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Cradle Catholic with a lot of questions; such as, why am I just figuring this stuff out now?

August 4, 2011

When Can I Request the Anointing of the Sick Sacrament?

Anointing of the sick, which was formally known as Extreme Unction, is the final sacrament. It is intended to provide spiritual healing and help Catholics transition into the afterlife.  Consequently, it is primarily associated with death. While Catholics should receive this sacrament before dying, they also may want to consider taking advantage of it during other times of sickness. Catholics that are very ill (regardless of age), elderly, frail, or facing surgery should consider requesting this sacrament. Catholics are entitled to receive this sacrament any number of times throughout their lives.
References: The Everything Catholicism Book by Helen Keeler and Susan Grimbly

June 16, 2011

Have Priests Always Been Celibate?

Saint Paul was one of the first to list out the potential value of celibacy (1 Cor 27:35). Essentially Saint Paul argues that celibate men and women are less divided in their attention and are better able to focus on the Lord. Yet in the beginning, for at least the first 300 years, there were no rules restricting chastity among the clergy. Eventually, the example of the celibate monks began to influence church law. In 305 AD the Council of Elvira, considered the oldest positive ecclesiastical ordinance concerning the celibacy of the clergy, declared that bishops, priests, deacons and all clerics in the ministry were prohibited from marriage. This was reaffirmed by the Council of Carthage in 390.
References: Why Do Catholics DO That? by Kevin Orlin Johnson

June 8, 2011

Is the Eucharist the Real Body and Blood of Christ?

Every Sunday Christians are nourished during mass by the Eucharist, which is the transformation of bread and wine into the body and blood of the Lord Jesus. These simple elements are considered sacred signs of the Lord’s grace. Roman Catholics, as well as Orthodox churches, High Church Anglicans and certain Lutherans believe that a true transformation occurs, called transubstantiation, during the consecration. The Eucharist becomes Christ. Protestants believe the body and blood are symbols of Christ.
References: Symbols of Catholicism; Assouline Publishing; 2000

May 31, 2011

The Different Types of Holy Water

In fact there are three types of holy water, which vary by common use. First there is blessed water. Essentially, this is ordinary water that is made holy by a priest’s blessing. This type of water is used in the font at church entrances.  Catholics dip their fingers in the holy water and make the sign of the cross when entering the church as a reminder of the sacrament of baptism. The next type of holy water is known as the “water of consecration” or “Gregorian water.” Gregorian water is strictly used in the consecration of a church. It is composed of water, wine, salt and ashes. Finally there is baptismal water, which sometimes contains oil of catechumens and holy chrism. It is also considered acceptable to use blessed water as an alternative for baptismal holy water.

References: Why Do Catholics Do That? By Kevin Orlin Johnson

May 27, 2011

Why do Catholics Confess Their Sins?

The confession of sins is part of the sacrament of reconciliation, which is one of the seven Catholic sacraments. As far as sacraments go, there are pretty clear roots to it within the New Testament. According to John 20:21-23, Jesus addresses his apostles saying, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained. “ In another story within the gospel of John, Jesus grants forgiveness to a woman guilty of adultery.  Modern-day priests act on the behalf Christ, granting forgiveness of sin.
The concept of sin is a major focus of the Old and New Testaments.  We are told that sin alienates us from God and from one another. All sin leads to death, but fortunately not all sin is deadly. Moreover, there are different types of sin, varying in degree of severity. Mortal sins can destroy our relationship with God while venial sins will simply damage this relationship. Sacramental penance is not as frequently practiced as it once was, but many that practice this sacrament find that it can help in the healing process. After listening to a person’s confession of sins, the priest will suggest an appropriate penance. He may also offer advice concerning the how to improve one’s spiritual life as well as how to avoid similar future sins.
References: The Everything Guide to Catholicism by Richard Gribble

May 24, 2011

When was the Old Testament written?

Most scholars agree that the Old Testament, also known as the Hebrew Bible, was written between 1200 and 100 BC. The compilation process alone is thought to have lasted a period spanning approximately 500 years, from 400 BC to 90 AD.
References: The Everything Guide to Catholicism by Richard Gribble

May 3, 2011

What are Accepted Miracles for Sainthood?

Given the recent beatification of Pope John Paul II, it seems timely to talk about the Catholic Church’s thoughts on “accepted miracles” regarding beatification and sainthood. The miracle ascribed to the late Pope is the sudden cure of a French nun’s neurological disorder after she prayed to his memory. Miracles ascribed to saints and blessed individuals have varied significantly over the ages. Most traditional miracles tend to involve unexpected, immediate and totally complete healing that cannot be explained by modern science – such as in the case of the French nun. There are other miracles that are accepted, but far less common. This includes incorruptibility, odor of sanctity, signs of stigmata, bilocation and levitation.
Incorruptibility – This refers to cases where, despite a complete lack of embalming or preservation, the body does not decay following death.
The odor of sanctity – Following death a sweet smell of roses exudes from the body. Again, only non-embalmed bodied qualify.
Signs of stigmata – One or more of the five wounds resembling those that Christ suffered during the crucifixion are visible on a person while they are alive.
Bilocation – While alive, the person is proved to be in two places at once.
Levitation - Cases where there is evidence that a person is able to suspend in the air, defying the laws of gravity.
References: Saints for Dummies by Rev. John Trigilio and Kenneth Brighenti

April 24, 2011

Why Do We Decorate Eggs For Easter?

