Misconceptions on Anointing of the Sick

In recent weeks, I have noticed several items on the Internet that lead me to conclude there is widespread and significant misunderstanding concerning the sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick. In particular, I have seen articles that imply or openly state ideas that oppose these two statements:

  1. The chief purpose of the Anointing of the Sick is spiritual healing, not bodily healing.
  2. To be effective, the recipient of the sacrament must face a real danger of death.

The primary effect of the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick is spiritual.

The magisterial teaching of the Church is clear on this. Bodily healing may accompany the sacrament if that healing would be to the spiritual benefit of the recipient, but it is not the primary effect for which Christ established the sacrament.

The CCC (paragraph 1520) says, “[T]his assistance from the Lord by the power of his Spirit is meant to lead the sick person to healing of the soul, but also of the body if such is God’s will.”

The Council of Trent had this to say (Session 14, On the Sacrament of Extreme Unction, Chap. III):

Moreover the thing signified and the effect of this sacrament are explained in those words; And the prayer of faith shall save the sick man, and the Lord shall raise him up, and if he be in sins they shall be forgiven him. For the thing here signified is the grace of the Holy Ghost; whose anointing cleanses away sins, if there be any still to be expiated, as also the remains of sins; and raises up and strengthens the soul of the sick person, by exciting in him a great confidence in the divine mercy; whereby the sick being supported, bears more easily the inconveniences and pains of his sickness; and more readily resists the temptations of the devil who lies in wait for his heel; and at times obtains bodily health, when expedient for the welfare of the soul.

Finally, sacraments always accomplish their primary effect when celebrated properly unless the recipient places an obstacle in the way of that effect. Now, not everyone who receives this sacrament receives physical healing—in fact, the vast majority don’t. Either the vast majority place an obstacle in the way of the healing, which I doubt, or physical healing is not the primary effect.

Compare this to the list in CCC paragraphs 1520-1523, which also concentrates on spiritual effects and mentions healing of the body only in passing.

It is evident, then, that the Church does not teach that the sacrament of Anointing of the Sick is primarily a sacrament of physical healing. See CCC paragraphs 1520-1523 for a list of the effects of the sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick.

For the Sacrament of Anointing to be effective, the person receiving it must be facing a real risk of death

In the wake of Vatican II, what had been known as Extreme Unction became Anointing of the Sick.  With the change in name, more people became aware that the sacrament was available to anyone in danger (Latin periculum = peril) of death, in contrast to the widespread misapprehension that it was for the moment of death only. But perception overshot reality, and it is now widely thought that any gravely troubling illness qualifies a person to receive anointing. This is not the case. Here’s the current canon:

Can. 1004 §1 The anointing of the sick can be administered to any member of the faithful who, having reached the use of reason, begins to be in danger of death by reason of illness or old age. [Emphasis mine.]

The restriction is not arbitrary; it is founded in the nature of the sacrament itself. Consulting the paragraphs of the CCC listed above, it is difficult to miss how the theme of facing death runs through them, particularly in the last, paragraph 1523:

The Anointing of the Sick completes our conformity to the death and Resurrection of Christ, just as Baptism began it. It completes the holy anointings that mark the whole Christian life: that of Baptism which sealed the new life in us, and that of Confirmation which strengthened us for the combat of this life. This last anointing fortifies the end of our earthly life like a solid rampart for the final struggles before entering the Father’s house.

The deeper theological reason is highlighted in paragraph 1521:

By the grace of this sacrament the sick person receives the strength and the gift of uniting himself more closely to Christ’s Passion: in a certain way he is consecrated to bear fruit by configuration to the Savior’s redemptive Passion.

It is precisely in facing death as Christ did that the sacrament bears fruit. Absent the peril of death, configuration to the Passion is missing.


In the face of human illness and suffering, it is tempting to offer what comfort we can, and the Church urges priests to be generous in offering the sacrament of Anointing of the Sick. But the Lord did not establish a sacrament intended to heal the body.

Christ offers us great graces in the sacrament of Anointing; when we try to make the sacrament into something it is not, we run a serious risk of obscuring the gifts that Christ wants to give to His suffering people.

