question-markA reader writes:

How does a Catholic answer this devotion that uses the word worship?

I would say it is a private devotion that is not binding on Catholics.

The word “worship” originally referred to showing honor to someone in a general way.

Thus some British officials are still referred to as “Your worship” (note that Han Solo calls Princess Leia this to annoy her).

Over time, the word “worship” has come in popular speech to be associated with the specific form of honor due to God, however, this was not originally the connotation that the word had.

As a result, particularly in older works, you find it used in a broader sense. In these cases, it does not connote the worship due to God but the honor due to men.

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This version of The Weekly Francis covers material released in the last week from 12 September 2015 to 20 October 2015.


Daily Homilies (fervorinos)

General Audiences



Papal Tweets

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holy communionThere is a good bit of conversation about how conscience may play a role in the question of whether divorced and civilly remarried Catholics can receive Holy Communion.

For example, Chicago’s Archbishop Blase Cupich discussed the subject at a press briefing in Rome during the synod of bishops.

What the archbishop said or was trying to say is not entirely clear to me from the quotations I’ve seen in the press, and I do not wish to speculate based on incomplete press accounts.

I have, however, received a number of queries about the role of conscience in this area, and a brief look at the question may be in order.


1) Acknowledging past abuses

Some people immediately become suspicious whenever the word “conscience” is brought up in connection with controversial moral subjects.

That’s understandable. The concept has been much abused.

After Paul VI’s 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae there was a huge push to justify dissent from the Church’s teaching on contraception using conscience as a guise.

Dissidents were turning Jiminy Cricket’s slogan “Always let your conscience be your guide” into “Always let conscience be your guise.”

This is one of the reasons why the word “conscience” appears more than a hundred times in John Paul II’s 1993 encyclical Veritatis Splendor and why the Catechism of the Catholic Church has a lengthy section specially devoted to conscience.

The concept has been profoundly abused.

And it’s no surprise that many become suspicious whenever conscience comes up in a moral controversy.

On the other hand, not every invocation of conscience is contrary to Church teaching. So what does the Church teach?


2) The primacy of conscience

It is often stressed that one must obey one’s conscience. This can be a tactical dodge to justify rejection of Church teaching, but it is not necessarily so.

The Church agrees that one must obey one’s conscience. The Catechism states:

A human being must always obey the certain judgment of his conscience. If he were deliberately to act against it, he would condemn himself [CCC 1790].

In other words, it is a sin to defy a certain judgment of your conscience. If you are certain that you must not do something and you do it anyway, you are sinning by violating your conscience. You are similarly sinning if you are certain that you must do something and you refuse to do it.

Notice that this applies when you are certain. If you are uncertain, the situation can be different.

Even when you are certain, that doesn’t mean that the judgment of your conscience is right. The Catechism continues:

Yet it can happen that moral conscience remains in ignorance and makes erroneous judgments about acts to be performed or already committed.

What happens when a person’s conscience is wrong? Does that mean he’s off scot-free?


3) Personal responsibility and erroneous conscience

The Catechism states:

This ignorance can often be imputed to personal responsibility. This is the case when a man “takes little trouble to find out what is true and good, or when conscience is by degrees almost blinded through the habit of committing sin.” In such cases, the person is culpable for the evil he commits [CCC 1791].

So saying that you are acting in accord with your conscience doesn’t protect you from the charge that you are sinning—and culpable for doing so. If, through your own fault, you have warped your conscience then you are still responsible.

What if your conscience is mistaken but through no fault of your own?

If—on the contrary—the ignorance is invincible, or the moral subject is not responsible for his erroneous judgment, the evil committed by the person cannot be imputed to him. It remains no less an evil, a privation, a disorder. One must therefore work to correct the errors of moral conscience [CCC 1793].

In this case, you aren’t culpable for your actions, but they are still evil.


4) Conscience and Communion

Prior to receiving Holy Communion, every person needs to examine his conscience:

To respond to this invitation we must prepare ourselves for so great and so holy a moment. St. Paul urges us to examine our conscience: “Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For any one who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself” [1 Cor 11:27-29]. Anyone conscious of a grave sin must receive the sacrament of Reconciliation before coming to Communion [CCC 1385].

This applies to people who are divorced and civilly remarried as much as anyone else.


5) Properly Formed Conscience on Civil Remarriage and Communion

What should a person who has divorced and civilly remarried conclude when he makes this examination of conscience? The Catechism states:

Today there are numerous Catholics in many countries who have recourse to civil divorce and contract new civil unions. In fidelity to the words of Jesus Christ—“Whoever divorces his wife and marries another, commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery” [Mk 10:11-12]. The Church maintains that a new union cannot be recognized as valid, if the first marriage was. If the divorced are remarried civilly, they find themselves in a situation that objectively contravenes God’s law. Consequently, they cannot receive eucharistic Communion as long as this situation persists. For the same reason, they cannot exercise certain ecclesial responsibilities. Reconciliation through the sacrament of Penance can be granted only to those who have repented for having violated the sign of the covenant and of fidelity to Christ, and who are committed to living in complete continence [CCC 1650].

