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“Baptism of Desire” for Stillborns?
Q. What is the status of the soul of a child who is stillborn? If the parents are Catholics, is it possible that their intention of baptizing the child after birth would serve as a kind of “baptism of desire” for the child?
L. T., Front Royal, Va.
A. No one knows for sure, nor are there any official pronouncements on the matter by the Church. But it is possible that the parents’ intention of baptizing their child after birth would serve as a kind of “baptism of desire,” as you mention. I certainly favor that theory, but this is what you would call a disputed question.
Q. My friend told me that last Sunday was “Quinquagesima Sunday.” I’ve never heard of that before. What was she talking about?
L. G., Chicago, Ill.
A. In the old Church liturgical calendar — still observed in the Extraordinary Form of the Mass (celebrated in Latin) — the weeks immediately preceding Lent are observed as a
time of preparation for the upcoming penitential season. In ancient times, Christians began their time of abstinence during this period. (By the way: The ancients gave up all animal products for the entire season of Lent — not just Fridays. We moderns are such wimps!)
The last three Sundays before Ash Wednesday are called Septuagesima (Latin, “seventieth”), Sexagesima (“sixtieth”) and Quinquagesima (“fiftieth”). The historical origin of these names for these particular Sundays is disputed. The earliest occurrence of the terms in liturgical literature is in the eighth-century Gelasian Sacramentary.
In the traditional Latin Mass, the Gloria is omitted on these three Sundays, just as it is throughout Lent in both the Ordinary and the Extraordinary Forms of the Mass. This omission serves as a reminder of the penitential nature of the season.
Q. I heard a PBS radio broadcast about the recent discovery of a document related to the medieval trial of the Templars, which vindicates them. Does that mean the Church has lifted its condemnation of the Masons?
G. N., Sandersville, Ga.
A. The military order of the Poor Knights of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon (commonly known as the Templars) was founded in Jerusalem in 1118 to protect Christians in the Holy Land. The order became widespread, powerful and wealthy, but it eventually fell into disfavor with the powerful King Philip IV of France (1268–1314). Apparently, Philip either wanted their money or wanted to cancel the debts he owed the order. So he arrested members of the Knights and tortured them until he extracted confessions of heresy and sexual immorality.
In 1308, however, Pope Clement V decided to save the order, as recorded by the document you refer to, which is called the “Parchment of Chinon.” It was recently reviewed by an official at the Vatican Secret Archives, who discovered that it contained information not recognized before because of an error in archiving.
The parchment reproduces the documentation of the papal hearings convened after Philip IV arrested and tortured the Templars. It reveals that the cardinals acting as judges in the trial finally concluded that Templar members had indeed been guilty of moral abuses, but not of heresy. Only in that limited sense were they “exonerated.”
This was during the time of the so-called “Avignon Papacy,” when the Popes resided in Avignon, France, and as a result were often dominated by the French royalty. King Philip pressured the Pope to suppress the Templars, which the latter finally did in 1312. They were never reinstated by any of Clement’s successors, so the group no longer exists as an approved order in the service of the Church.
Today there may be associations of “Templars” that are in fact Masonic in nature and origin. But these Masonic groups actually have nothing at all to do with the venerable history of the original Knights Templar. They have simply appropriated some of the Knights’ symbols and rituals for their own purposes.
Much has been written about Freemasonry and the Catholic Church in recent years, and an excellent article by Sandra Miesel appeared in the July/August 2006 issue of TCA, entitled “Freemasons and Their Craft.” As that article explains, Catholics are still forbidden to belong to any Masonic group, because the principles of Masonry are incompatible with the Catholic faith.
According to the 1917 Code of Canon Law, a Catholic incurred the penalty of automatic excommunication if he joined the Masons (cf. Canon 2335, CIC 1917). While Masonic and Templar groups are not specifically mentioned in the current Code of Canon Law (1983), membership in such groups is prohibited by virtue of canon 1374: “A person who joins an association which plots against the Church is to be punished with a just penalty; one who promotes or takes office in such an association is to be punished with an interdict.”
Since Masonry is not specifically mentioned in the 1983 Code, a question was posed to the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and its response, signed by then prefect, now Pope Benedict XVI, and specifically approved by the reigning Roman Pontiff, John Paul II, stated:
“Therefore the Church’s negative judgment in regard to Masonic associations remains unchanged since their principles have always been considered irreconcilable with the doctrine of the Church and therefore membership in them remains forbidden. The faithful who enroll in Masonic associations are in a state of grave sin and may not receive Holy Communion” (CDF, Quaesitum Est, November 26, 1983).
The U.S. bishops returned to this topic in 1985 and added this helpful clarification about the different ways Masonry was treated in the 1917 Code (penalty of excommunication) and the 1983 Code (gravely immoral, but no specific canonical penalty):
“What is at stake is the distinction between penal law and morality. There is a difference between the two. Not everything that is immoral is penalized in the church. Nor can one conclude from the fact that penal law does not cover some sin or that it is removed from it (or changed), that it is permissible to commit it.
“A clear example of this is abortion. Even if the excommunication were removed from abortion, it would still be wrong. Similarly, even if the excommunication was removed from joining an organization that plotted against the Church, it would still be wrong to join such an organization” (Cardinal Bernard Law, “Letter of April 19, 1985, to U.S. Bishops Concerning Masonry”).
