotten by the Father at the moment of His Incarnation. Another member maintains that the Second Person of the Holy Trinity was begotten before time began. All we are sure of is that in repeating the Nicene Creed we affirm our belief in “one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father … begotten, not made.” One further question: If the only Son of God is begotten from the Father, why do we speak of the Holy Spirit proceeding from the Father and the Son? Why do we not say that the Holy Spirit is also begotten? Could you please give some clarity to these issues? We appreciate it very much and enjoy your magazine tremendously.
Sister Magdalene MJ, L.C.O.S.M., St. Joseph’s Hermitage, Fátima, Portugal
A. We are pleased to learn that you and your community in that hallowed place are among our readers.
Your concern actually focuses primarily on the Incarnation, and only secondarily on the doctrine of the Holy Trinity. Through the centuries the mind of the Church has meditated on revelation concerning the life of the Three Persons in One. You rightly focus on the Nicene Creed’s affirmation, “eternally begotten of the Father.”
We know that God the Father eternally is. Strictly speaking, none can be a father without a son or daughter.
If the Father is eternally Father, then the Son must eternally be the Son. This, I think, is what the Creed means when it speaks of the Son as “eternally begotten.” We can take the word “begotten” not to refer to a beginning of the Son, but to declare that Son and Father are of one substance.
The Council of Toledo (675) decreed, “The Father is that which the Son is, the Son that which the Father is, the Father and the Son that which the Holy Spirit is, i.e. by nature one God” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 253).
You wonder why the Church does not speak also of the Holy Spirit as “begotten,” rather than as “proceeding” from Father and Son. In the sense of “begotten” given above, we could speak of the Holy Spirit as “begotten.” But the phrase “proceeds from the Father and the Son” tells us more about the Holy Spirit than does the single word “begotten.”
Here is what I mean. The Church tells us the Father loves the Son with a love which expresses all that the Father is. The Son loves the Father with a love which expresses all that the Son is. That love is therefore a Person, the Holy Spirit, of one substance with the Father and with the Son. In this sense the Holy Spirit “proceeds” from the Father and the Son.
Our Glorified Body?
Q. If we are to rise again in a glorified body, how can that occur if our old body was destroyed by incineration (cremation)? Is this not an offense to God, to destroy the vessel that He created? I have often thought about this, but never have found an answer.
Giovanna Kateri, via email
A. In the course of nature, a body long buried in the ground ultimately will disintegrate. Regardless of this, the bodies of all persons who die in a state of grace will be restored (re-created?) in glorified form.
As for cremation, the Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us, “The Church permits cremation, provided that it does not demonstrate a denial of faith in the resurrection of the body” (No. 2301).
Cremation must be delayed until the funeral Mass is celebrated. If this is impossible, the Mass can be offered in the presence of the remains (1) if no disrespect is shown or intended for the resurrection of the body, and (2) if the bishop permits.
There is an invaluable dignity to Christian burial which cremation can never offer. Carrying out the liturgy of burial also helps to offer emotional and spiritual closure for the bereaved.
May We Applaud?
Q. Please address the question of why more and more pastors are allowing the faithful to indulge in applause as praise for choirs and certain individuals in attendance. A few weeks ago, in our parish, a birthday was announced before dismissal, and the congregation not only broke into applause but sang “Happy Birthday” in the person’s honor.
One may perhaps condone this kind of behavior in a Protestant church, but for it to take place during a Catholic Mass almost seems blasphemous, specifically because our purpose in being there is to adore the Creator.
Via email, name withheld by request
A. If the activities to which you object took place after the final blessing, then, technically speaking, they did not occur during the Mass itself. But that does not excuse the rapid change in the minds of the worshipers from what it should be as they leave the nave.
