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Q. I am active with our RCIA group, and one of our new Catholics asked a question I couldn’t answer: At the end of Mass, the priest blesses us, making the Sign of the Cross. We respond by making the Sign of the Cross.
The deacon does not bless himself this way when the priest blesses him before he reads the Gospel. So why do we bless ourselves with the Sign of the Cross at the dismissal, since the priest is already blessing us?
D. S., via email
A. I’ve been doing this for 49 years and never thought about it till now! In fact, the rubrics for the Roman rite state that both the deacon (before the Gospel) and the people (at the end of the Mass) are to be blessed by the priest. There is no indication that either is to make the Sign of the Cross. But it is good for the people to do so because it is a pious custom from time immemorial.
I don’t see how the deacon could bless himself since he is carrying the Book of the Gospels with both hands. There’s not much more to it than that.
Come Out of the Tower?
Q. Re: your reply “Stingy Catholics” (Tuesday, June 10). Is this the most pressing question you people can address??? Come out of the tower and visit us common folks and our problems!!
A.S., via email
A. Thanks for your comment. We do address a number of “pressing questions” at this site, though that’s not the only criterion for the questions we answer. Sometimes we simply choose questions that our readers send in which we believe are of interest to others as well.
Having said that, I don’t think this matter is as unimportant as you may assume. Jesus himself said, “Where your treasure is, there also will your heart be” (Matthew 6:21). A Christian’s faithfulness in giving to God, or failing to do so, is actually a matter of great importance; it’s one indicator of spiritual health, for “common folks” as for everyone else.
The reason for noting the differences in giving among Christian communities is this: Since the Catholic Church (unlike some religious organizations) doesn’t require that members give a certain percentage of their income, Catholics often give according to what they think is “normal” or “average.” If what they are giving is far below what others are giving, they need to know that’s the case so they can make adjustments.
I know I’m stepping on some toes here, so let me provide a personal testimony in this regard.
I’m a convert to the Catholic Church from a Christian tradition that simply expected believers to give the Church and other charities 10 percent of gross income, reflecting the Old Testament standard of the tithe. That kind of generosity allowed our congregation and others to serve Christian believers and the wider community in important ways.
To be honest, when my wife and I became Catholic, we were scandalized to learn that most Catholics give only 2 percent or less of their income to the Lord. We owe all we have to God — yet we’re willing to return to Him only 2 percent of what He’s given us? That seemed to us, and still seems, like stinginess.
Some will complain that their budget just doesn’t allow for any greater generosity. In response, all I can say is that we, too, have been on extremely tight budgets many times before, yet 10 percent of our gross income has always been the minimum of what our family gives. That’s not meant in any way as a boast — we see it as an unremarkable thing for a Christian to do, like the servants Jesus spoke about, who say: “We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty” (Luke 17:10).
Meanwhile, God has always been faithful to take care of our needs. As my Pentecostal friends used to say, “You can’t out-give God!” That’s a bit of wisdom that I would encourage Catholics to keep in mind when they are deciding how much they will give.
Of course, the Catholic Church in her humility leaves this matter to the discretion of the individual. But that doesn’t mean we’re not allowed to urge Catholics to be generous! I would challenge everyone whose giving is minimal to reconsider; to give in a way that’s more in keeping with the way the Lord has first given to them; and to reflect seriously on how much the Church and charitable ministries could do if all Catholics came closer to giving a tithe (10 percent) of their income for God’s work to be done.
Q. How do you respond to a Baptist when he says there are people saved from different denominations?
P. O., via email
A. I’m assuming that your Baptist friend is making this point to suggest that it doesn’t really matter which denomination you belong to. If so, here’s how I would approach the issue.
First, it’s good for you yourself to know what the Catholic Church says about the matter, even as you recognize that such teaching probably makes no difference to him, since he doesn’t accept the authority of the Church.
The Church, the Second Vatican Council affirmed, “is necessary for salvation,” and “those who believe in Christ and have been properly baptized are put in a certain, although imperfect, communion with the Catholic Church.” So members of various Protestant denominations can be saved through their “imperfect” communion with the Catholic Church. (See the Catechism of the Catholic Church, nos. 838, 846.)
On the other hand, the Church also insists that such Christians cannot be saved if they know that “the Catholic Church was founded as necessary by God through Christ,” and yet still “refuse either to enter it or to remain in it” (CCC, no. 846).
The Catholic Church agrees with your Baptist friend, then, that “people [are] saved from different denominations,” or at least that they can be saved. But only if they are ignorant, or sincerely unconvinced, of the fact that “the Catholic Church was founded as necessary by God through Christ.”
To understand this truth is to realize the seriousness of discussions about Church membership. Though he doesn’t yet realize it, your Baptist friend can’t presume that he and other Christians will be saved just because they belong to a Protestant denomination of some sort. Their understanding of the Catholic Church, and their attitude toward her, could actually be a critical factor in whether they are saved.