The birth of the Easter egg as we know it officially began in the Ukraine over a thousand years ago. Non-Christian egg decorating is much, much older. Ukrainians invented a unique and elaborate egg decoration art form, known as pysanka that likely dates back to ancient times. A pysanka is not just any kind of decorated egg, rather it is an egg created by the written-wax batik method. In pre-Christian times, Ukrainians worshipped a sun God by the name of Dazboh. During annual spring festivals, which held to celebrate the Sun God, the egg was the symbol of the earth’s rebirth following winter.
Ukrainians adopted Christianity in the year 988, which was the year that Vladimir the Great instated it as the official state religion.  Since then it has remained the dominant religion, however it has been blended with some Byzantine practices and Slavic mythology. The spring egg decorating was one of the traditions that gradually merged into Christianity. The symbolism behind the egg was changed. Instead of nature’s rebirth, the Christian egg came to represent the rebirth of Christ. The shell of the egg was likened to the tomb of Christ for which He rose. Over time, Christian symbols started being incorporated into these pysankas and the Easter egg was born.

April 19, 2011

The Jellybean Prayer

Today my 6-year old daughter brought home a cross made out of construction paper with a poem called the “Jellybean Prayer” on it. I’d never heard it before but she really seemed to like it. In fact, she insisted I read it while she ate a few jellybeans. Christian holidays like Easter and Christmas are frequently criticized for being overly commercialized and a mess of various, and sometimes non-religious, traditions. Why not use the candy to help deliver a positive message? For those of you that haven’t heard it before, here it is:

The Jellybean Prayer by Shirley Kozak

An egg is full of jellybeans,
Colorful and sweet,
Reminds me of God’s love for me,
With this Easter treat!
Red is for the blood He gave.
Green is for the grass He made.
Yellow is for the sun so bright.
Orange is for prayers at twilight.
Black is for the sins we made.
White is for the grace He gave.
Purple is for His days of sorrow.
Pink is for each new tomorrow.

Pass this along to others with kids!

April 18, 2011

When Did the Last Supper Occur?

Matthew, Mark, and Luke clearly state that the Last Supper occurred at the start of Passover, specifically on Passover Eve. John states that it happened the day before Passover Eve. This is just one of the discrepancies between John and the gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, commonly referred to as the synoptic gospels, that has confounded scholars over the ages. When the focus of each of the gospels is on the events leading to the crucifixion and following the resurrection, why do the gospels differ on this very important date? Professor Colin Humphreys, a professor of materials science from the University of Cambridge and author of the book “The Mystery of the Last Supper”, thinks the answer lies in which calendar was used. Humphreys believes that the writers of the older synoptic gospels used an old Jewish calendar while the author of the gospel of John used a relatively newer, but more commonly used, lunar calendar to date the event. "In John's Gospel, he is correct in saying the Last Supper was before the Passover meal. But Jesus chose to hold his Last Supper as a Passover meal according to an earlier Jewish calendar," Professor Humphreys explained on the BBC's Today program.
Maundy Thursday, more commonly referred to as Holy Thursday in the United States, is the movable Christian holy day celebrated the Thursday before Easter. Maundy Thursday has traditionally commemorated the date of Last Supper. However, according to Humphreys calculations, the last supper actually occurred on Wednesday, April 1, 33.

April 10, 2011

Why Do Popes Change Their Name?

Within the Roman Catholic Church there is a long history and strong tradition of name changing associated with the Papal election. To this day, it is not mandatory to change one's name after being declared Pope, but it is very traditional. Typically, Popes select their favorite saint, or two, in the case of John Paul. Name changing can be traced to Saint Peter, the very first Pope of the Roman Catholic Church. Saint Peter’s given name was Symeon or Simon. As the story goes, this is the name he went by until Jesus changed it to Peter, which means rock in Greek.
It is Pope John II that is often credited with reviving the ancient tradition of name changing. The given name of Pope John II, prior to his election in January 533, was Mercurius. He was named after the Roman god Mercury. Name changing did not catch really on until Pope Sergius IV in 1009. Ironically, Pope Sergius’s real name was Peter. In the last thousand years, only Pope Adrian VI and Pope Marcellus II have decided to keep their birth name after becoming Pope.
But was it really Pope John II that really revived this tradition? A great many of the early Popes, well into the Middle Ages, had Greek names, like Peter. Many scholars believe it is unlikely that all of these men were Greek in nationality. It is more likely that these men followed in Saint Peter’s footsteps, taking a Greek name following the Papal election. The Liber Pontificalis (literally Latin for “The Book of the Pontiffs”), which is a compilation of early Papal biographies, states that several of the early Popes were Roman or Italian. Pope Anicetus was Syrian.
Chronicle of the Popes by P.G. Maxwell-Stuart

April 5, 2011

When is Lent Over?

Lent is a 40-day liturgical period that is observed between Ash Wednesday and Easter. (If you’re doing the math, it does not include the six Sundays of this period within the 40-day calculation.) For Roman Catholics, lent officially ends Holy Thursday evening, before Mass. Holy Thursday mass marks the beginning of the Sacred Triduum ceremonies, which includes Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday. Lenten observances should be maintained until Easter Virgil mass, which takes place after sunset on Holy Saturday but before sunrise on Easter.

Catholic Q&A by Father John J. Dietzen

March 30, 2011

Why is Easter So Late This Year?

Easter is a movable holiday so the date in which it is celebrated changes every year. This can be confusing, especially if you don’t know the rules for calculating the date. It was the First Council of Nicaea (325) that agreed Christians should at least have a consistent way to determine the holiday, but it took several more centuries to arrive at our current means of calculating the date using a lunisolar calender cycle. Officially, Easter falls on the first Sunday following the the 14th day of the lunar month (which is essentially a full moon) occurring after the spring equinox. It always falls sometime within the range of March 22nd and April 25th.

What’s an equinox - An equinox is a day of the year when day and night are approximately the same length in time. This occurs twice a year on the first day of spring and fall. In the northern hemisphere, the spring equinox technically occurs on either March 20 or 21st, however the Church recognizes the 21st as the official spring equinox.

Why it’s late this year - This year, the full moon in March fell on March 19th, just two days before the spring equinox. The next full moon does not occur until Monday April 18th. The next Sunday following that is on April 24th, otherwise known as Easter 2011.

March 22, 2011

Which Popes Were Also Beatified?

