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Allow Married Priests?
Q. Will the Catholic Church ever consider the marriage option for all priests, not just those who come from former Protestant denominations? Most of my Catholic friends approve of the idea, especially given the growing shortage of priests.
A. Here’s a reply from OSV columnist Msgr. M. Francis Mannion:
I do not see the Catholic Church allowing clergy to get married because there is no stable tradition of clerical marriage. What is possible is that already married men may be able to be ordained to the priesthood.
As you point out, married clergy from other denominations (mostly Anglican) who have been received into the Catholic Church in recent decades have been ordained to the Catholic priesthood. Thus there are already married priests in the Latin Church. Married priests also exist in the Eastern Catholic Churches and have been from the beginning.
The possibility of ordaining married men to holy orders in the Latin Church has already been achieved in the ordination of men to the permanent diaconate. The possibility of ordaining married men to the priesthood in the Latin Church has been much discussed since the Second Vatican Council, and its proponents include renowned cardinals and bishops.
The ordination of married men to the priesthood in the Latin Church would pose no doctrinal problem, for in the first centuries married men received priestly ordination (St. Peter himself was a married man). Nor would it pose an ecumenical problem, for the Orthodox Churches ordain those already married. Some would argue that there is an intrinsic connection between priesthood and celibacy; but this is not a position that I share.
Nevertheless, while the Catholic Church could ordain married men in the future, it will never throw the door of marriage open so that a formally organized celibate priesthood no longer exists. The Church prizes highly celibate priesthood and especially the possibility this allows for religious orders and congregations. Monks and others who live communal lives by necessity have to be celibate.
I do not see the possibility of the priestly ordination of married men in the Latin Church as a conservative or liberal issue. It would be an expansion into the Western Church of something already operative in the Eastern Catholic and Orthodox Churches.
I suspect that there are liberal and conservative bishops today who favor the possibility of ordaining married men for the practical reason that it might offer a partial solution to the shortage of priests. No bishop, whatever his theological leaning, wants to see parishes shut down and communities unministered to because of a shortage of priests — a growing problem that presently shows little sign of reversing itself.
By no means would a married priesthood solve the problems of a shortage of priests, but it might help. In my own experience in parishes over three decades, I have constantly encountered men who would make great priests — except that they do not feel called to celibacy.
Some would respond that in the Latin Church God calls to priesthood only those capable of celibacy; but I am not convinced by this argument. Why would God call former married Anglican clergy to Catholic priesthood — and why would the Eastern Catholic Churches ordain married men — and yet exclude this call in the Latin Church?
Returning to the Sacraments
Q. I am a Catholic who would like to come back to the Church, but how do I handle going to confession after 40 plus years?
A. Here’s a reply from Father Reginald Martin:
The Catechism of the Catholic Church very clearly states: “‘Christ … knew nothing of sin, but came only to expiate the sins of the people. The Church … clasping sinners to her bosom, at once holy and always in need of purification, follows constantly the path of penance and renewal.’ All members of the Church, including her ministers, must acknowledge that they are sinners” (No. 827). These words should encourage anyone considering a return to the sacraments after a long absence to heave a sigh of relief. The individual will also find consolation considering that what we commonly knew as “confession” is now called “the Sacrament of Reconciliation.”
The “how to” of the return depends on one’s desire for anonymity and the demands on the priest’s time. Almost any priest will say he has, in the course of an ordinary day in the confessional, occasionally encountered a penitent who has been away from the sacrament for decades. The priest is prepared to deal with this situation, so the penitent need not worry. On the other hand, if an individual wishes a more personal conversation, with spiritual counseling, she or he ought prudently to call the parish and make an appointment to speak to a priest.
Can Atheists Be Saved?
Q. My question is whether an avowed atheist or agnostic can be saved if he/she persists in their unbelief right up until the time of their passing, even though they may live a good “Christian” life. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that “to die in mortal sin without repenting and accepting God’s merciful love means remaining separated from Him forever by our own free choice. This state of definitive self-exclusion from communion with God is called ‘hell’” (No. 1033). I thought that living a good life was itself not sufficient to assure salvation. [This reader is concerned about his unbelieving brother who has died.]
