Q. Figures from the Old Testament are never referred to as saints. Were there no saints in those days? (Albany, New York)
A. Your question is an excellent one, and the answer is a bit complex.
It is true that, in the Catholic Church, Old Testament figures have not been formally canonized and given the title of “saint.” I suspect that this has to do with the historical process by which that title came to be assigned.
In the earliest centuries of the Church, only those who had been martyred for their faith were commemorated liturgically on their anniversaries. St. Martin of Tours, who died in 397, was probably the first nonmartyr assigned a feast day. Since then, sainthood has generally been ascribed to people who provided outstanding examples of lives modeled after the teachings of Jesus (which would exclude those who lived before Christ).
Does that mean that we cannot pray to Old Testament figures or seek their intercession? By no means. The word “saint’ is commonly taken to mean someone who followed the will of God and is now in heaven. Surely, Moses and Elijah are safely there, since they appeared with Jesus on Mount Tabor at the Transfiguration.
Catholic Churches of the Eastern rite (Greek or Byzantine, for example) do, in fact, celebrate specific feast days for Old Testament figures: Joshua and Moses, Daniel, the seven Maccabee brothers, etc.
The “Roman Martyrology,” a compilation of those honored as saints, includes such notable Old Testament figures as Isaiah, Abraham, and King David. The Catechism of the Catholic Church also has this to say in No. 61: “The patriarchs, prophets, and certain other Old Testament figures have been and always will be honored as saints in all the Church’s liturgical traditions.”
So the great figures of the Old Testament, though never formally canonized by the Latin-rite Church, are worthy of our devotion and our imitation.
Q. With all due respect to my Catholic faith, there is one thing that I question. Many, many devout Catholics have contributed over the years to special collections for the benefit of retired priests. After all these collections and all the beautiful retirement homes for priests that now exist, shouldn’t we be doing more instead for the poor? The very ones who have contributed to build these homes cannot afford the comfort and the luxury that priests now enjoy. (Schriever, Louisiana)
A. As a diocesan priest for 49 years who will soon face retirement, I took a particular interest in your question — and I almost wish that things were as you describe them. In fact, most dioceses do not have retirement homes for their priests, and after retirement (in our diocese, it has been optional at 70, mandatory at 75), a priest is on his own financially.
Some priests may have inherited a family home, but that is by far the exception. Most retirees wind up renting an apartment. (Retired priests generally decline to remain in the rectory where they served as pastor even if it’s offered; they do not want to compromise the work of a new pastor by dividing the loyalties of parishioners.)
The monthly retirement stipend from our diocese (for those retiring at 75) is $1,900. If a priest has contributed to Social Security over the years (some opted not to), he is eligible for a second monthly check — but since his lifetime earnings were minimal, that check is generally not substantial. Retirees, if their health is good, might also help with Masses at a parish, for which they would receive a stipend (perhaps $25 for a weekday Mass, $75 on a weekend). From this income, a retired priest is responsible for his expenses — rent, food, transportation, extraordinary health costs, etc.
These figures would tend to show that most retired diocesan priests, while not living in poverty, don’t live in luxury either. And yes, I would agree with you that our primary fundraising efforts should be on behalf of the truly poor, who may not have enough to live anywhere at all.