Beatification is one of the final steps in the sainthood process. All beatified individuals are awarded the title of “Blessed" and a church feast day. In order to be considered for beatification, at least since the 1983 Catholic Church reforms, there must be at least one documented miracle that is directly attributed to the candidate. Miracles are expected to be instantaneous, complete and unexpected. Within the last thousand years eight men have achieved the office of Pope while alive and beatification following their death. And on May 1, 2011, Pope John Paul II will become the ninth Pope to achieve this designation. This is a very big deal. He will be the first Pope in over 300 years to receive this honor, and the ceremony is expected to draw record numbers to Rome.

Beatified Pope/Years in Office/Feast Day
Victor III (1086-1087) - September 16
Urban II (1088-1099) - July 29
Eugene III (1145-1153) - July 8
Gregory X (1271-1276) - January 9
Innocent V (1276) - June 22
Benedict (1303-1304) - July 7
Urban V (1362-1370) - December 19
Innocent XI (1676-1689) - August 12

Of course, far more Popes have been canonized. In fact, 78 Popes in total are saints. This  includes a lot of the early Popes during the first thousand years of the Roman Catholic church. However, only 3 of the 78 lived past the year 1085. The last Pope canonized was Pope Pius X, who served as Pope from 1903-1914.

Chronicle of the Popes by P.G. Maxwell-Stuart

March 21, 2011

What is the Meaning of the Word “Pope”?

In the language of the ancient Greeks the word Pope means father - but more in a child’s term of endearment sort of way, which would actually make it more equivalent to the word daddy.The Latin language later adapted the term as a sort of honorary title. Both eastern and western Christians began applying the term to heads of church, priests and bishops alike. Over time, Latin-based Christians began gradually limiting their use of the title. This did not happen within the Eastern Orthodox Church - priests are still called Pope in Greece, Russia and Serbia. At the start of the 5th century, the title Pope was beginning to be applied primarily to the bishop of Rome. By the 8th century, it was nearly exclusively applied to the bishop of Rome.

Chronicle of the Popes by P.G. Maxwell-Stuart

March 14, 2011

What are the gospels?

The word “gospel" is from the Greek word euangélion, which is also also translated as "glad tidings." It commonly refers to the gospels of Matthew, Luke, Mark and John, which focus on the message of Jesus, the final days leading to the crucifixion and the resurrection. While they do contain information about history and the biography of Jesus, they are neither intended as a historical account or a biography. In fact, it is difficult to construct a total and accurate history of Jesus from the gospels since they lack a lot of information about the birth and life of Jesus prior to the final years of his life. At least 40 years had passed between the resurrection and the writing of the first gospel. Much of the material in the gospels was passed on by oral tradition. Many scholars believe that Matthew and Luke used Mark as a source. John, the gospel written last, was dependent on the the first three. The gospels were written from the point of view from the faithful evanglists of early Christianity to the masses.

The Birth of Christianity by John Doominic

March 8, 2011

Why Do We Eat Pancakes on Fat Tuesday?

Today is Fat Tuesday here in the US and, of course, in France. Fat Tuesday officially kicks off Mardi Gras festivities. The term “Fat Tuesday" refers to the practice of eating fatty foods on the night before Ash Wednesday, which is the start of the 40-day Lenten season. Ritual fasting has traditionally been associated with Lent. Today is also called “Shrove Tuesday” throughout English-speaking countries such as the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia New Zealand, and to a more limited degree the US. The term “Shrove Tuesday” gets its name from the ritual of shriving, which means to gain absolution for sins via confession and penance, which is sought right before the start of the Lent season. Historically during the lent period, the faithful were forbidden from eating meat, butter, eggs and milk. Families would have to consume any remaining portions of this type of food before lent, since it would most certainly spoil otherwise. The solution for many was to combine butter, eggs and milk - along with a few other ingredients - to make tasty pancakes. In the UK Shrove Tuesday is sometimes referred to as simply Pancake Day. On Pancake Day, pancake races are held across the United Kingdom. Participants race through the streets while tossing pancakes in the air and catching them in a pan. So whether you’re racing through the streets or not, take some time to enjoy some pancakes today. Happy Shrove Tuesday/Mardi Gras/Pancake Day!

March 4, 2011

Jesus's Best Friend

The Gospel of John mentions a “Beloved Disciple” five times, which actually sounds a lot more significant than a best friend, but I guess that’s what we would call it these days. Only the gospel of John uses this term to refer to anyone and his true identity is debated to this day. Who this person is, if he existed, and why his identity is never revealed have been speculated for a long time. In fact, it is the topic of many well-respected books, theses, and lectures. Here are the basics.

The following gospel reading specifically mention this mystery person:

John 13:23-25: One of them, the disciple whom Jesus loved, was reclining next to him.
John 19:26-27: When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Dear woman, here is your son,” and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.
John 20:1-10: Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”
John 21:1-15: The Beloved disciple is among the fisherman present when 153 fish were caught. The gospel states that Simon Peter, Thomas (called Didymus), Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples were together.

Possible Identities:
There’s a lot of speculation and no clear answer. But here are three of the more accepted possibilities:

  • The Apostle John, son of Zebedee’s, aka the author or the author or inspiration for the Gospel of John. Christian art has depicted the last supper with John pictured close to Christ. According to art history professor Heidi Hornik, John is…[sleeping] with his head on the table. John is shown without a beard suggesting he is younger than the others. In the painting, “The Last Supper" by Jacopo Bassano Christ embraces or lays his left hand over the shoulder and back of the sleeping disciple, suggesting a friendly intimacy. In addition John 21:20-24, also seems to back up this claim. “This is the disciple who testifies to these things and who wrote them down. We know that his testimony is true.
  • James, the Lord’s brother - If John 19:26 is taken literally, this makes sense. James went on to be a leader within the modern church.
  • No one - just a symbol. He is never given a name, or referred to in other gospels where stories are retold, so it has been suggested that he did not really exist. The level of intimacy is meant for each one of us as followers of Christ to put ourselves in the place of the beloved one.

