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Scripture Is Given to a Faith Community
By Father Pat McCloskey, O.F.M.


How Reliable Are Biblical Texts?
Recognizing Holy People in the United States (Part 1)
Rosaries in Caskets

Q: In Joris Heise’s January 2007 St. Anthony Messenger article, “The Gospel of Judas: Reliable or Not?,” the sidebar “What Is Scripture and Who Decides?” raised a very important issue. He described the text of Job 36:16-20 as “gibberish.” When I looked those verses up in my New American Bible (St. Joseph Edition), I found no text there but simply a series of dashes.

When I called a Baptist friend, she read me her Bible’s text for that passage. My Douay-Rheims translation, printed in 1941 with a nihil obstat and an imprimatur, has words for those verses. Why does one translation have words and another one simply use dashes?

A: Your question raises a very important point but requires a detailed answer. Please bear with me. I should say at the outset that I am very much indebted to Father Hilarion Kistner, O.F.M., a Scripture scholar, for assistance with this answer.

Our oldest complete Hebrew manuscript of the Bible dates to the 10th century A.D. In his Dictionary of the Bible, John L. McKenzie explains that this was the work of rabbis called Massoretes (derived from the Hebrew word for “tradition”) and is thus called the Massoretic text.

The Dead Sea Scrolls (found in the late 1940s but dating to the second and first century before Christ) contain the complete text of Isaiah, as well as fragments of varying length for every other Old Testament book except Esther. The oldest complete copy of the Septuagint (Greek version of the Old Testament) is the fourth-century Codex Siniaticus (156 of its “leaves” are now in London’s British Museum, 43 are in Leipzig and some leaves are not accounted for).

The vast majority of biblical texts are quite certain. A few places, including these verses from Job, have words missing or words whose meaning is no longer sure. Although some translators make educated guesses for such passages, other scholars use dashes to indicate where the text is uncertain. That is why your friend’s Bible and your Bible differ.

The Douay-Rheims Bible (completed in 1609) is a translation from the Latin text of the Bible. The New American Bible and The New Jerusalem Bible are translations from the Hebrew and Greek originals, a change that was encouraged by Pope Pius XII’s 1943 encyclical Divino Afflante Spiritu.

A nihil obstat and imprimatur indicate that the text in question contains nothing that contradicts faith and morals. Concerning editions of the Bible, it is not a statement that a given translation is the best one possible.

The New Jerome Biblical Commentary describes the Book of Job as “the most difficult work in the Old Testament to translate.” Job has approximately 100 words or phrases not found anywhere else in the Bible, plus many very rare words. The oldest Hebrew text that we have also contains about 100 more verses than the book’s Greek text.

We need to remember that the Scriptures were given to faith communities and are best understood in dialogue with the Jews and Christians who recognize them as inspired. That does not mean that every biblical book was dictated by God word for word or was written by a single human author. God is the ultimate author.

In this web site's Archive section for Scripture From Scratch, readers can find excellent articles by Sandra Schneiders, I.H.M., and Ronald Witherup, S.S. (“Interpreting the Bible: The Right and the Responsibility” and “The Use and Abuse of the Bible,” respectively). In the Archive section of Catholic Update, readers can find “Choosing and Using a Bible: What Catholics Should Know,” by Father Witherup. All three articles are available as reprints.

Recognizing Holy People in the United States (Part 1)

Q: Where can I find a list of all the people in the United States for whom a diocesan investigation has begun for their possible beatification and canonization?

A: Because the answer to this question will take more space than is available this month, I will start now and conclude my answer in the August column.

Let’s begin by reviewing the beatification and canonization process. A person’s “cause” is opened in the diocese where he or she died. Documents and testimonies are collected—if any contemporaries are still living when the cause is opened. Otherwise, evidence is collected about this person’s reputation for holiness. Once the diocesan phase is concluded, the documents are sent to the Holy See’s Congregation for the Causes of the Saints. The person is called a “Servant of God.”

The person’s writings are then reviewed for their orthodoxy. If the Congregation issues a decree affirming the heroic virtue of this person, then he or she is given the title “Venerable.” When a miracle is officially accepted, a decree affirming that is published and the person can be beatified. If a second miracle is accepted, the person can be canonized.

If the Congregation judges that the person was killed out of hatred for the faith, then no miracle is required for beatification. But a miracle is needed for canonization.

The Congregation for the Causes of the Saints publishes Index et Status Causarum, a book that indicates the status of each active cause. The Index’s most recent edition was in 1999.

The following people who lived in the United States have been declared Venerable: Pierre Toussaint (1766-1853), a former slave known for his charitable works in New York; Samuel Mazzuchelli (1806-1864), a Dominican missionary in the Upper Midwest; Cornelia Peacock Connelly (1809-1879), foundress of the Society of the Holy Child Jesus; Maria Dudzik (1860-1918), who founded the Franciscan Sisters of Chicago; and Solanus Casey (1870-1957), a Capuchin priest and porter in Detroit (see Father Jack Wintz’s article).

The causes of Blesseds Damien Joseph de Veuster, Junipero Serra, Kateri Tekakwitha, Marianne Cope and Francis Xavier Seelos are still active. The same is true for Carlos Manuel Rodriguez (1918-1963), a Puerto Rican layman who promoted more active participation in the liturgy and was beatified in 2001.

The following causes have completed their diocesan phase and are under investigation in Rome: Mother Mary Elizabeth Lange (c.1784-1882), who founded the Oblate Sisters of Providence in Baltimore; Bishop Frederic Baraga (1797-1868), bishop of Marquette, Michigan; Mother Henriette Delille (1812-1862), foundress of the Sisters of the Holy Family in New Orleans; Msgr. Nelson Baker (1842-1936), pastor in Lackawanna, New York; Father Michael McGivney (1852-1890), organizer of the Knights of Columbus; Mother Maria Kaupas (1880-1940), who founded the Sisters of St. Casimir in Chicago; Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen (1895-1979), radio/TV pioneer and mission promoter; Sister Miriam Teresa Demjanovich (1901-1927), a member of the Sisters of Charity in Convent Station, New Jersey; and Cardinal Terence Cooke (1921-1983), archbishop of New York.

These causes are all for clergy or members of religious congregations. Those most interested in seeing these people beatified, however, are usually laypeople who have benefited from their apostolic work.

That is true of the nine people listed above and of the six U.S. “blesseds” listed earlier. Laypeople promoted the causes of St. Padre Pio and Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta.

I am grateful to Nancy Hartnagel at Catholic News Service for assistance in drawing up this list. Next month, I will list the beatification causes that are still at the diocesan level.

Q: At a recent meeting of Christian mothers, someone asked when the custom of placing a rosary in a deceased Catholic’s hands began. Although we found the question intriguing, no one there could answer it. Can you?

A: This custom must have begun after the 12th century because the rosary, as we know it, began then. When I passed your question along to the Catholic Cemetery Conference, a national organization headquartered in Hillside, Illinois, they got in touch with Msgr. Joseph Rebman of the Diocese of Wilmington, Delaware. He faxed me an article which noted that archaeologists over the centuries have often found burial sites with religious objects significant for that deceased person.

Some Christians bury their dead with a Bible in the person’s hands. Many Catholics place a rosary instead. I am not sure which pious custom is older.

If you have a question for Father Pat, please submit it here. Include your street address for personal replies enclosing a stamped, self-addressed envelope, please. Some answer material must be mailed since it is not available in digital form. You can still send questions to: Ask a Franciscan, 28 W. Liberty Street, Cincinnati, OH 45202.

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