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June 2018 Posts

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Who decided we should have holy days of obligation and what they should be?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Friday 15, June 2018 Categories: Doctrines & Beliefs

Every Sunday is essentially a holy day. That is, Catholics set aside the first day of the week to “abstain from those labors and business concerns” which are an impediment to worship, joy, works of mercy, and proper relaxation of mind and body. Each Sunday becomes for us a “little Easter,” commemorating the Lord’s Resurrection. Certain other days on the liturgical calendar have come to share the obligatory pull of the Sunday observance. But how was it decided which events qualify for this attention?

As early as the second century, Christian communities celebrated the feasts of local martyrs as standard observances. By the fourth century, the Western church added Christmas to this list, and the Eastern church included Epiphany. Both feasts went universal within a century. Special feasts caught the religious imagination, and the liturgical calendar exploded with commemorations of other events in the life of Jesus, as well as that of his mother, John the Baptist, Peter, and Paul. As holy days multiplied locally, popes and bishops tried to untangle and clarify the level of importance of each. In 1642, Pope Urban VIII all but banned the forming of new mandatory feasts. What was left was the work of dialing back the number of feasts that claimed this non-negotiable character.

When the 1917 Code of Canon Law was issued, ten holy days of obligation were officially recognized. These included the feasts of Christmas (Dec. 25), Epiphany (Jan. 6), Ascension (Thursday, Sixth Week of Easter), Corpus Christi (Thursday after Trinity Sunday), Holy Mary Mother of God (Jan. 1), Immaculate Conception (Dec. 8), Assumption (Aug. 15), St. Joseph (Mar. 19), Sts. Peter and Paul (Jun. 29), and All Saints (Nov. 1). Local bishops’ conferences have the authority to transfer or remove these obligations, which they may do circumstantially—as when a particular feast falls on a Monday—or permanently.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has permanently reassigned Epiphany and Corpus Christi to Sunday observances. All but nine U.S. dioceses have done the same to Ascension. The USCCB has removed the obligation from the feasts of St. Joseph, and Sts. Peter and Paul. Which leaves only five holy days not on Sundays that most U.S. Catholics are asked to remember and observe: Christmas, Solemnity of Mary, Immaculate Conception, Assumption, and All Saints.

Scripture: Genesis 2:1-3; Mark 16:1-2; Matthew 28:1; Luke 24:1; John 20:1; Acts of the Apostles 2:42-47; Hebrews 10:24-25; 12:28

Code of Canon Law: See canons 1246-1248 

Books: The Origins of Feasts, Fasts, and Seasons in Early Christianity, by Paul Bradshaw and Maxwell Johnson (Liturgical Press, 2011)

Holy Days in the United States: History, Theology, Celebration,Bishops’ Committee on the Liturgy (USCC, 1984)

What do Catholics believe about demons?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Friday 15, June 2018 Categories: Doctrines & Beliefs

Evil is real. Demons are a trickier subject. So start with evil, defined as that which opposes the will of God. Free beings can choose against God’s will with a single act (a mean word) or habitually (a selfish lifestyle). We can socialize evil, as when acquisitiveness becomes a cultural value that’s accepted and perhaps celebrated. We may even institutionalize evil, passing laws that counter the common good.

But is there a way in which evil can “take over” the will of a person surrendered to its thrall? Ancient peoples certainly viewed evil as a spirit that might inhabit a person. Often that person isn’t responsible for the possession, like the unhappy bride Sarah in the Book of Tobit, whose interior demon kills seven prospective husbands on the wedding night.

In the New Testament, Luke shows great concern for the authority of demons. The first recorded miracle of Jesus is the cure of a demoniac in Capernaum who disrupts a synagogue teaching. Later, a Gerasene demoniac contains so many demons, they fill a herd of swine. A boy suffers from seizures, which his father attributes to a demon. Luke also describes Mary Magdalene as a woman from whom Jesus banishes seven demons—without suggesting she’d drawn this situation upon herself.

The ability to cast out demons is a signal to the seventy-two disciples sent on mission that the name of Jesus has power over dark forces. It vexes John when someone not of their association has success utilizing Jesus’ name in the presence of demons. Eventually, some in the crowds are perplexed that demons are answerable to Jesus. Is he in league with the prince of evil, that he commands demons so effortlessly? Jesus gives a teaching about demons, suggesting they take up residence not in folks who are particularly bad, but in those who don’t take care to fill themselves with the spirit of goodness.

Clearly demons find a stronger foothold in those who actively make an overture toward evil. Luke tells us Satan enters Judas and propels him to betray Jesus. Judas cultivated the spirit of greed from the start, which opened the door to admit greater evil. Our modern perspective would describe many of these phenomena in terms of biological or mental illness. But the choice for evil remains open and real to all of us. The more we choose it, the larger the territory it governs in our lives.

Scripture: Tobit 7:9—8:18; Luke 4:31-37; 8:26-39; 8:1-3; 9:38-43; 10:17-20; 9:49-50; 11:14-25; 4:13 and 22:3-6; Matthew 8:28-34; 9:32-34; 10:8; 12:22-32, 43-45; 17:14-20; Mark 1:21-27; 3:23-30; 5:1-20; 6:7, 13; 9:14-29, 38-41

Books: Evil: Satan, Sin, and Psychology, by Terry Cooper and Cindy Epperson (Paulist Press, 2008)

101 Questions and Answers on Angels and Devils, by Irene Nowell, O.S.B. (Paulist Press, 2011)




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