A person with a properly formed conscience will conclude that he cannot receive Communion until he has addressed his situation properly.


6) Erroneous Conscience on Civil Remarriage and Communion

Based on the above, a civilly remarried person not living chastely would be unable to receive Communion, and so his conscience would be erroneous if it told him that he could. What are the implications of this?

As we’ve seen, if “the ignorance is invincible, or the moral subject is not responsible for his erroneous judgment, the evil committed by the person cannot be imputed to him.” He thus would not be personally culpable for receiving Communion. However, “it remains no less an evil” for him to do so (CCC 1793).

However, the ignorance responsible for a person’s erroneous conscience “can often be imputed to personal responsibility. . . . In such cases, the person is culpable for the evil he commits” (CCC 1791).


7) Pastoral Care and Erroneous Conscience

What would appropriate pastoral care be for persons in this situation who have an erroneous conscience?

If the individual is not personally culpable for receiving Communion, it remains objectively evil for him to do so, and thus the Catechism states “one must therefore work to correct the errors of moral conscience” (CCC 1793). The Catechism’s statement could be taken to mean that one must work to correct one’s own errors, but since the pastors of the Church have an obligation to assist the faithful in forming their conscience, they share in this obligation as well.

If the individual is personally culpable for receiving Communion then the matter is even more urgent. Not only is he committing an objectively evil act but he is culpable for doing so—eating and drinking judgment upon himself, in St. Paul’s words—and the pastors of the Church need to take effective action to address the situation.

Thus in both cases—whether the person is culpable or not—it is not sufficient to simply say, “The person is following his conscience” and leave it at that. If it is an erroneous conscience, the pastors of the Church must work to correct it.

This is particularly so in light of what the Catechism has to say about common causes of errors in moral judgment:

Ignorance of Christ and his Gospel, bad example given by others, enslavement to one’s passions, assertion of a mistaken notion of autonomy of conscience, rejection of the Church’s authority and her teaching, lack of conversion and of charity: these can be at the source of errors of judgment in moral conduct [CCC 1792].

Since “rejection of the Church’s authority and her teaching” is one of the known causes of erroneous conscience, pastors of the Church must combat this by issuing calls to accept the Church’s authority and teaching (as well as explaining the reasons for doing so).

Further, simply concluding that a person is acting on his conscience and leaving the matter fosters precisely the “mistaken notion of autonomy of conscience” that the Catechism warns against.

And there is another reason why the matter cannot simply be left up to conscience . . .


8) Civil Remarriage, Communion, and Canon Law

The Code of Canon Law contains a provision which applies in this situation:

Those who have been excommunicated or interdicted after the imposition or declaration of the penalty and others obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin are not to be admitted to holy Communion [CIC 915].

Note that this canon does not have the qualifier “unless they are acting on their conscience.”

What it specifies for the denial of Communion is “obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin.”

Couples who have civilly remarried are presumed to be sleeping together and thus committing grave sin, unless they are known to be living chastely. If their civilly remarried status is known in their community then the presumed state of grave sin is manifest. And if their pastor has warned them about their situation and they do nothing to address it then they are obstinately persevering in it. In such a circumstance—the way canon law is presently written—the pastor is obliged to refuse Communion.

There is thus a canonical requirement constraining pastoral action in addition to the theological ones discussed above.

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This version of The Weekly Francis covers material released in the last week from 17 September 2015 to 13 October 2015.


Daily Homilies (fervorinos)

General Audiences



Papal Tweets

  • “Dear young friends, ask the Lord for a free heart so as not to be ensnared by the false pleasures of the world.” @Pontifex 8 October 2015
  • “Work is important, but so too is rest. Shouldn’t we learn to respect times of rest, especially Sundays?” @Pontifex 10 October 2015
  • “Let us learn solidarity. Without solidarity, our faith is dead.” @Pontifex 13 October 2015

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This version of The Weekly Francis covers material released in the last week from from 5 September 2015 to 4 October 2015.

General Audiences




Papal Tweets

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peter-erdoRemarks made by a key official at the opening of the current Synod of Bishops seem cool to the idea that there will be a change in the Church’s doctrine and practice regarding the divorced and civilly remarried.

This comes as heartening news to supporters of the Church’s historic doctrine and discipline.

Here are 9 things to know and share . . .


1) What is at issue here?

Jesus Christ taught that marriage is indissoluble. Consequently, a civil divorce does not free one from the commitments one made to be faithful to one’s spouse.

To obtain a civil divorce and then marry someone else, without establishing that the first marriage was null, is thus to enter a state of ongoing adultery.

As Jesus pointedly teaches in the readings for Sunday, October 4 (notably, the readings for the very day the Synod began):

Whoever divorces his wife and marries another, commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery (Mark 10:11-12).

