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Frequently Asked Questions

Age of reason

That time of life at which one begins to distinguish clearly between right and wrong, to have a sense of obligation, and to incur moral responsibility; it is generally about the age of seven.


Voluntary sexual intercourse between a married person and another who is not the spouse. This sin prevents one from entering the Kingdom of God. [1 Cor. 6:9-10]


A total defection from the Christian religion, after previous acceptance through faith and baptism. Refusal to accept a particular tenet of the faith is properly called heresy. Apostasy may be merely interior, or exteriorly manifested as well. It may be formal (with full consciousness of the obligation to remain in the faith), or material (without such consciousness). Exterior formal apostasy involves excommunication, reserved in a special manner to the Holy See (Can. 2314). Apostasy from religious life is the unauthorized departure from a religious house of an inmate under perpetual vows, with the intention of not returning; or, if the departure be legitimate, a subsequent refusal to return in order thus to withdraw from the obligations of religious obedience (Can. 644). Such apostates incur excommunication (Can. 2385).


(Gr., ruling angel), in its wider meaning, any angel of higher rank, thus all the higher orders of angels. St. Michael, therefore, is called Archangel although he is the prince of the Seraphim. In its more restricted sense, the archangels are those blessed spirits who compose the second choir of the lowest order in the angelic hierarchy. As distinct from the guardian angels, the archangels are God's messengers to man in matters of graver moment, e.g., Gabriel to the Virgin Mary, Raphael to Tobias, and to the archangels God entrusts the care of persons of exalted rank and sanctity.


Reconciliation of sinners with God through the Incarnation, sufferings, and death of Christ. In early Days Western writers held that Christ by His sufferings made a payment to Satan to have him relinquish his right to man. Following Anselm, it is now usually held that Satan had no rights over man, but that Christ suffered because many by sin had incurred a debt to Divine justice and that this required a satisfaction that could be paid only by a God-man Redeemer. It is also held, in accordance with Abelard, that a full equivalent satisfaction such as was made by Christ's death was not absolutely necessary; therfore the Incarnation was an act of love, though not exclusively so.


Equivalent of the Hebrew word Messias, meaning anointed. In the Old Law priests, kings, and prophets were anointed; therefore the One who was to combine this threefold dignity in His Person, was looked forward to as Messias, or Christ.


(Lat., devovere, to vow), the prompt surrender of the will to every demand of God's service; called sensible devotion when it affects the feelings. It belongs to the virtue of religion, springs from meditation, and results in spiritual joy. "Devotions" are pious practises in honour of the Blessed Trintiy, Our Lord, the Blessed Virgin, angels, and saints.

Emmanuel (Or Immanuel)

Hebrew for "God with us." A title of the Messias in a series of prophecies [Is. 7:1 to 9:7] delivered during the reign of King Achaz of Judah, from 735 to 727 B.C.


(Lat., ex, out of; communicatio, communion), a spiritual censure by which one is excluded from the communion of the faithful and suffers consequences inseparably attached by canon law to such exclusion. It is also called anathema, especially when inflicted with solemnities described in the Roman Ritual. While not vindictive, excommunication is the Church's most serious penalty, its chief purpose being the correction of the guilty. This correction takes the form of exclusion from the spiritual benefits of the Church as a society and Mystical Body of Christ. Excommunication directly affects only the individual, who does not cease thereby to be a Christian, owing to the indelible character of Baptism. A secondary purpose of excommunication may be said to be the spiritual protection of the faithful. This is evidenced in the classification of the excommunicated as the vitandi (vitare, to avoid) and the tolerati (tolerare, to tolerate). Both these classes are equally cut off from the faithful as regards religious communication; but, in addition, the former are to be carefully shunned even in profane as well as religious matters. The vitandus on account of the notorious nature of his fault is one stigmatized by name, publicly, and through judicial sentence. Opposed to these classes, the earlier and classic division of excommunication was: major excommunication, effective, complete exclusion from the community of the faithful; minor excommunication, a deprivation of certain of the Church's benefits, e.g., reception of the Sascraments and public prayer. The rationial rights of the Church as an autonomous society to excommunicate from membership is as evident as her right to admit to same. The examples of the Old and New Testament, and the practise of the Apostles furnish proof of this. In the O.T. we have exclusion from the Sunagogue (1 Esd., 10). In the N.T. the Apostle delivers "such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh" [1 Cor., 5]. The "power of the keys" embraces not only power to remit sin, but all penal and coercive power necessary to the end of the Church. [Mt. 18:16].

