Q. In our town there are about five priests. They all wear the same clothing, black, etc., all but one. This priest wears clothes like me all the time — dress pants and shirts. This priest is never called Father; he wants to be called by his first name. Mass is a little different; even the holy Eucharist is about an inch thick, brown and chewy. He has some great sermons and even wrote books. So why is he so different? Should he be that different? Is this the right thing to do? Please let me know if he is living on the edge of reality in the Church or what is going on here.
Mark, via e-mail
A. I think you should ask your priest why he does not dress like the other priests, why he prefers to be addressed by his first name, why his Mass is a “little different,” why the holy Eucharist is “an inch thick, brown and chewy” and why his sermons are so good. If he gives good sermons, and has written some books that have been published, it’s likely that he is a very intelligent man and that he has well-grounded and articulate answers to your questions.
My guess is his understanding of the ordained priesthood may have a different emphasis than the others. What you describe is not uncommon among American priests of a certain generation, who are known and held in high regard for their compassion toward all.
For the record, on Dec. 1, 1999, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops issued commentary on Canon 284, which discusses clerical dress, with the following directive: “In liturgical rites, clerics shall wear the vesture prescribed in the proper liturgical books. Outside liturgical functions, a black suit and Roman collar are the usual attire for priests. The use of the cassock is at the discretion of the cleric.”
Q. Today I was a guest of a private interment for my mother’s uncle. He died in April, was cremated, and then his ashes held by his family until June for interment in a family mausoleum. He left behind an ailing wife and one son. At the service (if you could call it that) one of his nieces (who led the service — I read on a website for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles that a layperson may preside over the rite of committal) mentioned that he had received all the sacraments of initiation. There was no wake, no funeral and no rite of committal (as can be traditionally identified). So my question then is this: Is there anything I can do for him now? Is it too late? Obviously, the family dynamic is very unstable, and I believe there was quite a disagreement about how his remains should be handled, and I do not wish to upset anyone. Any advice or clarification you could offer would be helpful.
Tom Koczkodan, via e-mail
A. About the best you can do at this point is to pray for the repose of his soul and ask that a Mass or Masses be celebrated for the repose of his soul.
Consuming Extra Hosts?
Q. In regard to the question titled “Awkward Situation” (TCA Life, January/February 2011), Father Hoffman, in that question, did you consider the most likely reason the priest gave him a handful of Hosts was that the priest merely wanted to reduce the number of leftover consecrated Hosts that would be stored in the tabernacle, and that it had nothing to do with the comment the writer made relative to the priest scandal?
Retired Deacon Ben Gross, via e-mail
A. That thought did not occur to me, but it could have been the reason. At any rate, it seems to be an unusual way to consume consecrated Hosts. Normally, the “leftover” consecrated Hosts could be consumed individually at the next Mass. I suppose the only way our reader will know the true answer is to ask his priest.
Q. Our sacristans walk around with the consecrated Hosts that were in the tabernacle, dispensing them to the extraordinary ministers of holy Communion. They use their hands to scoop them out and pour them into the ciborium(s). Usually, there is some sort of remark made. Examples: “This should be enough”;“I’ll be back”; etc. I feel it is done in a very disrespectful fashion. This is not exactly a way to honor Christ in the consecrated Host. How could the consecrated Hosts be distributed in a better and more respectful way?
Name withheld by request, via e-mail
A. Sacristans offer a wonderful and humble service to the Church, often ensuring that the Sunday Mass or weekday funeral can start on time, and that the priest and other ministers have all they need for a fitting celebration of the Sacred Mysteries. Unfortunately, sacristans, as well as ordained ministers, face the “occupational hazard” of getting used to sacred things. “Familiarity breeds contempt, while rarity wins admiration,” wrote the Roman philosopher Apuleius. The same “occupational hazard” confronts emergency room doctors and health care professionals, from what they tell me, and sometimes they forget that they are treating human persons who are endowed with sacred dignity.
As far as I know there are no rules of decorum for sacristans and extraordinary ministers of holy Communion, but common sense and supernatural sense should prevail in this regard. Here it is helpful to recall that the hands of a priest are actually consecrated — literally, set aside — for sacred purposes during the ordination ritual.
