Each weekday, you'll find a new question and answer. Check back for the new question and scroll down to see previous day's entries! Let us know what you think - - or question! -- by emailing us at email@example.com.
Contraception and Consummation of Marriage
Q. At our most recent Legion of Mary meeting a question came up. If a couple, from the time of the wedding, uses contraceptives, is the marriage consummated? They are, after all, not giving themselves completely to one another.
D.S., Victoria, Texas
A. Here’s a reply from TCA columnist Fr. Francis Hoffman, J.C.D.:
The marriage is understood to be consummated if “the spouses have in a human manner engaged together in a conjugal act in itself apt for the generation of offspring” (Canon 1061). The use of contraceptives would voluntarily render the act inapt for the generation of offspring, and ergo the marriage would not be consummated until they stopped using contraception. That is because the procreation of offspring is an end of marriage.
The mutual gift of self as husband and wife is not complete if it does not include the possibility of maternity or paternity, since the unitive and procreative aspect of marriage is inseparable. However, even if the marriage is not considered to be consummated, it is still presumed to be valid.
Participating in Non-Catholic Worship?
Q. Is it a sin to partake in non-Catholic worship as long as I do not take their communion and still attend Mass every weekend?
M.N., via email
A. It’s not a sin in itself to attend non-Catholic worship services if, as you say, you don’t receive their distribution of bread and wine (or grape juice) and you are faithful to attend Mass on all days of obligation.
The important question here, of course, is why you would attend non-Catholic worship services on a regular basis, as your query seems to suggest.
If you attend because your spouse is a member of that congregation, then it’s reasonable that you would want to be together then (though I hope that he would reciprocate by joining you at Mass as well).
If, on the other hand, you’re attending because you feel that something is lacking at Mass that you find in the non-Catholic service, then I would urge you to discuss the matter with your priest.
Many non-Catholic services are admittedly more entertaining than the Mass, with more lively worship or more animated preaching. But we don’t attend Mass to be entertained. We attend Mass to offer ourselves to God as our “spiritual worship” (Romans 12:1), to listen to the Word of God proclaimed, and to receive Our Lord in the Eucharist.
I would also reiterate the important point Father Ryland made in his reply on Tuesday. You are likely to hear erroneous teaching about important matters in non-Catholic services, and there will probably be pressure on you, both subtle and not-so-subtle, to conform to that congregation’s beliefs and habits. Are you well enough informed in your faith to recognize the errors, and mature enough to resist the pressure to conform?
This week seems to have had more than the usual number of questions whose answers necessarily point out the difficulties resulting from Catholic and Protestant differences. Let me note that I’m not trying to exacerbate those difficulties, but simply to recognize them for what they are. True ecumenism depends on that kind of honesty as a foundation for better understanding of what all Christians actually do have in common.
Apparitions in Lithuania?
Q. I recently read that Pope Benedict had named a special envoy to attend the 400th anniversary of the apparitions of Our Lady in Lithuania. I’ve never heard of these apparitions. What can you tell me about them?
L.M., New York, N.Y.
A. It’s actually quite a remarkable story, of special interest to folks like myself who are converts to the Catholic faith from a Protestant background.
Most of the Lithuanian people left the pagan religion of their ancestors and accepted the Catholic faith in the thirteenth century. But some of its powerful social, political and intellectual leaders fell away from the faith in the 16th century to become Calvinist Protestants. In the little village of Siluva, the local property of the Catholic Church was confiscated and given to the Calvinists; within a generation, the Catholic faith had been largely purged from the people.
However, in the year 1608, Our Lady appeared in Siluva, first to a group of children. She was holding the Child Jesus in her arms and weeping bitterly. After she disappeared, the children went to tell the local Calvinist pastor and their parents, but most of the village thought they were fabricating the story.
Even so, the next morning many of the townspeople gathered at the site of the apparition. Some scoffed, and the pastor arrived to scold them for paying any attention to this “Roman superstition,” telling them it was Satan’s work. But while he was preaching, Our Lady appeared again — and this time she could be seen by all the people, including the Calvinist pastor himself.