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Calendar Trivia

The other day, I was looking at the Wikipedia entry on the Gregorian Calendar and found the following statement: “Some churches, notably the Roman Catholic Church, delay February festivals after the 23rd by one day in leap years.” You will now find a revised version of that statement in the article (fixed by me), but I was wondering what on earth it was talking about, since it’s certainly not current practice.

The Wikipedia article footnoted Mapping Time: The Calendar and Its History, by E.G. Richards. The date of first publication is 1988, so it’s not a matter of this book’s being an ancient reprint. I didn’t own a copy of the book (I do now), but I was able to find the referenced snippet on Google Books. I won’t quote it because I think the explanation it gives is wrong, but the underlying premise is/was true. In the pre-1969 calendar, feast days after the 23rd were delayed a day in leap years. Why?

The answer is found in the calendar pages of the 1962 (and earlier) Missale Romanum. Here’s the note at the end of February:

Screen Shot 2018-03-01 at 8.20.46 AM

In a bissextile year, the month of February has 29 days, and the feast of St. Matthias is celebrated on the 25th of February and the feast of St. Gabriel of Sorrows [modern name for him] on the 28th; and [the office of] the sixth day before the Kalends is said twice, because it is both the 24th and the 25th; and the dominical letter, which was assigned in the month of January, is changed to the preceding one; for example, if in January the dominical letter was A, it is changed into the preceding one, which is g, etc., and the letter f serves twice, on the 24th and the 25th.

Are your eyes crossed yet? (Don’t even ask about dominical letters because they aren’t used anymore for anything except calculating the date of Easter.)

The underlying cause of all of this is the way the Roman calendar works. Instead of numbering days of the month like we do, the Romans began with three set days within each month. Thanks to Shakespeare and the assassination of Julius Caesar, most people are familiar with the Ides of a month; in March, May, July, and October, the Ides are the 15th, and they are the 13th in all other months. Nine days before this by Roman reckoning (eight days by ours–the Romans counted the last day of an interval) come the Nones (you can see “nine” in that word): the 7th in four months and the 5th in all others. Finally, the Kalends (source of the word “calendar”) are always on the 1st of the month.

To name other days of the month, the Romans counted down to the next named date, so March 13 is three days before the Ides of March (remember the Romans counted one more day than we do).

For leap years, instead of adding a day on to the end of February, the Romans simply duplicated the sixth day before the Kalends of March, which is normally February 24th. (Before the invention of leap years, they inserted an entire month in there when the calendar got too far out of whack.) So a “bissextile month” is a month with a second “sixth day before the Kalends” in it–a February in a leap year.

Now, here’s a screen shot of the calendar of saints from a 1962 Missale Romanum:

Screen Shot 2018-03-01 at 8.36.24 AM

Ignore the first two columns. The fourth column is the day of the month according to current reckoning. The third column is the day according to Roman reckoning; February 8 is six days before the Ides of February. Prid. is an abbreviation for pridie, “the day before,” and Idib. is an abbreviation for Idibus, “on the Ides.” If I’d included a picture of the Nones, we’d have seen the abbreviation Non., for “on the Nones.”

The feast day of St. Matthias on the old calendar wasn’t actually February 24th; it was the sixth day before the Kalends of March. Insert February 29, and the sixth day before the Kalends is now the 25th, and so the Feast of St. Matthias “moves” to the 25th. Likewise, the feast day of St. Gabriel of Sorrows was actually the third day before the Kalends, and therefore had to “move” (by our reckoning) in leap years.

All of this was done away with, probably in conjunction with the 1969 reform of the calendar of saints, and the feast days are assigned to what we regard as a calendar date rather than by the old Roman method.

Robinson (author of the book cited above) got confused somewhere and thought (a) that the old method was still in force in general (the calendar still does work this way for feasts celebrated with the Extraordinary Form) and (b) that the feasts moved because the dominical letter moved. In fact, the change both in the feast days and in the dominical letter stems from the repetition of the 24th.

