A Year of Faith

Pope Benedict XVI has set aside a special year for Catholics throughout the world to rediscover, and share with others, the precious gift of Faith entrusted to the Church and the personal gift of faith that we have each received from God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Father has decreed that the Catholic Church will observe the Year of Faith between 11th October 2012 and 24th November 2013 (The Feast of Christ the King). He has chosen to open the Year of Faith on 11th October because that date is the anniversary of two important events in the life of the Catholic Church: the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council (11th October 1962 - 8th December 1965) and the 20th anniversary of the publication of the Catechism of the Catholic Church by Blessed John Paul II.

The Year of Faith is an invitation to everyone in the Church to celebrate and renew their faith. Pope Benedict has outlined the purpose of the Year of Faith as: “to give fresh impetus to the mission of the whole Church to lead human beings out of the wilderness in which they often find themselves to the place of life, friendship with Christ that gives us life in fullness.”

Questions of Faith
We all have questions about our faith at one time or another. Sometimes we are not sure what the Church teaches about a particular matter of faith. The ‘Year of Faith’ is a good opportunity to delve into some of those things that people are unsure about. Therefore, parishioners are invited to write down any questions they may have and either put them in the box in the Narthex of the church or email them to Fr. Peter. During this coming year Fr. Peter will publish his answers to these questions in the newsletter and on the website.

Q. Why is the Passion read on both Palm Sunday and Good Friday?
A. The whole of Holy Week, starting with Palm Sunday, is about the Passion of Our Lord. During Holy Week we immerse ourselves in his passion and death and focus upon the cross in order to truly appreciate the great sacrifice that Christ, the Son of God, was willing to make for us and our salvation. It was a great price that God was willing to pay for humanity and it is vital that we fully appreciate the love of God for us made manifest in the passion and death of Christ.

On Good Friday we particularly focus on the events of the Crucifixion and so it is only natural that we read the passion narrative, which on Good Friday is always from St. John’s Gospel.

On Palm Sunday we read one of the passion narratives from the Gospels of St. Matthew, St. Mark and St. Luke. Although Palm Sunday commemorates the triumphant entry into Jerusalem, and at the beginning of the Palm Sunday Mass we read one of the Gospel accounts of these and bless the palms, it also marks the beginning of the events of the Passion. Christ’s entry into the Holy City would lead to his clash with the authorities and his crucifixion. Christ was aware that entering Jerusalem would lead to this. So although the outward show of welcome and praise by the crowd appears to be a triumphal welcome, Christ was aware where events would lead him and so even this was part of the passion he was willing to accept, part of the sacrifice he was willing to make. The triumphal entry into Jerusalem would culminate in the triumph over the cross. Thus it is only appropriate that we also read one of the passion narratives on Palm Sunday and remind ourselves of what Holy Week is about.

Holy Week, culminating in Easter and the resurrection of Christ, is the most sacred time of the Church’s year and it is important that we celebrate it worthily and well. It is only with a good understand and full appreciation of the passion, death and resurrection of Christ that our faith makes any sense. It is through these events that Christ won salvation for humanity. It is that salvation which allows us to share in God’s life both now and, after our death, for all eternity. The celebration of the Holy Week liturgies should be a priority in the lives of all Catholics.

Q. What is the difference between an Ordinariate Mass and the Mass we attend?
A. The Ordinariate was set up as a means by which communities of Anglicans could be welcomed into the Catholic Church as a group. We have an Ordinariate group in the parish who became Catholics in 2011, along with their priest, Fr. John Greatbatch, who continues to minister to them. Although this is new to the Church, the Catholic Church has always been good at finding solutions to particular pastoral needs. Members of the Ordinariate, both laity and clergy, are full members of the Catholic Church and are in complete union with it.

The Ordinariate group in the parish have Mass on a Sunday evening as well as on a Wednesday evening, presided over by Fr. John. They have their own Mass not because they are in some way separate from the rest of the Church but to maintain their identity as a particular community within the Church. There is no difference between the way Mass is celebrated for the Ordinariate to the way Mass is celebrated for the rest of the parish. Moreover, it is completely acceptable for members of the Ordinariate to attend and receive communion at a parish Mass as well as for members of the parish to attend and receive communion at an Ordinariate Mass. Members of the Ordinariate also contribute to parish life by their involvement in parish groups, activities, and ministries.

