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Can Lay People Open the Tabernacle?
Q. After the distribution of Holy Communion at Mass, our priest hands the ciborium to an extraordinary minister of the Eucharist to deposit into the tabernacle. I once read somewhere that no non-ordained person is supposed to open or close the tabernacle. Am I mistaken, or did I read something incorrectly in the new update of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM)?
A. Here’s a reply from TCA columnist Father Francis Hoffman, J.C.D.:
The new update of the GIRM is quite clear that it is the priest (or deacon) who is to carry the ciborium to the tabernacle when the distribution of Communion is finished at Mass (cf. GIRM no. 163). Apart from that case, there is nothing to prohibit a non-ordained person from opening the tabernacle if he has been duly deputed to do so for a legitimate and extraordinary reason — emphasis on extraordinary.
However, we must keep in mind that the ordinary minister of the Holy Eucharist—not only with regard to the distribution of Holy Communion at Mass, but also Communion for the Sick and even Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament—is the ordained minister: bishop, priest, and deacon. So, ordinarily, only an ordained man should open or close the tabernacle.
One final point: We all should avoid the phrase “extraordinary minister of the Eucharist” and instead use “extraordinary minister of Holy Communion,” according to what has been specified in the Instruction Redemptionis Sacramentum.
Communion and Mass Attendance
Q. If a Catholic hasn’t been practicing the faith, especially by failing to attend Sunday Mass for months, then receives Holy Communion without receiving the Sacrament of Reconciliation, is that right?
My understanding is that missing Masses is a mortal sin; therefore, confession is required to be back in full communion with the Catholic faith.
Thank you for your time, and may Our Lord continue to bless you.
K.A., via email
A. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states plainly the teaching of the Church in this regard:
“On Sundays and other holy days of obligation the faithful are bound to participate in the Mass” (par. 2180).
“The Sunday Eucharist is the foundation and confirmation of all Christian practice. For this reason the faithful are obliged to participate in the Eucharist on days of obligation, unless excused for a serious reason (for example, illness, the care of infants) or dispensed by their own pastor. Those who deliberately fail in this obligation commit a grave sin” (par. 2181).
“Anyone conscious of a grave sin must receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation before coming to Communion” (par. 1385).
In any given case, of course, the person who has failed to attend may have had legitimate reasons as noted by the Catechism (for example, illness); we shouldn’t judge the situation without knowing the circumstances fully.
Contraception in the Bible?
Q. How do you reply to a fallen-away Catholic, when they ask you if the Bible says anything against the use of contraception?
T.S., via email
A. This is one of the 88 questions about Catholic faith and practice that are addressed in “The New Catholic Answer Bible.” Catholic apologist Dave Armstrong and I wrote the inserts. Here’s the reply we offered there:
To contracept is willfully to exclude the possibility of a conception that could result from a sexual act. The widespread practice of contraception in our day reflects the common attitude that children are more a burden than a blessing. But that notion is utterly alien to the Scripture.
In the Psalms and Proverbs, for example, we hear a constant refrain about the great joy of being parents and grandparents, even many times over: “Children too are a gift from the Lord, the fruit of the womb, a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children born in one’s youth. Blessed are they whose quivers are full” (Ps 127:3-5). “Grandchildren are the crown of old men” (Pr 17:6). To biblical mothers and fathers, barrenness was not a convenience, but a curse (Dt 28:18; Job 15:34).
The constant teaching of the Catholic Church has been to prohibit contraception. This prohibition was in fact taught by all major Christian groups until 1930. Spacing of children or limiting of children for serious reasons is permitted, according to Pope Paul VI’s 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae and Catholic moral teaching. But this limitation must come about through natural rather than artificial means (such as natural family planning, or NFP) so that the integrity of the marital sexual act is preserved—that is, so that the act remains open to the possibility of transmitting new life, which is part of its natural purpose.
One biblical text cited in support of this truth concerns the grave sin of Onan, who sought the physical pleasures of sexual acts while preventing the possibility that they might produce children: “Whenever he had relations with his brother’s widow, he wasted his seed on the ground, to avoid contributing offspring for his brother. What he did greatly offended the LORD, and the LORD took his life too” (Gn 38:9-10).
Contraception is contrary to our sexual nature and the innate purposes for which God created it. Every marital sexual act, then, must be open to the possibility of conception.
One additional note: Keep in mind that a particular truth about faith or morals may not have an explicit biblical reference. As Catholics, we recognize the authoritative roles of Sacred Tradition and the Sacred Magisterium as well. The Protestant principle of sola scriptura (“Scripture alone”) is an inadequate approach to the Christian faith.
Even Protestant Christians (especially Evangelicals) who oppose abortion but accept contraception should consider this parallel: Just as the Bible contains no specific, explicit condemnation of contraception, it has no specific, explicit condemnation of abortion. But the Christian teaching that abortion is a grave evil is rooted in the broader biblical affirmation that human life is sacred; and in a similar way, the Catholic Church’s rejection of contraception is rooted in the broader biblical affirmation that children are a gift to be welcomed.
“The New Catholic Answer Bible” is available from Our Sunday Visitor (click here).
Eucharist Not in the Creeds?
Q. Our Lord’s presence in the Eucharist is one of our core beliefs as Catholics. Why is the Eucharist not mentioned in the Apostles Creed or the Nicene Creed?
J.H., via email
A. Here’s a reply from TCA columnist Father Ray Ryland, Ph.D., J.D.:
The creeds give a bare outline of salvation history, focusing on God and what He has done for us. The Nicene Creed in particular was developed in response to particular theological debates as a way of ruling out certain ancient heresies. In short, the creeds were never intended to be even a brief summary of all the Church’s doctrine.
Most Important “Relic”?
Q. Having read the recent article in TCA about relics of saints and the power they hold (Alberto Ferreiro, “Senseless Superstition or Powerful Devotion?” TCA May/June 2008), I was wondering what you would say to most practicing Catholics who I believe would become more excited about touching a relic of, say, St. Peter than receiving the Body of Christ at a Sunday Eucharist. Is not the Eucharist the most powerful “relic” we have here on earth?
D. P., via email
A. I think your point is well taken (though of course the term “relic” doesn’t actually apply to the Eucharist, which is, I assume, why you placed it in quotation marks). If relics are worthy of our veneration, how much more so the Eucharist — the very Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ! Here as in so many other situations, familiarity breeds contempt (or at least indifference). We tend to take for granted what we have available to us nearly every day.
I recall taking the Scavi tour down below St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican several years ago. At the end of a long, winding excavation tunnel, we arrived at the place where St. Peter’s relics were laid. Spontaneously, I fell to my knees to venerate them.
Was my devotion excessive? I don’t think so. Was it more than I would have done if I were in the presence of the Eucharist? Not at all! That’s one reason I personally prefer the extraordinary form of the Roman Rite (the Traditional Latin Mass), in which communicants kneel to receive the Blessed Sacrament. When we assume that posture, as so many generations of our ancestors have done, our bodies say to our minds (and to all those around us), “You are in the presence of the Almighty God Himself; adore Him!”
I’m an adult convert to the Catholic faith who came to believe in Christ’s Real Presence in the Eucharist long before I could enter the Church and receive Him in Communion. I hungered for the Blessed Sacrament! Not surprisingly, then, I have a sharp awareness of just how precious is this gift of Our Lord’s Body and Blood.
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