A Memoir: My first Christmas Mass as a priest

My first Christmas as a priest was in 2008. I’d heard over and over again during formation how Christmas is a unique opportunity to reach the unchurched and barely-churched. I was prepared to celebrate an awesome Mass and give a homily that would touch the hardest of hearts and bring them to conversion.

My first assigned Mass of Christmas was the early evening Vigil Mass at St. Bernard’s in Peoria. I don’t remember at what point I began not feeling well. but I’m sure I was struggling by the time I got to Mass. Everyone seemed to listen politely to the homily, but I didn’t see anyone swooning in penitence or anything else of that sort.

By Communion time, I had a rising fever. I handed my ciborium over to an EMHC and took refuge in the sacristy. I was so hot that I took off my chasuble and (if memory serves) wasn’t quite sure I’d finish the Mass. I went back out without the chasuble, in alb and stole only (I wonder now if anyone thought I meant something significant by that). I called my pastor immediately after Mass and told him that I didn’t think I could do any more Masses. Fortunately, there was a priest in town available to cover for me.

I went to the doctor, I think on the 26th, and my lungs were clear, but I didn’t get better. On New Year’s Day, I had the 7 a.m. Mass with the Missionaries of Charity, and when I was done, they ordered me to go to the doctor. Since it’s impossible to argue with a Missionary of Charity, I went to the doctor (an outpatient clinic was open), and my lungs were no longer clear. I got to the doctor in time not to have to go to the hospital, so it could have been worse, I guess.

What brought all this to mind was thinking about all the fussy details that are part of making Christmas Mass “right,” and how the world seemed to get along fine even when I wasn’t making Christmas into The Best Christmas Mass Ever. I still like getting stuff right, and I still hope that hardened hearts can be touched at Christmas Mass, but it helps to remember that the Holy Spirit is in charge of converting people, not me.

In (very) slight defense of “Mary, Did You Know”

As you might gather from my previous post, “Yes, Mary Knew,” I am not a fan of the song “Mary, Did You Know.” But I’ve seen an article floating around on FB claiming that the song denies the Immaculate Conception, and I’ve seen people write their own posts to the same effect.

Of course, Mark Lowry, who wrote the words, is a Protestant of the evangelical sort, so I can safely assume that he himself doesn’t believe in the Immaculate Conception and therefore didn’t write the lyrics with that doctrine in mind. But does that mean that what he wrote is incompatible with the doctrine?

The line in question is this: “This child whom you delivered / will soon deliver you.” I have seen two arguments raised against it, one better than the other, but neither of which I find compelling.

The first and worse argument is based on the claim that Mary did not need to be delivered because she was conceived without Original Sin. But in Ineffabilis Deus, the bull in which Pope Pius IX defined the doctrine, we find this:

All know, likewise, how eager the bishops have been to profess openly and publicly, even in ecclesiastical assemblies, that Mary, the most holy Mother of God, by virtue of the foreseen merits of Christ, our Lord and Redeemer, was never subject to original sin, but was completely preserved from the original taint, and hence she was redeemed in a manner more sublime.

So Mary was not redeemed as we are, but she was very much redeemed (even more redeemed than we are!), and her redemption was in view of “the foreseen merits of Christ.” Pope Pius IX included a reference to these merits in his formal declaration of the doctrine:

We declare, pronounce, and define that the doctrine which holds that the most Blessed Virgin Mary, in the first instance of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege granted by Almighty God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the human race, was preserved free from all stain of original sin, is a doctrine revealed by God and therefore to be believed firmly and constantly by all the faithful.

Unless there is a real distinction between preservation/redemption and being delivered–and I can’t see that there is–then there’s nothing wrong with saying that Mary was delivered.

The second claim that could be made is that “will soon deliver you” belies the fact that Mary had already been delivered at the moment of her conception. This is true, but the act which won for her the merits by which she was delivered–to wit, the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Her Son–still lay in the future.

I don’t think Mark Lowry meant that, but I also don’t think that we are entirely tied to an original author’s entire theological system. If a line in a song can be read in accord with Catholic teaching, why can’t we read it that way?

