Questions Answered

Jesus Goes Up Alone onto a Mountain to Pray, by James Tissot (1886-1894).

Question: At the Easter vigil, we read from Genesis that God, on the fourth day, created and separated light from darkness: on the fourth day, he created the sources of light. So, from whence comes the light of the first day?

Answer: No serious Catholic scholar has ever maintained that the world was created in seven calendar days. This is a problem for those who think the literal sense of the Bible is always reduced to the words themselves. In fact, the literal sense depends on the intention of the sacred author and the context. In the case of the first chapters of the book of Genesis, this is obviously meant to be a deep and thorough statement of what separates the Judeo/Christian faith from the other beliefs regarding creation.

Much is made by Scripture scholars today of the fact that the first two chapters of Genesis are actually differing accounts of creation based on their form and the use of the words: “Elohim” and “Yahweh” for God. Pope John Paul II taught in his conferences on the Theology of the Body that they were two differing, but complementary, accounts, and that the first account in Chapter One was not the most ancient. Both were “myth” according to him, but he used a very specialized definition of this word. It is not a fanciful or fabulous story, but a primitive way of expressing metaphysical and philosophical truth. This theory, though commonly accepted, is not canonical and need not enter into the explanation of the chapter in question, but it does point out that Chapter One is a highly intellectual and tightly constructed analysis of what both reason and faith should teach us about creation. The literal sense, in this case, would not be descriptive history in a positive sense, but is deeply metaphysical in the objective, philosophical sense.

One important place where the metaphysics at the basis of the literal sense of this passage enters is in the account of “evening” and “morning” before the sun and the moon are created, and in the use of the term “light” on those days. According to St. Augustine, this expression demonstrates an important metaphysical truth. “Light,” in this context, is not physical light, but intellectual light. One can speak of enlightening a person, by which it is meant the “light  of the mind” in knowledge. For Augustine, the literal, metaphysical interpretation of the text refers to the knowledge the angels have of creation. The “morning” in the days of creation refers to the “knowledge” the angels have of creation through the Word of God, which they see in heaven, and the “knowledge” they have of it through themselves.

There is a vast difference between knowledge of a thing in the Word of God and knowledge of the same thing in itself. The first kind of knowledge can be considered as belonging to day; the second kind belonging to evening. In comparison with the light that is seen in the Word of God, all knowledge by which we know any creature in itself can rightly be called night. … The holy angels, without any doubt, know all creation, of which they are the creatures first made, and they have this knowledge first in the Word of God himself …, and then they have this knowledge in creation itself … There, the knowledge they have is like day, and so the blessed company, perfectly united by participation in the same Truth, is the day first created. … All creation, then, was finished by the six-fold recurrence of this day, whose evening and morning we may interpret as explained above. (St. Augustine, Commentary on the Literal Sense of the Book of Genesis, 4, 23-26)

Please note that, for St. Augustine—and most of the theologians after him have followed in the same tradition—this is not a poetic or metaphorical sense, but the literal sense of the creation account which is very deep and beautiful indeed. The meaning of the seven days of creation is literally, then, that the whole of time, space, and the universe, in both its visible and invisible being, have their origins in the knowledge of God, which is actually his Word. The distinction in the seven days demonstrates that all the orders of whatever kind of thing from the greatest to the least are continuously supported by God’s knowledge. The fact that these beings are spread throughout a week is an expression of the perfection of time in relation to eternity. Indeed, for Augustine, the literal sense also includes an implicit reference to the Trinity. The “beginning” is the Word; “God” is the Father; the “Spirit moving over the waters” is the Holy Spirit. Each day but the last also has a reference to the Trinity. “God” is the Father; “said” is the Word; “and it was good” is the love of the Holy Spirit.

An important point in this account is that God does not create evil. In the first accord, everything God does is pronounced “good,” not only because he causes them, but because he judges them so. In the second account, God parades creation before Adam, and he names each thing. He demonstrates a special relationship with God by this action. God is not the source of evil.


Question: There is music for the singing of the Eucharistic prayers (canons) in the new Roman Missal. When should this be done and why?

Answer: Before Vatican II, in what is now known as the “Extraordinary Form of the Mass,” the Latin rite, and those influenced by it, were the only ones in which the Eucharistic Prayer was said sotto voce (a quieter voice). This emphasized the hidden and sacred nature of what was occurring in the central act of the Mass.

Since Vatican II, this custom has been somewhat modified to, perhaps, correspond more to the Oriental liturgies which, in their own way, emphasize solemnity by singing the important parts of the Mass. The Missal is clear about both the fact that the Eucharistic Prayer should now be recited aloud and that this may, at suitable times, be embellished by singing.

