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How Far From the Altar?
Q. The Instruction from Rome Redemptionis Sacramentum states with regard to the offering collected at Mass: “Money … should be placed in an appropriate place which should be away from the Eucharistic table” (70). How are we to interpret the words “away from the Eucharistic table”?
I understand that this rules out the practice in some parishes of placing the collection baskets on top of the altar. But in our parish, we simply place the basket at the foot of the altar. Should we be placing it somewhere else? Just how far “away from the Eucharistic table” should the collection baskets be? I’m an usher who takes up the collection, so this matter is of special concern to me.
R.B., Savannah, Ga.
A. Here’s a reply from TCA columnist Father Francis Hoffman, J.C.D.:
You are right. Redemptionis Sacramentum (no. 70) states: “In order to preserve the dignity of the Sacred Liturgy, in any event, the external offerings should be brought forward in an appropriate manner. Money, therefore, just as other contributions for the poor, should be placed in an appropriate place which should be away from the eucharistic table. Except for money and occasionally a minimal symbolic portion of other gifts, it is preferable that such offerings be made outside the celebration of Mass.”
Earlier, the new edition of the GIRM specified: “It is well also that money or other gifts for the poor or for the Church, brought by the faithful or collected in the church, should be received. These are to be put in a suitable place but away from the Eucharistic table” (no. 73).
Your question is how far away is “away”? My sense is that the collection of money should not be placed in the sanctuary, but rather in a place apart such as the sacristy or the office, where it can be safely and appropriately counted and deposited for safekeeping. The gifts that should come to the sanctuary area and altar are the bread and wine.
Our Lady of Perpetual Help?
Q. How can I find what all the symbols stand for in the icon of Our Lady of Perpetual Help?
A.P., via email
A. Our Lady of Perpetual Help (or Succor) is a title given to Mary, associated with a Byzantine icon of the same name that dates probably from the thirteenth or fourteenth century. The legends about the icon’s history offer an intriguing tale of misadventure and heavenly intervention, from its origin in Crete to its final resting place in the Church of St. Alphonsus Liguori in Rome. For more details about that story, click here.
Before we examine the symbolism in the icon, you might want to take a look at a picture of it. Click here.
In the icon, Our Lord and His mother are set on a background of gold, the color symbolizing heaven. The blue, green and red colors she is wearing are the colors of royalty.
The eight-pointed star, a common symbol of Mary as the star that leads us to Jesus, appears on her headdress. The four-pointed cross to the left of the star is of course a symbol of Her divine Son. The letters around Mary’s head tell her Greek title Theotokos, the Mother of God.
Two angels appear in the icon. The Greek letters beside them tell us that the one on the left is St. Michael, and the one on the right, St. Gabriel — two of the Archangels.
Our young Lord Jesus is in His mother’s arms. The Greek letters beside Him declare Him to be “Jesus Christ,” as does the cross on His halo.
Like His mother, Jesus is dressed royally. The green tunic, red sash and gold brocade He wears in the picture were the clothes of a Byzantine emperor. But one of His sandals is dangling, almost falling off, as if He has run quickly to His mother’s arms. It seems that something has frightened Him, and she is holding Him close to comfort Him.
Jesus isn’t looking at His mother or the angels. He’s looking in the distance behind Him, as if He has caught a glimpse of something terrifying. What is it? The objects held by the two archangels suggest that He has perhaps had some premonition of His terrible passion.
Michael holds an urn filled with the gall that soldiers offered to Jesus on the cross, the lance that pierced His side, and the reed with the sponge that they dipped in the gall. Gabriel carries the cross and four nails.
Meanwhile, Our Lady is looking straight at us, inviting us into the story. Just as she stays close beside Jesus in His moment of trial, consoling Him, she will do the same for us, if we too run to her in times of trouble—Our Lady of Perpetual Help.
Baptism for the Dead?
Q. My husband is a member of the Latter Day Saints (the Mormons). How do I reply to questions regarding why we don’t baptize the dead? “Otherwise, what will people accomplish by having themselves baptized for the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, then why are they having themselves baptized for them?” (1 Cor 15:29).
They also call themselves saints (temple worthy members). According to Scripture numerous passages refer to the living as saints. Why do we hold this honor for some who have passed away, and not the living?
Thank you and God bless from someone who constantly has to defend her faith.
J.K., via email
A. Bible scholars have long debated what St. Paul meant by this statement.
Some believe that such a practice existed in the church at Corinth when the Apostle wrote to them, but that it wasn’t licit. In this case, his reference does not imply his approval of it, but is simply part of his argument for the certainty of the resurrection. He was pressing the point that the people at Corinth must implicitly believe in the resurrection if they have such a custom.
If this first interpretation is correct, the practice apparently persisted in some places, especially among certain heretical groups (the Cerinthians and the Marcionites, according to Sts. Epiphanius and St. John Chrysostom), because it was finally banned by two fourth-century Church councils (Council of Hippo, 393; Third Council of Carthage, 397).