So dislike the song if you choose; point out its theological shortcomings; but don’t claim it “wipes out Christmas” by denying the Immaculate Conception.

Yes, Mary Knew

Did Mary know that her baby would save our sons and daughters?

Yes; Gabriel told Mary more than enough to identify her son as the promised Messiah who would bring salvation.

Did she know that her baby came to make her new?

No, because she didn’t need to be made new, having been preserved from all stain of sin from the moment of her Immaculate Conception. Since she was preserved in view of the merits Christ won at His Passion, one might say that He would soon deliver her in a certain sense, though that delivery had already had its effect on her. (I realize that a Protestant songwriter wouldn’t think this way.)

And even in that certain sense, yes, Mary knew what Hls mission was. She knew what the prophets had foretold. (See the story of the encounter with the Risen Christ on the road to Emmaus if you don’t think Jesus’s redemptive death was in the Old Testament.)

Did Mary know that her baby would give sight to a blind man?

Yes; Isaiah said so.

Did she know that her baby had walked where angels trod? And that His face is the face of God?

Yes; Gabriel told her that her son would be Son of the Most High. For good measure, Gabriel told St. Joseph that the child‘s name would be “Immanuel”, which means “God [is] with us.”

The blind seeing, the deaf hearing, etc.? All in Isaiah.

Lord of Creation? Gabriel told her.

Ruler of the nations? Gabriel told her that her son would inherit the throne of David, and the prophets said that David’s heir would rule the nations.

Heaven’s perfect lamb? Read the Servant Songs of Isaiah. It’s in there. (Remember the road to Emmaus.)

So we’re left with walking on water and calming the storm as the only two things Mary did not know in advance, and she certainly knew that He could do those things if he wanted.

Yes, Mary knew.

St. Gertrude and Purgatory

(I thought I’d blogged on this before, but I can’t find it, so I guess not.)

Today is the feast day of St. Gertrude the Great, famed for her mystical experiences. She is most famous today perhaps for a prayer attributed to her which is said to release 1,000 souls from Purgatory every time it’s said. Unfortunately, the claims associated with this prayer are deeply problematic. (The text of the prayer itself is fine.)

First, there’s no evidence that it actually comes from St. Gertrude. It’s not found anywhere in her extant writings.

Second, it makes a mockery (unintentionally, to be sure) of the Church’s practices concerning indulgences. A plenary indulgence releases one person from Purgatory, and a person can only gain one plenary indulgence a day. Plenary indulgences are given for such things as half an hour of Eucharistic Adoration, half an hour of study of the Scriptures, and the public recitation of the Rosary. They also require Communion and Confession within a reasonable timespan, and freedom from attachment to sin. All this is for one soul. Does it make sense that a single, very brief prayer could substitute for 1,000 such acts?

Third, the mathematics doesn’t work. If 1,000 people say this prayer for 1,000 days (around 2 years and 9 months), and if 1,000 souls are freed each time the prayer is said, that would free 1,000,000,000 (one billion) souls from Purgatory. Given the number of people who pray this prayer, it would seem the Purgatory would have been emptied long since!

Fourth, this devotion is akin (and probably stems from) a flood of similar devotions that arose around the end of the 19th Century. The Holy See–specifically, the Sacred Congregation on Indulgences–found it necessary to issue two statements on these devotions. The first condemned several devotions described in detail in the decree. Apparently the Congregation then became aware of more widespread problems and issued a set of general principles condemning “indulgences … which are circulated in books, pamphlets (printed or handwritten) in which–based on trivial or even superstitious reasons, and uncertain revelations, or under illusory conditions—indulgences are promised going beyond the usual ways of grace;” and “Pamphlets and books … in which is promised to the faithful the liberation of one or of several souls from Purgatory by the recitation of one prayer or a few prayers.” (Both translations mine.) The first decree is in Acta Sanctae Sedis 31, pp. 727 ff., and the second is Acta Sanctae Sedis 32, pp. 241 ff. I have appended to this post relevant sections of the decrees both in Latin (not all OCR errors fixed, probably) and in my English translation.