The nature of the “presidential” texts demands that they be spoken in a loud and clear voice and that everyone listen with attention. Thus, while the priest is speaking these texts, there should be no other prayers or singing, and the organ, or other musical instruments, should be silent. (Roman Missal, 32)

In texts that are to be spoken in a loud and clear voice, whether by the priest or the deacon, or by the lector, or by all, the tone of voice should correspond to the genre of the text itself, that is, depending upon whether it is a reading, a prayer, a commentary, an acclamation, or a sung text; the tone should also be suited to the form of celebration and to the solemnity of the gathering. Consideration should also be given to the idiom of different languages and the culture of different peoples. (38)

In the rubrics, and in the norms that follow, words such as “say” and “proclaim” are to be understood of both singing and reciting, according to the principles just stated above (38).

Great importance should therefore be attached to the use of singing in the celebration of the Mass, with due consideration for the culture of the people and abilities of each liturgical assembly. Although it is not always necessary (e.g., in weekday Masses) to sing all the texts that are of themselves meant to be sung, every care should be taken that singing by the ministers and the people is not absent in celebrations that occur on Sundays and on holy days of obligation.

In the choosing of the parts actually to be sung, however, preference should be given to those that are of greater importance and, especially, to those to be sung by the priest or the deacon or the lector, with the people responding, or by the priest and people together. (40)

So, in the Ordinary Form of the Mass, it is certainly possible to sing the Eucharistic Prayer. Pope Benedict did this with many concelebrating priests on at least one occasion at the Vatican. In saying this, though, certain prudential considerations need to be stated. Obviously, if a priest is not musically gifted, this will distract from the solemnity of the Mass. Also, following another cherished principle of the Vatican II liturgy of progressive celebration, the practice of singing the consecration, or the whole Eucharistic prayer, is something which should be done only for the most solemn occasions. Its purpose, presumably, is to add great solemnity to the rite, and this would be defeated if a priest should decide to do it each time he celebrated Mass.

In daily celebrations, this would not seem to be indicated in a parish situation as this may add undue time and stress to members of the congregation who must work, or have other obligations. Lastly, the Latin rite expressed solemnity in a different way and respect, for the Western tradition of the liturgy would seem to demand that in choosing to sing the Eucharistic prayer, the celebrant demonstrates that—as Pope Paul, Pope John Paul II, and Pope Benedict continually stated—there are not two Roman rites of the Mass, but only one rite with an Ordinary and Extraordinary Form. This part of the Mass should only be sung on special occasions.

Fr. Brian Mullady, OP About Fr. Brian Mullady, OP

Fr. Brian T. Mullady, OP, entered the Dominican Order in 1966 and was ordained in 1972. He has been a parish priest, high school teacher, retreat master, mission preacher, and university professor. He has had seven series on EWTN and is the author of two books and numerous articles, including his regular column in HPR, “Questions Answered.”

Please send your questions to:
Fr. Brian T. Mullady, O.P.
375 NE Clackamas St.
Portland, OR 97232
Or please see the Ask a Question page to send it online.


  1. Fr. Brian Harrison, O.S. Fr. Brian Harrison, O.S. says:

    I am astonished by Fr. Mullady’s statement that “No serious Catholic scholar has ever maintained that the world was created in seven calendar days.” In that case, most of the great Fathers of the Church will have to be excluded from Fr. Mullady’s list of “serious Catholic scholars”. Yes, St. Augustine had his own fanciful reading of Genesis I – which could never even have crossed the radar screen of any of the ancient Israelites to whom the text was originally addressed. (Indeed, in the light of Exodus 20:11, which justifies their six-day working week by reference to the days of creation, the Israelites must inevitably have understood the latter to be 24-hour days.) But for St. Ephrem the Syrian, St. Basil, St. Ambrose, St. John Chrysostom, St. Gregory of Nyssa, St. Jerome, and St. Gregory the Great, and most other ancient commentators, the days were to be understood as 24-hour periods – generated by the mysterious “light” of Gn 1:3 for the first three days, and by the sun from Day 4 onward.
    The main reason most modern Catholic commentators resort to the kind of implausible exegesis of Genesis offered by Fr. Mullady is their assumption that science has demonstrated that the earth was formed gradually over billions of years. For recent scientific challenges to that assumption, go to Here readers can find 101 pieces of evidence from a variety of different sciences that suggest an earth only thousands of years old.

  2. I am grateful to Fr. Harrison for his excellent response to the false claim that “no serious Catholic scholar” has endorsed a literal understanding of “day” in Genesis 1. For a thorough Catholic defense of the six days of creation, I recommend “I Have Spoken to You from Heaven”: A Catholic Defense of Creation in Six Days which demonstrates that not only the Church Fathers but also the Doctors, Popes and Council Fathers in their authoritative teaching endorsed the literal interpretation of “day” in Genesis 1 (cf. ) The book (available in e-book format and paperback) also provides many arguments from history and natural science to support its thesis.