When the pastor finally found the courage to ask why she was weeping, she replied that there had been a time when her Son had been worshipped on that very spot, but now it had been given over “to the plowman and to the tiller and to the animals for grazing.” Then she disappeared again.
There had been no Catholic church, priest or Mass in the village for nearly 80 years. But a long-buried icon of the Virgin that had belonged to the former Catholic church was discovered at the place of the apparitions. As a result of these and related events, in time most of the people of the area came to embrace the Catholic faith again.
No wonder the Holy Father made sure to send a personal envoy to the 400th anniversary celebration of Our Lady of Siluva!
For more details of this fascinating story, click here.
Did Jesus Denounce Confession?
Q. I was confronted by a Baptist person saying that I don’t have to confess to a priest my sins and that Jesus denounced it in the Bible. If this is true, then why do we go to a priest? This happened at a Bible study in a predominately Baptist setting. I like to listen to the Word no matter what denomination.
N.N., via email
A. Here’s a reply from TCA columnist Fr. Ray Ryland, Ph.D., J.D.:
Your inquiry raises three issues.
First, the Baptist claim that Jesus denounced confession. Not only did Jesus not denounce it; He commanded it. Ask your Baptist friend to read again Matthew 16:19, which records Jesus’ bestowing on Peter the powers of binding and loosing (sins), which include the power of absolution. Then turn to Matthew 18:18, where similar authority is given to the apostles. Finally, look at John 20:22-23, the record of another bestowal of powers of absolution on the apostles, to “forgive” or “retain” sins.
Jesus never dealt with options. He bestowed this power with the intention that it be used.
Now, why did Jesus institute confession (the Sacrament of Reconciliation)?
Think about the nature of sin. Sin first of all is an offense against God. We can and should confess our sins privately to God. But what assurance do we have that we have been forgiven?
Apart from the Sacrament of Penance, our only assurance is our interpretation of words in Scripture. Foreseeing the human need for objective assurance, Jesus authorized His apostles, their successors the bishops, and bishops’ aids — priests — to give that assurance in His name.
But there’s more. Sin is not only an offense against God. It also harms those around us. Even what we think of as purely private sins deeply affects us and therefore inevitably affects the fabric of our relationships with others.
Imagine yourself standing beside a quiet pond. You throw a good-sized rock out into the water. You watch those concentric circles go out and out from the point of impact. You can’t see where all those circles go.
Sin is like that. We can never know who are all the persons affected adversely by our sin. We can never know how all have been harmed. We can never ask forgiveness of all those persons.
Nevertheless, we need that forgiveness. That is why Jesus authorized certain persons to speak in behalf of the community we have harmed by our sin, giving us their forgiveness.
The third point is this. You say that you like to listen to God’s Word in any denominational setting. You must remember, however, that every non-Catholic denomination interprets Scripture differently from, and in many instances in opposition to, Catholic teaching.
In any non-Catholic setting you are bound to hear a good bit of error. Are you prepared to sift out all that error, so as not to become confused about your Catholic faith?
Readings for Labor Day?
Q. I know that Labor Day is a secular holiday. Yet it seems to me that our nation’s impulse to set aside a day to recognize laborers of all kinds is in keeping with Christian teaching about the dignity of work and the significance of vocation. Are there are Church documents you can recommend for reading on Labor Day that would be in keeping with the spirit of the day?
A. A happy Labor Day to everyone! We seem to get a question similar to this one each year — I’m glad to know that some folks out there are thinking about more than just beer and brots on this day!
First, I suggest you read the papal encyclical of Pope Leo XIII called Rerum Novarum (“On Capital and Labor”), promulgated in 1891. It is the definitive magisterial document on the subject. For the full text, click here.
Next, read the papal encyclical of Pope John Paul II entitled Laborem Exercens (“On Human Work,” 1981), issued on the ninetieth anniversary of Rerum Novarum. For the full text of Laborem Exercens, click here.
Take a look also at the “Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church,” published by the Pontifical Council for Peace and Justice, which can be found here. See chapter 6, entitled “Human Work.”
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