By all means, pray for the poor souls! But it would be better to concentrate your efforts on means of more certain effectiveness.


Acta Sanctae Sedis 31, pp. 727 ff.

From the Sacred Congregation on Indulgences
A decree concerning false Indulgences

Many pamphlets have been sent to the Sacred Congregation established for Indulgences and Sacred Relics which set forth prayers with unauthorized indulgences attached to them; moreover, grave doubt arises from law and merit concerning their authenticity. Again this Sacred Congregation, in order that Christ’s faithful may no longer be led into error—especially in these times when a pretext from the midst of the Church is taken by [her] enemies for the sake of mocking the invaluable treasury of indulgences, which is to be administered with righteousness, holiness, and integrity—considered it its duty to command that these pamphlets be brought for examination. Since there is indeed found in them the promulgation of indulgences that are false, apocryphal, and in every way unauthorized, the Congregation has in no way delayed to judge that these pamphlets ought to be prohibited, and that the Indulgences set forth within them are declared to be apocryphal and false.

Therefore the Eminent Fathers assembled in general committee at the Vatican on 5 May 1598, after every mature consideration, unanimously voted: The above-mentioned pamphlets referred to this Sacred Congregation are to be proscribed in every way, and the the Indulgences attached to them (should they be recited) are apocryphal and falsely attached.

Approved by Pope Leo XIII in an audience held 26 May 1898.

[The Congregation then gave a list of the pamphlets in question. I have not tried to translate them in full; instead, I have given brief summaries that I hope are adequate to identify the problematic materials.]

  1. A litany to the Blessed Virgin Mary of Sorrows (not the Litany of Loretto) said to have been composed by Pope Pius VII. The first few invocations are:
    • Sancta Dei Genitrix,
    • Sancta Virgo Virginum,
    • Mater crucifixa,
    • Mater dolorosa,
    • Mater lacrymosa,
  2. A devotion to the Crown of Thorns.
  3. A revelation attributed to St. Bernard of Clairvaux.
  4. Corona de los Merecimientos de la Pasión y Muerte de Nuestro Señor Jesu Cristo (A crown of the merits of the Passion and Death of Our Lord Jesus Christ)
  5. Words from the Blessed Virgin Mary of Sorrows when she received in her arms her beloved son. Alleges that 15 souls are released from Purgatory when the prayers are said. Approvals attributed to Pope Innocent XI, confirmed by Pope Clement III, Pope Benedict XIV, and Pope Pius IX.
  6. Extract from the life of Blessed Innocent, brother of the Friars Minims, of singular virtues and miracles, who died in Rome on 15 December 1631. (French)
  7. A prayer to the Savior of the World, claiming to be indulgenced by Popes Boniface VIII and Benedict XIII. Also a prayer attributed to Pope St. Gregory (it doesn’t say which). Also a prayer to the Holy Cross releasing five souls from Purgatory, said to be approved by Pope Eugenius III. Also a prayer against the plague. Also a prayer with an indulgence said to be granted by Pope Pius VI.
  8. A devotion to the drops of Christ’s Blood, said to be encouraged by Elizabeth of Hungary, St. Mathilda, and St. Bridget. [This one is still in circulation in some circles, BTW. I found a copy among the devotionals in a parish I was visiting.]
  9. A devotion to St. Anthony referring to him as the “great wonderworker” or “caster-out of demons.”
  10. A pamphlet in Italian entitled: “The Crown of the Lord: its origin, meaning and indulgences, and some methods for reciting it with devotion and spiritual profit”

EX S. CONGREG. INDULGENTIARUM
URBIS ET ORBIS. Decretum de Indulgentiis apocryphis.

Ad hanc S. Congregationem Indulgentiis Sacrisque reliquiis praepositam plura delata sunt folióla quae preces referunt cum indiscretis indulgentiis eisdem attributis, ac proinde iure meritoque de illarum authenticitate grave dubium obortum est. Porro haec S. Congregatio, ne Christifideles diu in errorem pertrahantur, utque, hisce praesertim temporibus, Ecclesiae hostibus omnis e medio tollatur praetextus irridendi inaestimabilem Indulgentiarum thesaurum, qui pie, sancte et incorrupte est administrandus, sui muneris esse duxit haec folióla ad examen revocare, et siquidem repertum est in illis promulgari Indulgentias falsas, apocryphas et omnino indiscretas, haud cunctandum existimavit quin praefata folióla prohibeantur, et in eisdem assertae Indulgentiae declararentur apocryphae et falsae.