In the Roman patriarchal basilicas which hold Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, a sign over the entrance greets each visitor with the admonition, “Silentium.” When we are in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament, our behavior should be reverent. Pope Benedict XVI reminds us that “the Eucharist is the event that is at the center of absolutely everything.”
I agree, there’s something unsettling about “using hands to scoop out the consecrated Hosts and pour them into the ciborium” while saying, “this should be enough,” or “I’ll be back.” That seems so ordinary, like what you might expect at a fast-food restaurant. But even there the state agencies demand that workers wear plastic gloves over their hands.
I think it’s worth the extra time to consecrate the number of hosts at each Mass that you expect will be needed — more or less. If you expect 10 ministers of holy Communion, the hosts can be consecrated in 10 ciboria. At least that’s the way I’ve seen it done at St. Peter’s. It’s neat and efficient. If consecrated Hosts remain after the Communion of the faithful, the celebrant can consolidate the remaining Hosts into a few ciboria, and then bring the ciboria to the tabernacle, genuflecting as he closes the door. The empty ciboria can then be purified as indicated in the General Instruction of the Roman Missal.
If I could offer any advice that might help people acquire a greater sense of the sacredness of the Blessed Sacrament, it is this: Go to confession monthly, if not more often, and spend an hour a week in silent adoration before the Most Blessed Sacrament.
Fast and Abstinence
Q. This question is about fast and abstinence, whether during Lent, Advent or ordinary Fridays of the year. How strict are the rules for the elderly and the sick? At the age of 70, it is often quite difficult for me to plan meals for my family that follow all the rules for fasting and abstinence. My husband, age 67, is chronically ill and on several medications. My son, 41, is also on medication, which of itself causes late-night hunger and even sleep-eating! I am not that well, and tire very easily. Are there any exceptions for Catholics like us? Or should I try harder? I often think that God accepts our aches and pains and infirmities as a sacrifice in themselves. Am I wrong?
Judith, via e-mail
A. The rules for fasting and abstinence are man-made applications of Jesus Christ’s call to do penance. Jesus himself fasted in the desert for 40 days, and on one occasion He taught His disciples that “this kind can only be cast out by prayer and fasting” (Mt 17:21; see footnote in NAB). On that occasion, He was speaking about how to conquer diabolical possession.
Since the Church rules for fasting and abstinence are man-made, they allow for exceptions when there’s a good reason. But the person has to be honest with himself, since we so easily rationalize our own comfort and convenience.
For the record, here are the rules according to canon Law:
“All Fridays through the year and the time of Lent are penitential days and times throughout the entire Church.
“Abstinence from eating meat or another food according to the prescriptions of the conference of bishops is to be observed on Fridays throughout the year unless they are solemnities; abstinence and fast are to be observed on Ash Wednesday and on the Friday of the Passion and Death of Our Lord Jesus Christ.
“All persons who have completed their fourteenth year are bound by the law of abstinence; all adults are bound by the law of fast up to the beginning of their sixtieth year. Nevertheless, pastors and parents are to see to it that minors who are not bound by the law of fast and abstinence are educated in an authentic sense of penance.
“It is for the conference of bishops to determine more precisely the observance of fast and abstinence and to substitute in whole or in part for fast and abstinence other forms of penance, especially works of charity and exercises of piety” (Canons 1250-1253).
As to the particulars of your case, both you and your husband do not have to fast, because you are over 60. But all three of you are called to abstinence according to the canons cited above. However, for legitimate reasons of health, according to most moral theologians, the penitential practices of fasting and abstinence can be substituted for by some other penitential practice.
Becoming a Good Catholic?
Q. Hello. I have recently begun RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults). I’m nearing the first rite, that of the Rite of Acceptance.
My question is: If I probably won’t be a GOOD Catholic — that is, any better Catholic than I’ve been a Protestant, mainly not being a faithful churchgoer and worker — is there any point in becoming one? (I’m lazy, and I’m also 65 with a full-time job, and value sleeping in on weekends. I thought Saturday night Mass might save the day [and me] but what if I slip even on that?