As a side note, last year the Holy See publicly declared as false a letter allegedly written by Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Angelo Sodano that said Rome had recognized a new order of Knights Templar. The false document had circulated in Germany for months, and Rome had received numerous inquiries about it.
Blessing the Lambs?
Q. I recently heard that Benedict XVI blessed a couple of lambs on St. Agnes’ feast day. What is the significance of this ritual?
A. G., via email
A. In this traditional ceremony, the Pope blesses two live lambs presented by the nuns of the convent of St. Agnes in Rome. The lambs’ wool is then used to weave a pallium (plural, pallia) for each of the new metropolitan archbishops, which will be presented to them by the Holy Father on June 29, the Solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul.
The pallium, in its present form, is a white circular band, “three fingers wide,” embroidered with six black crosses. It’s worn over the chasuble around the neck, chest and shoulders and has two pendants, one hanging down in front and one behind.
The pallium is worn by the Pope and by metropolitan archbishops as a symbol of ecclesiastical authority and the special bond between the bishops and the Pontiff. For more information, click here.
Killing the Canaanites?
Q. I am upset in reading in the Bible about the Israelite conquest of Canaan. Why was attacking and killing the Canaanites morally justified? God created the pagans also. Surely the children were innocent.
D. R., Silver Spring, Md.
A. There is no easy answer to this question. I have struggled with the issue myself.
Some of the Church fathers, such as Origen and St. Gregory of Nyssa, encouraged Christians to read these Old Testament stories as allegories of our mortal combat with sin and the Devil. Killing even the children of the pagans is thus interpreted as an allegorical reference to mortifying sinful desires in our hearts before they have opportunity to mature into sinful deeds.
This approach may be helpful as a reminder to resist temptation, but it doesn’t really resolve the issues you’re raising here about the relevant texts. Did God truly command the Israelites to wipe out even the noncombatants among the Canaanites?
TCA columnist Father Ray Ryland offers this response:
You pose a question that has disturbed many sensitive readers of the Old Testament. A closer examination of this issue, however, shows that the situation was not nearly so dismal as it may seem. To start with, we should remember that in the cultures surrounding the Old Testament peoples, total warfare was widely practiced.
Go back to Genesis 9:24-26. There we read the curse pronounced by Noah on his youngest son, Canaan, for sexual perversion. He was to be the slave of his brothers, thereby prefiguring the time when the land of Canaan itself would be punished for its sexual perversion. It would be subjugated to Israel.
See Leviticus 18:24-28. After listing various perverse acts, the Lord’s words continue: “‘Do not defile yourselves by any of these things, for by all these the nations I am casting out before you defiled themselves; and the land became defiled, so that I punished its iniquity, and the land vomited out its inhabitants.” A similar fate awaits the Israelites if they too adopt these perverted practices.
I can find only one instance in which God specifically commanded His people to slaughter men, women and children (as opposed to accounts where Moses states his belief that God has thus commanded, as in Dt 20:16-18). This charge was directed against the Amalekites, who were bitter enemies of Israel (see 1 Sam 15:2-3); when the Amalekites had attacked the Israelites in the desert, they had targeted the sick and the elderly who had lagged behind in the line of march.
I freely acknowledge that this command puzzles me. We should at least note that God told the Israelites to warn a certain clan in the area, who had not been guilty of the earlier atrocities, to flee so that they would not be destroyed (verse 5). The Amalekites would certainly have heard about the warning and would have also had the opportunity to flee. In fact, we learn that at least some of the Amalekites did escape the sword, since these survivors repeatedly harassed the Israelites in the years following (see, for example, 1 Sam 27:8).
In two instances Moses recalled that the Israelites had slaughtered children in warfare, but with no mention of a command from God so to do. One kingdom totally destroyed was the kingdom of Heshbon (Dt 3:3-4); the other was the kingdom of Bashan (verse 6).
In Deuteronomy chapter 20, Moses set forth rules for the holy warfare against the people of Canaan. The lives of women and children were to be spared, though they were to become slaves of the Israelites.
There are certainly problematic aspects of the Mosaic law. Speaking through his prophet Ezekiel, God acknowledged that some of the laws He allowed for His people were not good laws. “‘I gave them statutes that were not good, and ordinances through which they could not live’” (Ez 20:25).
One such law was Moses’ allowing men easily to divorce their wives (Dt 24). Jesus rejected that law: “‘For the hardness of your heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so.” Jesus taught that valid marriage can be dissolved only by the death of one of the spouses.
Indeed, in Matthew 5:21-48, Jesus redefines various Old Testament laws and gives their true meaning. Each correction is introduced with the words. “‘You have heard that it was said … but I say to you …”
In the early centuries there were heretics who rejected the Old Testament because they thought they could see there only the portrayal of a bloodthirsty God. That heresy is still alive today. Yet on closer examination of the Old Testament evidence you can see that the stereotype is grossly overdrawn.
Here is how Vatican II’s Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation (14) sums up the utter importance of the Old Testament. “The economy of salvation, foretold, recounted and explained by the sacred authors, appears as the true Word of God in the books of the Old Testament; that is why these books, divinely inspired, preserve a lasting value.”
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