Quare Emi. Patres in generalibus Comitiis ad Vaticanum sub die 5 Maii 1898 coadunati, omnibus mature perpensis, unanimi suffragio rescripserunt: praefata folióla ad hanc Sacram Congregationem delata fore omnino proscribenda, eisque adnexas, uti dictitatur, Indulgentias apocryphis et falsis esse accensendus.

Acta Sanctae Sedis 32, pp. 241 ff.

From the Sacred Congregation on Indulgences
A decree concerning norms and regulations for distinguishing true indulgences from false ones.

[Rules I-III state that all the indulgences in the official Collection are authentic; that new ones may be added in the future but should be submitted to the Congregation before being printed; and that Ordinaries and heads of religious confraternities, sodalities, etc., can grant indulgences as long as the Congregation approves them.]

Rule IV: Indulgences are not to be held as authentic whether in general or in particular if they are held in books, pamphlets, etc., or even in the imagination, if they are printed without the approval of a competent authority; and this approval is to be granted after a diligent examination and by express statement.

Rule V:
All indulgences are apocryphal, or at least are revoked from now on, which speak of any temporal concession of a thousand or more than a thousand years.

Rule VI:
Plenary indulgences should be suspected which claim to grant a concession by the recitation of only a few words, except for indulgences at the hour of death.

Rule VII:
Indulgences should be rejected as apocryphal which are circulated in books, pamphlets (printed or handwritten) in which—based on trivial or even superstitious reasons and uncertain revelations, or under derisive conditions—indulgences are promised going beyond the usual ways of grace.

Rule VIII: Pamphlets and books are to be regarded as rejected in which is promised to the faithful the liberation of one or of several souls from Purgatory by the recitation of one prayer or another; and said indulgences, which usually are attached to promises, are to be held as apocryphal.

REGULA V.
Apocryphae, vel nunc prorsus revocatae, sunt omnes Indulgentiae mille vel plurium millium annorum quocumque tempore concessae dicantur.

REGULA VI.
Suspectae habeantur Indulgentiae plenariae quae asseruntur concessae recitantibus pauca dumtaxat verba: exceptis Indulgentiis in articulo mortis.

REGULA VII.
Reiiciendae sunt ut apoeryphae Indulgentiae, quae circumferatur in libellis, foliis seu ehartulis impressis vel manuscriptis, in quibus ex levibus aut etiam superstitiosis causis et incertis revelationibus, vel sub illusoriis conditionibus promittuntur Indulgentiae et gratiae usum et modum excedentes.

REGULA VIII.
Ut commentata reiicienda sunt folia f et libelli, in quibus promittitur fidelibus unam alteramve precem recitantibus liberatio unius vel plurium animarum a Purgatorio: et Indulgentiae quae dictae promissioni adiici solent ut apoeryphae habendae sunt.

REGULA IX.
Apocryphae, vel saltem ut graviter suspectae, habeantur, Indulgentiae recentioris assertae concessionis, si ad inusitatum numerum annorum vel dierum producuntur.

Three Masses on All Souls Day

Throughout her long history, the Church has always prayed for the dead. Some of the earliest prayers that have been handed down to us included petitions for the deceased. In about the year 1000, the Church began to fix upon November 2nd as the day devoted to prayer for the faithful departed, and so All Souls’ Day as we know it came into being.

The past 100 years have seen a change in the practice of the Church, a change that tells us how important it is to pray for the faithful departed. The Church usually requests that priests celebrate only one Mass in a day; since there are rarely enough of us in the right place at the right time to make this possible, we are allowed (but not encouraged) to celebrate two Masses every day, and to celebrate three Masses on Sundays and holy days of obligation when this is necessary to allow everyone to attend Mass. Saying Mass too often might sound like something that’s not possible, but it is a real danger. There are spiritual costs associated with celebrating Mass, and it’s very easy for it to become simply a process of going through the motions instead of an offering of prayer.