The Church also teaches that adultery is a gravely sinful act that prevents one from receiving the sacraments.

Therefore, people living in such situations cannot receive Holy Communion unless they rectify their situation (e.g., by obtaining and annulment and marrying their current partner, by living chastely with their current partner and avoiding scandal, or by separating).


2) Who has been proposing a change in this practice?

According to a proposal advanced by the German Cardinal Walter Kasper, people who have divorced and civilly remarried could be given Holy Communion under certain circumstances.

This proposal has been picked up by a number of churchmen, particularly from Europe and especially by other German bishops.

It has met with stiff opposition from other churchmen, who point out that it is inconsistent with the Church’s teachings as described above.


3) What is the Synod of Bishops?

The Synod of Bishops is an advisory body that meets to consider questions and then make recommendations to the pope. It does not have authority on its own. It merely advises.

The current Synod of Bishops is devoted to the theme of how to offer pastoral care to the family.

It follows and is meant to complete the work of another synod, also on the family, which was held in 2014.


4) What has happened that gives hope to supporters of the Church’s historic teaching and practice?

Several things. Among them:

a) Before the present synod began, Pope Francis revised the Code of Canon Law to include a streamlined annulment process, making it easier for people living in irregular situations to pursue an annulment.

He did not change the grounds on which annulments are granted, but he introduced procedural changes to make it easier to have one’s case heard in a timely fashion (in some countries, processing the case could take a decade, resulting in some people refusing to use the process and simply getting civilly remarried after a divorce).

This action would take some of the pressure off the question, and it was widely interpreted as making a change in the Church’s historic practice less likely.

b) Various officials have downplayed the idea of there being a change in the Church’s doctrine.

At a press conference on Monday, Msgr. Bruno Forte, special secretary to the Synod, stated: “It will not lead to doctrinal changes, because it is about pastoral attention, pastoral care. We are about resonating pastorally.”

Similarly, Cardinal André Vingt-Trois, a delegate president to the synod, said that if one is looking “for a spectacular change in the Church’s doctrine you will be disappointed.”

However, advocates of the Kasper proposal have often said that the Church’s doctrine on the indissolubility of marriage is not in question and have claimed that giving Communion to the divorced and civilly remarried would not represent a doctrinal change (though this appears false).

c) Consequently, affirmations that the Church’s doctrine will not change may not address the issue in question. This means that the most significant development is found in remarks made at the synod by Hungarian Cardinal Peter Erdo.


5) Who is Cardinal Erdo?

Cardinal Peter Erdo is the Primate of Hungary. You can read more about him here.

For our purposes, the important thing is that he is the relator general of the synod.

This makes his remarks particularly significant, because his job as relator is not to express his personal opinions.

The relator general’s function is to make certain official reports, each known as a relatio.

Consequently, though Cardinal Erdo has personally expressed opposition to the Kasper proposal, what he says in his official reports is not simply an expression of his personal opinion. He is speaking in an official capacity.


6) When did he make his recent remarks?

He made them on Monday, October 5, in the course of his first report—the Relatio ante Disceptationem (i.e., the Report Before the Discussion)—whose function is to summarize the “working document” (Latin, Instrumentum laboris) which was prepared as a basis for the bishops to use during the synod.

The function of the Relatio ante Desceptationem is to inform the discussion that will take place at the synod, based on information received from bishops around the world in preparation for the synod.

This year’s relatio was titled “The Vocation of the Family in the Church and Contemporary World.”

According to Vatican Radio:

Cardinal Erdö explained [at Monday’s press conference] that his introductory address had followed the structure of [the] Instrumentum Laboris. “I tried to systematize all the data which was received from the Church around the world, including families and individuals who wrote to us, following the themes already in [the] Instrumentum Laboris.”

You can read the Instrumenum Laboris here.


7) What did Cardinal Erdo say?

At the time of this writing, an English translation of the full speech is not available, though one should be soon. However, according to the National Catholic Reporter:

Erdő said a “merciful pastoral accompaniment is due” to such persons [i.e., the divorced and civilly remarried], but that it cannot leave in doubt “the truth of indissolubility of marriage, taught by Jesus Christ himself.”

“The mercy of God offers the sinner forgiveness, but requires conversion,” said the cardinal.

The affirmation of Christ’s teaching on the indissolubility of marriage is good, as is the affirmation of the need of conversion for forgiveness.

Yet, by themselves, these could be interpreted in a way consistent with the Kasper proposal, since advocates of it have claimed that they do not deny the former and they have urged a “penitential path” (and thus conversion) regarding the failure of the first marriage.

What Cardinal Erdo went on to say, however, was not consistent with the Kasper proposal:

“It is not the failing of the first marriage but the living in a second relationship that impedes access to the Eucharist.”

This hits the nail on the head.

First, not all divorced people are at fault for the failure of their marriage, much less are they guilty of mortal sin that would keep them from Communion. Second, even if they were guilty of mortal sin, simply repenting and going to confession would take care of the problem.