Think of it! We who leave the celebration have just received the greatest gift God can give us. We have been literally, physically, united with our risen Lord and Savior. Ought we not file out of the church in a grateful, pensive frame of mind? Having to holler a “happy birthday” greeting just before we leave Mass surely tends to detract from, if not wipe out, that proper mindset. And, by the way, the same can be said in criticism of the outburst of loud greetings and conversation which break out immediately after Mass ends. Have you ever shared in a Mass after which people quietly filed out, waiting to speak after leaving the nave?
Though it’s difficult to justify congregational birthday greetings, applause during the liturgy may be appropriate. In the celebration of the Easter Vigil, for example, it is customary to applaud those who have just been baptized and confirmed. In that context, applause can express not merely congratulations. It can also be an act of thanksgiving for the new members who have been grafted into the Mystical Body of Christ.
Work on Sunday?
Q. I am in a quandary. My job’s new schedule means that I have to work on a Sunday. Can I do that? What does the Church teach about that?
Charles, via email
A. It is permitted to do necessary work on Sunday if you fulfill your weekend Mass obligation. Depending on your hours, perhaps you could worship at an early Mass. If that is not possible, then you should consider worshiping in a Saturday afternoon Mass. We hope for your sake that you can satisfy your obligation in one of these ways.
I assume you have at least one day off from work.
Get and study a copy of Blessed John Paul II’s apostolic letter on keeping the Lord’s Day holy (Dies Domini). It is easily accessible on the Internet at www.vatican.va. Then try to bring to some portion of your day off the hallowing of which Blessed John Paul spoke so profoundly.
What about Moses and Elijah?
Q. In the January/Februrary issue of TCA, you answered a question whose heading was “Before or After?” You stated that the only persons who currently have their resurrected bodies in heaven are Mary and Jesus. I would posit that Moses and Elijah are also included in that group. Representing the law and the prophets, both Elijah and Moses were seen conversing with Jesus. How does the Catholic Church explain the issue of bodies in heaven in regards to this Scripture?
Chic Harmon, Middle Haddam, Conn.
A. None of the three Gospel accounts of the Transfiguration tell us Moses and Elijah appeared in resurrection bodies. Matthew (see 17:3) and Mark (9:4) simply report that Moses and Elijah “appeared to them.” In Luke 9:31, we read that Moses and Elijah “appeared in glory.” The meaning of “glory” is unclear.
On the other hand, Scripture plainly testifies that those who belong to Christ will receive their resurrection bodies only at the Last Judgment. Jesus said, “the hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice [the voice of the Son of man] and come forth, those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of judgment” (Jn 5:28, RSV).
Again, as we see in John’s Gospel, “This is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up at the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in him should have eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day” (6:39-40, RSV). Repeatedly, Jesus speaks of raising “on the last day’” (Jn 6:44; 6:54; 11:24) those who belong to Him.
The bestowal of resurrection bodies at the Second Coming (Last Judgment) of Christ is also a theme in the Pauline epistles (see, for example, 1 Cor 15:22-23,51-53; 1 Thes 4:14-17).
So whatever “appeared in glory” (Lk 9:31) means, it does not refer to Moses’ and Elijah’s resurrection bodies.
One Way to Heaven?
Q. During a recent family discussion about our faith, I recalled that, years ago, in my catechism class we were taught that the only way to heaven was through the one true Church (the Catholic Church). My two sisters-in-law said this was never a teaching in our Catholic schools. We are all in our late 70s and early 80s. Was this not a teaching in the Church in the 1930s?
Bill, via email
A. This has been the Church’s teaching through the centuries. There is salvation only through Jesus Christ. Outside the visible boundaries of the Church there is truth by which people can be saved. That truth always comes in one way or another through Christ’s Church.
Or put the matter this way: Jesus Christ redeemed the world only through His natural body. Until the end of time Jesus Christ makes salvation available to mankind only through His supernatural body, the Mystical Body of Christ, the one true Church. Therefore there is not salvation outside the Church. (See also earlier question in this column titled “What Is Necessary?”) TCA
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.