• Ascension Now: Implications of Christ’s Ascension for Today’s Church by Peter Atkins (Liturgical Press, 2001)
• The Ladder: Parable-Stories of Ascension and Descension by Edward Hays (Ave Maria, 1999)
Prayer is a spiritual art, so prayer forms differ according to the artist. The Encyclopedia of Catholicism lists three general categories: vocal, mental, and passive. Vocal prayer is anything that uses words—spoken, recited, or sung. It can utilize composed or spontaneous prayers. The psalms and the liturgy of the Mass are two examples of vocal prayers. Mental prayer, by contrast, is silent prayer involving the imagination. The guided-imagery method of Saint Ignatius of Loyola and the prayerful reading of scripture (lectio divina) are samples of mental prayer. Passive prayer is also known as contemplation. You don’t control or generate it; you relinquish all to it. In return the mystical encounter awaits as a pure gift of God. Passive prayer can be ecstatic, as Saint Teresa of Avila experienced it. It can also relate to suffering, as it did for Teresa’s friend Saint John of the Cross.
Another way to envision prayer-forms are two categories Franciscan friar Richard Rohr suggests: mental prayer and body prayer. The vocal and mental forms outlined above fit into Rohr’s idea of mental prayer. Body prayer by contrast means “to pray from the clay”—the vessel of the self formed from clay and divine Breath. That includes spiritual activities as diverse as walking a labyrinth or the Stations of the Cross, making a pilgrimage, praying with rosary beads, tai chi, or yoga. Depending on your level of participation in passive prayer mentioned above, these could be mental prayer or a full-body experience.
The Modern Catholic Encyclopedia gets more explicit, listing 16 prayer forms. The first bunch are communal: public (shared prayer), Eucharist (the source and summit of the faith), scripture (where God speaks), and the Divine Office (psalm-led prayer on behalf of humankind). Tre Ore, the least familiar on this roll call, is a Trinity prayer in which one hour is given to silent adoration, one to reflection and writing, and a third to group-sharing.
The MCE list includes the familiar: personal prayer, spiritual reading, silent listening, recitation (e.g., rosaries, litanies), mental prayer, contemplation, and examination of conscience. It also explores the idea of recollection (bringing God to mind throughout the day); meditation (guiding the intellect and reason); affective prayer (involving emotions); and journaling as an interactive mapping of the spiritual journey.
These prayer-forms are by no means a complete list. Consider them a place to begin.
• Numbers 6:24-26; the Psalms; Matthew 6:9-13; Luke 1:46-55, 68-79: 2:29-32
• A downloadable “User’s guide on the ways to pray” by Linus Mundy
• “Find Your Spirituality Type” quiz by Roger O'Brien
• “What's the difference between saying ‘set’ prayers and prayers in my own words?” by Alice Camille
• “How is the Mass ‘prayer’”? by Alice Camille
• Prayer and Temperament: Different Prayer Forms for Different Personality Types by Chester P. Michael and Marie C. Norrisey (Open Door, 1984)
• The Breath of the Soul: Reflections on Prayer by Joan Chittister (Twenty-Third Publications, 2009)
The clearest answer is the official one: Jesus Christ is present in the Eucharist in his body and blood, humanity and divinity, under the forms of bread and wine. The church teaches that this presence is not a metaphor, it’s a reality. Real.
But how do we arrive at this idea? Jesus himself promises to be with us “always, to the end of time.” He promises to be present when two or more gather in his name, in the forgiveness of sins, and in the suffering world: “' 'Whatever you did for one of these least . . . you did for me' ” (Matthew 25:40). Jesus promises to be really present in many ways throughout the gospel. He’s most explicit about being with us, however, in one profound way: “Take it; this is my body” (Mark 14:22). “I am the bread of life. . . . Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life” (John 6:35, 54).
|A COPTIC Orthodox icon of the Last Supper.|
Needless to say not all accepted this teaching, which influenced the reaction of the Reformation movement. Luther viewed the Eucharist as a “co-existence” of Christ and the physical elements. Calvin saw it as a symbolic meal. Zwingli called it an occasion of grace depending not on the minister’s actions but the faith of the recipient.
In 1965 Pope Paul VI reiterated that Christ is present in prayer, works of mercy, preaching, teaching, sacraments, and uniquely in the Eucharist, “a way that surpasses all others” (Mysterium Fidei, no. 38). The Second Vatican Council affirmed Christ’s Eucharistic presence in the consecrated elements, the proclaimed word, the minister of the sacrament, and the worshipping assembly. In 1982 the World Council of Churches took a big step toward unity in the Baptism, Eucharist, and Ministry documents in which participating denominations agreed that the Eucharist involves “real change” in the elements and necessitates “real change” in the participants.
• Matthew 26:26-29; Mark 14:22-25; Luke 22:14-20; John 6:22-59; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26
• Mysterium Fidei, Encyclical of Pope Paul VI on the Holy Eucharist
• World Council of Churches, Unity: The Church and Its Mission, with links to documents including Baptism, Eucharist, and Ministry
• "Why do Christians believe Jesus is God incarnate?" by Alice Camille
• 101 Questions & Answers on the Eucharist by Giles Dimock, O.P. (Paulist Press, 2006)
• The Eucharist and the Hunger of the World by Monika K. Hellwig (Paulist Press, 1976)
You can’t say he didn’t warn us. “If a pope clearly realizes,” Pope Benedict XVI said in an interview only three years ago, “that he is no longer physically, psychologically, and spiritually capable of handling the duties of his office, then he has a right and, under some circumstances, also an obligation, to resign.”
In a number of ways Benedict’s dramatic move is unique, though it is not completely unprecedented. We can firmly identify 7 previous abdications from the papacy. Two resulted from Roman attacks on the early church. Pope Pontian (230-235) was arrested in the persecution of the emperor Maximinus Thrax and sentenced to the mines of Sardinia (where people went but didn’t come back). Rather than leave the church in a situation where a sitting pope was essentially imprisoned for life, he resigned before heading off for the mines. Pope Marcellinus (296-304) went the other way, disqualifying himself by handing over the scriptures to the Roman authorities and burning incense to the gods—major giving-in-to-persecution no-nos.
| POPE GREGORY XII: The last pope
to leave office before Benedict XVI.
