Why do some of the gospel accounts of the resurrection say three women went to the tomb and others say only one? There also seem to be other differences. If these contradictions are real, how can I deal with them?
The resurrection accounts in the gospels do have some differences in detail. How many women went out to the tomb that morning, one (Jn 20:21), two (Matt 28:1), or three (Mk 16:1)? How many angels did they see that morning, one (Matt 28:2; Mk 16:5) or two (Lk 24:4; Jn 20:12)? Did the women run to the disciples and tell what they had seen (Mt 28:8; Lk 24:9) or did they say nothing out of fear (Mk 16:8)? Did Jesus see them first in Galilee (Mk 16:7; Mt 28:9) or in Jerusalem (Lk 24:36)? Among the Apostles, did he appear to Peter first (Lk 24:34), all eleven at once (Mt. 28:16), or the eleven minus Thomas (Jn 20:24)? Did Jesus appear to them in a room (Jn 20:19) or a mountaintop (Mt 28:16)? Lastly, did Jesus ascend on Easter Sunday (Lk 24:50-53; Mk 16:19) or forty days later (Acts 1:3-9)?
Most of these apparent discrepancies are not actual conflicts upon closer examination and are easily explained. We cannot look at them all in a short column. But as to your specific question, it would seem most likely that several women went out that morning. That John only focuses on Magdalene is not a denial that others were there. Matthew and Mark, in saying two or three may not be engaging in a headcount per se, but engaging in generalization, such as when we say words like, couple or several.
We should not be surprised that there are some differences in the accounts. Even today, eyewitnesses of an event often emphasize certain details and have different recollections as to the particulars. People often summarize longer stories as well and speak only of essentials. This does not mean that the event did not happen or that unmentioned details by one person is in conflict with details mentioned by another. Given the numerous times Jesus appeared and the many people who saw him, we should not be surprised to find certain differences in the accounts. In this light the differences actually lend credibility to the gospel accounts, which do not try to paper over them, but realistically report them. (See Catechism #s 642-643)
Why is Easter a floating holy day? Why can’t the Church celebrate Easter on the same Sunday each year? The Bishops have moved other Holy Days, for convenience, why not Easter?
The date of Easter varies each year because it is linked to the cycle of the Moon, relative to the cycle of the Sun. In order to set the date of Easter one must first look for the vernal (spring) equinox, which is March 20. The word “equinox” refers to that time when the length of day and night are equal. It is also the date we set for the official beginning of spring.
Having set our sights on March 20, we next look for the first full moon following March 20. Some years, the first full moon occurs quickly, within days of the equinox. Other years it occurs weeks later.
For the Jewish people, this first full moon after the equinox also signaled Passover. And since it was at the Passover feast that our Lord Jesus suffered and died and rose, we Christians always fix Easter to coincide with Passover.
So then, Easter, (which is always on a Sunday since Christ rose on the first day of the week), is celebrated on the Sunday following the full moon after the vernal equinox.
Historically there were great debates within the Church in the East and the West about setting the date of Easter. The system described above was finally settled upon. But today, we still find that the exact date for Easter varies a bit in the western and eastern parts of the Church since many of the Eastern rites still use the more ancient Julian calendar, rather than the Gregorian calendar used by the church in the West.
Your wish for a fixed Day for Easter, as is the case with Christmas and other feasts, is understandable. But as you can see, the relationship of the Moon relative to the sun doesn't fit perfectly into our modern systems of timekeeping and to fix the date as you suggest would probably open old debates that caused great harm in the early Church.
I have asked my local bishop to have all the parishes restore the St. Michael Prayer after all Masses. We need to call on St. Michael. I have not heard from the Bishop and wonder what I can do to see this practice restored.
Your desire to pray this prayer is understandable, and good. The prayer can in fact be said. However, perhaps a little history and context is appropriate to understand why it fell away in the early 1970s.
Historically, the liturgical movement beginning in the 1940s and continuing through the Second Vatican Council., sought to reemphasize the Eucharistic liturgy, by distinguishing it from some of the devotions that had grown up around it. The hope was to emphasize participation in the Mass as the greatest devotion.
Among the devotions that attached themselves were a number of prayers said following the dismissal from Mass. Thus, although the priest turned and said Ite Missa est (Go the mass is ended), this was not exactly so. First there was a blessing, then a recitation of the last Gospel, and then after most masses, prayers, which included the prayer to Saint Michael. In many parishes Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament was also done.
Liturgists of the time sensed that lesser devotions following the greatest devotion somehow implied an inadequacy in the prayer of holy Mass.
Whether or not you agree with all these points, it was the thinking at the time, which led to the elimination of many, if not all, devotions immediately following the Mass.
That said, you and fellow parishioners, are not forbidden from praying certain prayers and devotions following mass, even with the priest. It is best however, to allow those who need to depart, e.g. for work, to leave prior to the beginning of devotions. Otherwise, people feel trapped, and the instruction that they may go, is lost or reduced in meaning.
