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A Marriage in God’s Eyes?
Q. If my Catholic son/daughter decides to get married outside the Catholic Church, is the marriage seen as a marriage in the eyes of God?
N.N., via email
A. Here’s a reply from TCA columnist Father Francis Hoffman, J.C.D.:
The Church would not regard it as a valid marriage, so I suppose God would not either, unless your children no longer consider themselves Catholic because they have “defected from it by a notable act” — for example, by reception or baptism into another Church or denomination, or a public declaration in the presence of witnesses renouncing the Catholic faith (cf. Can. 1124). In that case, if they are no longer Catholic, they are not obliged to follow the stipulations of canon law, only those of natural law.
Q. My ancestors are from Poland. So I’m curious: Are there any Polish saints? I know that the canonization process has begun for Pope John Paul II, but there must be others.
A.P., via email
A. The Polish people have produced numerous holy men and women, including a number who have been formally canonized by the Church. Here are a just few of the better-known:
St. Hedwig (1373-1399), monarch of Poland.
St. John Cantius (1390-1473), priest and theologian.
St. Casimir (1458-1482), a Polish prince known as “the Peacemaker.”
St. Faustina Kowalska (1905-1938), a nun whose mystical visions led to the Church’s institution of Divine Mercy Sunday.
St. Maximilan Kolbe (1894-1941), a martyr for charity who died in a Nazi death camp.
There are two Polish saints named Stanislaus: St. Stanislaus Szczepanowski (1030-1079), a bishop of Krakow and martyr; and St. Stanislaus Kostka (1550-1568), a young novice of the Society of Jesus.
In addition, a number of Poles are currently in the process of canonization.
What About Pilate’s Wife?
Q. The Gospel of Matthew tells us that Pontius Pilate’s wife warned him not to harm Jesus. In Mel Gibson’s film The Passion of the Cross, she is portrayed as helping Our Lady and Mary Magdalene. Do you think she might have been considering a conversion at that time?
G.M., via email
A. As you note, the Gospel says: “While he [Pilate] was still seated on the bench, his wife sent him a message, ‘Have nothing to do with that righteous man. I suffered much in a dream today because of him’” (Matthew 27:19).
We know nothing else of the governor’s wife from Scripture — not even her name. But ancient traditions and legends sought to fill in some of the details.
The second-century theologian Origen, in his Homilies on Matthew (35) suggests that Pilate’s wife became a Christian, or at the very least that God sent her the dream mentioned by Matthew so that she would convert. Several other ancient and medieval writers took the same position, though others insisted that the dream was induced by the devil in an attempt to prevent Christ’s saving death.
The apocryphal fourth-century text Acts of Pilate (also called the Gospel of Nicodemus) also mentions Pilate’s wife, providing an elaborate version of the episode involving the dream. Various versions of the name that is commonly given to her, “Procula” (“Prokla,” “Procle”), derive from this text, as do many of the subsequent legends surrounding both her and her husband. (Many centuries later, the name “Claudia” appears in some references to her as well.)
In some of the Eastern churches separated from Rome, Procula is venerated as a saint, whose feast day is October 27. In the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, both Procla and Pilate are venerated as saints whose joint feast day is June 25. This veneration would imply, of course, that both were eventually converted.
However, the ancient Church historian Eusebius reports otherwise. On the authority of earlier writers whom he does not name, he insists that Pilate fell into great misfortunes under the Roman emperor Caligula and eventually committed suicide (Church History, II.7).
Q. Has the Church ever had to retract a canonization? Or is canonization infallible?
E.E., via email
A. To answer this question, we must first clarify that the universal Church’s formal process of canonization as a part of canon law was not set into place until the thirteenth century. As we noted here a few weeks ago, before that time, the Pope and other bishops sometimes formally canonized certain holy men and women. But many of those who came to be designated “saints” in the early centuries gained the title either as faithful characters appearing in Scripture (e.g., St. Lydia), through their prominent leadership and holiness in the life of the Church (St. Ireneaus), or by popular devotion (St. Agatha). Most of these early saints were martyrs whose death for their faith gave their contemporaries confidence that they had entered heaven. (For more on this subject, click here ,Q & A for 07-14-09)
Occasionally, the details of the life of one of these earlier saints have come to be viewed as historically uncertain, resulting in some change in the way the Church venerates the saint. Examples of saints with such changes in “cultus” would be St. Catherine of Alexandria and St. Christopher. But to my knowledge, Rome has never revoked altogether a formal act of approval it had previously granted for the veneration of such saints.
As for the saints who have been formally canonized by the Church, no canonizations have been “retracted,” nor can they be. In fact, according to the Church’s Magisterium, the “dogmatic facts” represented by formal canonizations are among those truths “definitively proposed by the Church … Every believer, therefore, is required to give firm and definitive assent to these truths” (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, “Doctrinal Commentary on the Concluding Formula of the Professio Fidei, 1998, nos. 6, 11; emphasis in the original).
Is the Mass Still a Sacrifice?
Q. When I was growing up prior to the Second Vatican Council, the Mass was called “the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.” What happened to the “sacrifice” part? Is the Mass still considered a sacrifice? I consider the Mass a celebration, not a sacrifice. What part is the sacrifice?
K.G., Denver, Colo.
A. Here’s a reply from TCA columnist Father Ray Ryland, Ph.D., J.D.:
The Eucharist always has been and always will be essentially a sacrifice. It is indeed a celebration, as you say, but what do we celebrate? We celebrate the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross. We join Him in re-presenting His one perfect sacrifice to the Father for the working out of our salvation and that of the world.
Sometimes we speak of the Eucharist as a “meal.” That is permissible so long as we make clear it is a sacrificial meal, made possible by focusing on the sacrifice of Christ.
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