Three left office for reasons having to do with either secular or church politics or both. Pope Silverius (536-537) was exiled by the Empress Theodora of Constantinople, restored by the Emperor Justinian, and forced out again by his successor Pope Vigilius. Celestine V (1294) resigned because he couldn’t tolerate ruling as pope under the thumb of King Charles II of Sicily. Pope Gregory XII (1406-1417) reigned during the period known as the Western Schism when no fewer than three men were claiming the papacy. When the Council of Constance was planned to resolve the issue, Gregory agreed to abide by the decision of the council as long he could convene it, thereby establishing himself as a legitimate pope long enough to resign and let the council elect Martin V to be the one of leader of the church.
Another papal departure, that of Benedict IX (11th century), came about because of his scandalous personal life, including the fact that he sold the papal office to a relative. He was elected, deposed, and returned three times before finally leaving for good.
Finally, not much is known of the reign of Pope John XVIII (1003-1009) besides some of his official decisions, but apparently he resigned and lived out his last years in a monastery (sound familiar?).
|POPE Benedict IX, (c. 1012–c. 1056): A "bad" pope.|
So Benedict’s resignation is not wholly unprecedented in that a few of the previous popes who left office did so of their free own will, either for personal reasons or the good of the church. It is, however, dramatic because it hasn't happened in a long time, and the church in recent decades is not used to papal turnover so quickly. Keep in mind that the 26-plus-year papacy of Benedict’s predecessor, John Paul II, was the second-longest in history. The length of Benedict’ papacy, about 8 years, is actually very close to the average reign of the 265 previous popes—slightly over 7 years—and not far below the average papal term since the 16th century of 10 years.
Benedict’s extraordinary decision has also drawn attention to the sometimes little-known but influential body of canon law that ultimately governs just about everything that happens in the church, including a pope’s resignation.
Before the 20th century, canon law existed in various forms and collections. It was not brought together into one book until 1917. The current Code of Canon Law, published in 1983, was a revision of the 1917 code. Some provisions for the resignation of a pope existed in older forms of the law (in the 13th century Pope Boniface VIII declared: “Our predecessor, Pope Celestine . . . constituted and decreed that the Roman Pontiff can freely resign. . . . we have determined . . . that it be placed among other constitutions for a perpetual memory of the same”). According to the current Code, a pope may resign validly as long as he makes the decision freely (canon 332.2) and makes it known in writing or orally in the presence of at least two cardinals of the church who serve as witnesses (see canon 189.2-4). This Benedict did.
This pope’s resignation is also significant not only because it is the first one to occur under the 1983 Code but also because of its reasons: We don’t know why Pope John XVIII retired to a monastery a thousand years ago, but we do know more about why his successor Benedict XVI is doing the same thing now.
|POPE BENEDICT XVI visited—twice—the tomb of his 13th-century
predecessor Celestine V, who put papal resignation on the books.
Note that in Benedict’s 2010 interview he talked about “a pope,” not “me.” He was speaking of what he thought all popes should do—not only what he thought he should do—when a pontiff is “no longer physically, psychologically, and spiritually capable of handling the duties of his office”: Namely, resign. Clearly Benedict had decided that for him that time had come. He obviously believes that, first, a significantly incapacitated pope should not be in office, and second, by resigning ahead of a catastrophic illness he is making sure the church does not face a situation for which it is not entirely prepared.
While church law on papal resignation is relatively clear, the same cannot be said for the serious incapacitation of a pope. Here we need to go back to canon law, which does allow for the possibility that the Holy See might be what it calls “impeded,” that is, if a pope becomes totally disabled, mentally ill, or otherwise truly incapable of the tasks of the office. To govern those situations the law refers to “special laws enacted for these circumstances” (canon 335). These “special laws” governing what happens when the Holy See is vacant are found in the procedures the popes establish for papal elections, last revised by the pope in 1996, but within these special laws no provision for an “impeded” pope has ever been made. In other parts of the canon law, procedures exist for removing an infirm bishop but nothing like that is set down for an incapacitated pope—even though he is the bishop of Rome—other than the provision that such a pope have a designated cardinal to oversee Vatican administration.
While it is not without precedent in history and church law, Benedict XVI’s bold decision to resign does set a modern precedent that while a pope is presumably elected for life, he does not have to and should not continue to serve if he is unable to do so. An incapacitated pope does not have to in effect abdicate his office to his aides and can make room for someone better able to lead the church into the future.
• List of all the popes
• Canons 332 and 335 from the 1983 Code of Canon Law
|ILLUSTRATION of a session of the First Vatican Council.|
The question involves a few layers of consideration. Catholic teaching isn’t uniform, though many folks think it is. The heaviest layer of teaching is called dogma, Greek for “what seems right.” Dogma is an infallible teaching of the church and will not be revoked. Because of its gravity, your pastor can’t up and declare a dogma nor can your local bishop. The formal promulgation (official publishing) of a dogma can be advanced only by an ecumenical council of the church which includes the pope or by the pope himself.
Dogmatic teaching acquired its heft at the First Vatican Council in 1869-1870 and was reiterated in the 1917 Code of Canon Law. At that time it was determined that dogma must meet three conditions. First, it must be rooted in scripture or post-biblical tradition and be divinely revealed. That means at the very least that it’s time-tested, not sprung out of yesterday’s news or today’s political situation. Second, the church must explicitly propose it as dogmatic. That protects us from the rogue cleric, theologian, or small-faith-sharing-group leader who makes a lone interpretation. Third, such proposals are made in solemn decrees or universal teachings. So you don’t have to read every book a pope writes—worthy though that may be—to be sure you’re not missing a dogma slipped into chapter six.
It would be helpful if there were a page devoted to dogmatic teachings on the Vatican website so there would be no mistaking a simple teaching from an unassailable one. Because formal and deliberate rejection of a dogma is considered a heretical act, it could be vital to your interests to know for sure whether you’re crossing a sensitive line or an irrevocable one.