The reason people who are divorced and civilly remarried are not able to receive Communion is that, unless they are living chastely, they are engaging in an ongoing adulterous relationship.

As one wag put it, paraphrasing the 1992 Clinton campaign, “It’s the adultery, stupid.”

Having the fact pointed out that it is the second relationship, not the failure of the first, that impedes access to Holy Communion is a very good and clear-headed sign.

Cardinal Erdo then went on to critique some of the arguments used in favor of the Kasper proposal.


8) What arguments for the Kasper proposal did he critique?

One was the suggestion that, unless they are given Communion, the divorced and civilly remarried are cut off from the life of the Church:

Referencing Pope John Paul II’s 1981 apostolic exhortation Familiaris Consortio, Erdő said “integration of divorced and remarried persons in the life of the ecclesial community can be realized in various ways, apart from admission to the Eucharist.”

It is to be noted that Familiaris Consortio was issued in response to the 1980 Synod of Bishops, which was also on the topic of the family. In this document, John Paul II rejected prior proposals to give Communion to the divorced and civilly remarried who had not rectified their situation in one manner or another (see section 84 of the document), so Cardinal Erdo was calling attention to a proposal that had already been discussed and rejected.

He also critiqued the proposal that Communion could be given on the basis of certain “positive aspects” in adulterous unions:

“In the search for pastoral solutions for the difficulties of certain civilly divorced and remarried persons, it is presently held that the fidelity to the indissolubility of marriage cannot be joined to the practical recognizing of the goodness of concrete situations that stand opposed and are therefore incompatible,” said the cardinal.

And he critiqued the idea that an appeal to the “law of gradualism” could justify a change in the Church’s teaching and practice (see also section 34 of Familiaris Consortio):

“Indeed, between true and false, between good and evil, there is not a graduality,” he continued. “Even if some forms of living together bring in themselves certain positive aspects, this does not mean that they can be presented as good things.”


9) What does this mean going forward?

It does not mean that there will be no further discussion of the Kasper proposal. In fact, there is certain to be further discussion of it. Cardinal Erdo acknowledged as much. According to Vatican Insider:

In his speech, he mentioned “the need for further reflection on the penitential path. . . .”

However, to have the relator general of the synod frame the discussion in this way at the outset is a good sign.

Cardinal Erdo was not meant to be speaking for himself in these remarks but to be summarizing the feedback from bishops around the world in preparation for the current synod.

For purposes of comparison, see the relatio that Cardinal Erdo gave at the beginning of the 2014 synod. It does not contain anything like the present remarks rejecting the Kasper proposal. This represents a shift in the discussion of the question.

According to Vatican Insider, at the Monday press conference, Cardinal Erdo based his relatio on the feedback that came to the Vatican between the two synods:

“I was trying to bring together all the elements of the Church’s voice,” Erdö said. He added that “most of the responses reflected a wish” for the magisterium’s existing documents on this issue to be “taken into consideration.”

It is also unlikely that Cardinal Erdo included these remarks in his presentation without them being approved first. Barring explosive backlash and overt clarification, we may conclude that he did have approval.

Failing such clarification, it is less likely than it might have been otherwise that the present synod will recommend the Kasper proposal for Pope Francis’s consideration.

This, in turn, means it is less likely that Pope Francis would implement the Kasper proposal following the synod.

So Cardinal Erdo’s remarks are positive news for supporters of the Church’s historic doctrine and discipline on this point, though they by no means settle the matter.

As a result, supporters should not slack off in pressing their case, however. Upon hearing this news, a wise response would be, “Great, kid. Don’t get cocky.”

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morning-starRecently I got a query from someone wondering about an anti-Catholic video that claimed “the pope’s deacon” invoked Lucifer during the Easter Vigil liturgy and referred to Jesus as his Son.

Of course, that’s not what happened, but to understand what really did happen, you need to know a few things about “lucifer.”


What does the word lucifer mean?

It’s a Latin word derived from the roots lux (light) and ferre (to carry).

It means “light-bearer” or “light-bringer,” and it was not originally used in connection with the devil.

Instead, it could be used multiple ways. For example, anybody carrying a torch at night was a lucifer (light-bringer).

It was also used as a name for the Morning Star (i.e., the planet Venus), because this is the brightest object in the sky other than the sun and the moon. As a result, Venus is the first star seen in the evening (the Evening Star) and the last star seen in the morning (the Morning Star).

Venus is also known—in English—as the Day Star because it can be seen in the day.

Because its sighting in the morning heralds the light of day, it was referred to by Latin speakers as the “light-bringer” or lucifer.


So there was no connection with the devil?

No. In fact, it was used as an ordinary name. Thus in the 300s, St. Lucifer of Cagliari was a defender of the deity of Christ and of St. Athanasius against the Arians.

Another bishop in the 300s—Lucifer of Siena—also bore this name.


