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Incense and the liturgy
Q. Why is incense used in the liturgy? Particularly at the end of funerals?
T.T., Trenton, N.J.
A. Here’s a reply from OSV columnist Msgr. M. Francis Mannion:
Generally, incense is used in the liturgy as a means of blessing God and expressing adoration of him. As incense rises up to heaven, so the Church expresses its desire that its prayer rise up and give glory to God. Reference to incense is found in Psalm 141: “Let my prayer be incense before you.” In the Book of Revelation we are told, “The smoke of the incense along with the prayers of the holy ones went up before God from the hand of the angel” (8:4).
In the final commendation in the liturgy of funerals, the use of incense is especially recommended. Incensation is accompanied by a song of farewell, which says, “Receive his/her soul and present him/her to God the Most High.”
The General Introduction to the Order of Christian Funerals explains: “Incense is used during the funeral rites as a sign of honor to the body of the deceased, which through baptism became the temple of the Holy Spirit. Incense is also used as a sign of the community’s prayers for the deceased rising to the throne of God and as a sign of farewell” (No. 37).
In short, in funerals incense shows honor to the body of the deceased, signifies our hope that his or her soul (and body) will rise to heaven, and signifies the heaven ward prayer of the Church.
Same-Sex Unions Impossible
Q. How can I explain to my friend that same-sex marriage is morally impossible?
A. Here’s a reply from Father Reginald Martin:
Church law is very clear regarding the nature of marriage. “The matrimonial covenant, by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of the whole of life, is by its nature ordered toward the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of offspring” (Canon 1055; Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 1601).
Although not all married couples prove able to have children, “spouses … can nevertheless … radiate a fruitfulness of charity, of hospitality, and of sacrifice” (Catechism, No. 1654). Likewise, “They can give expression to their generosity by adopting abandoned children or performing demanding services for others” (No. 2379). One might ask why, since same-sex couples are capable of these virtues, they should then be denied the Sacrament of Matrimony?
The answer lies in the end for which God created human sexuality. The Catechism reminds us, “Sexuality is ordered to the conjugal love of man and woman” (No. 2360). A heterosexual couple may encounter any number of obstacles in their quest toproduce a family, but the simple possibility of their sexual expression gives their love the sacramental character that, St. Paul writes, makes married love resemble Christ’s love for the Church (see Eph 5:31- 32). Same-sex unions, by contrast, do not provide their partners this same possibility.
"Fullness of Time"?
Q. What is meant by the biblical phrase "the fullness of time"?
J.K., via e-mail
A. Here’s a reply from TCA columnist Father Ray Ryland, Ph.D., J.D
The literal translation of Galatians 4:4, where this phrase is found, is this: "But when came the fullness [pleroma] of the time." The Revised Standard Version says: "But when the time had fully come."
The Greek word pleroma means "fullness, plenitude, that which fills up," and in the passive sense, "that which has been completed."
The complete verse is this: "But when the time had fully come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law."
"Fullness of time" can be paraphrased as "at exactly the right time." God picked the time. That is why the Second Person of the Trinity took on flesh when he did.
A friend of mine used to argue, more than half seriously, that God should have waited until modern times for the Incarnation. The modern means of communication, said my friend, would have enabled Jesus very easily to broadcast the Gospel to the entire world.
Nevertheless, I reminded her, God did come at the time He chose. It therefore had to be the right time, "the fullness of time."
Valid Baptism Wording?
Q. The words for the rite of baptism are: "I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit." I recently heard instead: "I baptize you in the name of the Father, in the name of the Son and in the name of the Holy Spirit."
The first wording supports the teaching of Three Persons in one God. The second statement appears to support the notion of three gods. The first is from the Gospel of Matthew and from the Church's official rite. The second I cannot find anywhere. Is it allowed, and does it challenge the belief in one God in Three Persons?
B.R, via e-mail
A. Here is a reply from Father Francis Hoffman, J.C.D.:
No, that formula is not allowed, and, yes, it could be interpreted to challenge the belief in one God in Three Persons.
When a child or adult is baptized, the minister has a very serious obligation to speak the exact words of the rite: "I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit." Anything else in English would be illicit and potentially invalid.
Recently, the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith was asked whether baptisms performed "in the name of the Creator, and of the Redeemer, and of the Sanctifier" were valid, and the response came back in the negative.
Anointing of the Sick
Q. Can a non-practicing Catholic receive the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick?
-- Bob Wentz
A ninth-century Church council decreed, “He to whom the other sacraments have been restricted, is by no means permitted to use” the anointing of the sick. This would seem to preclude anointing a fallen-away Catholic, unless she or he had first sought the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
The Council of Trent, however, stressed the sacrament’s capacity to forgive sin, mentioned in the Letter of James (see 5:15) and does not specify prior reconciliation. This is the approach followed by the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which quotes James’ letter directly, “if [the sick person to be anointed] has committed sins, he will be forgiven” (No. 1520). This affords the sick individual not only the possibility of anointing, but, through it, reconciliation with the Church.
Obviously, this is not a privilege to be abused. Rather, it should be a last resort, for those whose illness is so severe they cannot make a formal act of reparation and reunion with the Church through the Sacrament of Reconciliation before they are anointed. Otherwise, the Catechism points out, “If circumstances suggest it, the celebration of the sacrament can be preceded by the sacrament of Penance and followed by the sacrament of the Eucharist” (No. 1517).
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