Mark, via e-mail
A. Here’s a reply from TCA columnist Father Ray Ryland, Ph.D., J.D
It is true we are not saved by our good works, but rather by our faith in Jesus Christ. But it’s also true that our faith must manifest itself in good works. You speak of a brother who did live “a good life,” by which I assume you mean a life filled with many good works. Why did he do those good works? How did he have the strength and incentive to do them?
Some people who claim to be atheists are in fact not rejecting God himself, but rather rejecting false or distorted understandings of who God is. Though your brother may have claimed to be agnostic or even atheist, we can’t know what the true nature of his relationship with God might have been. Nor can we know what his very last thoughts and intentions might have been as he died. You should hope and trust that somehow God was able to break through to him in his very last moments of life on this earth. In that event God would take him to the cleansing state of purgatory. Certainly, you must continue faithfully to pray and offer Mass for his repose.
“Proclaim Your Death”?
Q. What does “proclaim your death” mean, exactly? It sounds almost celebratory. Does it truly mean, “we remember your death”? If so, ought not it be more clear, such as we “commemorate” or the priest re-enacts the death?
This recitation has only recently begun to disturb me, as I attempt to ponder seriously everything the members of the congregation recite.
Denise Fox, via e-mail
A. Here is a reply from Father Francis Hoffman, J.C.D.:
You ask about the meaning of one of the responses to the invitation “Let us proclaim the Mystery of Faith,” which occurs right after the consecration. To the invitation Mysterium fidei (Latin) comes this response in Latin: Quotiescumque manducamus panem hunc et calicem bibimus, mortem tuam annuntiamus. Domine, donec venias , rendered in English as, “When we eat this bread and drink this cup, we proclaim your death, Lord Jesus, until you come in glory.” (It is anticipated that a new translation will take effect in late 2011: “When we eat this Bread and drink this Cup we proclaim your death, O Lord, until you come again.”)
“We proclaim your death” could also be translated as we announce your death, or we tell everyone about your death, or we advertise your bloody death on the cross carried out for our redemption, or the like. The point of this acclamation is to activate us as witnesses and apostles to tell the whole world about the life of Jesus Christ, about His death and resurrection, about His everlasting mercy and goodness, and about “the reasons for hope within us,” as St. Peter reminds us (see 1 Pt 3:15).
As Christians and disciples of Christ we do not “celebrate” His death in the sense of happiness and parties; what we celebrate and rejoice about is His miraculous resurrection and victory over death, which constitutes the most important proof of His divinity. We proclaim His death because we should never forget what He has done for us. For that reason, the crucifix with the crucified body of Jesus Christ is displayed clearly in the sanctuaries of our churches.
It’s praiseworthy that you are pondering the deeper meaning of these words. Keep digging! There are endless treasures for you in the robust yet austere liturgy of the Catholic Church.
From the Chalice
Q. I would like to partake in the wine during Communion, but have an issue with sipping from the cup. It is a germ thing for me. Is there a way around this?
Communion by “intinction” is the proper alternative for those who wish to receive the Precious Blood, but prefer not to drink from the chalice. The General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM) provides this direction: “each communicant, holding a Communion-plate under the mouth, approaches the priest, who holds a vessel with the sacred particles, a minister standing at his side and holding the chalice. The priest takes a host, dips it partly into the chalice and, showing it, says ‘The Body and Blood of Christ.’ The communicant replies, ‘Amen,’ receives the Sacrament in the mouth from the priest, and then withdraws” (No. 287).
One very important consideration is taking proper care not to spill the Precious Blood. For this reason, communicants are not permitted to take the host and dip it into the chalice themselves. However, if a priest is not offering Communion by intinction, the accepted custom in most dioceses allows the communicant to receive the Host in the hand and present it to the minister of the chalice, who will dip it into the Precious Blood, say, “The Body and Blood of Christ,” and place the Host in the communicant’s mouth.
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