Interestingly, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has declared that dogmas are influenced by “the changeable conceptions of a given epoch.” While the central meaning of a dogma cannot change, its expression can and must be reevaluated in each age to preserve the clarity and applicability of its revealed truth (see the document [link below] Mysterium Ecclesiae, 1973).
Every dogma is a doctrine (“teaching”) of the church, but not all doctrines are dogmas. So the long answer to the question is: If a doctrine isn’t a dogmatic teaching, yes, it can change. The preferred mode of change is development rather than a subsequent erasure of an earlier teaching outright. How doctrines “develop” is a topic for another time—and the sure instigator of many useful arguments.
• Matthew 5:17-19; Luke 16:17; Acts 10:34-43; 1 Corinthians 15:1-11; 1 Timothy 1:3-11; 4:11-16; 6:3-5; 2 Timothy 2:11-13; 3:14-17; 4:1-5; Titus 1:5-9
• Beliefs and teachings of the Catholic Church page from the United State Conference of Catholic Bishops
• Mysterium Ecclesiae, Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith
• By What Authority? Primer on Scripture, the Magisterium, and the Sense of the Faithful by Richard Gaillardetz (Liturgical Press, 2003)
• Catholicism: New Study Edition—Completely Revised and Updated by Richard McBrien (HarperOne, 1994)
PRAYER is the food of faith, as one theologian put it. Christians have sought the best way to feed their faith since the disciples first asked Jesus, “Lord, teach us to pray.” Jesus offers a lot of advice about how to pray in other places: Pray in secret and don’t call attention to it. Pray in groups especially when you need spiritual support. Pray often, pray briefly, and don’t multiply fancy words. Ask for what you need and you’ll get it. Pray when faced with bad spirits and difficult cases. Be watchful and prayerfully alert in times when fear may cause you to be weak.
Jesus also offered parables about effective prayer: Pray with humility and honesty, like the tax collector rather than the self-congratulating Pharisee. Be persistent in prayer, like the widow before the judge. Forgive your brother or sister before you offer your gift at the altar. Finally, Jesus gives his insistent friends a prayer that does all these things. Early Christians found it so useful they were urged to say it three times daily in the late 1st-century book of the teaching of the apostles known as the Didache. Today the “Our Father” is also prayed at every Mass, in the Liturgy of the Hours, in reciting the Rosary, and in many other devotions.
The early church father Tertullian called the Lord’s Prayer the perfect summary of the whole gospel. The heart of the prayer is an invitation to God to make the kingdom coming a present reality. The fulfillment of that kingdom is the end of all need, so we pray for what mortals need most: provisions, pardon, and protection. The prayer begins with “you” statements and ends with “we” petitions. That makes sense because faithful people must begin with submission to God’s will before we can anticipate its fulfillment in our present needs. God’s will first; then ours.
The petitions don’t imply that God has to be informed of what we need. Rather they express our confidence that God will address our needs. Jesus instructs us to begin our prayer intimately, calling on God with the familiarity of a child. Knowing the Holy Name of God presumes intimacy: In the ancient world, such knowledge gave you a certain inside track in a relationship. Invoking the kingdom to be realized “on earth as it is in heaven” brings the will of God directly into human experience. Everything about this prayer invites God to bring this world ever more closely in line with the new creation promised in Jesus.
• Matthew 5:44; 6:9-13, 33; 7:7; Mark 9:29; 14:32-38; Luke 11:1-13; 18:1-14; John 12:27-28
• The Lord’s Prayer; a presentation by Father Dennis Hamm on the meaning of the Lord’s Prayer
• The Greatest Prayer by John Dominic Crossan (HarperOne, 2010)
• The Three Greatest Prayers: Commentaries on the Lord’s Prayer, the Hail Mary, and the Apostles Creed by Saint Thomas Aquinas (Sophia Institute Press, 1998)
As with most questions of this nature, the answer begins with a clarification: Belief is reserved to matters that pertain to doctrines of the faith. So while the church has no teaching for or against extraterrestrial existence, Catholics are not obliged to believe or disbelieve it.
That may sound like faint approval for devotees of E.T. and Area 51, but actually the institutional church has shown a keen interest in this topic. Call it the “Galileo Effect”: The church does not want to be caught on the wrong side of this particular fence a second time. In 2009, the International Year of Astronomy, the Vatican went out of its way to demonstrate the proper spirit. At the Pontifical Academy of Sciences on the Vatican grounds, a conference was held with 30 astronomers, biologists, geologists, and religious leaders to discuss the possibility of life on other planets. Atheists were included on the list of presenters. So were people from the organization SETI (“search for extraterrestrial intelligence").
|ARTISTS RENDITION of Kepler 22-b, an Earth-like
planet 600 million light-years from Earth.
Even before the conference, in 2008 the pope’s chief astronomer (yes, he has one), Jesuit priest and head of the Vatican Observatory José Gabriel Funes, issued his now-famous declaration through the Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano: “Just like [sic] there is an abundance of creatures on earth, there could also be other beings, even intelligent ones, that were created by God. That doesn’t contradict our faith, because we cannot put boundaries to God’s creative freedom. As Saint Francis [of Assisi] would say, when we consider the earthly creatures to be our ‘brothers and sisters,’ why couldn’t we also talk about an ‘extraterrestrial brother?’ He would still be part of creation.”
Obviously theologians would have a stake in this topic. When the 4th-century Doctor of the Church Saint Athanasius wrote, “The Son of God became man so that we might become God,” it never would have occurred to him to ask if “man” implied humanoids only. Because Christianity is grounded in the hope of salvation for humankind based on a very specific creation story, it makes a difference whether God rescues anthropologically unique beings on this singular planet or universal life on a grand scale. Did Jesus die to save human beings on earth, or does the Cosmic Christ redeem the universe (remember we worship him as Christ the King of the Universe) in ways we have yet to appreciate? Inquiring theologians want to know.