Please also be aware, while the St. Michael Prayer is an important prayer, many others also insist on other devotions for similar reasons. Thus some pastors are reticent in fostering such public devotions, since requests tend to multiply. So pastoral discretion is needed, and solutions will vary from parish to parish.
My nephew and his fiancée, both Catholic, and despite being warned, are planning to be married outside the Church. Can I, and other family members attend the wedding?
No, you ought not attend. Both of them are bound to have their marriage witnessed by a priest or deacon in the sacred setting of the Church. In celebrating the marriage outside the church without permission, they are entering into an invalid marriage. To attend, and to celebrate with them, signals support of this sinful action.
While these sorts of situations are awkward, you are not the source of the awkwardness, they are. A firm line is appropriate in such serious matters which underscores the sinfulness of the situation.
Your explanation to them of your incapacity to attend should be done charitably, leaving the door open for further discussions leading to convalidation in the near future, should they still go forward with their plans.
Finally, avoid harsh debates with other family members who may still go. While attendance at such weddings is strongly discouraged, Church Law does not absolutely forbid it given the human complexities involved in such situations. Some respect for prudential judgments that differ is appropriate.
Killing someone and missing Sunday Mass are both mortal sins, punishable by eternity in hell. This seems to make the two sins equivalent. But in my mind killing is far worse than missing mass. Are they really equivalent?
No, they are not equivalent. There are degrees to mortal sin just like there are degrees to venial sin. First‐degree murder is more grave than missing Mass, or viewing pornography, or any other grave sin that we might imagine.
It is true that killing someone and missing Mass are in the same category of "mortal," (or grave) sin. But they are no more equivalent, than a rat is equivalent to or the same as a man, simply because they are in the same category "mammal."
Your description of both sins as being punishable by eternity in Hell also implies an equivalence by that fact. However, a distinction is necessary regarding the way you connect the notion of eternity to punishment. That one is in Hell eternally, is not due to punishment per se. Rather, the eternity of Hell (or heaven for that matter) exists because, at some point, our decision for or against God, and the laws and values of his Kingdom becomes a decision that is for us at death forever fixed. Thus, that Hell is eternal, is not by itself a gauge of the punishment involved.
We need not presume that everyone experiences Hell in exactly the same way, any more than we presume that everyone experiences heaven in exactly the same way. There may in fact be degrees of suffering in Hell, and degrees of glory in Heaven.
While there are mysteries involved here, it makes sense that there are some Saints who, on account of extraordinary virtue, have a greater capacity to appreciate God's glory in heaven. It also makes sense that for those in Hell who have rejected God, and his Kingdom, there would be degrees of suffering experienced, related to how deep their rejection of the light is. Scripture indicates we are judged according to what we have done (Revelation 20:11‐15). Thus, there is at least implied some relationship of reward or punishment rooted in what we have done or not done. Jesus also speaks of places of special honor in heaven, indicating levels of some sort in the afterlife (cf Matt 20:23).
I have to be honest that I get a little annoyed sometimes by the rather constant refrain of “The New Evangelization.” What is new about it and why use the word “new” for an ancient faith?
Irritation of this sort is perhaps understandable, when a phrase gets picked up and used widely in multivariate ways, and thereby comes to be seen more as a slogan than as informative.
That said, the New Evangelization is officially used to mean several rather specific things. First it is new, in the sense that we, as a Church, cannot afford to do business as usual. We must behave in new ways. We can no longer be content to sit within our four walls and talk about the faith among ourselves; we must go out. We cannot simply think that evangelization is opening the doors and hoping people come. If there ever was a kind of inertia that brought people to church, that is not so now. It is clear that we must go into the community, into the culture, and re-propose the gospel. In this sense, “everything old is new again.” For the new evangelization seeks to go back to Christ’s initial Instruction, "Go unto all the nations and make disciples…” (Matthew 28:19).
New evangelization also appreciates that we cannot simply say what we believe, we must explain why, and show its reasonableness. Perhaps in previous times, it was sufficient to argue from authority, but these days, people want to know why, not just what.
Thirdly, evangelization is “new” in that we must vigorously engage in all the new ways of communicating that have exploded on the scene today. We must creatively engage all these new forms of communication, along with the traditional modes of communication, such as writing, cinema, radio and so forth.
I recently saw a picture of Pope Francis seated near the back of the chapel instead of up front in the special chair for the Celebrant. I am moved by this humility, and wonder why must the priest sit up front during Mass.
To clarify, Pope Francis was seated in the back of the chapel prior to the sacred liturgy. Once the liturgy began he vested and moved forward to the celebrant’s chair.
The celebrant of the mass sits up front in virtue of the fact that he acts in persona Christi. Hence, the celebrant’s chair, and he, being seated in a prominent, visible place in the sanctuary, is not honoring of “Fr. Joe Smith” the man, but, rather, of Jesus Christ who acts in and through the priest, who is configured to Jesus by holy orders.