The adequate and general effect of excommunication is sufficiently evident thus far, from the explanation of the definition. In particular, the definitely classified canonical effects follow: exclusion from divine services of the Church, deprivation of the Sacrametns (and sometimes sacramentals); exclusion from the public prayers of the Church, either by way of satisfaction or impetration; loss of the right to participate in legal acts of the Church; loss of income from ecclesiastical office; and loss of right to social intercourse in cases of vitandus. Canon law distinguishes two fora or courts: the sacramental, or the tribunal of Penance, and the non-sacramental, either public or private. When the penitent appears in the sacramental forum, the Roman Ritual prescribes the same formula for absolution from excommunication as that used for remission of sin. In the non-sacramental forum, since absolution is a jurisdictional act, any formula expressing the effect intended may be employed. Following the general law of jurisdiction as it applies to censures, excommunication may be taken away by the one who had inflicted it, his superior, delegate, or successor.


Voluntary sexual intercourse between unmarried persons. This sin prevents one from entering the Kingdom of God. [Gal. 5:19-21; 1 Cor. 6:9-10; Rev. 22:15]


(helan, conceal), theologically, a place of privation and punishment after death. In the strict sense of the term, hell (infernus) is the place of eternal punishment for the damned, whether demons or men. In a broad sense it may mean: (1) the limbo of infants (limbus parvulorum), where those who die in original sin, but without personal mortal sin, are deprived of the happiness which would come to them in the supernatural order, but not of happiness in the natural order; (2) the limbo of the Father (limbus patrum), where the souls of the just who died before Christ awaited their admission to heaven, which had been closed against them in punishment for the sin of Adam; (3) purgatory, where the just who die in venial sin or who still owe a debt of temporal punishment for sin are cleansed by suffering before their admission to heaven. Under this heading only the strict sense of the word will be treated. The existence of hell is shown from innumerable passages of Holy Scripture where it is referred to, not only as a place of punishment, but as a place of eternal punishment of fire for those who die in the state of mortal sin. The chief punishment is of course loss of God. The location of hell has never been revealed and is a matter on which the opinion of theologians differ. That there should exist a place of punishment as well as a place of reward for men after death is readily admitted by all who believe in the existence of God and the imortality of the human soul. Human reason, however, unaided by revelation, could not know with certainty all that is actually known of hell. Although this is the case, there is no contradiction between faith and reason. One of the most common objections offered to belief in the eternity of hell is that it is repugnant to Divine goodness. This objection is often due to the fact that men fail to remember that: God is infinitely just and holy as well as infinitely good; no man will be damned who does not deserve it; God is infinitely wise, and it would be repugnant to this infinite attribute for Him to establish laws which man can violate with impunity in this life without endangering his eternal happiness; the damned persevere forever in their evil dispositions and impenitence.

Hell (In the Apostles' Creed)

Occurs in the phrase "He descended into Hell," and refers not to the abode of the damned, but to the abode of the just who had died before Christ's death, limbo, as it is called, a place where they were awaiting Him so as to enter Heaven with Him.


Deciding for oneself what one shall believe and practise instead of accepting the truth taught by Christ, and His moral teachings; e.g., Arianism, denying the divinity of Christ; the various sects of Protestantism denying almost every Christian doctrine.


One who having professed the faith of Christ corrupts its dogmas. He may be a material heretic, adhering to heresy innocently or from involuntary causes, or a formal heretic, knowingly and freely adhering to heresy. one who holds opinions at variance with recognized teachings in philosophy, science, or art; since the term is somewhat odious, it is more proper applied to the originators of heresy than to their descendants and remote followers.

Holy See

A synonym of Apostolic See, designating Rome, the official seat of the Pope, as well as the power of the Pope personally or that of the various Roman congregations, Tribunals, and Offices.