• Job 38:1-7; Proverbs 8:22-27; Daniel 3:52-90; John 10:16; Ephesians 4:10; Hebrews 1:2; 11:3
• Theology, Christology, Anthropology by the International Theological Commission (1981)
• Christianity and Extraterrestrials? A Catholic Perspective by Marie George (iUniverse, Inc., 2005)
Roman Catholicism is a Bible-grounded religion and couldn’t be otherwise. Granted, Catholics don’t espouse the sola scriptura ("scripture alone") angle of Martin Luther: along with scripture, Catholics and many other Christians weigh the authority of the tradition which collected, preserved, and promoted the holy writings to begin with. In no way does this cheapen our relationship to the Bible itself. From sacraments to catechisms, everything we do and believe is steeped in scripture.
Vatican II said it best: “The books of Scripture, firmly, faithfully, and without error, teach that truth which God, for the sake of our salvation, wished to see confided to the sacred Scriptures” (Dei Verbum, no. 11). We believe the Bible was written, edited, and selected under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, that both Testaments are so inspired, and that God is their author in an ultimate sense. It should be noted that the word “author” in Latin has wider range than in English and means “producer” more than writer. That means God worked with the Bible’s human authors, called “true authors” in Dei Verbum, using their skills to bring these truths to light. The human writers weren’t simply taking dictation but were genuine collaborators in the message they rendered.
Our understanding of scripture has evolved, obviously: Justin Martyr (100-165) described the evangelists as mere stenographers. Second-century apologist Athenagoras said God used scripture writers “as a flautist might blow into a flute.” In the same period, however, Origen was writing about “illumination” of the writer’s mind rather than a complete mental invasion. He also considered levels of inspiration and the possibility of error in both Testaments owing to the authors’ humanity. Errors in the text, it should be said, would not contradict our present understanding that there is no error in “the truth which God . . . wished to see confided” there for the sake of our salvation. Acknowledging such historical or prescientific miscalls is a far cry from saying the Bible is either factually accurate with every word or altogether poppycock.
Augustine allowed for inaccuracies and how literary form shapes divinely inspired truth. Fellow 4th-century citizen John Chrysostom said if God’s Word could come to earth in human flesh as Jesus, it could likewise “condescend” to the forms and humble talents of human authors. Thomas Aquinas called inspiration “something imperfect” within the larger category of prophecy. The imperfection, no doubt, resides as much in the hearer as in the writer.
• 2 Samuel 23:2; Matthew 1:22-23; John 20:30-31; 21:24-25; 2 Timothy 3:16-17; Hebrews 1:1-2; 4:7; 2 Peter 1:19-21; 3:15-16
• Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation Dei Verbum
• The Scripture Documents: An Anthology of Official Catholic Teachings ed. and trans. by Dean P. Bechard (Liturgical Press, 2002)
• Listening to God’s Word by Alice Camille (Orbis Books, 2009)
|ICON of Saint John the Baptist.|
John is unique in the story of salvation. He’s the inter-testamental lynchpin: part Hebrew prophet, part Christian missionary. His strange diet and dress, his preference for the wilderness, and his stern message of repentance puts him in a class with folks like Elijah, Amos, and Isaiah. He doesn’t, however, simply talk about the coming of Emmanuel. He has the distinct advantage of being able to point him out to the crowds: “Behold, the Lamb of God!”
John’s life begins in typical Bible-hero fashion with a miracle-birth story. That is the way scripture bookmarks a life and says: “Pay attention!” as with Isaac, Moses, Samuel, and Jesus himself. We know that John’s life is peculiarly interwoven with that of Jesus from the moment he leaps in Elizabeth’s womb when Mary and her burgeoning womb are present. John, inheriting the priesthood of his father Zechariah, abandons institutional religion to become a never-ending prophet of Advent, announcing “Prepare the way of the Lord!” to all who will listen.
At the same time it’s often pointed out that John never concludes his ministry to become a disciple of Jesus. Even after he declares who Jesus is, he continues to preach and baptize. Later in prison John seems concerned that his own message of repentance or damnation seems discordant with the “mercy and forgiveness” gospel of Jesus being reported to him. He has to ask: Are you the one who is to come, or should we keep looking?
If John is uncertain of his role at times, so were plenty of other people. King Herod is afraid of John and twice as scared of Jesus after he puts John to death. He thinks Jesus may be John’s reincarnation. When Jesus asks his disciples what people are saying about him, they admit that some folks can’t tell him from John, and both John’s and Jesus’ followers got them confused with Elijah.
The fact that John never ceased his ministry even after Jesus started his reminds us that only a few of John’s followers transferred their allegiance to Jesus. The school of John dies hard: His disciples are still practicing their sect in the time of the early church. That is why the late-entry Gospel of John takes pains to subordinate John to Jesus, as when John declares: I am not the Christ. He must increase, and I must decrease.
• Matthew 3; 11:2-15; 17:10-13; Mark 1:1-11; 6:14-29; 8:27-30; John 1:6-9, 15-42; 3:22-30; Acts 13:24-25; 18:24-26; 19:1-7
• "John the Baptist: Preparing the Way" by Father Jerome Murphy-O'Connor, O.P., Scripture from Scratch, 1999
• John the Baptist: Prophet and Evangelist by Carl R. Kazmierski (Liturgical Press, 1996)
• John the Baptist: Prophet of Purity for a New Age by Catherine Murphy (Liturgical Press, 2003)
The word we’re looking for is hierarchy. It means “rule by priests” and describes the system of clergy that governs the church. Technically it’s more like “rule by bishop”: Even the pope is bishop of Rome, and no matter how fancy the hat of a cardinal it’s the territorially governing bishops who get the job done. Bishops (Greek episkopoi = "supervisors") were established in the 1st century to preserve church unity over widening areas. Priests and deacons, whose influence is very parochial—local and parish-focused—work for the bishop and declare obedience to him.
A flow chart would help, and if there is one on the walls of the Vatican, I’d love a copy. In the meantime: Think of the pope as first among bishops. Bishops are Vicars of Christ, which means they, like the pope, have the same Boss. When all the bishops get together, as with the Vatican or Lateran or Tridentine Councils, their authority is the highest the church can express.
|CARDINALS in St. Peter's Basilica.|
Cardinals were originally priests with permanent parish assignments. By the Middle Ages, the term, meaning “hinge,” denoted priests assigned to important locations (think Los Angeles, Chicago, New York in today’s terms). Cardinals became electors of the pope in the 11th century by decree of Pope Nicholas II. In the 16th century Pope Sixtus V limited the number of cardinals to 70, matching Moses’ assembly of elders (Numbers 11:16). The 1917 Code of Canon Law made it imperative for cardinals to be chosen from the clergy—previously a layman could be designated. Pope John XXIII shrunk the pool to bishops in 1962 and eliminated the numerical ceiling. The College of Cardinals functions primarily as a consulting body for the pope.