In the early 1900s, priests in a few countries were allowed to say three Masses on All Souls’ Day as a matter of course. In 1915, Pope Benedict XV was concerned about two things: First, that people had requested Masses for the dead which had not been celebrated because of neglect or circumstances; and, second, the great slaughter of the young men of Europe which was then taking place in World War I. He therefore gave to all priests throughout the Church the privilege of celebrating Mass three times on All Souls’ Day.

The Mass intention for the first Mass on All Souls’ Day is like that for a Mass on any other day: for whatever intention that someone has asked the priest to have.

The Mass intention for the second Mass must be for all the faithful departed.

The Mass intention for the third Mass must be for the intention of the Holy Father. In 1930, Pope Pius XI decreed that this third Mass intention should be for the victims of the Spanish Civil War, a war dreadful even among wars for its cruelty, and a war in which at clergy, religious and faithful of the Church were often the targets of direct physical attack. No subsequent Pope has mentioned what his intention is for that third Mass, so it is now offered simply for the intention of the Holy Father, whatever that may be.

Of course, it is right and proper for people attending any one of these Masses to pray in a special way for their own loved ones who have died.

This might all seem like the making of mountains out of molehills, but it is not. It is a sign to us of how important our obligation of praying for the dead is. Purgatory is real; it is quite possible that some of those whom we loved best while they were here with us on earth are now there being purified for their entry into Heaven; and it is a great mercy from God that He allows our prayers here on earth to speed them along their way.

 


Other prayers for the dead:

A partial indulgence can be obtained by devoutly visiting a cemetery and praying for the departed, even if the prayer is only mental. One can gain a plenary indulgence visiting a cemetery each day between November 1 and November 8. These indulgences are applicable only to the Souls in Purgatory.

A plenary indulgence, again applicable only the Souls in Purgatory, is also granted when the faithful piously visit a church or public oratory on Nov. 2. In visiting the church or oratory, it is required that one Our Father and the Creed be recited.

A partial indulgence, applicable only to the Souls in Purgatory, can be obtained when the Eternal Rest (Requiem aeternam) is prayed. This is a good prayer to recite especially during the month of November:

Eternal rest grant to them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them. May the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.

Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine, et lux perpetua luceat eis. Requiescant in pace Amen.

St. Francis: The compendium

Here’s the annual review of what St. Francis didn’t say.

They didn't say it

St. Francis is one of the top targets for fauxtationers, right up there with St. Augustine, G. K. Chesterton, and C. S. Lewis. In honor of his feast day, here’s a list of posts dealing with him, along with one new one.

New: “Preach always; use words if necessary.” I haven’t done a post on this one before because it is widely known that it can’t be found anywhere in his works or in the early biographies of him. Wikiquote notes that it can find no citations before the 1990s. It might be a piece of Franciscan oral tradition, but I doubt it. My guess is that it was someone’s summary of St. Francis’s life.

Not authentic or probably not authentic:

Prayer of St. Francis
Remember that when you leave this earth, you can take nothing that you have received
God can work through anyone
Start by doing what’s necessary
All…

View original post 68 more words

Seventy-seven or four hundred ninety?

How many times does Jesus tell St. Peter that he must forgive his brother? Is it seventy-seven times, or is it seventy times seven times? Older translations tend to have seventy times seven, and newer ones tend to have seventy-seven.

The Greek is ἑβδομηκοντάκις ἑπτά, which transliterated is hebdomêkontakis hepta. You might recognize “hepta” as the Greek for “seven.” The word for “seventy” is ἑβδομηκόντα (hebdomêkonta). What’s the “-kis” suffix doing? When St. Peter and Jesus each say “seven times,” the word they use is ἑπτάκις (heptakis)–the word for “seven” with the “-kis” suffix on it. From this, I infer that the “-kis” suffix indicates repetition. I verified that inference by guessing that “five times” would be “πεντάκις” (pentakis), which indeed it is in 2Cor 11:24.

