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Absolution of an Accomplice?
Q. I recently read about automatic excommunication — in particular, when it is the result of “absolution of an accomplice in a crime against the Sixth Commandment.” Does this mean that absolution cannot be given to one who has committed adultery?
Does it refer, for example, to a situation where you helped someone commit adultery by perhaps furnishing a place or knowing that adultery would take place, and you provided an excuse or in any other way helped the adultery take place? I would appreciate an answer, as the latter scenario really upsets me.
D.R., via email
A. Here’s a reply from TCA columnist Father Francis Hoffman, J.C.D.:
How good you are! Your question shows that you never suspected that the priest/confessor might actually be the accomplice. But that in fact is the meaning of the law: If a priest — sadly, I admit — were to offend against the Sixth Commandment with another person, he would not be able to hear that person’s confession of that particular sin. If he gave absolution to an accomplice in a sin against the Sixth Commandment, he would incur an automatic excommunication reserved to the Holy See.
The reason why this is forbidden should be obvious. If giving absolution to an accomplice were permitted, the offending priest might entice someone by saying, “Don’t worry; I can absolve you for whatever we do.”
As for all the other scenarios of adultery that you mention, a priest can give absolution.
Confirmation Before Marriage?
Q. Must Catholics have received the sacrament of Confirmation before they can marry in the Catholic Church?
H.J., via email
A. Here’s what the Church’s code of canon law says:
Can. 1065 §1 Catholics who have not yet received the sacrament of confirmation are to receive it before being admitted to marriage, if this can be done without grave inconvenience.
I’m not a canon lawyer by any means, but my guess is that in practice there would be considerable latitude in the interpretation of the words “grave inconvenience.”
Seven Sacraments for Eastern Orthodox?
Q. Do the Eastern Orthodox Churches have the same number of sacraments as the Roman Catholic Church?
B.C., via email
A. Yes. Eastern Orthodox churches have the same sacraments as the Catholic Church, though they usually call them “mysteries” rather than sacraments. One difference in their administration of the sacraments, however, is that in the Eastern tradition, infants typically receive what Western Catholics call the three sacraments of initiation — baptism, chrismation (confirmation) and first holy Communion — at the same time. (The Eastern name for “confirmation” is “chrismation,” from the Greek word for “oil,” which is of course used for the sacrament’s anointing.)
Holy Unction (called “Anointing of the Sick” in the West) is in many Eastern Orthodox churches administered to all the faithful who wish to receive it at a liturgy on the Wednesday during Holy Week (in addition to being administered privately as the need arises).
The Orthodox Churches, though separated from the Catholic Church, have retained the Apostolic Succession. For that reason, the Catholic Church recognizes the validity of their priesthood and sacraments.
Q. Can a Catholic priest offer the sacrament of matrimony to two men or two women? What would happen if he did so?
M.J., via email
A. No, a Catholic priest cannot offer the sacrament of matrimony to a same-sex couple. Even if he attempted to do so, the marriage would not be valid.
Whatever practices civil authorities may choose to legalize under the title of “marriage,” in truth a valid marriage is by its very nature limited to the union of one man and one woman. Two people of the same sex simply cannot contract a valid marriage, just as two people who are already married cannot contract a valid marriage.
Origins of the Angelus?
Q. I am taking catechism classes, and someone asked about the Angelus — its history and at what date it actually started. There seems to be some question about its true origins. Can you fill us in?
Also, on EWTN there is a painting exhibited before the Angelus starts, an agrarian scene of two peasants in a wheat field bowing their heads. Do you know who the artist is and what significance his painting would have?
J. S., via email
A. Here’s a reply from TCA columnist Father Ray Ryland, Ph.D., J.D.:
The Angelus gets its name from the first word of the first versicle “Angelus domini nuntiavit Mariae” (“The angel of the Lord declared unto Mary”). The evening Angelus is the oldest of the three. It and the morning Angelus originated as counterparts to the night and morning prayers of the monks.
There is evidence that this evening prayer was current in some parts of Europe in the thirteenth century. By the first half of the fourteenth century its use was general throughout Europe.
The morning Angelus began to be prayed in the fourteenth century soon after the evening Angelus became widely used. The practice of praying the midday Angelus began in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. In its origin it focused on venerating Christ’s passion.
Some medieval books of devotion specify that the morning Angelus should be prayed in honor of the Resurrection, the midday Angelus in honor of the Passion, and the evening Angelus in honor of the Incarnation. The point was that these are the approximate times of day when the great mysteries occurred.
The painting to which you refer is simply called “The Angelus.” The artist is a French realist painter, Jean-Francois Millet (1814–1875). It portrays the peasants’ pause for prayer at the tolling of the village bell for the evening Angelus.
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