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Incense and the liturgy
Q. Why is incense used in the liturgy? Particularly at the end of funerals?
—T.T, Trenton, N.J.
A. Here’s a reply from OSV columnist Msgr. M. Francis Mannion:
Generally, incense is used in the liturgy as a means of blessing God and expressing adoration of him. As incense rises up to heaven, so the Church expresses its desire that its prayer rise up and give glory to God. Reference to incense is found in Psalm 141: “Let my prayer be incense before you.” In the Book of Revelation we are told, “The smoke of the incense along with the prayers of the holy ones went up before God” (8:4).
In the final commendation in the liturgy of funerals, the use of incense is especially recommended. Incensation is accompanied by a song of farewell, which says, “Receive his/her soul and present him/her to God the Most High.”
The Order of Christian Funerals explains: “Incense is used during the funeral rites as a sign of honor to the body of the deceased, which through baptism became the temple of the Holy Spirit. Incense is also used as a sign of the community’s prayers for the deceased rising to the throne of God and as a sign of farewell” (No. 37).
In short, incense shows honor to the body of the deceased, signifies our hope that his or her soul (and body) will rise to heaven, and signifies the heavenward prayer of the Church.
Q. I've heard some say John the Baptist was the last prophet. Could you define prophet for me? I guess I'm wondering it there could be any more prophets, and how would we recognize them?
A. Here’s a reply from Father Reginald Martin:
We commonly think of prophets as individuals who foretell the future. This, however, is only half the vocation of the prophet in Scripture. The Old Testament prophets looked ahead, to be sure, but only after they looked back. The Catechism of the Catholic Church sums this up very neatly: “The prophets accuse Israel of breaking the covenant and behaving like a prostitute. They announce a new and eternal covenant” (No. 762).
John the Baptist is the last of the prophets because Christ’s Incarnation establishes this new covenant between God and his creation. “In [John], the Holy Spirit concludes his speaking through the prophets” (No. 719). Henceforth, the Spirit is Christ’s gift to each of us, uniting and identifying us as members of the Church.
However, St. Paul identifies a gift of prophecy in his letter to the Romans (see 12:6). In his Summa Theologiae, St. Thomas Aquinas describes this as a supernatural grace enabling certain individuals to know what is hidden from others, “not indeed for the declaration of any new doctrine of faith, but for the direction of human acts.”
How might we identify such prophets? Obviously, only with caution, and after observing the prudence (and humility) of the individual’s life and words.
What Is Dominionism?
Q. I have been reading a lot lately about something called “dominionism.” What is it and does it have anything to do with the Catholic faith?
A. Here’s a reply from TCA columnist Father Ray Ryland, Ph.D., J.D
Because the term “dominionism” is applied to a wide variety of views, it cannot be defined with any exactitude. Its commonly assumed use has been taken from Genesis 1:28, King James Version: “And God blessed them, and God said unto them … have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.” In accord with this divine command, dominionists believe our nation should be governed by Christians and in accord with Christian principles. It is an essentially Protestant phenomenon. I can find no evidence of Catholic involvement.
Some more radical dominionists claim that the basis of our national life should be Christian law, interpreted in a fundamentalist sense. Their opponents contend these dominionists are seeking to establish a theocracy in this country and restrict the freedom of non-Christians.
Obviously, secularists and atheists expend enormous effort and resources in seeking to have their principles govern our national life. A Catholic should hope and work for the election of Christian leaders of our government, and for incorporation of Christian principles in our laws.
But we cannot support an effort to enforce biblical (Old Testament) law on our nation. That would restrict or even destroy freedom of religion. The Declaration on Religious Freedom (Dignitatis Humanae), a document of the Second Vatican Council, taught that “the human person has a right to religious freedom” — that is, “all men should be immune from coercion on the part of individuals, social groups and every human power so that, within due limits, nobody is forced to act against his convictions nor is anyone to be restrained from acting in accordance with his convictions in religious matters” (see No. 2). In fact, “the right to religious freedom is based on the very dignity of the human person as known through the revealed word of God and by reason itself.”
Who chooses Confirmation?