Name applied, since the time of Origen (c. 185-253), to a didactic commentary, without formal introduction, division, or conclusion, on some part of Sacred Scripture, the aim being to explain the literal, and evolve the spiritual, meaning of the text. Among the famous homilists are Origen, Sts. Hilary, Ambrose, Chrysostum, Augustine, and Bernard of Clairvaux. The oldest homily extant is the so-called Second Epistle of Clement to the Corinthians. At present there are four methods of treating the homily: (1) to treat separately each sentence of the Gospel; (2) to focus the entire content of the Gospel in a single idea; (3) to select some virtue or vice arising out of the Gospel, and to treat it to the exclusion of all else; (4) to paraphrase and explain the entire Gospel, and then make an application of it.


(Heb., hoshi'a na, save me), exclamation of joy. Its origin is traced to the 117th Psalm, which was recited daily by a priest in the procession around the altar during the Feast of Tabernacles, when the people were commanded to rejoice before the Lord (Lev., 23), and on the seventh day it was recited in each of the seven processions. When verses 25 and 26 were said, the trumpet sounded, and the people waved branches of palms and myrtle and shouted the words with the priest. Hoshi'a na was repeated so often that it became abbreviated into hosanna; the feast being an occasion for rejoicing, hosanna and palm-branches became associated with joy. In the Mass it is said twice during the Sanctus at the end of the Preface, and is sung at High Mass by the choir; also during the distribution of palms and the solemn procession on Palm Sunday, in imitation of the reception Our Lord received on entering Jerusalem before His seizure and Passion.


Originally the first three letters of the name of Jesus in Greek. These letters are very commonly, though erroneously, taken to be the initials of Jesus Hominum Salvator (Jesus, Saviour of men).


The taking on of human form in nature. In Catholic usage, it means that the invisible God took on the visible human form and nature through His Son Jesus Christ to make Himself known to mankind.


(Lat., indulgere, to be kind), the remission of temporal punishment due to sin after its guilt has been forgiven, which the Church grants from the treasury of the merits of Christ and His saints. A plenary indulgence is the remission of the whole debt of temporal punishment. A partial indulgence remits only a part of that punishment. An indulgence of 40 days, for example, remits so much of temporal punishment as would be remitted by performing the ancient canonical penances for 40 days. In granting an indulgence to the living, the Church offers satisfaction to God from her treasury of merit, so that such an indulgence is a real juridical absolution from temporal punishment. Indulgences for the dead are gained by way of intercession (per modum suffragii), i.e. the Church offers satisfaction from her treasury of merit and asks God to apply this satisfaction to the souls in purgatory. An indulgence for the living, if all conditions are fulfilled, produces its effect, infallibly, while that for the dead, because departed souls are not under the Church's jurisdiction, depends on the good pleasure of God. Besides the habitual intention, the state of grace and the performance of the prescribed good works, prayers, alms, visits to a church, etc., are required to gain an indulgence. Confession and Communion are required for a plenary indulgence. Confession twice a month and Communion five or six times a week suffice for all plenary indulgences except for the jubilee indulgences.


(Lt., in, not; fallere, to deceive), the preservation of the head of the Church of Christ from teaching error in matters of faith or morals. This preservation is due to the special assistance of the Holy Ghost, the Spirit of Truth, and is given in order that the faithful may be assured of the truth of their belief. In order to exercise this prerogative the pope must teach as doctor and pastor of all Christians in virtue of his supreme authority, not merely as a private theologian; he must teach a matter of faith or morals; he must define, with the manifest intention of obligating to consent; the definition must obligate the universal Church. The efficient cause of this infallibility is the Divine assistance. The object of papal infallibility is those truths contained explicitly or implicitly in the public deposit of Revelation, comprehended in Scripture and tradition. The ex cathedra definitions of the Roman pontiffs are irreformable of their very nature, independently of the antecedent, concomitant, or subsequent consent or concurrence of the Church, i.e, the bishops and the faithful.

