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Why must children confess?
Q. As a catechist, I am often asked the question as to why children must go to confession before first Communion, since the Church teaches that a person is only obliged to go to confession if there are mortal sins. Some parents object to the idea that their children are able to commit serious sins. Please shed some light on this.
A. Here’s a reply from OSV columnist Msgr. M. Francis Mannion:
It is true that nobody is obliged to go to confession if they are not in mortal or serious sin. Thus the obligation to go to confession annually applies only in the case of mortal sin. Nevertheless, the Church strongly recommends the practice of frequent confession as a means of dealing with lesser sins and for a general renewal of life.
The reasons why the Church holds that children must go to confession before first Communion were set out on an 1986 letter to the U.S. bishops from the Vatican Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments. The communication reads as follows: “The basis for this observance of children is not so much the state of sin in which they may be ... but to educate them from a tender age, to the true Christian spirit of penance and conversion, to growth in self-knowledge and self-control, to the just sense of sin, even of venial sin, to the necessity of asking pardon of God and, above all, to a loving and confident abandonment to the mercy of the Lord.”
Children do not go to confession before first Communion, then, because the Church has judged that they are possibly in mortal sin. The intent is to educate them in the practice of penance from an early age and to bring them to a realization of the importance of penance in the life of a Christian. Children are certainly capable of venial sins once they have come to the age of reason and they are able to distinguish between right and wrong. Training them in the practice of penance as a means of ongoing renewal of life is what the Church has in mind by the requirement of first confession. In the preparation of children for first penance, the sacrament should be seen and presented to children — and to parents — as something positive and good for children and something which forms in them a positive sense of conscience.
Q. I read in the newspaper tonight that New York tax officials have ruled that yoga studios should be spared from sales taxes because the popular form of exercise is predominantly a spiritual practice. My friend and I were going to sign up for classes, but I am concerned that it might not be appropriate for Catholics to participate in. Is yoga considered a religion?
A. Here’s a reply from Father Reginald Martin:
In its stricter forms, yoga is, indeed, a religion. The New Catholic Encyclopedia states, “It is probable that yoga … has its roots in certain mystical and magical traditions of a very primitive character.… The decisive development of yoga took place in about the sixth century B.C. when an ascetical movement arose … which was to have a permanent effect on Indian culture.”
Those who fully embrace the ascetic aspect of yoga will discover a system of meditation and moral precept, as well as the physical exercises that characterize what is popularly known as yoga. The Catholic Encyclopedia concludes, “On the whole, one must say that the desire to know God is the fundamental motive of yoga.”
Obviously, one can “pick and choose” among various elements of yoga, benefiting from physical exercises without surrendering to the religious aspects of the discipline. Were one to mention this to a committed practitioner of yoga, however, the yogi might respond, “To what purpose?” Although yoga exercises are part of a larger picture, yoga is characterized by a search for peace. Thus, wherever one takes classes, one probably need not worry overmuch about unwelcome proselytizing; common sense should prevent accidentally embracing religious beliefs opposed to Catholicism.
Q. Recently, I was told, “The Catholic Church never taught it was a mortal sin to miss Mass on Sunday.” I find this hard to believe. Please help me as I am somewhat confused.
A. Here’s a reply from TCA columnist Father Ray Ryland, Ph.D., J.D
Whoever told you that is seriously misinformed. The Code of Canon Law states, “On Sundays and other holy days of obligation, the faithful are bound to participate in the Mass” (Canon 1247).
The Catechism of the Catholic Church gives the reason for the Mass obligation and clearly states the penalty for willfully ignoring it: “The Sunday Eucharist is the foundation and confirmation of all Christian practice. For this reason the faithful are obliged to participate in the Eucharist on days of obligation, unless excused for a serious reason (for example, illness, the care of infants) or dispensed by their own pastor. Those who deliberately fail in this obligation commit a grave sin” (No. 2181).
In the Church’s teaching, “grave sin” always means “mortal sin.”
Q. What is the Catholic position on predestination, and how does it differ from the Calvinist position? I have felt for a long, long time that I must be one of the damned as I have not received the gift of faith.
A. Here is a reply from Father Francis Hoffman, J.C.D.:
Jesus gave the best response to the predestination question in the Gospel of Luke when asked, “Will only a few people be saved?” (13:23). It’s an answer and at the same time not an answer, because Our Lord gets to the heart of the matter and says, “Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I tell you, will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough” (13:24). The right answer, the Jesus answer, the Divine answer to the question about predestination is: TRY. Try your best to keep the Commandments and avoid sin, and love and serve God.
You ask a question about the convergence of our free will with God’s will. The Bible tells us that God wants all men to be saved (see 1 Tm 2:4). But the Bible also tells us about the existence of hell. So how could God — who’s will is perfect (in fact, omnipotent) — want all men to be saved, if hell exists? This seeming contradiction has been the subject of reflection for centuries.
The Catholic position about predestination is a “both/and” response. God wants all men to be saved, and yet man can freely choose to not cooperate with God’s will and wind up in hell. God counts on man’s free cooperation with his grace. Man cannot be saved without God’s grace, but God, who created man without his cooperation, will not save him without his cooperation. Man is predestined to heaven, but only insofar as he cooperates with God’s grace.
Calvinists incorrectly conclude that some men are predestined to hell, while others are predestined to heaven, and nothing they do will change the outcome. Essentially, the Calvinist position denies man’s free will as he confirms the supremacy of God’s will. The Calvinist response to the question about predestination would be, “Why even bother trying since God already knows the outcome.”
Once in Heaven
Q. Is every soul in heaven equal? Irrespective of one’s belonging to clergy or the lay state, if the gates of heaven are opened to him, do they have equal status?
In the Supplement to his Summa Theologica, St. Thomas Aquinas carefully considers the condition of those in heaven after the final judgment. All will rise without any defect in their human nature. However, according to Thomas, this does not mean all will be equal in heaven; rather, each individual will enjoy the perfection she or he would have enjoyed on earth had no infirmity or defect intervened. The Catechism of the Catholic Church expresses this succinctly: “To live in heaven is ‘to be with Christ.’ The elect live ‘in Christ,’ but they retain, or rather find, their true identity, their own name” (No. 1025).
Does maintaining the humble character they bore on earth mean one’s deceased relatives or friends are less powerful intercessors than the saints, or that we should not turn to them in time of need? By no means. “In the glory of heaven the blessed continue joyfully to fulfill God’s will in relation to other men and to all creation” (Catechism, No. 1029). Scripture assures us God desires the salvation of all (see 1 Tm 2:4), and St. Thomas assures us the souls of the just are “our mediators … when we ask them to pray for us” (Supp. 72.2).
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