DAILY CATHOLIC    TUESDAY     December 21, 1999     vol. 10, no. 242


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      Every day we present a short point that helps bring into focus the treasures of the Roman Catholic Church that comprise the great Deposit of Faith.

      It is no secret that over the past thirty years fewer and fewer know their Faith and it shows with the declining number of vocations, parish participation and attendance at Holy Mass. We have the new Catechism of the Catholic Church but for the common man, the one brought up on sound bites and instant gratification, it is more of a text book and that in itself prompts them to shy away from such a tome. So what's a loyal Catholic to do in evangelizing to fellow Catholics and understand their Faith? Our answer: go back to basics - to the great Deposit of Faith. We have the Baltimore Catechism which, for unknown and ridiculous reasons, was shelved after Vatican II. We have the Holy Bible but there are so many newer versions that the Douay-Rheims and Confraternity Latin Vulgate in English versions, the ones used for so long as the official Scriptural text authorized by the Church, seem lost in a maze of new interpretations that water down the Word. This is further complicated by the fact there are so few Douay-Rheims editions in circulation though it is available on the net at DOUAY-RHEIMS BIBLE. We have so many Vatican documents available at the Vatican web site and other excellent Catholic resource sites that detail Doctrine, Dogma and Canon Law. We have the traditions, and the means of grace but how do we consolidate all these sources into one where it is succinct and easy to understand? We have the perfect vehicle. It is called "My Catholic Faith", now out of print, that was compiled by Bishop Louis Laravoire Morrow and published by My Mission House. This work ties in Scriptural references, the Sacraments, Dogmas, Doctrines, Traditions, Church documents, Encyclical and Papal decrees to clearly illustrate the Faith in simple, solid and concise terms that all can understand and put into practice. We will quote from this work while adding in more recent events and persons when applicable since the book was written in the late forties during the pontificate of Pope Pius XII. We also quote from the Catholic Almanac published by Our Sunday Visitor for the Roman Curial offices and from Old Testament Confraternity Edition and New Testament Confraternity Edition of the Saint Joseph New Catholic Edition of the Holy Bible.

    Nothing in Holy Mother Church's teaching has changed and therefore we feel confident that these daily "points of enlightenment" will help more Catholics better understand their faith, especially those who were not blessed with early formation of the faith in the home and their parish school. Regardless of where any Catholic is in his or her journey toward salvation, he or she has to recognize that the Faith they were initiated into at the Sacrament of Baptism is the most precious gift they have been given in life.



        The Book of Psalms, or Psalter, is a collection of religious songs, traditionally listed as 150. This number, however, is only approximately correct, for several psalms contain two or more originally independent songs, while others, which were originally a single unit, have been broken up into two or more psalms. Moreover, certain psalms and parts of psalms occur more than once in this collection.

        The present collection is divided into five "books," perhaps in imitation of the five Books of the Pentateuch. But internal evidence shows that there existed at an earlier period more numerous, smaller collections which were gradually gathered together to form the present Psalter.

        In form and subject matter the psalms are most varied. Some were composed for liturgical use in the temple; others, for private reading. In some psalms the singer is an individual; in others, the community. One of the most common types is that of supplicatin to God for His help in various spiritual and temporal needs. But humns of thanksgiving and of praise are also numerous. Less frequent are poems written primarily to discuss some problem or to teach some lesson.

        Prefixed to most of the psalms are certain words and phrases which offer traditional information about the psalm, such as the tone in which it is to be sung, the musical instruments which are to accompany its singing, the historical circumstances connected in some way with its composition, the name of its author, and so forth. These "titles," as they are called, were added, at least in most cases, by later writers. It cannot be proved that they were divinely inspired. They have some value, however, as representing ancient tradition. They are printed here in smaller type.

