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What About Cremation?
Q. What is the Catholic Church’s view on the subject of cremation? I know that years ago cremation was condemned, but I think that more recently it is allowed.
B.M., via e-mail
A. Here’s a reply from our TCA columnist Father Ray Ryland, Ph.D., J.D.:
The Catholic Church has always taught that the body should be treated with respect after death as well as when it is living. From earliest days, cremation was regarded as a pagan practice that showed disrespect for the body, and so the Church forbade it.
Acknowledging that cremation in itself does not necessarily betoken disrespect for the body, the Church lifted its prohibition of cremation in 1963.
The 1983 Code of Canon Law reads: “The Church earnestly recommends that the pious custom of burying the bodies of the dead be observed; it does not, however, forbid cremation unless it has been chosen for reasons which are contrary to Christian teaching” (Canon 1176.3). At the same time, the Church prefers that cremation take place only after the regular funeral liturgy has been celebrated.
Why 73 Biblical Books?
Q. My question is this: Why does our Catholic Bible have 7 more books than other Bibles? Please inform. I keep forgetting to ask my priest after Sunday Mass.
M.S., via email
A. As you note, there are seven Old Testament books found in Catholic Bibles but not in Protestant ones. Catholics call them the deuterocanonical (literally, “second canon”) books; Protestants call them the apocryphal (literally, “hidden,” thus “unknown, spurious”) books.
In addition to Baruch, these books include Tobit, Judith, 1 and 2 Maccabees, Wisdom (or Wisdom of Solomon), and Sirach (or Ecclesiasticus).
These deuterocanonical texts were included in the Septuagint, a third-century-B.C. Greek translation of the Old Testament, which served as the Scripture of the apostles and the generations that followed them. The earliest Greek manuscripts of the Old Testament, such as Codex Sinaiticus (fourth century) and Codex Alexandrinus (c. 450), include the deuterocanonical books with the others.
Regional Church councils at Hippo (in the year 393) and Carthage (397 and 419) listed these books (and the other 66) as Scripture, endorsing what had become the general belief of the universal Church. The ecumenical Council of Trent confirmed this canon in the sixteenth century.
How did Protestant Christians lose these books from their Bibles? The influential Protestant Reformer Martin Luther deleted them. Though he insisted that Scripture must be the sole authority for the Christian faith, when scriptural texts did not support his teaching, he tended to deny the authority of the books in which those texts were found.
The deuterocanonical books include passages that support the practice of offering prayers and sacrifices for the dead — and by extension, the doctrine of purgatory as well (see 2 Mac 12:39–45). Luther rejected this ancient teaching and practice of the Church, so he denied the deuterocanonical books a place in the Protestant canon. He also dismissed the New Testament book of James as an “epistle of straw” (though he left it in the Protestant canon) because it clearly teaches — contrary to Lutheran doctrine — that both faith and works are necessary for salvation (see Jas 2:14–26).
The books of the “second canon” are similar in style to other Old Testament books. Wisdom and Sirach are much like Proverbs. Tobit is in somewhat the same literary category as the book of Job. Judith is comparable to Esther (two heroic Hebrew women who helped save their people). First and Second Maccabees are historical narratives like the books of Kings and Chronicles. And Baruch is prophetic literature, akin to Jeremiah.
The New Testament closely reflects the thought of the deuterocanonical books in certain passages. For example, Revelation 1:4 and 8:3–4 appear to make reference to Tobit 12:15. St. Paul, in 1 Corinthians 15:29, seems to have 2 Maccabees 12:44 in mind, and Hebrews 11:35 mirrors the thought of 2 Maccabees 7:29.
Q. How does someone make a “spiritual communion”?
E.C., via email
A. Our Lord wants us to receive Him in His Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity in Holy Communion, and we should do that as often as possible, making sure that we’re properly disposed to receive Him that way. But sometimes when we want to commune with Jesus by receiving the Blessed Sacrament, circumstances prevent.
Perhaps we’re homebound. Perhaps we’re unable to attend Mass. Perhaps we can attend Mass, but we can’t receive Communion because we aren’t properly prepared. Perhaps Mass isn’t being celebrated when we seek to unite ourselves with Jesus.
Whatever the case, in times when we seek a communion with Our Lord but can’t receive Him sacramentally, we can always receive Him spiritually.
Such a “spiritual communion” consists in fervently desiring to receive Jesus in the Eucharist, then embracing Him with love in our hearts as if we had actually received Him in a sacramental Communion. It can be done anywhere: during Mass, during Eucharistic adoration, or anytime outside of church.