February 27, 2011

Rachel and the Abortion Issue

Jeremiah 31:15: This is what the LORD says: "A voice is heard in Ramah, mourning and great weeping, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because her children are no more.

Project Rachel, Rachel’s Vineyard Ministries, and Rachel’s Hope are a few of the abortion outreach efforts associated with Rachel, wife of Jacob and mother of Benjamin and Joseph. She is also remembered during the Feast of the Holy Innocents, which is celebrated on December 28th. Ironically, the name, memory, and words of Rachel (Jeremiah 31:15) are used by both proponents and opponents of abortion.

Who was Rachel - Rachel lived approximately 1,500 years before Jesus walked the earth. She was well-known for her beauty and her status as the mother of two of the twelve tribes of Israel. During 597 King Nebuchadnezzar conquered and destroyed Jerusalem. During the next decade the Jewish population was gathered in Ramah, one the cities alloted to the Benjamin by his inheritance. From there the Jewish population was resettled throughout Babylon, beginning their 60-year exile. As Jeremiah reports, the sound of Rachel weeping is heard. She weeps for the future of her sons and their descendents.

Matthew 2:16-17 refers to this Jeremiah passage when describing King Herod’s orders to kill all the male children of Bethlehem. According to the gospel “then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah.” Okay, technically the people of Bethlehem belonged to the tribe of Judah - who was not Rachel’s son. But the tribes were somewhat intermingled at that point. Anyway, the Catholic Church adopted the feast of the Holy Innocents over a thousand years ago to remember the poor children that lost their lives because of Herod’s rage. Over time, this feast day has expanded to encompass the memory of all the innocent unborn children. Consequently, December 28th is often selected as a day to pray or even picket outside of abortion clinics.

While the original passage was not in reference to abortions, the biblical passage powerfully conveys a mother’s inconsolable grief over an irreversible loss.

February 24, 2011

The Priest Shortage

The Catholic Church is facing a priest shortage crisis. In the United States alone, the Catholic population rose from 29 million in 1950 to 64 million in 2005. This is great, but during this same period, the population of priests not only failed to keep up but actually fell by 2,000. This is a concerning trend. There are approximately 41,400 priest in the United States today. Aside from local parishes, the Catholic Church runs a considerable number of schools, hospitals, nursing homes, and charities. Increasingly the Church has been forced to rely on deacons, lay ministers, nuns and brothers. But given the consistent increases in the Catholic population, changes are needed fulfill the role of the priests. There are many possible solutions, ranging from changes in parish districting to revolutionary changes that address the rules for who is allowed to assume church leadership roles. In the book “American Catholics Today” an extensive survey was undertaken to understand how practicing Catholics view challenges, such as the priest shortage, and what solutions they felt were acceptable. In terms of parish leadership options, approximately 9 of every 10 respondents were supportive of sharing a priest with another parish, bringing in a priest from another country to lead, and merging two or more nearby parishes into one. In terms of expanding eligibility, most respondents favored allowing priests who married to return to active ministry (81%) and allowing married men to be ordained. More than 50% approved of allowing women to become priests.

The response of the Church’s leadership, including the Pope, has been limited at best. Pope John Paul II refused to consider expanding priest eligibility. So far Pope Benedict XVI has at least allowed some discussion of the matter, but it has not been embraced by the church leaders. So the question remains - what will we do to address this growing concern? And will the Church leadership ever be willing to change eligibility requirements if that’s what it comes down to?

American Catholics Today by William V. D’Antonio et al.; 2007

February 20, 2011

How Jesus Got His Name

According to the gospel of Luke, it was the angel Gabriel (Luke 1:31) who informed Mary that she was going to give birth to a son. His name would be Yeshua - aka Jesus. The name Jesus doesn't mean anything - it comes from the Latin transliteration of the Greek name Iesous. The original Hebrew name Yeshua, which was an abbreviation of Yahoshua, meant “Lord who is Salvation.”

During the time of Jesus there were relatively few names used to name people. Nearly one in every four girls was named Mary, nearly one in every ten boys was named Yeshua. Yeshua was the fifth most common name at the time - the equivalent of the name William in popularity within the US for the year 2010. Right now there is a chance you know someone with a baby named William. There were other Yeshua's, but probably just one Yeshua of Nazareth, given the size of the population at the time.

The Nazarene Way: Yeshua, Jesus, or YH-Zeus?
Jesus 8880: The Evolution of the Name Jesus

February 17, 2011

The Female Disciples of Jesus

Jesus’s disciples were students who followed his teachings. There are variations among the four gospels regarding which women followed Jesus and their exact roles. The disagreement about the extent and the place of women within the gospels has carried into modern times. So who were these women and what do the gospels say about them?

There does seem to be consensus concerning the presence of women at the crucifixion and the resurrection, events which are a major focus of the gospel readings. All four gospels report that Mary Magdalene and some other companions were the first people to find the tomb of Jesus empty. In two gospels Mary Magdalene is the first to see Jesus resurrected. In Mark 15:40-41 and Mark 15:47, their attendance is noted as follows:

In Mark 15:40-41 “Some women were watching from a distance. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome. In Galilee these women had followed him and cared for his needs. Many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem were also there.”
Mark 15:47: “Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses saw where he was laid.”

Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of Joses and Salome play an important and integral part of the finding the empty tomb and seeing Christ risen from the dead. Their connection in these critical events seems to me to suggest their importance to the Lord.

The Birth of Christianity by John Dominic Crossan

February 16, 2011

Crucifix versus Cross

The cross is the most widespread, recognizable sacramental of the church. Until the end of the 6th century, all crosses were shown without the figure of Christ. The depiction of the body of Christ on the cross, called a crucifix, began in about the 13th century. Over the course of the past several hundred years it has become traditional for Catholic families to hang crucifixes around their neck as well as throughout their home as a reminder of Christ’s sacrifice for mankind.