        About half of the psalms are attributed in these "titles" to David. The Davidic authorship of some of these is confirmed in the New Testament and, at least in these cases, cannot prudently be called into question. Some other psalms are attributed to certain groups of temple-singers known as "the sons of Core" and "the sons of Asph." One psalm each is ascribed to Moses, Solomon, Herman and Ethan. About a third of the psalms have no author's name prefixed to them. Although some of the psalms appear to have been composed during the early post-exilic period (the fifth and fourth centuries B.C.), it cannot be demonstrated that any psalms are as late as the Machabean age.


       The first word of this book, MISHLE, has provided the title by which it is generally designated in Jewish and Christian circles. The name "Proverbs," while not an exact equivalent of MISHLE, describes the main contents satisfactorily, even though it is hardly an adequate designation for such parts as I, 1-9, 18 or 31, 10-31. Among some early Christian writers the book was also known by the name of "Wisdom," and in the Roman Missal it is referred to as a "Book of Wisdom."

        The Book of Proverbs is an anthology of didactic poetry forming part of the sapiential literature of the Old Testament. Its primary purpose, indicated in the first sentence (1, 2f), is to teach wisdom. It is thus directed particularly to the young and inexperienced (1, 4); but also to those who desire advanced training in wisdom (1, 5f). The wisdom which the book teaches, covers a wide field of human and divine activity, ranging from matters purely secular to most lofty moral and religious truths, such as God's omniscience (5, 21; 15, 3-11), power (19, 21; 21, 30); providence (20, 1-24), goodness (15, 29), and the joy and strength resulting from abandonment to Him (3, 5; 16, 20; 18, 10). The teaching of the entire book is placed on a firm religious foundation by the principle that "the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge" (1, 7; cf. 9, 10).

        To Solomon are explicitly ascribed parts II and V of the book, which means at least their substance. Of Agur (part VI) and Lamuel (part VIII) nothing further is known. Parts III and IV are attributed to "the wise." The remaining parts are anonymous.

        The manner of compilation is conjectural. Parts II and V may have circulated first as independent collections, compiled before the fall of Jerusalem, as the references to Solomon (10, 1) and Ezechias (25, 1) indicate. The rest was added at various later times. No definite date can be assigned to the completion of the work.

        Christ and the Apostles often expressly quoted the Proverbs (John 7, 38; Rom. 12, 20; James 4, 6) or repeated their teaching; compare Luke 10, 14, and Prov. 25, 7; 1 Pet. 4, 8; James 5, 20 and Prov. 10, 12. The book has an important place in the Latin and Greek liturgies.


       The title "Ecclesiastes" given to this book is the Greek translation of the Hebrew name COHELETH meaning, perhaps, "one who convokes an assembly." The book, however, does not consist of public addresses, but is a treatise, more or less logically developed, on the vanity of all things. Reflections in prose and aphorisms in verse are intermingled in Ecclesiastes, which contains, besides, an introduction and an epilogue.

        The book is concerned with the purpose and value of human life. While admitting the existence of a divine plan, it considers such a plan to be hidden from man, who seeks happiness without ever finding it here below (3, 11; 8, 7, 17). Ecclesiastes applies his "Vanity of vanities" to everything "under the sun," even to that wisdom which seeks to find at least a semblance of good in things of the world. Merit does not yield happiness for it is often tried by suffering. Riches and pleasures do not avail. Existence is monotonous, enjoyment fleeting and vain; darkness quickly follows. Life, then, is an enigma beyond human ability to solve.

        While Ecclesiastes concedes that there is an advantage for man in the enjoyment of certain legitimate pleasures lest he lapse into pessiminism and despair, he nevertheless considers this indulgence also vanity unless man returns due thanks to the Creator who has given him all. Under this aspect, earthly wisdom would rise to the higher level of true spiritual wisdom. This true wisdom is not found "under the sun" but is perceived only by the light of faith, inasmuch as it rests with God, who is the final Judge of the good and the bad, and whose reign endures forever. The Epilogue gives the clue to this thought (12, 13f).