In the meantime, however, I think it’s best to approach the issue by focusing on the importance of truth. When someone asks us, “Is it really important which denomination I belong to?” we should respond, “Let me answer your question with another question: Is the truth important?”
If the truth about God (with its many implications for how we must live) is important — and I can’t imagine a sincere Christian claiming that it’s not — then it matters critically which Christian group we belong to. Why? Because various groups make conflicting claims about what’s true, and they can’t all be right.
Every man or woman of integrity (your friend included, I trust) should want to know the truth about God and then live accordingly. That requires finding out which Christian tradition actually teaches the truth — and then joining it.
Here’s just one example: Is Holy Communion merely a symbol, as the Baptists claim? If so, then it really doesn’t make much difference how often you receive it, or whether you receive it in a Baptist gathering or a Methodist one. It’s just bread and wine (or grape juice), and its significance depends on the person receiving it.
But what if the Eucharist isn’t just a symbol? What if it’s truly the life-giving Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ, as the Catholic Church teaches, a matchless source of divine grace? What if the Lord intends for us to receive this grace frequently? And what if the bread and wine become Christ’s Body and Blood only when consecrated by someone who has been duly authorized by God through the sacrament of Holy Orders?
If that’s the case, then by all means you must find the Church that offers a true Eucharist, and then join it!
Encourage your friend to seek the truth about God by exploring thoughtfully and prayerfully the teachings of the Catholic Church, comparing them to the teachings of various Protestant denominations. If he does this honestly, though he may not become a Catholic right away, he will at least have to admit that it matters immensely which Christian church or denomination he belongs to — even if people can be saved from any one of them.
Salvation for Satan?
Q. I’ve been taught that Satan and his demons cannot be saved the way human beings can. If that’s true, then why not? Doesn’t God love all the creatures He made, including the fallen angels?
M. S., via email
A. Here’s a reply from TCA columnist Father Ray Ryland, Ph.D., J.D.:
God does indeed love all His creatures with an infinite love. One expression of his love to rational creatures such as angels and human beings is His gift of free will. The demons used that gift to turn against God.
Theoretically, it is true that Satan and his angels could be saved as we human beings can be saved if they were to repent and turn back to God. Nevertheless, the Church teaches us (see the Catechism of the Catholic Church, nos. 392-393) that this will not happen: Satan and his angels, using their free will, “radically and irrevocably rejected God and his reign.” The fact that their rejection of God is final means that they cannot be saved. God never overrides His creatures’ freedom to reject Him.
I would add to Father Ryland’s reply the reminder that human beings face a similar situation in the next life: Our choice in this present life for or against God becomes irrevocable at our death; it is an eternally definitive choice.
New Assyrian Catholics?
Q. I heard that a group of Eastern Christians that had long been separated from Rome were recently received into the Church. Can you provide a few details?
M. B., via email
A. The Assyrian Church of the East is an ancient Christian tradition with its own autonomous structure, separate from both the Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox churches, and with a theology that has differed from that of both Catholics and Orthodox on various doctrinal points, such as the nature of Christ. Their traditional liturgical language is Syriac. Though they originated in ancient Mesopotamia (what is roughly modern-day Iraq), they have members worldwide, including many who live in the U.S.
Mar Bawai Soro, a bishop of the Assyrian Church of the East, had long advocated the primacy of the See of Rome, which that church rejects. In November 2005 he presented a paper to the church’s Synod of Bishops that brought the matter to a head. Five days later, he was suspended by the Synod. (For the full text of Mar Bawai’s paper on papal primacy, as well as the Synod’s declaration of suspension, click here.)
After his suspension, Mar Bawai, along with the clergy and laypeople who remained loyal to him, formed the independent Assyrian Catholic Apostolic Diocese. Since that time, they had been drawing closer to the Catholic Church through relations with the Chaldean Catholic Patriarchate.
Last January the Assyrian clergy adopted a “Declaration of Intention” that they would seek to “enter full communion with the Catholic Church.” This document was signed by the bishop, six priests and thirty deacons. Its intention, they explained, was “the fulfillment of Christ’s prayer for His Holy Church ‘that they all may be one’ (John 17:21).” (To read the declaration,click here.)
In March, at the Chaldean Cathedral of St. Peter in San Diego, Calif., a gathering of the clergy publicly recited a Catholic Profession of Faith. Then, on Pentecost Sunday of this year, the group formally united with the Catholic Church, becoming part of the Catholic Diocese of St. Peter the Apostle for Chaldeans and Assyrians. Received into full communion that day were Mar Bawai, six priests, more than thirty deacons and subdeacons and an estimated 3,000 faithful. (For the announcement of this event by the Chaldean Catholic Church, click here.)
This is a cause for great celebration. I wish to offer a hearty Welcome home! to our newly reunited Assyrian brothers and sisters in the Faith.
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