Infant Communion

In ancient times in the Eastern Church infants received Communion immediately after Baptism; in the West it was common to communicate them in the hour of death. the Fourth Lateran Council (1215) and the Council of Trent laid the precept of Paschal Communion and Viaticum on children after attaining the years of discretion. Responsibility for the fulfilment of this precept by younger children rests mainly on their parents or guardians. Before the age of discretion (about seven years) they are not to be given Communion. Yet in danger of death they may receive, if they are able to distinguish the Holy Eucharist from ordinary bread and reverently adore it. Outside the case of the danger of death, it is necessary that they have a deeper knowledge of Christian doctrine, and that they approach Holy Communion with due reverence. The judgment on their sufficient disposition is left to the confessor and parents or guardians. The parish priest is to watch that children be neither admitted too soon nor kept back too long from the reception of Communion. It was the intention of Pope Pius X that the First Communion be received privately with parents; then after fuller instruction and more complete preparation all children, who have already received privately, be admitted to solemn Communion, held once or twice a year.


Letter found on the "title" or sign board of crucifix, which are the initials of the superscription placed thereon by order of Pilate: Iesus Nazarenus, Rex Iudoeorum (Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews).


(Lat., intercedo, to interpose) is the going between two parties in order to plead before one on behalf of the other. In ecclesiastical usage the office of Mediator belongs primarily to Jesus Christ. [Tim. 1: Heb. 7]. The Blessed mother, Mediatrix of all Graces, the angels, the blessed in Heaven, the souls in Purgatory and the faithful on earth can intercede for us sinners by their prayers and merits.


Pronounced by modern scholars as Yahveh or Yahweh (Heb., He Who is), name of God in the O.T., occurring about 6,000 times. It is the very name considered by the Jews as great, glorious, terrible, hidden, mysterious, to blaspheme which merited death [Lev. 24]. Designating The Being, or, as God Himself expresses it, "I am who am" [Ex. 3], it was revealed to Moses on Mt. Horeb as the incommunicable name of God.


Name of our Lord [Mt. 1:25]. It is the Latin form of the Greek, Iesous; Hebrew, Jeshua, Joshua, meaning "Jehovah is salvation," and interpreted by the Fathers as Saviour. The name is celebrated by the Feast of the Holy Name, and venerated especially by the Holy Name Society, as a means of correcting the habit of profanity, and cultivating a spirit of reverence. The name by which to invoke God the Father: "If you ask the Father any thing in my name, He will give it to you" [Jn. 16:23]. The name by which Peter bade the blind man rise and walk [Acts 3:6].


The act of reducing ecclesiastical persons or things to a non- ecclesiastical or lay condition; secularization.

Lamb of God A title applied to Our Lord by St. John the Baptist [Jn. 1:29, 36]. He is 29 times called "the Lamb" in the Apocalypse. The title suggests the idea of a victim offered for sins; it probably goes back to Isaias, 53:7 where the Servant of the Lord, i.e., the Messias, is spoken of as "led as a sheep to the slaughter and dumb as a lamb before His shearer." In 1 Corinthians 5:7 and 1 Peter 1:19, however, Our Lord is called a "lamb" with reference to the paschal lamb; St. John also regards the paschal lamb as symbolic of Christ, a victim for sin.


(Lat., limbus, border, edge), the abode of those souls excluded from heaven through no fault of theirs; so called because of the ancient belief that it was situated near the confines of hell. Theologians distinguish a two fold limbo: the limbo of the Fathers (limbus patrum), where the just that died before Christ, were detained until heaven, which had been closed in punishment for the sin of Adam, was reopened by the Saviour; and the limbo of infants (limbus infantium), where those who die in original sin, but without personal mortal sin, are deprived of the happiness which would come to them in the supernatural order, but not of happiness in the natural order.


A title commonly used of God in the O.T., but commonly appropriated to Christ in the N.T. In the O.T. Greek version and those dependent on it, as the Vulgate in this matter, it is used in place of Jahweh (Jehovah), the proper name of God among the Israelites. The way St. Paul and other N.T. writers use the title is one of the proofs that they regarded Christ as God. in Acts 10:48, He is referred to as the Lord Jesus Christ.


A Hebrew word, meaning "anointed." The Greek translation is christos, whence our word Christ. The Hebrew is more closely transliterated as "Messiah." Kings, like priests, were anointed in Israel; and the future king, who was to be the Saviour of His people and the world, came to be spoken of as "the Anointed One." The word is applied to the future Saviour in the O.T. [Ps. 2], in telling of the conspiracy of the enemies of Jehovah and "his Christ." It was used in later Jewish writings; and the N.T. shows that it was in current use in Our Lord's time.


