Regína sacratíssimi Rosárii, ora pro nobis!

May AD 2008
Our Lady of the Rosary
Parish Bulletin

Why is the Devil on the Loose?
"Do not Touch Me, Mary Magdelane"
Sunday Shopping?



    Question:  Why would God allow the devil to roam freely, tempting people to the loss of their souls?  Why did He not annihilate the devil, or consign him Hell immediately after his fall from grace?  S.T.

    Answer:  A great deal of what we think about devils or angels is speculative.  While Scripture gives a unified account of the creation of the material world, the information revealed about the creation of the angels is scattered throughout the Bible from Genesis to the Apocalypse and many places in between.  The only fully authoritative interpretation of these revelations concerning the devil seems to be that made, almost in passing, by Fourth Lateran Council (1215).

    We firmly believe . . . that the Devil and the other demons were created by God good in their nature but they by themselves have made themselves evil.  But man sinned at the suggestion of the Devil....[1]

    A few lower level pronouncements speak of the devil as eternally condemned to Hell (Dz.211), as an angel gone wrong, and not creating anything nor controlling the weather by his own authority (237-8), as not tempting by means of “stones and herbs” (383), made evil by an act of the will (427), as not entering into man through the forbidden fruit (Dz.1923).[2]

    Two passages from the Old Testament are accommodated to the devil and his fall.  Although they are presented as literally describing the King of Babylon and the King of Tyre respectively, many commentators see them as equally applicable to the devil:

    How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, who didst rise in the morning? how art thou fallen to the earth, that didst wound the nations? And thou saidst in thy heart: I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God, I will sit in the mountain of the covenant, in the sides of the north. I will ascend above the height of the clouds, I will be like the most High. But yet thou shalt be brought down to hell, into the depth of the pit. (Isaiah xiv:12-15)

    You were the seal of resemblance, full of wisdom, and perfect in beauty. You were in the pleasures of the paradise of God; every precious stone was thy covering; the sardius, the topaz, and the jasper, the chrysolite, and the onyx, and the beryl, the sapphire, and the carbuncle, and the emerald; gold the work of your beauty: and your pipes were prepared in the day that you were created. You a cherub stretched out, and protecting, and I set you in the holy mountain of God, you have walked in the midst of the stones of fire. You were perfect in your wave from the day of creation, until iniquity was found in you. (Ezekiel xxviii:12-15)

    We get the English noun, devil, from the Greek diabolos; coming from the verb diaballein, "to traduce" meaning a “slanderer,” or “accuser.”  It is equivalent to the Hebrew name Satan which denotes an adversary, or an accuser.  This is the sense of the word as it is used in the first chapters of the Book of Job:

    When the sons of God came to stand before the Lord, Satan also was present among them....And the Lord said to him: “Hast thou considered my servant, Job, that there is none like him in the earth, a simple and upright man, and fearing God, and avoiding evil?”  And Satan answering, said: “Does Job fear God in vain?  Hast thou not made a fence for him, and his house, and all his substance round about, blessed the works of his hands, and his possession hath increased on the earth?  But stretch forth thy hand a little, and touch all that he hath, and see if he bless thee not to thy face.”  Then the Lord said to Satan: “Behold, all that he hath is in thy hand: only put not forth thy hand upon his person.”  And Satan went forth from the presence of the Lord (Job i: 6-12).    

    Satan is one of the “sons of God” though fallen.  Job is, indeed, a just man.  God allows Satan to accuse and even torment him through the forty-two chapters of the book.  In the end Job’s fidelity is demonstrated, and along with it the goodness of God, who gave Job graces sufficient to conquer temptation to evil.

    We do have some revelations specifically about the devil being cast out of Heaven, and eventually being consigned to Hell:

    And there was a great battle in Heaven, Michael and his angels fought with the dragon, and the dragon fought and his angels: and they prevailed not, neither was their place found any more in Heaven. And that great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, who seduceth the whole world; and he was cast unto the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him.... the accuser of our brethren is cast forth, who accused them before our God day and night. (Apocalypse xii:7-9).

    But notice that the devil was cast down to Earth, and not to Hell.  Yet it appears that at the time of Christ, the devil was restrained from acting against men—perhaps through the power of the Sacraments or exorcism.

    For if God spared not the angels that sinned, but delivered them, drawn down by infernal ropes to the lower hell, unto torments, to be reserved unto judgment: (2 Peter ii: 4;  Saint Jude says much the same, substituting “chains for “ropes.”)

    This “chaining” of the devil during the era of the Church is the “thousand year” (i.e. a long, indeterminate period.) reign of Christ spoken of in Apocalypse xx: 1-3

    And I saw an angel coming down from heaven, having the key of the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand.  And he laid hold on the dragon, the old serpent, which is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years.  And he cast him into the bottomless pit and shut him up and set a seal upon him, that he should no more seduce the nations till the thousand years be finished. And after that, he must be loosed a little time....

