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Q. Are the oils used for the Sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation, Holy Orders and the Anointing of the Sick the same — or are they different? If they are different, what makes them different?
— B.G. Grantsville, Utah
A. Here’s a reply from OSV columnist Msgr. M. Francis Mannion:
In traditional terms, there are two things that go together to make up a sacrament: matter and form. Matter refers to the essential material or gesture, and form refers to the essential prayer of blessing or consecration.
The oils used for the sacraments you mention are all the same: olive oil or other plant oil. To chrism is added a perfume called balsam.
While the matter is the same for the holy oils, the prayers of blessing are different. Each oil has a different prayer and the focus is different in each case. These prayers are rich in symbolism. The blessing of holy oils is celebrated at the Chrism Mass in the diocesan cathedral by the bishop during or before Holy Week. If you get a chance to attend, I would encourage you to do so, and to listen carefully to each prayer of blessing.
Absolving a non-Catholic?
Q. May a Catholic priest hear the confession of, and absolve the sins of, a non-Catholic?
-- Shawn Kerrigan, Muncie, Ind.
A. Here’s a reply from Father Reginald Martin:
When considering the propriety of admitting non-Catholics to the sacraments, the Catechism of the Catholic Church refers to the Church’s Code of Canon Law, which states, “If the danger of death is present or other grave necessity, in the judgment of the diocesan bishop … Catholic ministers may administer these sacraments [Eucharist, Penance, and Anointing of the Sick] to other Christians who cannot approach a minister of their own community and on their own ask for it, provided they manifest Catholic faith in these sacraments and are properly disposed” (Canon 844.4; see Catechism, No. 1401).
Obviously, admitting non-Catholics to the sacraments is not something to be undertaken lightly. The practice must be authorized, at least in very general terms, by the local bishop, and the Sacrament must be offered in response to a serious need. The commentary on the Code of Canon Law mentions prison, in addition to the danger of death, as a situation in which a non-Catholic might reasonably seek the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
The sacraments may not be offered to a group; they may only be offered to individuals, and the individual must request them and share the Catholic belief in the sacrament she or he asks to receive.
Start of Tonsure?
Q. I understand that ancient Israelites cut their hair or even shaved their heads as a sign of grief over bereavement or sins. Is this the origin of the old custom among monks who received the tonsure, and of nuns who cut their hair short?
J.B., via e-mail
A. Here’s a reply from TCA columnist Father Ray Ryland, Ph.D., J.D
The early medieval origins of monastic tonsure are obscure. We do know it was never an outward sign of grief. Rather, it symbolized the monk’s renouncing worldly fashion and esteem. In Roman times it was common practice to shave the heads of slaves. The tonsure, therefore, was also a symbol of slavery (“servants — slaves — of God”).
Regular Vigil Masses?
Q. Last night our priest said that we should not attend the Sunday Vigil Mass on Saturday nights regularly. We should go on Sundays, he said, and just attend the Saturday night Mass once in awhile.
Please, could you give us your thoughts on this?
M.R., via e-mail
A. Here is a reply from Father Francis Hoffman, J.C.D.:
Canon 1248.1 states, "The obligation of participating in the Mass is satisfied by one who assists at Mass wherever it is celebrated in a Catholic rite, either on a holy day itself or on the evening of the previous day."
So, if you attend Sunday Mass in your parish on Saturday evening, you have fulfilled your Sunday Mass obligation, but you still must make an effort to "keep the [rest of the] Lord's Day holy."
I understand where your pastor is coming from, and his pastoral guidance seems to be very much grounded in the spirit of Pope John Paul II's apostolic letter Dies Domini (1998).
Back in 1970, when the Church allowed for the anticipated Sunday Mass on Saturday evenings, the intention was to make Mass more easily available for those who could not attend Mass on Sunday for a legitimate reason. It was never the intention of the Church to de-emphasize the Sunday Mass obligation or to "free up" the Sunday schedule so folks could enjoy unlimited recreation on the Lord's Day.
Sunday remains a day of worship and rest. It's a fine moment for the family to dress in their Sunday best and attend Sunday morning Mass together, followed perhaps by a feast-day brunch, and a visit to elderly relatives in the afternoon.
You are entirely free to attend Sunday Mass at any time from 4 p.m. on Saturday evening until 11:59 p.m. on Sunday night. But try to make the entire day special for the Lord and the service of others, especially family.
Communion in the Hand
Q. Is it a sacrilege to receive holy Communion by hand?
When Pope Paul VI granted permission, in 1977, for U.S. Catholics to receive Communion in the hand, the document allowing the practice stated, “The condition is the complete avoidance of any cause for the faithful to be shocked and any danger of irreverence toward the Eucharist.”
The document also stated that the practice of receiving Communion in the hand should not “exclude the traditional practice … even when other persons are receiving Communion in the hand. The two ways of receiving Communion can without question take place during the same liturgical service. There is a twofold purpose here: that none will find in the new rite anything disturbing to personal devotion toward the Eucharist; that this sacrament, the source and cause of unity by its very nature, will not become an occasion of discord between members of the faithful.”
The Catholic Church generously allows choices in liturgical matters when these seem appropriate for particular worshipping communities. Communion in the hand would be sacrilegious only if the person receiving the host were to treat it irreverently.
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