What seems to be the issue is whether the “times” in “seventy times” is meant to indicate that “seven” occurs “seventy” times, or whether the “-kis” suffix is meant to go with the whole phrase. At this point, I run out of anything I could use even to make a good guess, but at least I (and now you) at least know why the different translations exist.

Analogies and the Trinity

A minor dispute erupted on my FB page when I linked to an article criticizing the use of a fidget spinner as an analogy for the Trinity. That article says, “The truth is that the unfathomable and Most Holy Trinity cannot be explained with a mere analogy,” which is true, but which may give insufficient credit to what analogies can do for us in discussing the Trinity.

We know things either by experiencing them directly or by learning how they are like (or unlike) things we have experienced directly. For example, I know what chicken tastes like because I have eaten it many times, and I know what fish tastes like for the same reason. Frog legs, they tell me, taste like something midway between fish and chicken. (I’ve had them once and don’t remember.) So I know directly what chicken and fish taste, and I know what frog legs taste like mostly by comparison, which is to say by analogy.

When it comes to knowing the Trinity, we have an insurmountable difficulty. The Trinity is utterly unlike anything in the realm of our natural experience; those saints who have been favored with a mystical experience of the Trinity found themselves completely unable to describe it. Thus all analogies for the Trinity as a whole fail quickly. The Trinity is not like a shamrock, nor ice/steam/water, nor how you act differently around different people, nor a fidget spinner, nor a triangle.

“Aha!” you may think, “don’t we see a triangle used all the time in discussions of the Trinity?” Indeed we do, but the triangle is not itself meant as an analogy for the Trinity. Instead, it is meant to show the interior relationships of the Trinity–and these interior relationships do have analogies within our experience.

520px-shield-trinity-scutum-fidei-english-svg(From Wikimedia Commons)

 

First, we know what it means to say that “X is Y,” and we know what it means to say that “X is not Y.” So when we say that the Father is God, and the Son is God, and the Spirit is God, we have an understanding of each of those statements, even if we don’t see how they fit together. Similarly, when we say that the Father is not the Son, the Son is not the Father, the Father is not the Spirit, the Spirit is not the Father, the Son is not the Spirit, and the Spirit is not the Son, we have an understanding of what each of those statements means, even if we don’t grasp how to combine them with the statements that the Father is God etc.

Likewise, we can grasp the nature of at least some of their relationships. The Son is not the Father and the Father is not the Son precisely because of their relationship to each other. The Father is the Father because He has a Son, and the Son is the Son because He has a Father. This father/son relationship is how we distinguish between these two Persons, and it is the only way to distinguish between them.

The relationship of the Spirit to the other Persons is more complex. The technical term is that the Spirit proceeds by way of spiration, which basically means breathing (cf. the word respiration). Since the Father does not have a human body, and since the Son only has had one since the Incarnation while the Spirit proceeds eternally, this can’t refer to physical breath. But whatever it means, this relationship of spirating/being spirated is what distinguishes the Spirit from the Father and the Son.

St. Augustine provided a series of analogies for the individual Persons, based on the human psyche, such the mind, its knowledge, its love (De Trinitate, XIV), but he notes that they are “immeasurably inadequate” ideas (ibid., XV).

We can, therefore, grasp to some degree the individual concepts behind the doctrine of the Trinity, but we cannot comprehend the whole. All attempts to provide a metaphor for the whole either improperly split God into pieces or erase the distinctions between the Persons.

Returning at last to the fidget spinner: What in the true idea of the Trinity outlined above does it help us grasp? The number 3, and nothing more. It doesn’t help us gain any understanding of the mutual relationships which constitute the only real distinctions between the persons, and it is positively misleading in the way it encourages us to envision the Three as One God, and when it’s spun, blending the pieces into one circle, the distinction between the Persons disappears. Better no image at all than one which tells us nothing that we didn’t already know and suggests much that is wrong!

I want to be clear that I’m not attacking anyone who uses bad analogies; I’ve missed my share of comparisons too.