Protestant crosses typically are not adorned with a corpus. Early Protestant leaders, to varying degrees, rejected both the crucifix and the cross as idolatrous. Over time, the image of a plain, unadorned cross gained acceptance within the Protestant community, however many Protestant factions still oppose the crucifix as a symbol of their faith.

February 11, 2011

How to Meet the Pope

Let’s say you’re planning a trip to the Vatican and you would like to meet the Pope. The most feasible option is to request a general audience, since private audiences are reserved for heads of state. Here are a few things to keep in mind while preparing your visit.

What is a general audience - General audiences with the Pope take place on every Wednesday morning at 10:30 am. The location for the event varies - St. Peter’s square, the Paul VI Hall, or St. Peter’s Basilica are possibilities. During the summer, audiences may also be held at Castel Gandolfo. This is a by-invitation-only event with very limited seating. Attending this sort of event is open to all Christians, but arrangement must be made two to ten weeks in advance.

How to request tickets - there are several options. By mail, you may write to the Pontifical Household at:
Prefettura della Casa Pontificia,
Palazzo Apostolico,
Vatican City State

Or you may contact the U.S. Bishops’ Office for Visitors to the Vatican:
Casa Santa Maria
Via dell’Umiltá
30, 00187 Rome, Italy
fax: (39) 06690011
Online, you may request tickets through the Church of Santa Susanna, which is the American Catholic Church in Rome.

Dress code - Conservative dress is required. Dark colored clothing is common. No shorts or tank tops are allowed. Woman must cover their shoulders. Most men wear business suits while woman wear formal dresses.

On the day of the event - If you have not been assigned a reserved seat, you will want to arrive early. Aisle seats with a view of the alter are best.

Tips - You may get better seating as a newlywed couple (within 8 weeks of your wedding date), particularly if you show up in wedding attire. Ask for a newlywed ticket and make sure you bring your partner and Catholic wedding certificate.

Other opportunities to see the Pope - the Sunday Angelus is presided over by the Pope. It is held at noon in St. Peter’s Square.


February 9, 2011

Apostle or Disciple - What’s the Difference?

The terms “apostle” and “disciple” are often used interchangeably. There is a difference. An apostle, if the definition is taken from the Greek root, is one who is sent forth as a messenger. The word disciple refers to a follower or a student. Basically, while all apostles are disciples, all disciples are not apostles. In fact, many apostles had disciples. The terms disciple and apostle imply different roles and responsibilities within the Church.
The twelve original disciples are considered to be apostles. They were chosen by Christ to spread the gospel following the crucifixion. Does this mean that the term apostle may only apply to the twelve original and immediate followers of Christ? Not necessarily, Saint Patrick, who died in 493, is called the Apostle of Ireland in honor for his missionary work. Saint Paul and other early Christians that spread the faith are also honored with the title apostle.


February 7, 2011

More Than One Type of Catholic Priest

Actually, there are two types of priests within the Catholic Church. This includes the diocesan priests and the religious order priests. Both have the same priesthood faculties. The fundamental differences lie in who they report to, the type of work they engage in, and their general ways of life. In addition, religious order priests take an additional vow not shared by the diocesan priests - the vow of poverty. Once they take that oath, they are totally financially supported by their religious order.

Most of us are probably more familiar with diocesan priests. These are the priests that look after the needs of their church. They are actively involved in their community and lead a parish within a particular diocese. Religious order priests belong to one of four orders, which includes the Jesuits, Benedictine, Dominican, and Franciscan orders. Superiors within the religious order provide assignments the priests. Religious order priests perform much of the missionary work of the church. While both diocesan and religious order priest teach, diocesan priests typically focus on schools associated with their parish while religious order priests staff high schools or institutions of higher learning. Overall, diocesan priests are more common than religious order priests - nearly two-thirds of priests are diocesan.

Occupational Outlook Handbook: Roman Catholic Priests
College Grad.com:Roman Catholic Priests

February 6, 2011

Requirements to Become a Catholic Nun

  1. Be a practicing member of the Catholic faith.
  2. Be single and without dependent kids. Nuns cannot be married. They can be widows. They may be considered if they have released marriage bonds through an annulment - but that will be up to the religious order whether or not to accept the applicant. Woman with dependent children are also not considered.
  3. Be in good health and financial standing. Prior to becoming a nun you will undergo several stages, which includes, Candidacy, Postulancy, and Novitiate period. During this time you will become immersed in the religious community. In all, these stages last about 3.5 years. You will want to be in good financial order - ideally debt free. This may be a requirement of the religious order you are joining. And you’ll want to be in good health. A nun is responsible for their own psychological, dental and physical health until they take their final permanent vows.
  4. This is more a suggestion than a requirement, but don’t wait until you’re too old. It used to be that you had to be young, but these days there’s a little more leniency regarding age. Regardless, check with your prospective religious order if you are over the age of forty, for some that is the age cut-off.
  5. Bring experience/education to the table. It is not a requirement to have a college degree or professional experience, but both are considered very desirable.
A Nun’s Life Ministry: How to Become a Catholic Nun
Hubpages: How to be a nun

February 5, 2011

Irrefutable Facts About Jesus’ Life

So what exactly did Jesus do/inspire during his time on earth?  In 1985, E.P. Sanders identified “almost indisputable facts” of Jesus’ life within his book “Jesus and Judaism.” The following is a list of what he considered facts about Jesus.  Moreover, most scholars seem to agree. 
  1. Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist
  2. Jesus was a Galilean who preached and healed
  3. Jesus called disciples and spoke of their being twelve
  4. Jesus confined his activity to Israel
  5. Jesus engaged in a controversy about the temple
  6. Jesus was crucified outside Jerusalem by the Roman authorities
  7. After his death Jesus’ followers continued as an identifiable movement
  8. At least some Jews persecuted at least parts of the new movement (Gal. 1.13, 22; Phil. 3.6), and it appears that this persecution endured at least to a time near the end of Paul’s career (II Cor. 11:24; Gal. 5.11; 6.12; cf. Matt. 23.3; 10.17)
Sanders asserts that Jesus was not a contradistinction to Judaism, but rather a product of the context within which he was raised.  The book exams these “facts” to better understand Jesus as a Jew.  Interesting reading.