The Roman Curia is a bureaucracy that runs everything from diplomatic affairs (Vatican City is the world’s smallest sovereign state) to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to the Vatican newspaper. These offices have traditionally been filled by archbishops and cardinals. (There’s no canonical reason why women could not hold these positions in the future.)
Religious orders sweep this flow chart to the floor. There are four broad categories of orders: monastic, canonical, mendicant, and apostolic. Monasteries may be autonomous in their governance, while most orders have central authorities. Some groups are limited territorially, and few universal claims can be made about what they do and how they do it. Somewhere along the chain, though, you can bet someone is accountable to Rome.
• Acts 20:28; Philippians 1:1; 1 Timothy 3:1-13; 5:17-25; Titus 1:5-9;1 Peter 5:1-5
• “Episkopë and Episkopos: The New Testament Evidence” by Father Raymond E. Brown, S.S.
• Inside the Vatican: The Politics and Organization of the Catholic Church by Thomas Reese, S.J. (Harvard University Press, 1998)
• All the Pope’s Men: The Inside Story of How the Vatican Really Thinks by John L. Allen, Jr. (Doubleday Religion, 2004)
A more precise question might be: Are there Catholics besides those of the Roman rite that are recognized by the church? Anglicanism considers itself both “catholic” and reformed, though they aren’t “Catholic” by Roman standards. While the official relationship between the Vatican and the Church of England is described as warm and cordial, and the Anglican Communion “occupies a special place” (the Second Vatican Council’s Decree on Ecumenism, no. 13), Roman Catholics do not share full communion with Anglicans, which is the all-important sign of unity.
Orthodox churches are another matter. While the split with Rome occurred for Anglicans during the era of the Protestant Reformation, the schism between East and West happened five centuries earlier and is still considered the “great schism.” Because the Eastern tradition maintains apostolic succession, their priesthood and sacraments are recognized as valid by the Roman church. Therefore worship in common is both permissible and encouraged by Rome (Decree on Ecumenism, no. 15), although the churches’ shared sense of communion is partial and still problematic.
|WORSHIP in the Slovak-Ukrainian tradition.|
Beyond those two distinctions, there are rites that do enjoy full communion with the Latin (Roman) rite: the Byzantine (the largest, including Albanian, Belarusian, Bulgarian, Croatian, Greek, Hungarian, Italo-Albanian, Macedonian, Melkite, Romanian, Russian, Ruthenian, Slovak, and Ukrainian); the Alexandrian (some Coptics of Egypt and Ge’ez Ethiopian), the “West Syrian” (Syriac, Syro-Malankara also in India, and Maronite—Lebanese—the president of Lebanon must by law be a Maronite); the “East Syrian” (Chaldean, with headquarters in Baghdad, and Syro-Malabar in India); and the Armenian.
If you have friends in these rites, you can go to Mass with them and receive communion—but stay awake and pay attention because when you’re not in Rome you can’t always do what the Romans do. The other rites have separate codes of canon law (church law) and very different customs. Some bless themselves with three fingers or genuflect three times, in honor of the Trinity. Communion may be served under both kinds on a little spoon or in the kneeling posture. Parts of the liturgy may be celebrated behind an ornate and beautiful screen called the iconostasis.
Because many of these rites evolved closer to the East, they resemble Orthodox liturgy more than Roman. The clergy are invariably male, may be married, and most likely have more beard than you’re used to. Though it may not be Rome, it is, eucharistically speaking, still home.
• John 17:20-26; Romans 12:3-8; 14:1-15:13; 1 Corinthians 12:4-26; Philippians 2:1-4
• The Eastern Christian Churches: A Brief Survey by Ronald Roberson, C.S.P. (Edizioni Orientalia Christiana, 1999)
• Byzantine Theology: Historical Trends and Doctrinal Themes by John Meyendorff (Fordham University Press, 1999)
• Second Vatican Council, Decree on the Catholic Churches of the Eastern Rite Orientalium Ecclesiarum
• An excellent historical introduction to the Eastern Catholic churches from the Office of Religious Education of the Byzantine Eparchy of Parma (Ohio), with the Very Rev. Thomas Loya:
The word of God continues to be expressed in prophecy and wise teaching. Such divine self-revelation can lead to miraculous doings, as in the time of Moses, Elijah, Elisha, and Jesus. Or it can be heard through powerful oracles that begin, “Thus says the Lord,” told by Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and most of the “minor” prophets. It’s heard more softly but no less empathically in the teachings and parables of Jesus. Because God’s word contains divine intent, it’s meant to evoke change in those who hear it—just as divine words divide day from night, create a path through the Red Sea, or heal a blind man.
With oracles, however, the effect of the Word depends on the freedom of the human will to accept or deny it. When God’s word acts upon matter, it moves. When God’s word encounters the human person, he or she is free to remain unmoved and unchanged. As the psalmist says: If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts! (Psalm 95:7-8).
• Genesis ch. 1; Deuteronomy 5:5, 22; 10:4; 1 Samuel 3:7-18; Psalm 33:6-9; 95:7b-8; Sirach 42:15-43:33; Isaiah 28:13-14, 23-29; John 1:1-5, 14; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:1-4
• The Second Vatican Council’s Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation Dei Verbum
• The Power of Words, by Alice Camille (videotaped parish talk)
• The Names of Jesus (Threshold Bible Study) by Stephen J. Binz (Twenty-Third Publications, 2004)
• God’s Word Is Alive by Alice Camille (ACTA Publications, 2007)
It’s always easier to speak from experience, in which case the best reply to this question would come from Doctors of the Church Hildegard of Bingen (recently named) and Catherine of Siena as well as other saints like Francis of Assisi, Bernadette of Lourdes, or any number of folks on the biblical record like Jacob, Isaiah, Ezekiel, Peter, Paul, and John of Patmos, who wrote the Book of Revelation.
|ICON of Hildegard of Bingen|
From me, you can get a definition. Visions are understood to be the product of God’s self-communication. As Carmelite Father John Welch puts it, all of Christianity depends on divine revelation, so the hop to visions is not all that unusual for people of faith. Nonetheless it is an extraordinary event that can be expressed in words, ideas, or images. It may have a physical dimension but is more often experienced in the imagination or intuitive understanding.