Nine days of public or private devotion in the Catholic Church to obtain special graces; in imitation of the Apostles who were gathered together in prayer for nine days between Ascension Thursday and Pentecost.


(Gr., advocate or consoler), an appellation of the Holy Ghost. Christ promises to send the Apostles "another Paraclete" [Jn. 14:16] so they may not be desolate orphans when He departs. Christ was the first advocate or comforter and He continues His advocacy for us in Heaven [Jn. 11:1]. The Holy Ghost is the advocate in the Church, Who pleads God's cause with men, Who keeps the Church from error, and sanctifies souls through the ministry of the word and the sacraments. The supernatural power that produces all the effects of grace on earth is appropriated to the Holy Ghost though really the work belongs to the Blessed Trinity.


The coming, or saving presence, of Christ which will mark the completion of salvation history and the coming to perfection of God's kingdom at the end of the world.

In the N.T. it means the second coming of Christ. The principal Gospel texts are: Mt. 10:21-4, 16:27; Mk. 9:38 and Lk. 9:26; Mt. 24:25 and the parallel passages of Mark 13 and Lk. 21:5-33. The way in which Our Lord's sayings about this second coming are connected with other sayings referring to the establishment of the kingdom here below and to the destruction of Jerusalem, which was to take place in A.D., 70, and His deliberate intention to leave His followers in ignorance regarding the time of His parousia, have given rise to obscurities and difficulties about the time of the fulfillment of His prophecy. The early Christians lived in the hope and expectation of a coming of Our Lord which would probably be not long delayed.


(Lat., purgare, to cleanse), in ecclesiastical language, the state or the abode of temporary punishment for those souls, who having died in the state of grace, are not entirely free from venial sins or have not yet fully paid the satisfaction due to their transgressions. It is not a state of positive growth in goodness and in merit, but of purification effected by suffering. The Catholic doctrine, defined at the Council of Florence and repeated at the Council of Trent, is: (1) that there is a Purgatory; (2) that the souls sufering there can be helped by the prayers of the faithful, especially by the Sacrifice of the Altar (Trent, Sess. XXV). Although Holy Scripture does not expressly mention Purgatory, it presupposes it, and refers to it clearly enough, e.g., 2 Macc. 12; Mt. 5 and 12; 1 Cor. 3; Phil. 2; 1 Pet. 3. Purgatory is firmly established by tradition and confirmed by the constant belief of the Church in suffrages for the dead. The chief punishment consists in being deprived of the beatific vision (poena damni). Besides this there is the additional punishment (poena sensus), which according to the common belief of the Western Church, consists in real fire. They are certain of their salvatino, and are confirmed in good, hence can no longer sin. Since they love God perfectly, they bear their sufferings with resignation. This love of God and resignation to His holy Will, according to many theologians, considerably lessen and mitigates the severest sufferings of Purgatory. In the early Church some heretics denied the existence of Purgatory. In the Middle Ages the Cathari, Waldenses, and Hussites rejected it, and in the 16 th century Luther and Calvin and their followers did the same. Protestants, therefore, generally reject it. The Greeks have a vague and indefinite notion of it. Belief in Purgatory fosters piety. It deters man from venial sin, begets a spirit of penance, gives him occasion to practise charity to the dead, and awakens salutary thoughts of the life to come.


(Lat., relictus, remaining), an object connected with a saint. It may be the whole or a part of the saint's body, or something the saint has touched, e.g., a garment. Such objects are venerated with the approbation of the Church (Council of Trent, Sees. XXV) because, though all the members of the Church are considered, and from the time of the Apostles are addressed, as "saints," those who practise heroic virtue or die for the Faith and are honoured by the Church as exceptionally holy, merit the veneration of the faithful. This is paid by special respect for their remains as well as imitation of their virtues. Their relics are therefore enshrined on altars, carried in processions, and used to obtain cures and others favours.

