Pray for the Dead?
Christian friend of mine says that the Bible contains no references to purgatory.
What is the basis for the Catholic Church’s teaching about this? Why do Catholics
pray for the dead?
2 Maccabees 12:38-46, Judas Maccabee orders that sacrifices be offered in the Temple
in Jerusalem for slain Jewish soldiers who had worn pagan amulets (good-luck charms).
Some people have seen this story as biblical
justification for the teaching on purgatory. That certainly overstates the author’s
intention. If, however, those Jewish soldiers did something wrong by wearing pagan
amulets, why offer sacrifices on their behalf?
The two Books of Maccabees are probably
not in your friend’s Bible because they were originally written in Greek. During
Jesus’ lifetime, some Jewish people regarded these books as inspired by God.
About 60 years after Jesus’ death, however,
rabbis at Jamnia in Palestine drew up the list (canon) of the Scriptures used by
Jewish people to this day. That shorter list includes only works composed in Hebrew,
excluding the two Books of Maccabees, five other books and parts of the Books of
Daniel and Esther.
For centuries, Eastern and Western Christians
accepted as inspired the longer list. When Martin Luther translated the Bible, he
used the shorter list. Sometimes, these seven books are printed in Protestant Bibles
as “Deutero-canonical” or “Apocrypha.”
The New Testament and early Christian
writings offer some evidence for purgatory. In 2 Timothy 1:18, St. Paul prays for
Onesiphorus, who has died. The earliest mention of prayers for the dead in public
Christian worship is by the writer Tertullian in 211 A.D.
The question of purgatory and praying
for the dead was a major issue between Catholics and Protestants in the 16th century.
The Council of Trent’s 1563 decree about purgatory reaffirmed its existence and the
usefulness of prayers for the deceased, yet it cautioned against “a certain kind
of curiosity or superstition...” about it.
The Roman Catholic teaching on purgatory
reflects its understanding of the communion of saints. We are connected to the saints
in heaven, the saints-in-waiting in purgatory and other believers here on earth.
Prayers for the deceased are not a means of buying their way out of purgatory.
The Catholic Church’s teaching about
purgatory (Catechism of the Catholic Church, #1030-32) says that all sin,
unfortunately, has a life of its own and may have bad effects even after the sinner
repents. Sincere repentance includes a desire to repair the damage done by one’s
sins. That may or may not be complete before the person dies.
When the world ends at the Final Judgment,
there will be only two possibilities: heaven and hell. We who celebrate Jesus’ Resurrection
over sin and death look forward to sharing in that victory, and we pray that our
beloved dead may do the same.
I Make Him Gay?
a mother cause a son to become gay? My middle-aged son has a lot of gay friends.
I am afraid to ask him if he is gay. My other sons definitely are not.
think the best science today answers your question with a resounding “no.” If your
son is indeed homosexually oriented, that is not anyone’s decision—not even his.
Most experts in this field deny that any therapy can change a person’s true sexual
The U.S. bishops’ Committee on Marriage
and Family has written Always Our Children: A Pastoral Message to Parents of Homosexual
Children and Suggestions for Pastoral Ministers (Publication 5-131 in English
and 5-130 in Spanish). Your local parish may have a copy. It is available from the
U.S. Catholic Conference for $1.25, plus 10 percent shipping and handling ($3 minimum).
Call toll-free 800-235-8722 or visit www.nccbuscc.org.
Our Catholic Update titled “What
the Church Teaches About Homosexuality,” by Richard Sparks, C.S.P., (C0799)
can also be ordered either online or
by calling 1-800-488-0488.
Did God Mean?
an eighth-grade CCD catechist, I will be using the story of Abraham’s near-sacrifice
of Isaac (Genesis 22:1-18) for a prayer service on faith.
Over the years, I have struggled with the implications
of this story and have found commentaries useful for adults. How can I present
this to 13-year-olds? I fear that they will think that God delights in testing
and tricking the people most loyal to him.
If this is the kind of faith God demands, they
may well ask, “Who needs it?”
this story is difficult to understand and to present. Yet it also plays an important
part in forming Judeo-Christian ethics.
Why are we so repulsed by child sacrifice?
In part, because this story tells us that the God of Abraham is not a God who wants
that. Some of the gods worshiped by Abraham’s neighbors demanded child sacrifice!
The biblical God cannot do anything which
contradicts what being God means. The story of Abraham’s near-sacrifice of Isaac
tells us that demanding child sacrifice would contradict what being God means. We
abhor child sacrifice partially because this difficult story is in the Bible.
If your 13-year-old students react negatively
to this story, you can initiate a discussion about today’s more hidden child sacrifice
(for example, partial-birth abortion, child prostitution, exploitation of children
for work or military purposes, etc.).
The fact that all these are done in the
name of someone’s freedom (not the child’s!) does not legitimate any of them. Good
luck in your challenging but absolutely essential ministry!
Are Sunday Gospels Selected?
decides the readings used at Sunday Mass? Do they differ from country to country?
Sometimes the reading begins a story, skips several verses and then continues the
story. This puzzles me. What am I missing?
three-year cycle of Sunday readings uses Matthew in Year A, Mark in Year B and Luke
in Year C. The First Sunday of Advent, December 3, 2000, begins Year C. The Gospel
of John is used each year during the Easter season and during Year B since the Gospel
of Mark is shorter than the others.
The Gospel readings are chosen first;
Sunday’s first reading is coordinated with it. The second reading is continuous from
the previous Sunday, almost always on a different theme.
Weekday Masses have a single cycle of
Gospel readings. All four Gospels are used at weekday Masses each year.
The first reading on weekdays is either
Year I (odd-numbered years) or Year II (even-numbered years). Weekday readings for
Advent and Lent are the same each year.
Although the Lectionary (book of readings)
is the same for Roman Catholics worldwide, small differences from country to country
exist. For example, Italian Catholics celebrate Epiphany on January 6 while U.S.
Catholics celebrate this feast on the first Sunday after January 1.
Some Protestant Churches use the same
Lectionary as Roman Catholics use, though translations may vary.
A reading can omit a few verses. This
usually provides greater clarity but can raise problems about context.
have noticed that some Franciscan priests have T.O.R. after their family name.
What does that mean?
means Third Order Regular. St. Francis of Assisi founded the Order of Friars Minor,
helped St. Clare establish the Poor Clares (Second Order) and then set up the Third
Order, open to men and women, married or single.
Eventually, the Third Order became two
different groups: Secular Franciscan Order (men and women as described above) and
the Third Order Regular movement (men’s or women’s religious communities, professing
the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience).
Those who use T.O.R. are priests and
brothers. They have U.S. provinces based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and Winter
In Francis’ day, all women religious
were cloistered; they focused on prayer. They did not teach in schools, run hospitals
or engage in the active works we associate with women religious today.
The Third Order Regular movement represented
a new form of religious life, allowing women especially to engage in these “active” apostolates.
There are approximately 12,000 Franciscan sisters within 83 U.S. congregations.
These sisters often use O.S.F. (Order
of St. Francis) to avoid confusion with the international men’s group.
If you have a question for Father Pat, please submit it here.
Include your street address for personal replies enclosing a stamped, self-addressed envelope, please. Some answer material must be
mailed since it is not available in digital form. You can still send questions to: Ask a Franciscan, 28 W. Liberty Street, Cincinnati, OH 45202.