“Jesus and Judaism” by EP Sanders

February 4, 2011

Catholic Throat Blessing

Yesterday I just so happened to be at my daughter’s school, which is Catholic, counting pennies for a fundraiser. After about thirty minutes a large group of students came into the room where I was, single file, to have their throat blessed. Ah, yes I guess it was February 3rd after all. Basically, during a catholic throat blessing a priest says the Saint Blaise blessing while holding two consecrated candles, held open but crossed in a “V” shape on both sides of your throat. Happy Feast of Saint Blaise Day! Time to get your throat blessed.  An interesting and relatively obscure annual Catholic tradition.

It is thought that Saint Blaise was a bishop in Armenia, who was martyred for his faith in 316. Saint Blaise is attributed to a legend where he miraculously saved the life of a child that was about to die from choking to death on a fishbone. Saint Blaise is thought to intercede in cases of throat illness. Fortunately his feast day seems particularly well-timed, at least for North Americans, occurring during the height of cold and flu season.

Blessing of Saint Blaise
“Through the intercession of St. Blaise, bishop and martyr, may God deliver you from ailments of the throat and from every other evil. In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

References: “Saint of the Day: Lives, Lessons and Feast” By Leonard Foley, O.F.M.

January 26, 2011

Can you name all twelve disciples?

There are discrepancies within the four gospels, so I guess it depends on whom you ask.  It’s only complicated by the fact that many of the disciples were known by more than one name.  Regardless, there does seem to be consensus about the number twelve, which is probably a reference to the original twelve tribes of Israel over whom judgment will be made (Matthew 19:28).  Here’s a quick rundown on the who’s who among Jesus’s disciples. 

The following is a list of the 12 disciples from the Gospels of Mark and Matthew:

  1. Peter
  2. Andrew
  3. James, son of Zebedee
  4. John
  5. Philip
  6. Bartholomew, son of Talemai
  7. Matthew
  8. Thomas
  9. James, son of Alphaeus
  10. Thaddeus
  11. Simon the Zealot
  12. Judas Iscariot
The Gospel of Luke conforms to the previous two gospels, with the exception of the following two points:

  • Thaddeus is called Judas.  Thaddeus has been identified with Jude, brother of Jesus, Jude of James and Judas Thaddaeus – but not Judas Iscariot
  • Simon the Zealot is refered to as Simon the Cananean – they are though to be the same person.
The Gospel of John does not name all the disciples, but it does refer to the “Twelve,” which is thought to reference the group.  Within John the following disciples are mentioned:

  1. Peter
  2. Andrew
  3. the sons of Zebedee (probably James and John who were borthers)
  4. Philip
  5. Nathanael – may be the same person as Bartholomew, but it is not known
  6. Thomas
  7. Judas Iscariot
  8. Judas (besides Iscariot) – probably Thaddeus
A New History of Early Christianity by Charles Freeman

January 23, 2011

How to Become a Saint, A Five Step Guide

Becoming a saint is a very long and difficult task that can only be accomplished with a lot of religious support at various levels after you die. Here’s a basic rundown of the necessary steps in the process.

Step One: Traditionally, death followed by a five year period, at a minimum. This waiting period can be waived by the Pope.  In recent time, this requirement has been waived for the beloved Mother Teresa and Pope John Paul II.  Consequently, the process for initiating sainthood began immediately following each of their deaths.

Step Two: Recognition of Heroic Virtue - This step must be initiated by the bishop of the local diocese. The life and writings of the individual are examined to determine whether theological virtues of faith, hope and charity were evident. It must also be determined that the cardinal virtues of prudence, justice, temperance and fortitude were observed to the highest degree. If investigation concludes favorably the canonization process is officially launched and the candidate is declared “Venerable.”

Step Three: Beatification and the First Miracle. The Congregation for the Causes of Saints at the Vatican resumes the investigation at this point. A lead investigator is selected by the Congregation to congregation to look into miracles attributed to the candidate. Miracles are expected to be instantaneous, complete and unexpected. Influence over extraordinary events that cannot readily be explained by science are also accepted.
For example, in the case of Mother Teresa, a miracle was officially attributed to the holy woman in 2002. It was reported that a tumor in the abdomen of an Indian woman healed after a locket containing Mother Teresa's picture was placed on it.
Following completion of the investigation, the Congregation determines whether to recommend beatification of the candidate. The pope then chooses whether or not to declare the candidate “Blessed.”

Step Four: Investigation resumes to await a second miracle. Two documented miracles must be associated with the candidate in order to be considered for sainthood. The first must occur during the individual’s lifetime - the second following beatification.

Step Five: Canonization. The new saint is given a feast day in the Church’s Universal Calender.

References: The Big Book of Woman Saints by Sarah Gallick and Making Saints by Kenneth Woodward

January 21, 2011

What’s different about the Catholic Ten Commandments?

The Ten Commandments are taken from Exodus 20:2-17 and Deuteronomy 5 of the Old Testament. Within these verses are actually 14 separate directives. How these statements are grouped together to form the 10 commandments has resulted in the creation of three different (Catholic, Jewish and Protestant) versions of God’s laws.

The First Two Commandments
The Catholic commandments begin with the statement “I am the Lord, your God, you shall have no other Gods than me.” This commandment is recognized by Catholic, Jews, and Protestants. Protestants recognize versus 4-6, which immediately follows, as the second commandment. This reads:
“You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.”
Catholicism, following in the Jewish tradition, does not recognize this directive as a separate commandment. Rather, Catholics believe that the ban on polytheism implies that false worship, explicitly described in versus 4-6, is forbidden.