    The “little time” must end in apostasy—the outright rejection by Catholics of the Mass and Sacraments, sound moral and doctrinal teaching—for nothing else could empower the devil to make war on Christendom:

    And when the thousand years shall be finished, Satan shall be loosed out of his prison and shall go forth and seduce the nations which are over the four quarters of the earth..... 9 And there came down fire from God out of heaven and devoured them: and the devil, who seduced them, was cast into the pool of fire and brimstone, where both the beast 10 And the false prophet shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever (Apocalypse xx: 7,9,10).

    So why doesn’t God rid Himself and us of the devil?  Many would say that this is simply a mystery which God has nor seen fit to explain.  But we know that there would be both natural and moral evil in the world even if there were no devil.  The account in Job suggests that God keeps the devil around in order to demonstrate the power of His grace to aid good people with free will to triumph over evil.  All creation is good; made so by God.  Evil exists only as a negation, when some important good is lost by creation, or when a created good is desired for the wrong end.  For example, food is good, but it may lose goodness if not preserved;  it may be misused by the glutton who desires it only for the pleasure of taste, without due regard to good health.  Very likely, God would find the outright annihilation of one of His creatures repugnant or contradictory to His own nature—creating some thing good and then destroying it is much like the negation that is evil;  something absolutely foreign to God.

    One might also view the threat of outright annihilation as the elimination of the devil’s free will; another action unlikely for God as we know Him.

    The devil and his apostate angels are bound during the thousand year reign of the Church.  They will be unbound for a while at the end of time, with the Great Apostasy, and then will be cast forever into Hell.


    Question:  In Saint John's Gospel, our Lord is heard to say to Mary Magdalene, when she encountered Him in the tomb after His resurrection: “Do not touch Me, for I am not yet ascended to My Father.” Why couldn't Magdalene touch Him, while he allowed the doubting Saint Thomas to even stick his fingers into His wounds?[3]  A.H. & M.R.

    Answer:  This question keeps coming up.  We reprint the Q&A from the November AD 1996 Parish Bulletin:[4]

    As the questioner points out, our resurrected Lord possessed a tangible body, which the apostles were seemingly able to touch without any ill effect.[5] One is tempted to explain this in terms of our Lord's resurrected Body being held only in the hands of His ordained priests (as should be the case with the Blessed Eucharist), but such would be a highly conjectural and altogether too convenient speculation.

    The Greek text may be translated as “don't cling to me,” so that some scripture scholars explain this passage as an expression of haste to spread the word of the Resurrection.[6] Immediately after “Do not touch Me, for I am not yet ascended to My Father,” our Lord says “go to My brethren and say to them I ascend to My Father....”  This would allow us to understand our Lord as saying, in effect, “Let go of Me. A lot of things need to be done before My Ascension. Go and tell the Apostles what you have seen.”

    The following verse has Mary doing just that; going to the disciples and telling them: "I have seen the Lord, and these things He has said to me.”[7]  


    Question:  Is it a sin to shop on Sundays?  A.H.

    Answer:  The third Commandment requires us to “Keep holy the Lord’s day.  Even without the positive law of the Commandment there would be a natural law obligation to put aside one’s normal duties and attend to the duty of worshipping God.  The Church has determined that this day of worship and rest is to be observed on Sundays and a few Holy days.  For the Catholic, these days involve an obligation to attend Mass and to abstain from “servile work,” which is work that requires physical rather than mental effort, and is done for material purposes.  There are excusing causes for both of these obligations.

    Those who are sick;  those who provide the only care for the sick or the very young, and having no one to relieve them;  those who provide essential public services, such as police and fire protection, transportation, cooks, workers in industries which cannot shut down for a day;  those who must travel an excessive distance to church—all are excused from attending Mass if there is no reasonable way to squeeze It into their schedules.  One cannot legitimately decide to attend Mass on some other day than the Sunday of Holy day just on the basis of personal preference—but it is laudable to attend Mass another day of the week if one had a legitimate excuse on the day of obligation.

    Necessary work may be performed on days of obligation by those who could not otherwise support themselves;  by those who must work daily to accomplish their task without loss (e.g. the farmer at harvest time, the steel mill worker, etc.);  in time of disaster;  by those whose work is necessary for the essential public services mentioned above;  by those who do necessary housework like cooking and dish washing.  Walking, running, swimming and other such recreational activities are permitted even though they are physically fatiguing.  Work that is more intellectual or artistic than physical, is not forbidden.

    A bishop, pastor, or delegated confessor can dispense from the observance of a Sunday or holy day on occasion for individuals of families (c. 1245).