Is the symbol of the Morning Star used in any surprising ways?

Yes. The Bible uses it as a symbol for Jesus Christ. In the book of Revelation, we read:

“I Jesus have sent my angel to you with this testimony for the churches. I am the root and the offspring of David, the bright morning star” (Rev. 22:16).

(Spoiler alert! This is going to play a key role in what we have to say about the liturgy.)


So we shouldn’t freak out just because we see references to the words “lucifer” or “light-bringer” or “morning star”?

No. They have no intrinsic connection to the devil. In fact, they may be used—as in Scripture itself—as symbols of Jesus Christ.


How did this word get connected with the devil?

It’s based on a passage in the book of Isaiah. Chapter 14 of that book contains a taunt (a kind of ancient insult song or poem—like you might find at a modern rap battle) against one of the oppressors of Israel: the king of Babylon.

It predicts his downfall, but it also depicts his pride, which sets him up for the downfall.

Thus we read:

How you are fallen from heaven,
O Day Star, son of Dawn!
How you are cut down to the ground,
you who laid the nations low! (Is. 14:12).

In the Latin Vulgate, that’s:

Quomodo cecidisti de caelo,
lucifer, fili aurorae?
Deiectus es in terram,
qui deiciebas gentes.

The king of Babylon thus fancies himself as something high and mighty—like the Day Star itself—but God brings him low in the end.

In this passage the reference to the Day Star/the Morning Star/lucifer is thus an ironic allusion to the king of Babylon’s prideful self-image.


But surely we’re talking about the human king of Babylon—not the devil. Doesn’t the passage refer to him as a man who dies?

Yes. This passage explicitly refers to the king of Babylon as a man (Heb., ’ish) who conquered kingdoms:

Those who see you will stare at you, and ponder over you:

“Is this the man who made the earth tremble, who shook kingdoms, who made the world like a desert and overthrew its cities, who did not let his prisoners go home?” (Is. 14:16-17).

It also refers multiple times to his decay after death and how he will not lie in his own tomb!

Your pomp is brought down to Sheol, the sound of your harps;
maggots are the bed beneath you, and worms are your covering” (Is. 14:11).

All the kings of the nations lie in glory, each in his own tomb;
but you are cast out, away from your sepulcher, like a loathed untimely birth (Is. 14:18-19).

So we’re talking about a human king—at least in the literal sense of the text.


How did this passage get connected with the devil?

Some of the early Church Fathers took it that way.

They compared the pride that the king of Babylon displays in the passage (“I will ascend above the heights of the clouds, I will make myself like the Most High”; Is. 14:14) with the pride of the devil.

They also compared the fall of the king of Babylon to Jesus statement that he “saw Satan fall like lightning” (Luke 10:18)—though in context that passage refers to the defeat of the devil in the ministry the apostles just engaged in.

It is legitimate to use the spiritual sense of this text as an application to the devil, but many people have lost sight of the literal sense of the text, which applies to the human king of Babylon.

Worse, in the popular mind “Lucifer” has simply become a name for the devil, and that causes problems when people who only know this use encounter other uses of the term—as in the Latin liturgy.


Is thus just a Catholic interpretation?

No. In fact, the Protestant Reformers Luther and Calvin acknowledged it.

Luther wrote:

12. How you are fallen from heaven, Lucifer! This is not said of the angel who once was thrown out of heaven but of the king of Babylon, and it is figurative language. Isaiah becomes a disciple of Calliope and in like manner laughs at the king. Heylel [the Hebrew word used in the text] denotes the morning star, called Lucifer and the son of Dawn. “Heaven” is where we are with our heads, and that is obviously above the ground, just as that most powerful and extremely magnificent king was once above, but now his lamp is extinguished (Luther’s Works 16:140; Preface to the Prophet Isaiah, ch. 14).

Calvin as quite hostile to the application of this passage to the devil, writing:

12. How art thou fallen from heaven! Isaiah proceeds with the discourse which he had formerly begun as personating the dead, and concludes that the tyrant differs in no respect from other men, though his object was to lead men to believe that he was some god. He employs an elegant metaphor, by comparing him to Lucifer, and calls him the Son of the Dawn; and that on account of his splendor and brightness with which he shone above others. The exposition of this passage, which some have given, as if it referred to Satan, has arisen from ignorance; for the context plainly shows that these statements must be understood in reference to the king of the Babylonians. But when passages of Scripture are taken up at random, and no attention is paid to the context, we need not wonder that mistakes of this kind frequently arise. Yet it was an instance of very gross ignorance, to imagine that Lucifer was the king of devils, and that the Prophet gave him this name. But as these inventions have no probability whatever, let us pass by them as useless fables (Commentary on Isaiah at 14:12).


So what have anti-Catholics claimed about the Easter Vigil liturgy?

Some have claimed that “the pope’s deacon” invoked Lucifer and described Jesus as the devil’s Son.

