Q: I am very troubled by some of the
new language that has crept into
the Mass prayers and Scripture readings.
Often this language lacks clarity or is simply
false. For example, one passage refers
to “the one who raised Jesus.” Excuse me?
If someone else raised Jesus, his divinity is
not assured. They cite Romans 10:9, but this
is a new translation.
A: Yes, several New Testament passages
in the New American Bible translation use the active voice regarding
Jesus’ resurrection. For example,
Jesus teaches the apostles that he must
be rejected, killed “and rise after three
days” (Mark 8:31). Jesus tells the apostles
that the Son of Man [Jesus] will be
scourged and killed “but on the third
day he will rise” (Luke 18:33). In John
20:9 we read that Peter and the other
disciple at Jesus’ tomb “did not yet
understand the Scripture that he [Jesus]
had to rise from the dead.” Paul taught
the people “the Messiah had to suffer
and rise from the dead...” (Acts 17:3).
On the other hand, many New Testament
passages use the passive voice
about this event. For example, after
Paul speaks of “the one who raised
Jesus our Lord from the dead” (Romans
4:24), the next verse speaks of Jesus
who “was raised for our justification.”
In Romans 6:4, Paul writes, “We were
indeed buried with him [Christ]
through baptism into death, so that
just as Christ was raised from the dead
by the glory of the Father, we too might
live in newness of life.”
St. Paul writes: “For I handed on to
you as of first importance what I also
received: that Christ died for our sins in
accordance with the Scriptures; that
he was buried; that he was raised on the
third day in accordance with the Scriptures...”
(1 Corinthians 15:3-4).
Later, Paul speaks of Jesus as having
“been raised from the dead” (1
Corinthians 15:20) and as having died
for all people “so that those who live
might no longer live for themselves
but for him who for their sake died
and was raised” (2 Corinthians 5:15).
There are also several instances where
God the Father is spoken of as raising
Jesus from the dead (Acts 2:24, 10:40
and 13:30; Romans 8:11 and 10:9; 2
In none of these passages is Jesus’
divinity in doubt because even when
the passive voice is used, God is doing
the raising. The Second Person of the
Trinity is always involved whenever
we speak of God as acting in the world.
Those who translate the Scriptures
are very careful to keep verbs in the
same voice (active or passive) that the
original text uses. The passage that you
cite has been translated accurately.
Translations of Mass prayers are closely
studied by episcopal conferences before
the texts are submitted to the Holy See
for formal approval.
When we are in doubt about a biblical
text, we should look to related
Scripture passages in order to understand
what seems puzzling. For this
reason, many Bibles provide cross-references
to indicate such passages.
The New American Bible, the New
Jerusalem Bible and the New Revised Standard
Version (Catholic Edition) also provide
The community of faith’s prayerful
and ongoing understanding of a Scripture
passage is its best interpretation.
Q: For my first-grade CCD students,
I go over the Sunday Gospels, using
language that they can understand. One
Scripture quote puzzles me.
When Jesus was talking to the two men
crucified with him, he said to one of them,
“Amen, I say to you, today you will be with
me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43). If those
words were spoken on Good Friday and
Jesus rose on Easter Sunday, how can
this time frame be correct? Am I being too
A: I consulted Father Hilarion
Kistner, O.F.M., who taught
Scripture at our province’s theology school when I was a student there. He
suggests: “In a hidden way, Jesus went
to heaven as soon as he died. So did the
good thief. The resurrection of Jesus
became public on Easter Sunday. We
keep the liturgical days the way we do
so that we can appreciate the meaning
of this mystery. (Besides, three is a number
often used in the Bible to indicate
the special work of God.)”
In the highly respected Dictionary of
the Bible, John L. McKenzie, S.J., writes,
“Luke 23:43 makes Paradise the place
where both Jesus and the repentant
thief go after their death; this is the
Paradise of the righteous....”
Once the repentant thief (or revolutionary,
as these two men are described
in Matthew 27:38) had died, why
wouldn’t he go to heaven right away?
Christian tradition and art have long
depicted Jesus as leading into heaven all
the righteous men and women who
died before he did. The Risen Jesus did
not need to be seen for that to occur.
The author of the Gospel of Luke
neither restricted the term “today” to
mean Good Friday nor excluded that
Q: My 11-year-old great-grandson
recently asked me why we call the
resurrection of Jesus “Easter.” Is this a
Greek word? Why don’t we call it the “Day
A: The English word Easter is derived
from the Old English and
Middle English terms for “East,” the
direction from which many expected
Christ to come at the Last Judgment.
Italian uses the term Pasqua for this
feast; Spanish uses Pascua. Both of those
terms are related to Passover.
Q: According to the Gospel of John, at
the Last Supper Jesus washed the
feet of his apostles (13:1-11). This has
always puzzled me. Why did Jesus do this?
A: In the verses that immediately
follow this event, Jesus asks his
apostles: “Do you realize what I have
done for you? You call me ‘teacher’
and ‘master,’ and rightly so, for indeed
I am. If I, therefore, the master and
teacher, have washed your feet, you
ought to wash one another’s feet. I
have given you a model to follow, so
that as I have done for you, you should
also do. Amen, amen, I say to you, no
slave is greater than his master nor any
messenger greater than the one who
sent him. If you understand this,
blessed are you if you do it” (John
By washing the apostles’ feet, Jesus
links authority to humble service. This
gesture explains servant leadership in
an unforgettable way. This passage reinforces
the teaching given when Jesus
calls a child over after the apostles ask,
“Who is the greatest in the kingdom
of heaven?” Jesus replies, “Whoever
humbles himself like this child is the
greatest in the kingdom of heaven”
(Matthew 18:1-5). Luke’s version of
that incident appears in 9:46-48.
Jesus returns to this subject when
the mother of James and John asks that
her sons sit at Jesus’ right and left in his
kingdom (Matthew 20:20-28). Jesus
contrasts authority as the pagans
understand it and authority as his followers
should view it. He says, “Whoever
wishes to be great among you shall
be your servant; whoever wishes to be
first among you shall be your slave.”
Many Christians have seen the washing
of the apostles’ feet as pointing to
Jesus’ greatest act of service when, on
the cross, he cleansed us from sin.
We should be grateful that the foot-washing
story was not lost; it is found
only in the Gospel of John. Because
the temptation to use authority for
domination is so strong, we always
need to hear Jesus’ reminder that
authority is for service.
Q: Why does the Catholic Church give more attention to the crucified
Christ than to the resurrected Christ? Most Catholic churches have
the crucified Christ hanging over the altar; they rarely have an image
of the resurrected Christ. Isn’t it the resurrected Christ who gives
us the power to live the Good News?
A: The New Testament speaks of and Catholic liturgy celebrates
Jesus’ entire paschal mystery: his passion, death and resurrection.
Apart from uses in the Gospels, the New Testament contains 26
other references to Jesus’ resurrection; each of them implies at the same
time the passion and death of Jesus.
We see the crucified Christ as a sign of victory only because we realize
that Jesus’ story did not end on Calvary. Death did not have the last
word. In fact, there are some Catholic churches that have crucifixes representing
Jesus as resurrected or as wearing priestly or royal garments. At
every Mass, the eucharistic acclamation affirms all the moments of Jesus’
paschal mystery, into which we were baptized.
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