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 email@example.com.
How to Handle Cremains?
Q. I am a devout Catholic. When I die, I want to have Catholic funeral rites. But I want to be cremated, since I want my remains brought back to my homeland, the Philippines. What is the proper way of handling the cremated remains? -- A.N., via emailA. Here’s a reply from TCA columnist Father Francis Hoffman, J.C.D.:
Canon 1176.3 states: “The Church earnestly recommends that the pious custom of burial be retained; but it does not forbid cremation, unless this is chosen for reasons which are contrary to Christian teaching.” I sense you wish to be cremated because it may be too expensive and complex to send your uncremated mortal remains back to the Philippines.
The Church stipulates only that the cremated remains be treated with respect. I would suggest that a trusted person be charged with carrying the cremated remains with him on the plane, rather than ship them “air freight.” Piety and common sense suggest that disposition, although Church law has no such regulations.
A New Feast?
Q. Is the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, a relatively new addition to the Church calendar? Why was New Year’s Day chosen for this observance? -- H.R., via emailA. Actually, it’s an ancient feast with a rather complicated history. Here’s an excellent summary of that liturgical history, and the reason why January 1 was chosen, from Saints of the Roman Calendar by Enzo Lodi (Alba House, 1992). (For the full text of his essay about this solemnity, click here.)
“The solemnity of the Mother of God, which now coincides with the octave-day of Christmas and the beginning of the new year, was probably assigned this day because of the influence of the Byzantine Church, which celebrates the synapsis of the most holy Theotokos on December 26. This is in accordance with the Eastern practice of honoring secondary persons on the day after the feast of the principal personage (in this case, the birth of Christ). The Coptic Church celebrates this feast on January 16, but in the West, as early as the fifth century, the feast was celebrated on the Sunday before Christmas, although in France it was celebrated on January 18 and in Spain on December 18. Even before Pope Sergius introduced four Marian feasts in the seventh century (the Birth of Mary, the Annunciation, the Purification and the Assumption), the octave day of Christmas was celebrated in Rome in honor of the Maternity of Mary. Later, in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, the feast of the Circumcision was added, although it had been introduced into Spain and France at the end of the sixth century and was later included in the Missal of Pope St. Pius V. The recent liturgical reform has restored the original Roman practice, which replaced the pagan feast of the New Year, dedicated to the god Janus, with this feast honoring the Mother of God.
“A popular movement began in Portugal in the eighteenth century for a feast honoring Mary's maternity, and in 1914 the date of the feast was fixed at October 11. It was extended to the entire Latin Church in 1931, the fifteenth centenary of the Council of Ephesus. The restoration of the feast to January 1, which falls in the Christmas season and has an ecumenical significance, coincides with other anniversaries; for example, the octave day of Christmas, the circumcision of the Infant Jesus (assigned to the first Sunday of January); the feast of the Holy Name of Jesus (which dates back to 1721); and the day for peace, introduced by Pope Paul VI.
In the encyclical Marialis Cultus (1974) Pope Paul VI states: ‘This celebration, assigned to January 1 in conformity with the ancient liturgy of the city of Rome, is meant to commemorate the part played by Mary in this mystery of salvation. It is meant also to exalt the singular dignity which this mystery brings to the “holy Mother … through whom we were found worthy … to receive the Author of life.” It is likewise a fitting occasion for renewed adoration of the newborn Prince of Peace, for listening once more to the glad tidings of the angels, and for imploring from God, through the Queen of Peace, the supreme gift of peace. For this reason … we have instituted the World Day of Peace, an observance that is gaining increasing support and is already bringing forth fruits of peace in the hearts of many’ (no. 5).
New Year’s Predictions?
Q. Do you have any predictions for the New Year? -- T.J., Hilton Head, S.C.A. Well, that’s one I’ve never been asked before! I have a hard enough time keeping up with what actually did happen over the past year.
I suppose I could try at least a couple of prognostications about matters of interest to our readers.
First, the Vatican has announced Pope Benedict’s intention to visit the Holy Land in May. So we can reasonably expect that event to take place unless the current troubles in Gaza lead to developments that make adequate security untenable.
If the Holy Father is able to make the visit, it should attract considerable media attention. This would provide yet another “teachable moment” for Catholics, as their Church once again, however briefly, becomes a topic of conversation among their non-Catholic acquaintances.