This claim is based on translating part of the Easter Vigil liturgy this way:

Flaming Lucifer who finds mankind;
I say O Lucifer, who will Never be defeated.
Christ is your Son, who came back from Hell;
shed his peaceful light and is alive and reigns in the world without end.


What’s the real story?

The pope does not have a personal deacon, though deacons can sing the part of the Easter Vigil liturgy known as the Exsultet, Easter Proclamation, or Paschal Proclamation. (Exsultet is its first word in Latin: “Let them exult!”)

You can read about it here.

The Exsultet is part of a ceremony involving the Paschal Candle, which symbolizes the light of Christ.

In Latin, the relevant part of the Exsultet reads:

Orámus ergo te, Dómine,
ut céreus iste in honórem tui nóminis consecrátus,
ad noctis huius calíginem destruéndam,
indefíciens persevéret.
Et in odórem suavitátis accéptus,
supérnis lumináribus misceátur.

Flammas eius lúcifer matutínus invéniat:
ille, inquam, lúcifer, qui nescit occásum.
Christus Fílius tuus,
qui, regréssus ab ínferis, humáno géneri serénus illúxit,
et vivit et regnat in sæcula sæculórum.

In good English (as opposed to the incompetent translation given by the anti-Catholic commentator), this means:

Therefore, O Lord,
we pray you that this candle,
hallowed to the honor of your name,
may persevere undimmed,
to overcome the darkness of this night.
Receive it as a pleasing fragrance,
and let it mingle with the lights of heaven.

May this flame be found still burning by the Morning Star:
the one Morning Star who never sets,
Christ your Son,
who, coming back from death’s domain,
has shed his peaceful light on humanity,
and lives and reigns for ever and ever.

Up to the first reference to the Morning Star, this passage of the Exsultet is asking God to let the Paschal Candle continue to give light, so that it still be burning in the morning (“May this flame be found still burning by the Morning Star”).

Then the prayer pivots to re-conceive of the Morning Star not as the literal one in the sky but as Jesus Christ himself, based on the symbol in Revelation 22:16 (“the one Morning Star who never sets, Christ your Son”).

It is a moving, poetic prayer to God—not an invocation of the devil.

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pope-francis-st-patrickIn his recent homily at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Pope Francis made a comment that some have leapt on as yet another outrage committed by the pope.

Allegedly, Pope Francis said that Jesus was a failure.

I’d provide links, but I don’t want to give the outrage mongers the traffic.

I have, however, received several queries from people saying they are troubled and wonder what to make of the remark.

So for those concerned by the situation, let’s take a look at it.


1) What did Pope Francis actually say?

In his Sept. 24 vespers homily at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, in which he was addressing a group of priests and religious, Pope Francis said:

We can get caught up measuring the value of our apostolic works by the standards of efficiency, good management and outward success which govern the business world.

Not that these things are unimportant!

We have been entrusted with a great responsibility, and God’s people rightly expect accountability from us.

But the true worth of our apostolate is measured by the value it has in God’s eyes.

To see and evaluate things from God’s perspective calls for constant conversion in the first days and years of our vocation and, need I say, it calls for great humility.

The cross shows us a different way of measuring success.

Ours is to plant the seeds: God sees to the fruits of our labors.

And if at times our efforts and works seem to fail and produce no fruit, we need to remember that we are followers of Jesus… and his life, humanly speaking, ended in failure, in the failure of the cross.


2) People are really upset about that?



3) Really?

Yes. Next question.


4) Why would they be upset about it?

I’m not going to go into the psychology of the outrage mongers, beyond noting that they appear to have an anti-Francis animus that distorts their ability to read straightforward texts.

However, they are objecting to the statement that Jesus’ “life . . . ended in failure, in the failure of the cross.”


5) But wait! Didn’t you just omit an important qualifier in what the pope said?

Yes. The ellipsis (i.e., the “ . . . ”) in the above statement replaces the all-important qualifier “humanly speaking.”

It’s only by omitting or ignoring or misunderstanding this qualifier that one could take offense at the pope’s remark.

This qualifier tells the listener (or reader) that the statement is only an apparent, not an actual, description of affairs.

Pope Francis means that from a superficial, human point of view Jesus’ death might make it look like he was a failure, but from God’s perspective, this was not so.


6) How would that human assessment work?

In Jesus’ day, people expected the Messiah to lead a triumphant rebellion against the Romans, restore political independence to Israel, and reign in Jerusalem as a Davidic king.

Jesus didn’t do any of those things.

Instead, the Romans killed him, and they did so in a particularly painful and humiliating way via his death on a cross.

Similarly, his followers were scattered and took to meeting in secret after his crucifixion.

From the perspective of most people of the day, based on their expectations of what the Messiah would do, he looked like a failed political revolutionary.


7) How does that contrast with the true perspective on Jesus?

From God’s perspective, Jesus did exactly what he was supposed to.