The Last Two Commandments
Catholic commandments break away from both Protestant and Jewish versions regarding the last two Catholics commandments. Exodus 20:17 states:
You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”
Catholics divide this statement into two directives - You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife (9th Commandment) and You shall not covet your neighbor’s goods (10th commandment). The concepts of coveting (9th commandment) and adultery (7th commandment) are treated as separate forbidden activities in Catholicism. Jewish and Protestant versions consolidate the ban on coveting more generally - coveting your neighbor’s wife is not given special mention. Instead, the final Jewish and Protestant commandment is “you shall not covet anything that belongs to your neighbor.” So if anyone asks you if you know the Ten Commandments, perhaps your first response should be - which version?

References: The Roman Catholic Church by Edmund Hartley; The Ten Commandments: Sounds of Love from Sinai by Father Alfred McBride and O.Praem

January 14, 2011

Was Jesus Born During the Spring?

There is a lot we don’t know for sure about Jesus’s birth. Such as - the year and the date. In fact, the gospels present different and even contradictory narratives regarding all aspects of this important event. The most familiar version, featuring shepherds, a star and the flight to Egypt is actually a blend of the gospels of Matthew and Luke. (An interesting fact is that neither Mark nor John, the earlier written gospels, wrote about the birth of Christ.) Matthew and Luke did not provide an actual date for the event. The most commonly accepted range concerning the birth year is between 7 and 4 BC. This would place Jesus’ birth during the reign of King Herod, as the gospel of Matthew suggests. To help us determine time of year, we can look to Luke 2:8, which states “And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night.” It is cold and rainy during the winter in Judea and sheep would be placed in corrals. In spring, shepherds would stay with their flocks night and day, tending new births. It follows that Jesus had a spring birthday. 

So where did the December 25th date come from? December 25th was one of the dates speculated as Jesus’s birth by the early Christians - along with January 6 and March 28. During early attempts to Christianize the Roman calendar, some dates and festivals were absorbed. The majority consensus of biblical scholars is that the date of the winter solstice and the birthday of Mithras (an ancient sun god) were converted to what we now know as Christmas by early Christians to strategically win over pagans. 

Resources: Scripting Jesus by L. Michael White

January 13, 2011

How did Pontius Pilate die?

Arguably, Pilate is the is the best-known governor in all of history.  Pilate was made “praefectus” – the Roman equivalent of governor – of Judea from 26-36 AD.  The governorship of Judea was a relatively non-prestigious post, especially if compared to a parallel position in much wealthier Egypt.   The extent of Pilate’s responsibilities during his remarkably long term as governor included keeping order, collecting taxes for Rome, and serving as the Emperor’s local representative.  Recorded letters of complaint from the Jewish philosopher Philo to the emperor suggest that Pilate was not well liked by residents of Judea.

His political career ended in 36 AD following his dismissal by Emperor Vitellius.  According to Eusebius ("Hist. Eccl." ii. 7), Pilate was banished to southeastern France. It is there, as the tradition goes, that Pontius Pilate committed suicide relatively soon after following a series of misfortunate events.

References: A New History of Early Christianity by Charles Freeman

January 10, 2011

Why didn’t early Christians just visit Christ’s tomb to prove that it was empty?

To answer this question, I guess you have to understand the burial process in Judea at the time of Jesus.  It’s believed that the sort of tomb that Jesus was buried in was meant as a temporary storage place.  Following decomposition of the body, the tomb would be emptied.  All remaining bones would be transferred to their final resting place in family tombs. The tomb would, most likely, be then reused.  Given that tombs were regularly emptied, they were not permanently sealed - rather they were shut with doors that could be pushed away when necessary.  The practice of tomb reuse  is supported by both Matthew 27:59-60 and John 19:42, who state that Jesus’ tomb was new and unused.  This is a significant notation recorded in two gospels, and it suggests that other tombs were older and reused.

References: Scripting Jesus by L. Michael White

January 8, 2011

The Most Significant Archeological Finds Corroborating the New Testament

In many aspects, the study of Jesus’ time on earth has always been controversial.  The different narratives of the gospels present varying interpretations of Jesus and his teachings that we are left to reconcile.  He is portrayed as a sage, messiah, and teacher.  While religion relies on faith above all else, increasingly more of us are seeking to find comfort in facts to support our beliefs.  Interestingly enough, where the gospels have presented opportunity for scientific, archeological corroboration, they have been proven extremely accurate. The importance of these findings is not that they confirm all biblical claims, after all, much of this evidence was not material in nature in the first place.  Rather, archeological findings present a strong case regarding whether the gospels are trustworthy.  The following is a list of some of the most significant finds.
  1. The Pontius Pilate inscription.  In 1961 a stone inscription was discovered in Caesara.  While part of the inscription is missing, the stone is a dedication of a stone from Pilate to the Emperor Tiberias in 26-36 AD.  The inscription provides proof of both the Pilate’s existence as well as his position as prefect during the time of Christ.  The inscription reads “Pontius Pilate, Prefect of Judaea, made and dedicated the Tiberieum to the Divine Augustus."
  2. The corroboration of the roman style of crucifixion.  The bible makes many mentions of crucifixion as a means of excecution, in terms of Christ's punishment and others.  Previously, some skeptics thought the Romans used ropes to affix legs upon a cross. The discovery of bones of a crucified man from first-century Palestine cleared up this misconcention.  The bones suggest nails were driven through the ankles and his leg bones were broken.  The remains of this man, named Johanan confirm the gospel accounts of Jesus’ crucifixion.
  3. The corroboration of biblical places mentioned in the Gospel of John.  Archeologists have unearthed several places mentioned specifically by the gospel of John.  This includes:
    • The pool of Siloam (John 9:1-7)
    • Solomon’s porch at the temple precincts (John 10:22-23)
    • The five porticoes of the poll of Bethesda by the sheep gate (John 5:2)
    • Jacob’s well at Sychar (John 4:5)
    • The “pavement” where Pilate tried Jesus (John 19:13)
References: "Discoveries from Bible Times", by Professor Alan Millard; "Jesus Under Fire", by Michael J. Wilkins and J.P. Moreland

January 7, 2011

The best time to go on a holy pilgrimage to Rome

There are many interesting places to visit and things to see on a Holy Pilgrimage.  Rome has many of the popular pilgrim destinations such as the Appian Way, the church Quo Vadis, and the Basilica of St. Paul Without the Walls.  However, if you are planning a Holy Pilgramige when is the best time to go?  During a Holy Year, which is also known as a Year of Jubilee, that is, if you can wait. 