    Forty or fifty years ago most municipalities had “blue laws” prohibiting unnecessary shopping on Sundays and requiring most commercial establishments to remain closed for the day.  Since then, our society has lost most of its identification with Christianity, and Sunday commerce is now generally legal.  Insofar as it is possible, Catholics ought to observe the traditional ban and avoid all unnecessary shopping.  If there is a question in one’s mind about the sinfulness of an activity on a Sunday, one ought to ask “Can I do this another day?”  It may not be sinful to take out a library book, or play miniature golf, but doing so requires someone to work on Sunday.  At the very least, employers should get the message that there is no point in doing business during the hours when everyone should be in church.

    Sundays and feast days should be days of attendance at Mass and other prayers, rest, recreation, and family togetherness.  As few people as possible ought to be required to work on those days as a result of our patronage.  They should not be days of indiscriminate buying and selling.


    Question:  What is the stuff we burn to make incense?  Or is the incense the stuff we burn? C.F.

    Answer:  The word incense may be used as a noun to denote the material which is burned or the smoke which is produced.  It is also a verb, “to incense.”

    The material to be burned may come from any number of plants and even a few animal substances:  Cedar, Sandalwood, Juniper (woods);  Coriander, Nutmeg, Star anise, and Vanilla (seeds);  Copal, Frankincense, Myrrh, Storax, Galbanum, Camphor, Balsam (resins and gums);  Sage, Bay, Tea (leaves);  Calamus, Spikenard, Galangal (roots);  Clove, Lavender, Saffron (flowers).  Ambergris and Musk come from whales and deer respectively.[8]  An enormous variety of aromas can be produced by mixing these and other ingredients.  Most of what is used in Catholic churches is a mixture of resins.

    By command of God, the Jewish people burned precious incense on a golden altar each morning and evening as a sacrificial offering.  It was in making this offering that the priest Zachary was informed that he and Elizabeth would give birth to Saint John the Baptist.[9]  There was also an offering of incense in the Holy of Holies, once a year, on the Day of Atonement, by the High Priest.  God Himself prescribed the ingredients for His incense:

    And the Lord said to Moses: Take unto thee spices, stacte, and onycha, galbanum of sweet savour, and the clearest frankincense, all shall be of equal weight.  And thou shalt make incense compounded by the work of the perfumer, well tempered together, and pure, and most worthy of sanctification.  And when thou hast beaten all into very small powder, thou shalt set of it before the tabernacle of the testimony, in the place where I will appear to thee. Most holy shall this incense be unto you.  You shall not make such a composition for your own uses, because it is holy to the Lord.  What man soever shall make the like, to enjoy the smell thereof, he shall perish out of his people.[10]

    Note the penalty for profane use of this incense!  Would that modern Catholics has such reverence for holy things!

    It is not exactly known when the Catholic Church adopted the use of incense.  The earliest references come in the fifth century—as the Church was persecuted until the fourth century it is reasonable to assume that the need to worship in secret precluded much use of incense until then.

    In modern times Catholics offer incense at Solemn Mass:  the altar is incensed near the beginning;  the Gospel book is incensed before Gospel is chanted;  the bread and wine, the clergy, and the people are incensed at the Offertory;  the Blessed Sacrament is incensed at the elevation of the Host and the Chalice.  The Blessed Sacrament is incensed at Benediction.  The more solemn blessings—of Candlemas, Ash Wednesday, Palm Sunday, and the fire of the Easter Vigil—require that the objects being blessed be incensed.  Grains of incense are placed in the red wax nails inserted into the Paschal candle, and in the cavity of an altar as it is consecrated.

    The vessel in which the incense is burned (on a piece of well lit charcoal) is called the censer.  A censer suspended on chains is a thurible, and the cleric who handles it is called the thurifer.  The small container holding the supply of incense grains is called a “boat” (many are boat-shaped).

    The Church’s Eastern Rites tend to make more prolific use of incense than those of the West.  This writer has attended a Maronite Low Mass in which incense burned continuously from beginning to end in a censer sitting on the altar.  The Byzantines use a censer suspended on chains (which may have little bells on them), which they use liberally with a powerful back and forth motion of the arm that appears rather dangerous to us Westerners!


[2]   The numbers  are citations in Denzinger, Enchiridion Symbolorum.

[3]   John xx: 17 & 27.

[5]   Luke xxiv; John xx.

[6]   A Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture (NY: Nelson, 1953), pp. 1015-1016; CCD edition of the New Testament (Paterson: St. Anthony Guild Press, 1941), note 20,17 on p. 306.

[7]   v. 21; cf. Matthew xxviii: 8; Mark xvi: 10; Luke xxiv: 10.

[9]   Luke i: 8-11.     

[10]   Exodus xxx.


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