He was never meant to lead a political rebellion against the Romans. He expressly told the Roman governor, “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36).

Instead, he fulfilled God’s plan precisely by dying on the cross.

And, while his followers may have been scattered and driven to meeting secretly for a time, they later became a massive movement that converted the Roman Empire to the Christian Faith.

Even in the first generation of that process, the early Christians could be described as having “turned the world upside down” (Acts 17:6).

While, from a human perspective, Jesus and his movement looked like failures at the moment he was killed, from God’s perspective, Jesus was a success, and in time this would be revealed by the fruit his movement bore.


8) How do we know this is what Pope Francis has in mind?

Well, the phrase “humanly speaking” tells the reader that the pope is setting up precisely this kind of contrast between the human and the divine perspective.

So does the surrounding text. Look at the beginning of the quotation above: The pope is telling priests and religious that they should not judge the success of their efforts by purely worldly standards. That kind of evaluation has a role, but it is not the definitive standard. Instead, God’s perspective is.

Thus he stressed:

But the true worth of our apostolate is measured by the value it has in God’s eyes. . . .

The cross shows us a different way of measuring success.

Ours is to plant the seeds: God sees to the fruits of our labors.

The pope’s point is that, judged by worldly standards, our efforts might seem to end in failure, when in reality—from God’s perspective—they are actually succeeding!

Thus he reminds us that

if at times our efforts and works seem to fail and produce no fruit, we need to remember that we are followers of Jesus

It is at this point that he introduces the merely apparent failure of Jesus’ efforts in human terms and how the apparent “failure of the Cross” was actually a brilliant success that bore fruit according to God’s timetable rather than man’s.


9) Isn’t this contrast between the human and the divine perspective on Jesus’ ministry reflected in the New Testament?

Yes. Multiple times. One example is 1 Corinthians 1, where St. Paul writes:

For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.

For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men (1 Cor. 1:18, 22-25).

The fact that Jesus’ death on the cross was scandalous and a mark of failure to people in Paul’s own day (“folly . . . a stumbling block to Jews and folly to the Greeks”) is being contrasted with the true perspective, according to which it is “the power of God and the wisdom of God.”

It is precisely this contrast in perspective that Pope Francis is referring to.


10) Couldn’t Francis have been clearer?

One can always say that someone could have been clearer (even when this isn’t true).

But we, as listeners and readers, have an obligation to devote reasonable efforts to understanding what is being said in the things we hear and read.

Pope Francis is not obliged to speak at all times in public as if he were addressing small children.

When he’s addressing adults, he can reasonably expect them to know what is meant by phrases like “humanly speaking” and to be able to recognize the use of ironic references like “the failure of the cross.”

St. Paul expects the same thing of his readers when he uses phrases like “the foolishness of God.” (Just imagine how the outrage mongers would get the vapors if Pope Francis had uttered that phrase!)

Popes—and this certainly includes Pope Francis—are not always clear, but this is not one of those times. What Pope Francis said is perfectly clear for anyone who reads it attentively and with good will.

In the Foreword to his Jesus of Nazareth series, Pope Benedict XVI made a simple request:

I would only ask my readers for that initial goodwill without which there can be no understanding.

That is precisely what the outrage mongers are not showing to Pope Francis in this case.

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Pope Francis waves to crowds as he arrives to his inauguration mass on 19 March 2013.

This version of The Weekly Francis covers material released in the last week from from 15 August 2015 to 28 September 2015.


Daily Homilies (fervorinos)

General Audiences





Papal Tweets

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new testamentWho wrote the New Testament?

Let’s see . . . there was Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and Paul.

Those are the easy ones.

Anybody else?

If you think about it for a moment, you’ll likely come up with James, Peter, and Jude.

Good. Now, who else was there?


Harder Cases

At this point, your mind might flash to the book of Hebrews, which doesn’t list its author. Some have proposed that it was written by Apollos, Barnabas, Luke, or another member of the Pauline circle, but I’m not talking about it’s unnamed author. I’m looking for named authors.

Depending on how much you read the Church Fathers and some modern authors (like Benedict XVI), you might know that there is a question of whether one or two people named John contributed to the New Testament, but I’m not talking about that, either.

There are three additional men who are named in the New Testament as authors.

So who were they?

The answer is Sosthenes, Silvanus, and Timothy.


“Wait,” you may be saying. “What books did they author?”

In the case of Sosthenes (SOSS-thin-EES), it was one book: 1 Corinthians.

In the case of Silvanus, it was two books: 1 and 2 Thessalonians.

In the case of Timothy, it was a whopping six books: 2 Corinthians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, and Philemon.


“Wait! Didn’t Paul author those?”

Yes, he did. Paul was the primary author of each letter, and Sosthenes, Silvanus, and Timothy were his co-authors.

You can tell this by the way each book is addressed. In the ancient world, letters were commonly begun with a variant on the formula “X to Y,” where X was the author and Y was the recipient.