       The Canticle of Canticles, or the "Song of Songs," meaning the greatest of songs (1, 1), contains in exquisite poetic form the sublime portryal and praise of the mutual love of the Lord and His people. The Lord is the Lover and His people are the beloved. Describing this relationship in terms of human love, the author simply follows Israel'' tradition. Isaias (5, 1-7; 54, 4-8), Jeremias (2, 2f. 32), and Ezechiel (16; 23) all characterize the covenant between the Lord and Israel as a marriage. Osee the prophet sees the idolatry of Israel in the adultery of Gomer (1-3). He also represents the Lord speaking to Israel's heart (2, 16) and changing her into a new spiritual people, purified by the Babylonian captivity and betrothed anew to her divine Lover "in justice and uprightness, in love and mercy" (2, 21).

        The author of the Canticle, using the same literary figure, paints a beautiful picture of the ideal Israel, the chosen people of the Old and New Testaments, whom the Lord led by degrees to an exalted spiritual union with Himself in the bond of perfect love. When the Canticle is thus interpreted there is no reason for surprise at the tone of the poem, which employs in its description the courtship and marriage customs of the author's time. Moreover, the poem is not an allegory in which each remark, e.g., in the dialogue of the lovers, has a higher meaning. It is a parable in which the true meaning of mutual love comes from the poem as a whole.

        While the Canticle is thus commonly understood by most Catholic scholars, it is also possible to see in it an inspired portrayal of ideal human love. Here we would have from God a description of the sacredness and the depth of married union.

        Although the poem is attributed to Solomon in the traditional title (1, 1), the language and style of the work, among other considerations, point to a time after the end of the Babylonian Exile (538 B.C.) as that in which an unknown poet composed this masterpiece. The structure of the Canticle is difficult to analyze; here it is regarded as a lyric dialogue, with dramatic movement and interest.

        The use of marriage as a symbol, characteristic of the Canticle, is found extensively also in the New Testament (Matt. 9, 15; 25, 1-13); John 3, 29; 2 Cor. 11, 2; Eph. 5, 23-32; Apoc. 19, 7ff; 21, 9ff). In Christian tradition, the Canticle has been interpreted in terms of the union between Christ and the Church and, particularly by Saint Bernard, of the union between Christ and the individual soul. Throughout the liturgy, especially in the Little Office, there is a consistent application of the Canticle of Canticles to the Blessed Virgin Mary.


        The Book of Wisdom was wrtten about a hundred years before the coming of Christ. Its author, whose name is not known, was a member of the Jewish community at Alexandria in Egypt. He wrote in Greek, in a style patterned on that of Hebrew verse. At times he speaks in the person of Solomon, placing his teachings on the lips of the wise king of Hebrew tradition but Biblical experts believe it is not Solomon who wrote it, but rather the author was using Solomon's words to emphasize his wisdom and the value of the writings. His profound knowledge of the earlier Old Testament writings is reflected in almost every line of the book, and marks him, like Benjamin Sirach as an outstanding representative of religious devotion and learning among the sages of post-exilic Judaism.

        The primary purpose of the sacred author was the edification of his co-religionists in a time when they had experienced suffering and oppression, in part at least at the hands of apostate fellow Jews. To convey his messaged he made use of the popular religious themes of his time, namely the splendor and worth of Divine Wisdom (6: 22 to 11: 1), the glorious events of the Exodus (11, 2-12, 27; 15: 18-19, 22), the folly of idolatry (13: 1- 15, 17), and the manner in which God's justice is vindicated in rewarding or punishing the individual soul (1: 1-6, 21). The first ten chapters especially form a close and intimate preparation for the fuller teachings of Christ and His Church. Many passages from this section of the book, notably 3: 1-8, are used by the Church in her liturgy.

      Tomorrow: The Bible: Sirach to Baruch

December 21, 1999       volume 10, no. 242


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