Visions that include a tangible dimension are considered extremely rare. Juan Diego got an image on tilma cloak from Our Lady of Guadalupe. Philip Neri experienced a globe of fire entering his chest that literally broke his ribs and enlarged his heart. Francis of Assisi had his stigmata. Most visions don’t have that kind of corporeal aspect, and mystics themselves often mistrusted them if they did. “Imaginative visions”—Joan of Arc described hers this way—are often attributed to factors like youth, an elementary religious education, or psychological simplicity. Consider how many mystics had their experiences as children, like those of the Virgin Mary at Fatima, Portugal in 1917.
Mystics agree the most reliable visions are intellectual or intuitive; these are less likely to be distorted by unreliable human senses. Mystics are also the first to say that visions are not the goal of the spiritual life. Most mystics had their visions early and moved into a greater interiority of spiritual communion with God after that. In that sense the vision achieved its purpose along the spiritual journey as a boost upward into something richer and more useful—the point being, for the saints and for the rest of us, that we shouldn’t measure ourselves against these experiences or hanker after them. If even visionaries found them dispensable, they are clearly not prerequisites to grace.
Although faith is based on revelation, church teaching leaves the matter of specific visions open to question. Visionaries in modern times are subject to investigation by church authorities and may be deemed credible—but their experiences are not made matters for doctrinal acceptance for believers. Most of us have inexplicable episodes when we perceive things we have no way of knowing and yet do. If we pay attention, we might see more than we think.
• Genesis 32:23-33; Isaiah 6:1-8; Ezekiel 10; Daniel 7:13-18; Acts of the Apostles 9:1-9; 10:9-16; the Book of Revelation
• The Dialogue of Saint Catherine of Siena, "dictated by her, while in a state of ecstasy, to her secretaries, and completed in the year of our lord 1370"
• Our Lady of the Lost and Found: A Novel of Mary, Faith, and Friendship by Diane Schoemperlen (Penguin, 2002)
• Mystics and Miracles: True Stories of Lives Touched by God by Bert Ghezzi (Loyola Press, 2002)
We've talked about Purgatory before, but with All Saints and All Souls Days coming up, here's another take on the subject.
The Christian imagination has traditionally depicted Purgatory as a kind of “Hell-lite”: fires and torment but with an end-date at which time souls, having paid for their sins with suffering, get promoted to Heaven. Vivid though these images are, they tend to make Purgatory into a place that exists in time, and really it’s neither. After the death of the body, the soul enters eternity, which is a spiritual realm beyond our sense of place and, by definition, beyond time.
|"PURGATORY" from The Last Judgment (c. 1500)
by Hieronymous Bosch. Wikimedia Commons.
So what is Purgatory? Every Christian life is a pilgrimage that begins when someone enters earthly life and is baptized into the Body of Christ and reaches its fulfillment in communion with God and all the angels and saints in Heaven.
Death of course is a major step in that journey, but it’s a big leap to go from human life with all its limitations to perfect unity with God. Even those who die with the full benefits of the sacraments of the church—in a “state of grace”—still carry with them the aftereffects of sin. Purgatory supplies the necessary transition into eternal life: It’s a state in which a soul is purified or “purged” of all that still might separate it from God.
It’s the last “stop” on the journey toward communion with God and all the angels and saints that began when someone entered earthly life and was baptized into the Body of Christ. If there is suffering in Purgatory, it’s the pain of the soul’s awareness that it is still separated in some way from God, and that this separation is the consequence of sinful actions in earthly life.
Catholic doctrine says that God’s judgment of each soul occurs at death. For those who led lives of faith and repentance, the way to Heaven is before them, though the remaining obstacles to eternal glory need to be cleared away (and for those who lived and died in deliberate estrangement from God, the possibility exists for that separation to become permanent, which would literally be Hell).
God, however, does not want anyone to be condemned and wishes that all will be saved and enjoy life with God forever. Some theologians today, moreover, think that the state of Purgatory may be as instantaneous after death as is personal judgment.
Whether that's true or not, Purgatory is not only about what happens after death. It also has a lot to do with life in the present. For one thing, those on earth and those “in” Purgatory can pray for another, and thus Purgatory is an expression of intercessory prayer and the communion of saints between this world and the next. What’s at stake in praying for the souls in Purgatory is not a matter of holding them up lest they slip into Hell; the souls in Purgatory are already promised the Heavenly state. Those prayers, though—as well as anything else you offer for them, like an act of charity or a work of mercy—can help move them along the path towards full and complete life with God.
Purgatory is also a powerful reminder that the decisions you make in your relationships with God and neighbor today make a big difference both now and in the end.
Throughout its history religious life has had people who are attracted to and want to be part of the spirit of a particular community but not necessarily become a religious sister or brother, nun, or monk. In response, religious communities have over time established various ways so that such folks can more formally share in the spirit of the community. These formal relationships with a community may involve mutual responsibilities, a renewable or life-long commitment, and a rule of life.
|THIRD ORDER Carmelites (wearing their “profession
scapulars”) gather with Carmelite friars
for prayer at Aylesford Priory in England.
I’ll briefly describe a few of them:
• Third Orders. In some of the early religious communities, the “First Order” referred to the original group of monks or friars. The “Second Order” referred to contemplative nuns who wished to follow in the founding spirit of the First Order. The “Third Order” or “Secular Order” referred to women and men who wanted to live in the spirit of the religious community but remain in their current state of life. The three main congregations with Third Orders are the Carmelites, the Franciscans, and the Dominicans.