What is a Year of Jubilee?
The Year of Jubilee has roots in the Old Testament.  According to Leviticus 25:10, “Thou shalt sanctify the fiftieth year, and shalt proclaim remission to all the inhabitants of thy land: for it is the year of jubilee." The Year of Jubilee was a designated time of joy and universal pardon.  Because of its Old Testament roots, the Year of Jubilee is recognized by both Jewish and Christian faith.  There has not been continuity between the Jewish and Christian Jubilees, since the celebration of the first Christian Jubilee in the year 1300.  Boniface VIII, who instituted the first Jubilee intended that it should be celebrated only once in a hundred years,

Why wait?
Catholics believe if you make a pilgrimage to the Vatican and Rome during a Holy Year you will be granted remission of sins and universal pardon.  A Holy Year begins with midnight mass on Christmas Eve after the Pope opens a Holy Door in each of the four great basilicas in which the pilgrims are required to visit.  At the end of the year, the door is closed – and bricked up.

When is the next one?
Historically, these have occurred about every twenty-five years, beginning in the year 1300 AD.  However, since the year 1900 there have been eight – the last one being in 2008.  If you do the math that's a lot more frequent than every 25 years.  While the date of the next Holy Year has not been declared, chances are the next one will be held in 2033 at the latest. 

Resources: The Vatican and Other Christian Holy Placesby Victoria Parker

January 6, 2011

The Differences Between Creationism and Intelligent Design

Intelligent design is the search for God’s existence through science. Scientists seek to prove it through particular intelligent design of features in organisms. Essentially, they try to explain miracles beyond what can be rationalized by natural selection/breeding. Creationism, on the other hand, is the belief that humanity, life, the Earth, and the universe are the creation of a supernatural being. Overall, the roots of Creationism are based in biblical fundamentalism and narrow, literal readings of the bible. 

Legal Issues

Teaching creationism is banned form being taught in public schools by the U.S. Constitution, thanks to the requirement of a separation between church and state. On the other hand, it is possible that teaching intelligent design could be legal. While intelligent design seeks to prove the existence of God through science, in the absence of proof, it is neutral on the topic of religion. If God is found to belong to a spiritual realm outside of science, as many believe, intelligent design fails in its mission to instruct. There would be no reason to teach it, but if you did include in a public school curriculum it would not be illegal.

Despite the efforts of intelligent design proponents to distance themselves from creationism, gradually over time, the lines btween the two distinct theories have become increasingly blurred. This is largely because proponents of creationism have tried to pass the two terms off as synonymous in cases where the legality of inclusion in public school curriculums was at stake. So far, this has not been successful. Unfortunately in the process, it seems to have tarnished the image of the more scientifically-rooted intelligent design theory.

References: Evolution and the Christian Faith by Joan Roughgarden

January 5, 2011

Jesus's Brothers and Sisters

There’s something fascinating about the thought of Jesus having siblings.  It just seems so normal.  Plus wouldn't it be great to hear their accounts of Jesus?  In general, most Protestants believe that Mary bore children other than Jesus. They point to the significant amount of scriptural support for their existence from various Gospels.  The most frequently cited passages come from the similar words of Mark 6:3 and Matthew 13:55 – “Then they scoffed, "He's just a carpenter, the son of Mary and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas, and Simon. And his sisters live right here among us." They were deeply offended and refused to believe in him.”  The following passages also appear to offer support of the siblings' existence:
  • Matthew 27:56: Among which was Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James and Joses, and the mother of Zebedee's children.
  • Mark 15:40 There were also women looking on afar off: among whom was Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the less and of Joses, and Salome;
  • John 20:17: Go to my brothers and say to them, 'I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God
  • Mark 3:31-32: And his mother and his brothers came, and standing outside they sent to him and called him. And a crowd was sitting around him, and they said to him, 'Your mother and your brothers are outside, seeking you.
  • Galatians 1:19: I saw none of the other apostles--only James, the Lord's brother.
Seems pretty straight-forward; however, it directly contradicts the belief in the “Perpetual Virginity of Mary.” Catholicism has traditionally upheld that Mary was an ever-virgin her whole life.  Jesus was her only son, whose birth was miraculous.  The above mentioned “siblings” are interpreted as spiritual brothers, children of Joseph by a previous marriage, Mary's sister's children, or as Joseph's sister's children. It can be legitimately argued that the Greek terms for "brothers" and "sisters" in these verses could also refer to male and female relatives, because terms such as “cousin” did not exist at the time.  However, does the Bible mention the perpetual virginity of Mary? No, not directly.  The strongest support for the perpetual virginity belief comes from the Protoevangelium of James, which was written probably less than sixty years after the conclusion of Mary’s earthly life.  According to the Protoevangelium, Mary was vowed to a life of perpetual virginity.  It was eventually necessary for Mary, to have a guardian or protector who would respect her vow of virginity. Consequently, Joseph, an elderly widower who already had children, was chosen to be her spouse.  So what is the answer?  Not sure, but it is fascinating.

References: http://www.catholic.com/library/Mary_Ever_Virgin.asp and “Scripting Jesus” by L. Michael White