  3. Avatar Robert Sungenis says:

    First, the modern hermeneutic today boasts so much about the “intent” of the author. But the truth is, the modern hermeneutic knows no more of what the actual “intent” of the author is than anyone else. “Intent” is merely a euphemism for the subjective imposition of their preferred concepts into Scripture. In other words, they merely “read into” Genesis what they want to see, but make it appear as if it was the author’s. Let’s be honest. How, precisely, would one know the “intent” of the author unless he consulted with the author? As such, the only “intent” I see here is the one that is intent on deliteralizing Genesis.

    Conversely, Pius XII told us that the only way we could really know the intent of the author is to read his words in their literal meaning. In Divino Afflante Spiritu he said: “Let the interpreters bear in mind that their foremost and greatest endeavor should be to discern and define clearly that sense of the biblical words which is called literal. Aided by the context and by comparison with similar passages, let them therefore by means of their knowledge of languages search out with all diligence the literal meaning of the words…so that the mind of the author can be made clear.”

    We should also remind ourselves that the Documentary Hypothesis being espoused to interpret Genesis 1-2 was started by the Jewish humanist, Spinoza, to divest Scripture of miracles. It was then developed by liberal Protestants, Graf and Wellhausen, who tried to convince us that the creation account was nothing more than the musings of a Jewish scribe coming back from Babylonian captivity in 515 B.C. who needed a fantastic story to reinvigorate the Jewish people who had been inundated with the Babylonian god, Marduk, for seventy years, and thus he invented the Jewish God who was so much better than Marduk since he could even speak things into existence. Thus the “myth” of Genesis is alive and well, thanks to those who took nothing in Scripture as the inspired word of God. Unfortunately, modern Catholics feed off this “myth” today as if it alone was inspired by God rather than the text of Genesis.

    As for Augustine, he had two different interpretations of Genesis: one that said the Day was 24-hours, and the other that said that it was not 24-hours, and he maintained both as viable. This was not unusual for Augustine. He is well noted for giving two, three and sometimes four different interpretations of a single passage. To be fair, we should allow our students to know ALL of Augustine’s interpretations and not pick the one that we like best.

    We should also realize that Augustine’s alternative view of the Days of Genesis (not 24-hours) was not the consensus of the patristic witness. ALL the other Fathers (except for Origen who was always spiritualizing Scripture) were of the consensus that the Days of Genesis were 24-hours.

    So, the burden of proof is on the exegete who insists on the “not more than 24-hours” as the norm. It was not the norm. It was an aberration in the patristic witness. If it was anyone other than Augustine, the Church would have thrown it out long ago, but, as Aquinas says, out of respect for Augustine, the interpretation has survived.

    But this means that if the exegete is going to appeal to Augustine, he is equally obliged to tell his students that Augustine did not represent the patristic consensus. That is only fair, especially since the Catholic Church binds us to the consensus of the Fathers for doctrine.

    Additionally, since the burden of proof is on the exegete who appeals to Augustine’s alternative view (“not 24-hours”), then that burden also requires him to teach precisely WHY Augustine held this view as an alternative. This is important, since once the student is made aware of the reason for Augustine’s alternative view, it will become painfully obvious that the “not 24-hour” interpretation is not as kosher and inviting as it might have appeared at first sight.

    The truth is, Augustine was led to an alternative interpretation because he insisted, without any grammatical and historical evidence, on adding the angels to Genesis 1, whereas the other Fathers felt no such obligation. As a result, Augustine opted for the idea that the “Light” of Day 1 referred to the creation of the angels. This then led him to propose that the Days of Genesis were not 24-hours literal Days but merely a sequence of thought of the angels who were to “contemplate” how God put the creation together.

    In effect, Augustine’s questionable inclusion of the angels in Genesis 1 forced him to regard the Days as non-literal, by default. This hermeneutic, of course, just begs the question: Was it correct for Augustine to include the angels in Genesis 1 when: (1) the text doesn’t mention the angels; (2) all the other Fathers did not include the angels in Genesis 1; (3) no other text of Scripture tells us when the angels were created?

    But let’s say that an exegete still feels that Augustine’s view of non-literal Days of Genesis is the preferred interpretation. If so, then the exegete is bound to confine Augustine’s non-literal interpretation to what Augustine specified, namely, that the Days of Genesis were One Day, that is, an instantaneous creation of everything in the universe in one moment of time, and certainly not an evolutionary process over billions of years.