Q. I have a question regarding confirmation. Is it the parent’s duty to see that their child is confirmed in the Catholic Church, or is it the child’s “choice” to be confirmed? I have found that many young people get confirmed solely because their parents make them, and that doesn’t seem to be in the spirit of confirmation at all. I also have trouble with the notion that confirmation is like graduation — that it’s some kind of end point. Any comments you have would be helpful.
E.C., Albuquerque, N.M.
A. Here is a reply from Father Francis Hoffman, J.C.D.:
Thank you for this very important question. The short answer to your question is “yes” and “yes.” “Yes,” it is the parent’s duty to see that their child is confirmed in the Catholic Church, and “yes,” it is the child’s choice, especially if he is already an adolescent. Let’s take a look at what the Code of Canon Law has to say on the subject:
Canon 890: “The faithful are obliged to receive this sacrament at the proper time. Parents and pastors of souls, especially pastors of parishes, are to take care that the faithful are properly instructed to receive the sacrament and come to it at the appropriate time.”
Canon 891: “The Sacrament of Confirmation is to be conferred on the faithful at about the age of discretion unless the conference of bishops has determined another age, or there is danger of death, or in the judgment of the minister a grave cause suggests otherwise.”
On the one hand, the parents have the responsibility to see that their children receive confirmation, as it is one of the three sacraments of initiation, the others being baptism and holy Communion. Just as parents have the responsibility to have their children baptized “within the first weeks after their birth” (traditionally understood as 30 days), they also have the responsibility to have their children properly catechized, and receive their first confession before their first Communion, and to complete the sacramental catechesis with confirmation.
In fact, when a child is baptized, the minister asks the parents if they understand what it means to raise their child as a Catholic: “You have asked to have your child baptized. In doing so you are accepting the responsibility of training him (her) in the practice of the faith. It will be your duty to bring him (her) up to keep God’s commandments as Christ taught us, by loving God and our neighbor. Do you clearly understand what you are undertaking?” Later in the ceremony the minister references the Sacrament of Confirmation in these words: “Dearly beloved, this child has been reborn in baptism. He (she) is now called the child of God, for so indeed he (she) is. In confirmation he (she) will receive the fullness of God’s Spirit. In holy Communion he (she) will share the banquet of Christ’s sacrifice, calling God his (her) Father in the midst of the Church.”
Responsible parents do not give their little children a choice about eating, sleeping, hygiene, school or health care. Parents must make those decisions for their children. They are children after all. As the child grows in maturity, parents should give their children a bit more freedom. In my opinion, it is better to confirm the children when they are younger, before they enter the rebellious adolescent years.
However, if a youngster over 14 years of age does not want to be confirmed, it is no use forcing him. That would be counterproductive. Still, it has to be admitted that his refusal to be confirmed — rather than that being a good use of his freedom — is an indication that he has not been properly catechized or trained in the faith, usually due to the fault of one or both of the parents. More than likely, his training in personal piety, attendance at weekly Mass and reception of the Sacrament of Reconciliation on a regular basis has been neglected. Since such neglect is rather commonplace among Catholics, there is a growing consensus that it is better to confirm youngsters earlier, so that they do not grow up without the benefit of this sacrament.
Q. In the Nicene Creed, it states, “he shall come to judge the living and the dead.” If someone dies, isn’t that person already judged, and either in heaven, hell or purgatory? How can the dead be judged again?
A. Here’s a reply from Father Reginald Martin:
The Church teaches, as an article of faith, that souls of those free from sin at the moment of death enter heaven. Souls of those guilty of mortal sin enter hell. Souls of those “burdened with venial sins or temporal punishment due to sins, enter purgatory” (Ludwig Ott, “Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma”).
But what is the relation of this judgment to the judgment in the Creed, which states Jesus will come in glory “to judge the living and the dead”?
The Catechism of the Catholic Church states: “Christ is Lord of eternal life. Full right to pass definitive judgment on the works and hearts of men belongs to him as redeemer of the world” (No. 679). The important word here is “definitive.” The text continues, “By rejecting grace … one already judges oneself” (No. 679), so judgment at the end of time is no more than the long-awaited, final “triumph of good over evil which, like the wheat and the tares, have grown up together in the course of history” (No. 681).
St. Thomas Aquinas reminds us this judgment will also be marked by the reunion of the bodies of the dead to their souls, and that the good (and bad) works of each individual will be made manifest to all.
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