Other scholars think that “the dead,” though plural in the Greek text, referred to Christ, and so could be translated this way: “Why are you baptized for [one of] the dead [that is, Jesus], if the dead are not raised at all?”
For the answer to your second question, click here. (Q&A for 01-02-08)
Prayer to Saints?
Q. As Christians we are to follow what is written in the Bible. Has it ever been written in the Bible that we should ask Mary, the other saints and good people who have passed on to pray for us?
The Gospel reading for March 10 was Matthew 23:1-12. I would like to highlight verse 9 in this chapter, where Jesus says we should call only the Father in heaven our “father,” not anyone living on earth. But our Catholic priests are referred to as “Father.” How is this so?
A. When the Jewish general Judas Maccabeus was leading the resistance to the Greek occupation of their country, he told his soldiers about “a dream, a kind of vision, worthy of belief” (2 Mac 15:11). In this vision, the general saw Onias, a former high priest who had died, “praying with outstretched arms for the whole Jewish community” (verse 12). Then he saw “God’s prophet Jeremiah, who loves his brethren and fervently prays for his people and their holy city” (verse 14). In part through the assistance of these two Old Testament saints, the Jewish fighters won their battle.
The angel Raphael told the couple Tobit and Sarah: “When you … prayed, it was I who presented and read the record of your prayer before the Glory of the Lord” (Tob 12:12). Then God sent Raphael to heal them in answer to their prayer (verse 14).
The New Testament displays similar scenes. Jesus’ parable of Lazarus the beggar (Lk 16:19–31) assumes that the deceased man is aware of those still living, is concerned with them, and wants to pray for them. In St. John’s Revelation, the Christian martyrs in heaven knew what was happening on earth, and they prayed to God to accomplish justice there. In addition, both the saints and the angels in heaven brought to God’s throne “the prayers of the holy ones” (Rv 6:9–11; 5:6–8; 8:3–4).
In such passages, we find the saints and angels mediating before God for believers on earth, either interceding or otherwise assisting them. (In the parable, even someone in hell is attempting to do so, if unsuccessfully.) Does this contradict St. Paul’s statement that “there is … one mediator between God and the human race, Christ Jesus” (1 Tm 2:5)? No, because the Apostle wasn’t excluding the participation of others in Christ’s mediating role.
In fact, whenever Christians pray for one another, whether in heaven or on earth, they are doing just that. In a similar way, Jesus is the “chief” Shepherd of his flock (Jn 10:11–16; 1 Pt 5:4), yet he assigns lesser shepherds to take part in this ministry (Jn 21:15–17; Eph 4:11).
Catholics ask the saints and angels for their help, then, for the same reason they ask Christians on earth to pray for them and assist them in other ways: It has pleased God to make us interdependent as members of Christ’s Body (1 Cor 12:12–27).
For the answer to your second question, click here. (Q&A for 11-08-07)
Q. I have a girlhood friend, an excellent friend and a very good person. She heads an organization called FutureChurch. The group is an advocate for women’s ordination.
The thought of the Catholic Church ordaining women is greatly upsetting to me. Didn’t the Pope already teach authoritatively on this subject? If so, why isn’t the message clearer? I am greatly worried that the Catholic Church will become just another denomination, ordaining women — just a politically correct institution without gravitas.
N.N., via email
A. Here’s a reply from TCA columnist Father Ray Ryland, Ph.D., J.D.:
At the request of Pope Paul VI, in 1976 the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued a document entitled Inter insigniores. It explained at length not so much why the Catholic Church will not ordain women, but rather why the Catholic Church can not ordain women.
After all, Jesus was surrounded by highly qualified women that He could have ordained if doing so had been appropriate: first of all His blessed mother, then the handful of faithful women who supported Him in His earthly ministry and went to the cross with Him. Yet He chose men for the priesthood.
Chief among the reasons given for the Church’s inability to ordain women is the role of the priest in offering the Holy Sacrifice. The Church teaches that there, the priest acts in persona Christi (in the person of Christ). Christ being male, the sacramental reality of this function cannot be fulfilled by a woman.
Pope John Paul II reaffirmed this teaching in Mulieris Dignitatem, his 1988 apostolic letter on the dignity of women. Finally, in 1994 John Paul promulgated his apostolic letter “On Reserving Priestly Ordination to Men Alone” (Ordinatio sacerdotalis). Even though the Magisterium has spoken clearly on this issue, he said, some still think the matter of restricting ordination to men is “still open to debate,” or has “a merely disciplinary force.”
Then come these words: “Wherefore, in order that all doubt may be removed regarding a matter of great importance, a matter which pertains to the Church’s divine constitution itself, in virtue of my ministry of confirming the brethren (cf. Lk 22:32) I declare that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church’s faithful.”
About the Church’s gravitas: Have no fear. Dissenting groups come and fade away; the Church remains. Her life in this world until the end of time is divinely guaranteed.
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