In his encyclical letter Ecclesia de Eucharistia (no. 35), Pope John Paul II had this to say about this praiseworthy spiritual practice:
“In the Eucharist, ‘unlike any other sacrament, the mystery [of communion] is so perfect that it brings us to the heights of every good thing: Here is the ultimate goal of every human desire, because here we attain God and God joins himself to us in the most perfect union.’ Precisely for this reason it is good to cultivate in our hearts a constant desire for the sacrament of the Eucharist.
“This was the origin of the practice of ‘spiritual communion,’ which has happily been established in the Church for centuries and recommended by saints who were masters of the spiritual life.
“St. Teresa of Jesus wrote: “When you do not receive communion and you do not attend Mass, you can make a spiritual communion, which is a most beneficial practice; by it the love of God will be greatly impressed on you” (Way of Perfection, 35).
How should you pray as you make a spiritual communion? Use your own words, or try this “Act of Spiritual Communion” from the Sacred Apostolic Penitentiary’s Enchiridion of Indulgences:
“My Jesus, I believe that you are in the Blessed Sacrament. I love you above all things, and I long for you in my soul. Since I cannot now receive you sacramentally, come at least spiritually into my heart. As though you have already come, I embrace you and unite myself entirely to you; never permit me to be separated from you. Amen.”
The Enchiridion of Indulgences notes that you can gain a partial indulgence by making an act of spiritual communion.
To read the full text of the papal encyclical, click here.
For the words to a prayer for making a spiritual communion with Jesus in the company of Mary, click here.
A “Happy Death”?
Q. What is meant by “the grace of a happy death”?
A. Perhaps the most succinct answer to that question is this: A happy death is a holy death. And it comes to us as a grace from a merciful God.
Our secular culture typically has such a fear and loathing of death that the very notion of a “happy” one is ridiculed. It’s obviously true that death can bring great suffering to the one dying and great grief to those left behind. Physical pain and the sorrow of separation from those we love aren’t in themselves “happy” experiences.
Nevertheless, if we die in friendship with God, bound for an ultimate destiny with Him in the eternal joys of heaven, then our death is indeed a happy one, and it comes to us through divine grace. As St. Paul wrote: “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are as nothing compared with the glory to be revealed for us” (Rom 8:18).
In this sense, then, the martyrs have died “happy deaths,” despite their fearful agonies. So too have all the saints — no matter how much they may have suffered on their deathbeds — as they passed from this life to the next, taking the definitive step in their journey to God.
In fact, you could say that to pray for the grace of a happy death is one way of praying for salvation, asking God graciously to help us at that all-decisive moment when we stand between two worlds, about to enter into eternity.
Here’s a prayer for the grace of a happy death you might consider praying:
“Father, You made us in Your own image, and Your Son accepted death for our salvation. Help us to keep watch in prayer at all times. May we be free from sin when we leave this world and rejoice in peace with You forever. Amen.”
Here’s another prayer, this one to St. Joseph, the patron of a happy death:
“O blessed Joseph, who yielded up your last breath in the arms of Jesus and Mary, obtain for me this grace: O holy Joseph, pray that I may breathe forth my soul in praise, saying in spirit, if I am unable to do so in words: ‘Jesus, Mary and Joseph, I give you my heart and my soul.’ Amen.”
Other prayers for a happy death (or a “good death”) are more specific. Some, for example, ask God to keep us from being caught by death suddenly and unawares, so that we can prepare ourselves through genuine repentance and the sacramental graces of Confession, Holy Communion, and the Anointing of the Sick.
For more prayers for a happy death, click here.
Hybrid Wedding Ritual?
Q. Can a Catholic and a Greek Orthodox marry in the same Church, with both priests overseeing the ceremony?
E.M., via email
A. Here’s a reply from our TCA columnist Fr. Francis Hoffman, J.C.D.:
That depends on what you mean by “overseeing the ceremony.” The Code of Canon Law expressly forbids “a religious celebration in which the Catholic assistant [minister] and non-Catholic minister, each performing his own rite, together ask for the consent of the parties” (Canon 1127.3).
Mixed marriages are not the ideal, and because of problems that can be associated with them, the Catholic can only validly marry the Orthodox if he or she has received express permission from the competent ecclesiastical authority. That ceremony could take place in either a Catholic church or an Orthodox church, but the Catholic priest and Orthodox priest in attendance are prohibited from mixing the rites as specified above.
However, the priest from the “other” church may attend the ceremony without actively participating in it, and may be permitted to say a few words to the congregation.
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