• Oblates. The word oblate comes from the word oblation, which in Latin means “offering.” An oblate, then, is one who offers herself or himself to God in and through their association with a particular religious community. This term is most often used within the Benedictines and monastic life.
• Associates. The words associates or affiliates are often used in relation to apostolic religious communities that are not “orders” or monastics as mentioned above.
Each community has different customs in regard to tertiaries (the term for people who belong to a third order), oblates, and associates, so I encourage you to check out their websites and connect with the vocation director of the community. She or he will be able to talk with you not only about religious life but also some of these other approaches to participating.
In addition to these and other formal paths to relationship with a religious community, there are many others. At the I.H.M. Sisters people join us all the time for liturgies, volunteering on a project, helping support the community, visiting with members, attending events, and other activities. Often these are great ways for anyone—including someone discerning a call to religious life—to get to know the community.
A number of communities you can find on the VISION Vocation Network website have third order or other similar organizations, like the associate communities of the Poor Handmaids of Jesus Christ.
My question is: Why don’t we sing more? The importance of singing in ritual is long-established. Can we have a ball game in this country without a rendition of The Star-Spangled Banner? I’m amazed that the same people who belt out a song in the shower, croon along in the car, and know all the words and moves to Thriller don’t crack the songbook in the pews. Granted, not all church music suits your taste or mine. I’m not wild about the “Happy Birthday” song either. But when it’s time to sing it, the liturgy of the moment demands that I play my part.
Saint Augustine, who said many things well, insisted: “Singing is for one who loves.” That is the same Bishop Augustine who considered banning music from his church altogether. Augustine loved music so much he found it far too fetching and distracting to enjoy at liturgies. In the end he adhered to the older proverb: “Whoever sings well prays twice over.” So pass out the song sheets.
Saint Paul was an earlier proponent of church music, back when church was held in somebody’s house. He advocated that believers sing “psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God” (Colossians 3:16). While Augustine got it right that singing is for lovers, happy people in general whistle while they work, and grateful people feel as if they have something to sing about. That could explain a lot of things about why folks in church are reluctant to sing. Ever look around at all those glum faces? Without a significant increase in the spirit of joy and gratitude, don’t expect an increase in responsive singers.
In the Bible a lot of joy and gratitude gets expressed in random acts of music. “Sing to the Lord a new song!” the psalmists say—in the Bible’s own songbook, the Psalms. Many of the big players have a song to sing, especially the women: Miriam at the Red Sea rescue; Hannah at the birth of her child; Deborah after her battleground victory achieved with the help of another woman, Jael; Judith after defeating Holofernes; and Mary when she visits Elizabeth and shares her annunciation. King David himself wrote music, played, and danced—which annoyed his wife, who thought it made him seem frivolous in front of the nation. To those who love and feel joy and gratitude, a little frivolity in public is in order.
• Exodus 15:1-18; 1 Samuel 2:1-10; Judges 5; Judith 16:1-18; the Book of Psalms; Luke 1:46-55; Colossians 3:16
• Psalms from the Soul by Rawn Harbor, ValLimar & Frank Jansen, and Val Parker (OCP)
• Psalms for the Church Year by David Haas and Marty Haugen (GIA Publications)
• The Liturgical Music Answer Book by Peggy Lovrien (Resource Publications, 1999)
• Sing to the Lord: Music in Divine Worship (USCCB, 2008)
Image credit: 123RF Stock Photo
I can say this about polytheism in the Bible: It’s there. The worship of many divinities leads to the central conflict for the prophets: Which God is to be Israel’s God? Just because Abraham steps out of the polytheism of his ancestors into a radical covenant with the God YHWH doesn’t mean he, or his heirs, stop believing in the existence of other deities. They simply choose to cast their lot with the God of many promises: land, descendants, and future. YHWH will be their God, and they will be his people.
|WILLIAM Blake's Ancient of Days.|
Many names for God are used in the Hebrew Bible. YHWH (pronounced “Yahweh”) is the name Abraham and Moses are given to identify God. God is also called El, a common Semitic word (among Israelites, Arabs, ancient Akkadians, and others) for divine beings both as the generic el and the proper name El, the father of all of Canaan’s gods. El occurs 286 times in the Old Testament. When used to refer to Israel’s God, it’s usually added to another term: for example, El Bethel, the God revealed to Jacob at Bethel. Shaddai, the almighty “God of the mountain,” was an even older name for God that shows up in poems in the Books of Genesis, Numbers, Job, some psalms, and Ezekiel. That Israel’s God would be identified with Mt. Sinai isn’t surprising, given the centrality of the covenant with Moses.
God has many names in scripture, but did Israel worship more than one God? Yes, to their shame, if the Books of Samuel, Kings, and prophecy are taken seriously. Baal-worship is the bane of the prophets, and Jeremiah asserts the women of Jerusalem chased after “the Queen of Heaven,” so goddesses were in the mix, too. The Book of Deuteronomy warns against the sun- and moon-worship practiced by the Amorite and Phoenician peoples, and King Josiah had to end sacrifices to heavenly bodies in 2 Kings 23.
Scholars of the biblical creation story have viewed it as a systematic subjugation of other gods: the Persian belief in the uncreated light (Day 1); Baal who brings forth rain and growing things (Days 2 and 3); all heavenly bodies including the Egyptian sun god Re (Day 4); primeval sea monsters of Mesopotamian mythology (Day 5); and humanity, whose purpose is to share creation’s stewardship with God in dignity rather than bear the yoke of the gods as in the stories of other deities (Day 6). Most ancient creation stories speak of divine rest; only in Israel’s story is humanity invited to share in it with the institution of the Sabbath (Day 7). It could be argued that none of that needed to be written if there weren’t a significant attraction to polytheism in ancient Israel.