Rosary of the Blessed Virgin Mary

A form of prayer (vocal or mental), consisting of 15 decades of Hail Marys, said on beads, each decade preceded by an Our Father and followed by a Gloria, during the recitation of which the mind meditates or dwells on the principal mysteries of the life, death, and resurrection of Our Lord. This is the true Rosary, sometimes called the Dominican, or Rosary of St. Dominic, because its origin has been traditionally attributed to that saint. As a rule five decades are recited at a time. Other rosaries are more properly called beads, as the beads of the Immaculate Conception, the beads of the Seven Dolors, the Blessed Sacrament beads, The Rosary is the most popular of the non-liturgical prayers. It has been richly indulgenced by many popes. The beads should be blessed by a Dominican or any other duly authorized priest. Pope Leo XIII instituted the Month of the Holy Rosary (October) and added the invocation "Queen of the Most Holy Rosary" to the Litany of Loreto, 1833.


(Lat., salvare, to save), in scriptural language, transference from straitened circumstances and other evils into a state of freedom and security. As sin is the greatest evil, Scripture uses the word mainly in the sense of redemption and liberation from sin and its consequences. In St. Paul's Epistles "salvation" usually denotes deliverance from final wrath, as distinguished from "reconciliation" which denotes liberation from present wrath.

Savious (or Savior)

A title of Our Lord, arising from the fact that He sacrificed His life to atone for the sins of men and so won for sinful men grace and access to God. Only in virtue of His satisfaction for men's offenses can we obtain salvation: "Neither is there salvation in any other. For there is no other name under Heaven given to men, whereby we must be saved." [Acts 4]


(Gr., schizo, divide), the rupture of ecclesiastical union, or the act by which one of the faithful severs the ties which make him a member of the Church, and the breach of ecclesiastical unity, or the state of dissociation or separation which is the result of that act. The hierarchical unity of the Church was taught by Christ and His Apostles and was maintained by the early Fathers. The great champion of ecclesiastical unity was St. Cyprian who conceived this unity as reposing on the effective authority of the bishops, their mutual union, and the pre-eminence of the Roman pontiff. Schisms have disturbed the Church in every age. The Ebionites in the 1st century, the schisms of Novatian, Donatus, Aquilea, the Eastern and Western Schisms, Jansenism, the German Catholics, the Old Catholics, are a few of the principal breaches. Schism is generally divided into two kinds; heretical or mixed, which has its source in heresy or is joined with it; and schism pure and simple, which is merely the rupture of the bond of subordination. The many attempts to legitimize schism have met with disfavour. Some have claimed that they cannot ally themselves with abuses in the Church, others have pleaded the division of the Articles of the Creed into fundamental and nonfundamental, and still others have advanced the theory that the individual should abide by Scripture alone. None of these views can be permitted, however, for theologians have always maintained that unity cannot be preserved save through absolute obedience to the authority of the Church as vested in the hierarchy. Schism is a most serious sin, punishable by excommunication incurred ipso facto, by loss of ordinary jurisdiction, and incapacity to receive any ecclesiastical dignities. Moreover, the faithful are strictly forbidden to receive the Sacraments from Schismatics or to assist at any services in their temples.


Mystical. There are two kinds: visible and invisible. (1) Visible, a sort of impression of the Sacred wounds of the Saviour, on the feet, hands, side, adn forehead. These wounds appear spontaneously, without being provoked by any exterior wounding, and they issue periodically a non-corrupted blood. (2) Invisible, which causes great suffering without the outward marks. Stigmatization only exists among ecstatic, and is preceded and accompanied by very severe suffering, physical and moral, which renders the subject comformable to Jesus' suffering; not pathological, but due to the intervention of an intelligent and free cause acting on the stigmatics. Stigmata are symbols of union with Christ and participation in His martyrdom; found only on persons who practice the most heroic virtues and have a great love of the cross. The first stigmatic known is St. Francis of Assisi. Venerable Gertrude van der Ousten (d. 1358), received the sacred stigmata because of her great devotion to the Sacred Passion. Dr. Imbert names 321 stigmatics, in whom there is every reason to believe Divine action. Great precaution is needed in determining whether stigmata be real, apparent, or due to self-deception on the part of the stigmatist.


(Lat., trans, over; substantia, substance), the word officially approved by the Council of Trent as aptly expressing the marvellous and singular changing of the entire substance of bread into the entire substance of the Body of Christ, and of the entire substance of the wine into His Blood, the accidents only of bread and wine remaining in the Sacrament of the Eucharist. Hildebert of Tours (c. 1097)seems to be the first writer to employ the word.

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