The Ordinariate may retain some of their own customs and traditions. For example, the Holy See has given permission for them to use a funeral rite which differs from the funeral rite that we are used to. In future, they may be given permission to use a Rite of Mass which also differs in some ways from what we are presently used to. However, even if that does happen, it would still be “The Mass” and all parishioners would still be able to participate in it.

Q. The Pope recently stated that the date of Jesus’ birth was probably wrong and that there were probably no animals present at his birth. How much should we take literally? Does the resurrection need to be taken literally?
A. His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI, recently published the third instalment in his trilogy on Jesus. This volume deals with the infancy narratives in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, and he distinguishes between what is actually in the Gospels and what is just tradition. There is no actual year or date given in the Gospels for Jesus’ birth and His Holiness points out that the year traditionally taken as the year in which Jesus was born is probably wrong and it is likely that he was born a few years earlier. Most academics believe that Jesus was probably born between about 6 B.C. and 4 B.C. The error is due to a miscalculation back in the 6th century and has been known about for quite some time. Likewise, although we celebrate the birth of Jesus on 25th December, it has never been suggested that this was the actual date of his birth. The Church has celebrated Christmas on this day since 4th century, although why exactly this date was chosen is not totally clear. It may have been to do with the fact that the Romans had mid-winter celebrations around this time anyway.

Although traditionally we put animals like an ox and a donkey in the crib, there is no actual mention of these in the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ birth. The idea of animals being present, and particularly the ox and the donkey being present, probably comes from some Old Testament references, such as from Isaiah 1:3 which has been interpreted as a reference to the birth of Jesus: “The ox knows its owner, and the donkey its master’s crib, but Israel does not know, my people do not understand.” In his book, The Pope merely points out that in the Gospels there is no actual mention of an ox or donkey or any animals but he does not in any way say that they should not be part of the Nativity tradition or that they have no place in a crib scene. Elsewhere, His Holiness has stated how important he thinks crib scenes are as a reminder of what Christmas is truly about and what a cherished part of his own childhood family Christmases the crib had played. Devotion to the crib is of ancient origin but it remained for St. Francis of Assisi to popularize it in 13th century and to give to it the form in which it is known at the present time.

As usual, what was reported and what was actually the case were far from the same. One paper, for example, had a headline: “Killjoy Pope crushes Christmas traditions” and it went on to say that “The Pope has put a dampener on the festive period by rubbishing the idea that donkeys or any other animal have a place in the traditional nativity scene.” There is of course a big difference between the Pope writing about what the Gospels actually do and do not say and the Pope rubbishing a cherished Christmas tradition, which he did not do. Such differences between what is reported or how it is reported and the reality of the matter are always worth keeping in mind.

When it comes down to it, the details about the actual date and year of Jesus’ birth and whether or not there were animals present are just mere details. Since these details are not present in the Gospels, this is not a question of what we should or shouldn’t take literally from Scripture. The important part of the Christmas narrative is that at the birth of Jesus, God became man. The fact that this happened is central to our faith as Christians. Without a belief that God entered into his Creation in Jesus we cannot call ourselves Christians. Likewise, without a belief that Jesus was resurrected after the crucifixion we cannot call ourselves Christians. Both the birth and resurrection of Christ are events which are contained in the Gospels. The birth of Christ and his death and resurrection are central to the Christian faith making any sense. It was through these events that God brought about mankind’s salvation and that is what the Christian faith is about.

Q. Is it morally right for those who are seriously ill to ask to have ‘do not resuscitate’ put on their medical records?
A. Because life is a sacred gift from God we should do all we can within reason to look after our lives and to preserve them. We are obliged to use “ordinary” (proportionate) means to preserve life. However, we are not obliged to endure “extraordinary” (disproportionate) medical intervention to prolong life. The Catholic position is that if there is reasonable hope that resuscitation would preserve a patient's life, and that to do so would not represent an undue burden to the patient, then resuscitation would be part of a minimum standard of care and should be carried out.

If a patient is not expected to recover from a terminal illness or injury, and has begun to enter the dying process, then to continue to administer resuscitation would most likely be truly burdensome to the patient and not good care for them. In such cases, a do not resuscitate order would be appropriate and is morally justifiable. In reality of course, as with many moral issues, what is the right decision, in what are often difficult and complex circumstances, is not always black and white. All we can do then is to inform ourselves of the Church’s teaching and make the best decision we can according to our consciences.