Thus 3 John opens with:

The elder to the beloved Gaius (3 John 1).

This tells us that “the elder” is the author and Gaius is the recipient. It presupposes that Gaius knows who the elder is, but other than that it is a fairly standard opening for a first century Greco-Roman letter.

On the other hand, at the beginning of 1 Corinthians, we read:

Paul, called by the will of God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus, and our brother Sosthenes,

To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours (1 Cor. 1:1-2).

The formula “X to Y” is somewhat obscured by the literary-theological elaboration it is given here, but it’s still present. Stripped of the elaboration, it reads:

Paul and Sosthenes to the church at Corinth.

This lists both Paul and Sosthenes as authors, and that’s weird.



It may be common today to find a book written by more than one person (e.g., the sci-fi classic The Mote in God’s Eye by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle).

Co-authors are common today when it comes to books, but not with letters. Today most letters are authored by only one person.

The same was true in the ancient world, so Paul’s listing of other individuals as co-authors was startling.

It was one of several unusual things about his letters. (For another, see here.)

What does his inclusion of co-authors mean?


The Role of Authors

Today we think of the author of a work as the person who writes it, but this is not a guarantee.

In the modern world, we have “ghost writers,” who write a work on behalf of the person who is listed as its author.

Even apart from such an extreme case (where one person composes all of a work’s words in the name of another), we have intermediary stages involving editors, copy editors, and proof readers, where various other individuals make some contribution to the composition of the words that the author eventually signs his name to.

These kind of intermediate contributors are, in fact, the norm in modern publishing.

Take it from me as someone who works (in multiple roles) in that industry: No professionally published book comes out without being looked over, and contributed to, by individuals such as these.

And yet it is the author who lends his name to the work and takes responsibility for it.

That’s true all the way up to the pope.


Even the Pope?

Popes—whether they be Francis, Benedict, John Paul, or others—give tons of speeches and issue far too many documents for them to be solely responsible for.

They have helpers, editors, and even ghost writers. Yet they ultimately sign their names to documents and take responsibility for them.

That’s the ultimate mark of an author: Regardless of what role he played in the composition of a document’s words, he lends his name to it and takes responsibility for it when it’s published.

The author is the authority behind the letter.

He’s likely to have played a role in the composition or revision of the text (particularly if it’s an important text), but it’s the ultimate acceptance of public responsibility for the document that makes him its author.


Ancient Authors

The same was true in the ancient world. Authors generally proposed that the work be written and played a role in the process of its composition and revision, but what precisely that role was could vary, depending on how much freedom the author gave to those he was working with.

The author may or may not have asked for changes before the final draft was published, but he was the one responsible for how the process as a whole played out.

Ultimately, he authorized the publishing of the work in his name and so became its author.

Or co-author.

In Paul’s case, he included people like Sosthenes, Silvanus, and Timothy, who lent their names to various letters when they were sent. They took responsibility for them, alongside Paul, and so became his co-authors.


The Role of Paul’s Co-Authors

This did not mean that they made large contributions to the text. In all likelihood, they did not.

It is clear, when we read Paul’s letters, that he has the dominant voice. Paul frequently speaks in the singular (“I”) rather than the plural (“we”). And we don’t read things like, “I, Sosthenes, say . . . ” or “I, Timothy, tell you . . . ” That’s one reason why it’s so easy to mistake Paul as the sole author.

But it’s likely that his co-authors did make contributions alongside his.

Some have suggested, for example, that Paul was more brusque than his co-authors, and that may be why 2 Corinthians 10-13 is so harsh in tone compared to the part of the letter that precedes it (i.e., Timothy was not with Paul when he wrote this part and so couldn’t urge him to tone down his brusqueness, though he was listed as a co-author of the letter as a whole).

However Paul’s co-authors may have contributed in the writing of the letters to which they lent their names, they still played a distinct role.


Authors vs. Secretaries

It’s important to recognize that they were not simply Paul’s secretaries or scribes.

Serving as a scribe in the ancient world did not make you an author.

Scribes had many roles, which ranged from copyist to ghost writer, depending on how the author wanted to use them.

What they did not do is lend their name to the document in the opening address and take that kind of responsibility for it.

Thus in Romans, Tertius—the scribe who Paul employed—merely greets the recipients near the end of the letter, saying:

I, Tertius, the writer of this letter, greet you in the Lord (Rom. 16:22).

He does not have his name listed in the “X to Y” address of  Romans 1:1-7, alongside Paul as a co-author.

This is not to say that people like Sosthenes, Silvanus, and Timothy couldn’t have simultaneously functioned as scribes—just that their role was not limited to this.

If they played a scribal function in composing these letters (though this is not at all certain), their role went beyond that, and Paul had them include their names in the address, thus authorizing the letter and becoming its co-authors.

This means that, in a real sense, they are authors of the New Testament!

Yet we rarely hear about them in this capacity.

So who were they? What do we know about them?

That’s the subject of another post.

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