The event should also produce at least a few highly memorable moments as the Pope takes the opportunity to teach the faithful (by word and by example) about the meaning of pilgrimage; demonstrates his solidarity with the beleaguered Christian minority of the Middle East; displays his esteem for the Jewish people and his openness to dialogue with the Muslim world; and intercedes for peace.
Let’s be praying for the Holy Father’s travels and, as always, for peace in the Holy Land and elsewhere.
Second, I think there’s a good chance that this year will see the battle heating up between Washington and at least some of the American Catholic bishops over the so-called Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA). Here’s an excerpt from a statement by Richard M. Doerflinger, Associate Director of the Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities for the U.S.C.C.B.:
“At their November 2008 general meeting, the Catholic bishops of the United States congratulated our new President-elect and urged Americans to unite in solidarity at a time of economic crisis, reminding us that ‘we are our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers.’ They also expressed grave concern over a looming pro-abortion agenda that could divide our nation as never before.
“At the core of that agenda is a radical proposal called the ‘Freedom of Choice Act’ (FOCA). Despite its name, FOCA would deprive Americans of their freedom to enact almost any restraint on abortion at any stage of pregnancy. It would overturn hundreds of current laws on conscience rights, informed consent, limits on tax-funded abortion, and parental involvement in minors’ abortion decisions. President-elect Obama has vowed (and recently reaffirmed) that he looks forward to signing it into law.
“The bishops said with one voice that they will mobilize the Catholic community to oppose this agenda. Catholics — whether they voted against Mr. Obama because of his abortion stance, or voted for him despite that stance — can unite in a massive grassroots campaign against FOCA, urging Congress to retain all existing federal laws that prevent government funding and promotion of abortion.” (For the full text of that statement, click here.)
St. Thérèse in Space?
Q. Someone told me that a relic of St. Thérèse had been launched into space. Is that really true? -- M.K., Houston, TexasA. Colonel Ron Garan, an astronaut who took part in last spring’s Discovery shuttle mission (May 31–June 14), is a friend of the Carmelite community of New Caney, Texas. Before the space voyage, Garan called the sisters to ask their intercession for the mission and offered to take a small item into space on their behalf.
The Carmelites recalled that Thérèse once wrote, “I would want to preach the Gospel on all five continents simultaneously and even to the most remote isles.” So they gave the astronaut one of her relics to take into space so that it could circle the globe.
The relic accompanied Garan on his journey, and while Thérèse was completing her new “mission,” the sisters entrusted the entire world to her intercession.
Can Love Increase in Purgatory?
Q. I read in the Baltimore Catechism that purgatory is a process of purification, and that once in purgatory your love for God will never grow. It will be purified so that you can enter heaven, but your level of love will never increase. Is this still the teaching of the Church? If so, why?
The Baltimore Catechism said it’s because you can’t do any activity to increase your love once you’re there. I found this to be a bit confusing, since it seems that as you are purified, your love for God would also increase. This question came up in my Bible study, and I felt inadequate to the task of answering it. All I could say is, love God as much as you possibly can now here on earth. -- B.D., Savannah, Ga.
Here’s a reply from TCA columnist Father Ray Ryland, Ph.D., J.D.:
You gave your friends good advice: Love God as much as you possibly can now here on earth. Here is the reason why that advice is sound.
The Church’s teaching as stated in the Baltimore Catechism has not changed. The Catechism of the Catholic Church is quite clear on this point. “Death puts an end to human life as the time open to either accepting or rejecting the divine grace manifested in Christ.” Each person receives his eternal reward or condemnation immediately after death (1021).
For those of us who must first enter the intermediate state of purgatory, it will be a process of purifying the love for God which by His grace we have attained in this life. In other words, the depth of the love we have at the moment of death is the depth at which we shall be glorified. Our love for God and for those around us will be perfected, but will not be increased.
Consider this analogy. Beside a fifty-gallon drum place a thimble. Fill them both with water. Now, one is just as full as the other, but the capacity is greatly different.
This illustrates what is sometimes called “degrees of blessedness” in heaven. Different persons will have different capacities for union with God, based on the sanctity each has achieved by grace in this life. Nevertheless, there will of course be no envy in heaven. Those of us who will be like thimbles will forever rejoice in the saints who will be like tank trucks. All of us will be filled.
If we truly love God, we want the greatest possible depth of union with Him in glory.
The fact that our capacity for the Beatific Vision is determined in this life gives greatest urgency to our growth in grace now.
Catholic Faith Resources | For Catholic Parishes | Order OSV Products | RSS | Advertise | About Us | Contact Us | Jobs