Also, concerning the abortion question and other nonnegotiables (that’s the term I’ve learned). I don’t believe in abortion and would never say it’s an option for anyone because there are always other better choices. In most all other things — from social programs to warmongering to taxes — I usually lean strongly to the liberal side of things and thus have voted Democratic since the days of the civil-rights movement. As a Catholic, must I vote ONLY for a pro-life candidate even when all the other opinions he/she espouses are wrong in my opinion? I have asked this of a number of people. One said she has made it “simple for herself.” She votes pro-life and doesn’t think about the rest. Another said you vote for the person who will do the most good — realistically — overall — that is, vote for the person whose programs you believe in (people will continue always to make up their own minds and hearts on personal issues such as abortion). Others have said that they and most Catholics they know are “buffet” or “smorgasboard” Catholics, leaving some things on the table. Knowing that I may vote for a pro-choice candidate and thereby vote away from the Church, is it pointless for me to continue toward Catholicism?
Maybe, since I’ve come farther this time than ever before (I began catechism in the past but stopped), Satan is throwing new roadblocks into my path so I will turn back. As I ready myself to send this, I’m thinking that I am a work in progress and maybe I’m underestimating the power of God to show me the way as I go.
I ask this and send it with a prayer that not only will the receiver hear my question and send me a little bit of wisdom as to how to move on, but that God will hear this question and prayer and guide your response and my heart in moving on. In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Susan H., via e-mail
A. Susan, you’ll make a great Catholic! You are so honest and sincere, you remind me of what Jesus said about Nathanael: “Here is a true Israelite. There is no duplicity in him” (Jn 1:47).
OK, so you’re lazy. Who isn’t? But you should consider this: With God’s grace, everything can change in an instant! Which means, you CAN change for the better! Once you become Catholic, you will have unlimited sanctifying grace available to you through the sacraments, especially frequent confession and frequent reception of the holy Eucharist. And that grace — if you receive it with a humble and open heart — can completely change you. Who knows, soon you might be saying, “It’s a far, far better thing I do now, than I have ever done before!” You could become a saint.
As for how to vote — that’s completely up to you! The Church won’t tell you how to vote. The Church only asks that you make a sincere effort to form your conscience according to Christ’s teachings, and then vote for the person you think will do the most good. Personally, I think a politician in favor of abortion is out of his mind. Why would anyone allow killing an unborn baby? “No babies? No future!” That’s what I say.
Of course, some issues are more important than others. Your friend that always votes pro-life is likely to tell you: “Would you vote for a candidate that says that he thinks all men are created equal, but that he cannot impose his religious convictions on those who favor slavery?” Their stand on an issue may disqualify some politicians … unless you have to choose the lesser evil one between two “disqualified” candidates.
You won’t be surprised, though, when I tell you that I have never met a daily communicant that goes to confession twice a month who would vote for a pro-abortion politician. I’m sure there must be one, but I’ve never met him.
Q. I am a Catholic — not a very good one at that — but what I would like to know is if there is an age limit on getting your first holy Communion. I have three grandchildren that I will be getting custody of and they haven’t had any training or catechism. They include one preteen and two teenagers? Please advise this old grandma on how to get them started, and in the process get me back into following my faith.
Ellie, via e-mail
A. Dear Grandma: Join the club! I am a Catholic, and not a very good one at that, too! Bully for you! You’ll do a great job leading your grandchildren to Christ. There’s no upper-age limit for first Communion, but there’s a lower age limit — the age of reason, generally considered to be about age 7.
Next time you stop by your parish, get those youngsters signed up for CCD in their parish. The instructors will know what to do. But you can augment their instruction by your own example, and your personal one-on-one conversations with them, and by teaching them the seven basic prayers: 1. Sign of the Cross; 2. Our Father; 3. Hail Mary; 4. Glory Be; 5. Act of Contrition; 6. St. Michael Prayer; 7. Memorare; and, for extra credit, the Apostles’ Creed. TCA