    As you can see, this limitation would thus forbid Catholics to claim that Augustine’s non-literal interpretation of “Day” leaves room for either evolution or any sort of “more than 24-hour” interpretation of the Days of Genesis. The only thing Augustine leaves the Catholic exegete is a choice between an instantaneous creation or a six-day creation. Rarely do we see this, however. Today, Augustine is made into an evolutionist.

    Augustine had another reason why he entertained a non-literal interpretation of the Days of Genesis, namely, his rather unique interpretation of Sirach 18:1. In the Literal Days of Genesis, Augustine cites Sirach 18:1 in the Latin Vulgate as saying “…and elsewhere…it has been written…He created all things together,” but the Greek of the Septuagint actually says: ο ζων εις τον αιωνα εκτισεν τα παντα κοινη (“He who lives forever has created all things in common”).
    The word in question is κοινη (koine), which in Greek means “in common” or “without exception.” But the Latin Vulgate translated κοινη with the Latin words omnia simul in the sentence, “qui vivit in aeternum creavit omnia simul Deus solus iustificabitur et manet invictus rex in aeternum,” thus implying that the creation was made all at once at one moment of time. Not surprisingly, the Douay-Rheims, which translates the Latin Vulgate, reads: “He that liveth for ever created all things together.”

    The clause “omnia simul” certainly means “at one time” or “altogether,” but this is not what the Greek word κοινη means. As such, Sirach 18:1 is not saying that creation was made simultaneously or altogether, but of everything that was made the Lord created it all, without exception. The context of Sirach 18 certainly bears this out.

    The reason Augustine may have made this mistake was both his dependence on the Vulgate and that his knowledge of Greek was at an elementary level when he was beginning his commentary on Genesis in 401 A.D. It wasn’t until Augustine was an old man that he had a modest reading ability of Greek. And, of course, they had no lexicons in those days for Augustine to check the etymology of the Greek words. Augustine was limited to the Vulgate’s translation of Sirach 18:1, and thus he misinterpreted the meaning of the verse. Hence, his “proof text” cannot hold the weight Augustine put on it.

    So, the upshot here is that, if one is going to use Augustine as the authority for a non-literal interpretation of Genesis 1, he is academically obligated to show his students HOW Augustine came to this conclusion. He cannot just glibly proclaim that “because Augustine said that the Days of Genesis 1 were not literal, then we can hold that as the proper interpretation of Genesis.”
    In other words, he must first prove that Augustine’s alternative interpretation is viable. But as you can see, that task is going to be rather difficult to accomplish. Unfortunately, this kind of knee-jerk bias in reading Augustine has spawned all sorts of multi-billion year hypotheses that are imposed on the simple text of Genesis – something Augustine would have denounced outrightly.

  4. Avatar Martin B. Drew says:

    Man must not limit the power of God to create. Separation and distinction of light and darkness is presented in the Scripture and the Easter vigil.. In the twinkling of an eye does Creation occur. Look at the creation of man and brute animals. Man was created in the image and likeness of God that is with the faculties of intellect and will in freedom to decide our actions. I have attended mass here in Dallas at my parish where the celebrant sang the canon, it was well done. It depends on the celebrant.

  5. Avatar Maria T. says:

    Genesis describes the beginning and end of seven days which are very different from each other in many respects. Along the ages there have been numerous interpretations on the meaning of the sacred words, . Nonetheless, once one understands the limitations of human experience, language and reason it becomes clear that hermeneutics is not bound by literal fundamentalism but it is open to God’s inspiration, on the philosophical and especially on the theological view of truth.
    On one hand, philosophy must consider the human limitation of reason, that we can only know things according to our factual experience and in time; time being the realm of human life where things change subject to our capability of understanding. On the other hand, theology seeks what is revealed by God from eternity, because the Word of God does not change and the goodness of all things is what it is due to their essential nature, the fundamental reality which remains unchangeable since the beginning as per God’s Creation from nothingness. Then, the question to ask becomes: what is a day in the eternity of God?
    The truth reveals itself in the order of all things for there is a difference between light and darkness, the temporal accidents and the eternal gift of each particular being, the good and the lacking in perfection. In the beginning, each day appears as a particular creation which adds an essential extension to the eternal reality. It follows that the created sources of light, the temporal order and the essential goodness, manifest an incremental perfection, as seen in the different realms of the universe and related creatures. The seven days of Creation explain the hierarchical goodness of things which ended with the creation of man and woman in the image of God.
    Indeed, St. Thomas pointed that time is in the mind of the beholder. It can be said that a day is the ordered way in which things are explained rationally, and how as persons we can contemplate, embrace and delight in God.