Each weekday, you'll find a new question and answer. Check back for the new question and scroll down to see previous day's entries! Let us know what you think - - or question! -- by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Q. Did Pope Gregory XIII really develop the annual calendar the entire world seems to use? It seems amazing in this day and age that a pope had that kind of influence, over an issue that doesn’t seem religious.
A. Here’s a reply from Father Martin:
The Catechism of the Catholic Church states, “obedience requires all to give due honor to authority and to treat those who are charged to exercise it with respect and, insofar as it is deserved, with gratitude and good-will” (No. 1900). Imposing a calendar may seem an odd exercise of authority, but Pope Gregory XIII appreciated accuracy and precision. He assembled scientists to remedy defects in the calendar established by Julius Caesar, and their work was welcomed, at least in Catholic countries, because it brought the actual days of the year into closer harmony with the seasons. Protestants initially resisted Pope Gregory’s calendar, but its logic was unarguable, and English-speaking countries embraced it in 1752.
The calendar simplified calculating the date of Easter, so its religious significance was apparent from its promulgation, in 1582. The New Catholic Encyclopedia asserts Pope Gregory’s calendar will remain accurate to within a day until the year 4500, and the spring equinox will not deviate from its present date until the year 8000.
Modern Catholics hardly expect their pontiffs to be expert astronomers, but 16th-century monarchs took a serious interest in science. Pope Gregory, who established the Vatican Observatory (and numerous colleges to train priests), was no exception.
Q. What is the liturgical authority of the Catechetical Directory?
Jan Hicks, Clinton, Tenn.
A. Here’s a reply from TCA columnist Father Francis Hoffman, J.C.D.:
The General Catechetical Directory (GCD), promulgated by Pope Paul VI on April 11, 1971, was written by the Sacred Congregation for Clergy under the direction of Cardinal John Wright and reviewed by the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. It is not a document that is considered to have any "liturgical authority."
The final paragraphs of that document caused great concern because they allowed the possibility to experiment with delaying first confession until after first Communion, and in this sense you might argue that the GCD had some impact on liturgical practices. However, this experiment ended two years later with a declaration from the Sacred Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments (Sanctus Pontifex, May 24, 1973).
Since then, the traditional practice of first confession before first Communion has been upheld consistently by the various congregations of the Holy See, the 1983 Code of Canon Law, the 1992 Catechism of the Catholic Church and the 2005 Compendium of the Catechism.
Moreover, the GCD of 1971 has been superseded by the new General Catechetical Directory promulgated on Aug. 11, 1997, by Pope John Paul II. One would not expect a document from the Congregation for the Clergy to have any "liturgical authority." Such documents are produced by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments.
Currently, the documents with the most authority over the liturgy are the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM, 2002); the instruction Redemptionis Sacramentum (2004); the Code of Canon Law (1983); and the recent apostolic exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis (2007).
When Will the Saints Join Us?
Q. In a homily, we were told that at our judgment, the Communion of Saints will be there to intercede for us. I thought the correct teaching is that we will be by ourselves at the judgment, and afterward, whenever we reach heaven, we will meet all the saints and anyone who helped us get there to say thank you. Which is it?
A. Here’s a reply from TCA columnist Father Ray Ryland, Ph.D., J.D:
When we die we immediately face the particular judgment. We will be alone in the sense that the proceedings (if I may use that legal term) will be focused entirely on us.
Nevertheless, if we know the saints pray for us while we're here on earth, why suppose they'll stop praying for us at our particular judgment, when we most need their intercession?
Surely, the saints are always with us and for us, right up through the time when they welcome us to join them in our eternal home.
Confession and spiritual direction
Q. I have a difficult time making a distinction between confession and spiritual direction. One priest told me in confession that I was going on too long and that I needed to keep my confession shorter. Can you guide me on this?
Name and address withheld
Here’s a reply from OSV columnist Msgr. M. Francis Mannion:
A. I agree with you that confession and spiritual direction are often confused in the minds of clergy and laity.
As a general principle, I would frame the question as follows: Which forum -- confession or spiritual direction -- is better for the matter or matters with which you want to deal?
If your principal concern is to confess your sins and to receive absolution, then the sacrament of reconciliation is obviously the way to go. Confession works well when the penitent is clear about the nature of his or her sins and where he or she is not seeking detailed direction. Confessors are wise to give advice that is brief and to the point.
If your principal concern is not to confess your sins and receive absolution but rather to seek guidance in sorting out your life, then spiritual direction is the more appropriate forum.
Spiritual direction requires some spiritual familiarity between the priest and the person seeking direction. It requires more time than confession, and it often requires further meetings between director and "directee."
However, no confessor should cut off a penitent because of time or other constraints. He would be wiser to tell the penitent that there are complexities to his or her confession that require spiritual direction outside confession.
Non-Catholics and sin
Q. I was taught early in Catholic school that a mortal sin must have three conditions. 1) It must be a mortal sin. 2) One must know it is a mortal sin. 3) Complete consent must be given.
How do these conditions apply to Protestants who do not accept the concept of mortal and venial sin, or non-Christians and even atheists? It appears that condition two does not apply to any of the above.
A. Here is a reply from Father Reginald Martin:
The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines sin as “an offense against reason, truth, and right conscience; it is a failure in genuine love for God and neighbor” (No. 1849). The definition does not distinguish between Catholic and non-Catholic, or even Christian and non-Christian; the reason is the universality of natural law.
The Catechism is clear about natural law: “[it] expresses the original moral sense which enables man to discern by reason the good and the evil” (No. 1954). The Catechism continues: “Application … varies greatly.… Nevertheless, in the diversity of cultures, the natural law remains as a rule that … imposes on them, beyond the inevitable differences, common principles.… Even when it is rejected … it cannot be destroyed or removed from the heart of man.” (Nos. 1957-58).
We may compare God’s law to civil law. One may break a law through ignorance, but this merely mitigates guilt; it does not excuse unlawful action. God’s law likewise binds everyone, so anyone who violates it commits sin. In determining merit or blame, one must consider the circumstances surrounding an act. These include differences in culture, religious upbringing, and state of life. Nonetheless, anyone who breaks God’s law commits a sin.
Catholic Faith Resources | For Catholic Parishes | Order OSV Products | RSS | Advertise | About Us | Contact Us | Jobs