In this sense, through the Sacrament of Holy Orders, the priest in the liturgy is a kind of sacrament of the presence of Christ. It is Christ who is honored, and has a prominent seat. Jesus Christ is the true celebrant and high priest of every liturgy.
Christians are wrong to celebrate Christmas on December 25. Jesus could not have been born then—it would have been too cold for the shepherds to keep their flocks outdoors (as described in Luke 2:8).
There are several problems with this challenge.
First, the Catholic Church celebrates Jesus’ birth on December 25, but this is a matter of custom rather than doctrine. It is not Church teaching that this is when Jesus was born (note that the matter isn’t even mentioned in the Catechism of the Catholic Church).
Second, although most Christians today celebrate Christ’s birth on December 25, this was not the only date proposed. Around A.D. 194, Clement of Alexandria stated Christ was born November 18. Other early proposals included January 10, April 19 or 20, and May 20 (Jack Finegan, Handbook of Biblical Chronology, 2nd ed., §488, §553). By far the most common proposals, however, were January 6 (ibid., §§554–61) and December 25 (ibid., §§562–68).
While the last was eventually adopted by the Catholic Church for use in its liturgy, the fact that the Church did not declare alternate proposals heretical shows the matter was not considered essential to the Faith.
Third, the proposals that put Jesus’ birth in the colder part of the year (November 18, December 25, January 6, and January 10) are not ruled out by the fact that there were shepherds keeping watch over their flocks at night.
Ancient Jews did not have large indoor spaces for housing sheep. Flocks were kept outdoors during winter in Judaea, as they are elsewhere in the world today, including in places where snow is common (search for “winter sheep care” on the Internet). Sheep are adapted to life outdoors. That’s why they have wool, which keeps body heat in and moisture out.
Sheep are kept outdoors in winter in Israel today: “William Hendricksen quotes a letter dated Jan. 16, 1967, received from the New Testament scholar Harry Mulder, then teaching in Beirut, in which the latter tells of being in Shepherd Field at Bethlehem on the just passed Christmas Eve, and says: ‘Right near us a few flocks of sheep were nestled. Even the lambs were not lacking. . . . It is therefore definitely not impossible that the Lord Jesus was born in December’” (ibid., §569).
My daughter-in-law was watching “The Bible” on TV and said she did not understand why Jesus had to suffer so much. I am not sure how to answer why His Father made him go through so much.
One of the difficulties in understanding why Jesus suffered for sinners is that many of us, especially in the modern world, tend to think of sin only in legal terms as the breaking of some abstract rules. But sin causes real harm, and has real effects, and these must be healed. Something actually has to happen.
For example, let us say that you see me near the edge of a cliff and I warn you to take three steps to the right. But let us also say that, out of rebellion, I take three steps to the left, and slide down a great cliffside into an abyss. I lie there, injured and utterly incapable of ever rescuing myself. Let us then say, in my humiliation and pain, I cry out and ask you to forgive me. In your mercy, you say yes. And that is forgiveness. But in order to be healed and restored, you will now have to expend great effort to come down the cliffside, care for my wounds, and carry me out of the abyss.
As I hope you can see by this analogy, my sin was not simply the breaking of rule. Deep and devastating effects happened in my life, and I was incapable of restoring myself. And this was our state; we were dead in our sins (Col. 2:13). We were incapable of ever restoring or healing ourselves.
Jesus therefore, not only brought us God's forgiveness, but also extended the effort and agony to come down, heal our wounds and lift us up. This was a great, and painful, effort. Our sinful disobedience had brought us suffering and death. Jesus took up that suffering and that death in order to restore us, even elevate us to a higher place.
The horrible suffering of Jesus shows us very clearly how awful sin really is, how it disfigures, wounds, and even brings us death. These are realities, and Jesus takes them up in order to heal them and carry them away for us. We tend to make light of sin today. It is no light matter, and to remember that, we do well to look to any crucifix and see what love cost him.
Can Catholic actors accept roles that require of them nudity and enacting illicit sexual union on screen or stage?
As a general rule, no. To do this is to engage in scandal wherein one gives temptation to others, and contributes the lowering of moral standards. It is wrong to celebrate or encourage immoral activities. There is, however, the fact that movies and drama do comment on life and the human condition, which includes violence, treachery, corruption and sexual sins and so forth. To treat of these matters in drama, (as even the Bible does), is not per se wrong. What is wrong is to celebrate such sinfulness, or seek to justify and normalize it.
Even more erroneous is to unnecessarily display what should not be seen. For example, to include a murder in a movie does not require us to watch a person brutally killed and dismembered. Likewise, to report a sexual infidelity does require us to watch it pornographically portrayed. Subtlety and discretion are required to treat topics like these.
So Catholic actors should not transgress when sin is either celebrated or inappropriately displayed.
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