• Genesis 1:1-2:4; Joshua 24:1-24; YHWH: Exodus 3:4-15; Shaddai: Genesis 17:1; 28:3; 35:11; 43:14; 48:3; 49:25; Exodus 6:3; Numbers 24:4, 16; Psalms 68:15; 91:1-2; Ezekiel 1:24; 10:5
• The Collegeville Pastoral Dictionary of Biblical Theology ed. by Carroll Stuhlmueller, C.P. (Liturgical Press, 1996): entries on “God,” pp. 383-386; “El/Elohim,” pp. 243-244; “Yahweh,” p. 1111-1114; “Names,” pp. 665-667
• The Names of God in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam: A Basis for Interfaith Dialogue by Máire Byrne (Continuum, 2011)
Dissent is best understood and undertaken in the context of some other important concepts: authority, tradition, obedience,and the sense of the faithful. I can’t do justice to these topics here but for a fuller treatment on authority see my article in the 2013 VISION Catholic Religious Vocation Discernment Guide.
First, an affirmation of dissent by Karol Wojtyla, later Pope John Paul II, in The Acting Person: “The structure of a human community is correct only if it admits not just the presence of a justified opposition but also that practical effectiveness of opposition required by the common good.” The tender issue here is that the church is not only a human community but also a mystical body. That which is mortal about the church must respect and address justified opposition. Which leads to the sticking point: Who decides what is justified?
|YVES CONGAR, O.P. (1904-1995)|
I’d like to suggest two determinants: the magisterium and the mystical body. The magisterium, the church’s teaching body, is composed in each generation of specific persons who, through apostolic succession and the power of the Holy Spirit, have attained the seats of discernment: pope, curia—the Vatican offices that assist the pope in governing the church—the College of Cardinals, and national bishops’ conferences. They write the documents promulgated into binding teaching for the whole church.
The mystical body of Christ is a much larger assembly. It’s comprised of the faithful to whom the Holy Spirit is likewise entrusted. That Spirit can draw up from the whole body a sense of the faithful (sensus fidelium) that engenders a sea change in church understanding, the way Pentecost did for its first responders. For the most part the magisterium and the sensus fidelium confirm each other, as in the Acts of the Apostles: “The community of believers was of one heart and mind” (4:32). Sometimes they also are at odds, as when Saint Paul discerned that Gentiles should not have to come to Christianity by way of Judaism (Acts 15 and Galatians 2:11ff).
Paul is the poster child for handling church dissent. He went to Jerusalem to argue his case and get a ruling from Saints James and Peter and the elders. He also—literally—got into Peter’s face later in Antioch—but he stayed in relationship, which was the main thing. Every great dissenter after him—Saint Thomas Aquinas, Saint Catherine of Siena, Cardinal John Henry Newman, the great Dominican theologian Yves Congar, the Australian saint Sister Mary MacKillop, among others—stayed in tandem with the magisterium and eventually pulled it forward.
• Acts 2:1-4, 42-47; 4:32-35; 9:31; 15:1-29, 36-39; Galatians 2:11-14
• Faithful Dissenters: Stories of Men and Women Who Loved and Changed the Church by Robert McClory (Orbis Books, 2000)
• Creative Fidelity: American Catholic Intellectual Traditions ed. by R. Scott Appleby, Patricia Byrne, and William L. Portier (Orbis Books, 2004)
• Creative Fidelity: Weighing and Interpreting Documents of the Magisterium by Francis A. Sullivan (Paulist Press, 1996)
• Documents of the pope and the Vatican curia
• Documents of church councils
No is the wrong answer to the question, Do Catholics believe in evolution?; while yes is too small a response. What Catholics believe is a matter of creed and doctrine. The church teaches as doctrine that God is the Creator, but the how of creation is not doctrinally determined. The church doesn’t uphold evolution as an element of faith: i.e., believe it or walk the plank. Catholic teaching allows that God may have chosen to create the world through the process of evolution. We believe truth has integrity; there can be no contradiction between scientific truth and the religious kind. Theology and science are not in competition but are complementary adventures in understanding. So if a thing is true, it’s naturally true for people of faith.
|CHARLES DARWIN (1809-1882) published
On the Origin of Species by Means
of Natural Selection in 1859.
The church is more emphatic on matters like creationism. This position claims evolution is completely incompatible with divine creation literally described in Genesis. Scientific creationism, an offshoot, goes so far as to say that biblical truth is the only science acceptable to Christians. Catholic theologian John Haught replies that not only does this stance deprive science of its legitimacy, but such ideas trivialize the Bible by reducing it to a biology lesson.
The church’s view of evolution has itself evolved. In 1950 Pope Pius XII affirmed that evolution did not contradict faith so long as the immediate creation of the human soul by God was not at issue. Pope John Paul II showed similar caution about the soul becoming a “simple epiphenomenon” of living matter—a result of the physical body, not something supernatural and infused in the body by God.
Pope Benedict XVI did not hesitate. Before his papacy in 2004, he stated: “While there is little consensus among scientists about how the origin of the first microscopic life is to be explained, there is general agreement among them that the first organism dwelt on this planet about 3.5-4 billion years ago. Since it has been demonstrated that all living organisms on earth are genetically related, it is virtually certain that all living organisms have descended from this first organism. Converging evidence from many studies in the physical and biological sciences furnishes mounting support for some theory of evolution to account for the development and diversification of life on earth, while controversy continues over the pace and mechanisms of evolution.” In 2009 the pope also said God was “not only involved in the origins of the universe but continually sustains the development of life and the world” and “is the cause of every being and all becoming.”
• Genesis chs. 1-2; Proverbs 8:22-36; Wisdom 7:17-22; John 1:1-5; Acts 17:24-28; 1 Timothy 4:4-5; 2 Timothy 3:16-17; Hebrews 11:3
• “Evolution and God: Darwin and Theology 150 years after The Origin of the Species” by Aloysious Mowe, S.J., Woodstock Report, June 2009
• Making Sense of Evolution: Darwin, God, and the Drama of Life by John F. Haught (Westminster John Knox Press, 2010)
• Christianity in Evolution: An Exploration by Jack Mahoney (Georgetown University Press, 2011)
• Theologian and biological scientist Dr. Celia Deane-Drummond of the University of Notre Dame will deliver the 2012 Albertus Magnus Lecture on “Human Uniqueness Reconsidered: Human Evolution and the Image of God,” Thursday, November 15, 2012 at 7:00 p.m. in the Auditorium of the Priory Campus of Dominican University in River Forest, Illinois just west of Chicago. More information . . .