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Appropriate behavior for sign of peace
Q. Whenever our pastor is away from the parish, he enlists the help of a retired priest in town to celebrate the daily and Sunday liturgies. Recently at the daily Mass, the fill-in priest began the practice of shaking the hands of the 15 to 20 people present. Two days later this was replaced by an embrace for all the women. Not everyone is OK with this performance.
A. Here’s a reply from OSV columnist Msgr. M. Francis Mannion:
As I have stated in this column many times before, priests, ministers and people should stick to the official prescriptions of the liturgy. This is not a matter of legalism, but of maintaining good order in the liturgical assembly and of avoiding novel elements that are disturbing to the people and counter to the authentic meaning of the various parts of the liturgy.
As you state in your letter (which I shortened, as I often do), the 2004 Vatican instruction on the Eucharist (Redemptionis Sacramentum) states (quoting the 2002 General Instruction of the Roman Missal): “It is appropriate that ‘each one give the sign of peace in a sober manner.’ ‘The priest may give the sign of peace to the ministers but always remains within the sanctuary, so as not to disturb the celebration’” (No. 72).
The sign of peace is not meant to be an extended time-out from the orderly flow of the liturgy, but to be a brief and “sober” gesture that prepares the whole congregation for Communion, helping each person to recognize that he or she is part of the Body of Christ. Too often the sign of peace becomes disorderly as people talk out loud and move around the pews. The sign of peace is best done by offering the gesture of peace quietly to one or two people in the same pew.
The requirement that the priest remain in the sanctuary during the sign of peace is not meant to be clericalist or to suggest that the priest is better than everyone else, but to make the point that the priest is not the source of the peace of the Mass (Christ is), and to avoid the kind of disturbance that inevitably occurs when the priest walks up and down the aisle shaking hands, touching babies on the head and generally waving. I doubt that in your situation all the women present welcomed the embrace. Greetings of a more effusive kind belong after Mass at the front door.
Fasting and Abstinence
Q. What are the age requirements for fasting and abstaining for Ash Wednesday and for Lent?
A. Here’s a reply from Father Reginald Martin:
The Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us, “The seasons and days of penance in the course of the liturgical year (Lent and each Friday in memory of the death of the Lord) are intense moments of the Church’s penitential practice” (No. 1438).
The Church’s Code of Canon Law expands on this general principal and states, “Abstinence and fast are to be observed on Ash Wednesday and on the Friday of the Passion and Death of Our Lord” (Canon 1251). The law continues, “All persons who have completed their fourteenth year are bound by the law of abstinence; all adults are bound by the law of fast up to the beginning of their sixtieth year” (Canon 1252).
As some confusion occasionally blurs the difference between fast and abstinence, we should note that abstinence regulates the consumption of meat, fasting the amount of food we eat. On Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, those between 21 and 59 years of age (if their health allows) may not eat meat, but are allowed to eat one full meal and two smaller meals, with no snacks. Although we must forego eating meat during days of abstinence, we may eat cheese, milk and other dairy products.
Our Lord’s Genetic Makeup?
Q. We were taught that Mary, of necessity, provided all Jesus’ makeup, although God could transform the genetic makeup where it was not exactly cloning. To say that the Holy Spirit created “half” of Jesus’ material makeup is not only to bring about a hypostatic union of the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity with humanity but to insert the matter of another being, not descended from Adam and Eve and thus not “like us in all things but sin.” It would be easier to believe that God could have miraculously taken a sperm from Joseph to impregnate Mary. If my reasoning holds, does this matter need to go further than our discussion?
Father Dan Hirtz, via email
A. Here’s a reply from TCA columnist Father Ray Ryland, Ph.D., J.D
If the Holy Spirit created “half” of Jesus’ material makeup, there would have been no Incarnation. You and I would still be in our sins. To affirm in our Creed that Jesus was “conceived by the Holy Spirit” surely and only means that through the power of the Spirit the Father and Son brought about the miracle of Incarnation. The miracle is that the Man Jesus is truly, fully human (as well as fully, truly divine). The miracle is, I think, that the Father both implanted and gave life to the seed He created in the Virgin. It was creation ex nihilo. The miracle was creation of the new Adam, freed from the stain of original sin.
Obviously, if God had used the procreative powers of Joseph and Mary to bring about the Virgin Birth there would have been no Incarnation. There would have been no new beginning in the human race, no new Adam, no new Eve.
When Did God Begin?
Q. I have a non-Christian friend who asked me to explain how it is that God did not have a beginning. I could not explain this challenging aspect of the Christian faith.
Peter Phillips, Newburgh, N.Y.
A.Here is a reply from Father Francis Hoffman, J.C.D.:
Your friend is not asking a specifically Christian issue. It is largely a metaphysical one, which is best answered by St. Thomas Aquinas in his Summa Theologica (see Part I, Article 10, on eternity). Let me see if I can summarize the argument.
Not only did God not have a beginning, He will have no end, because God is eternal. We all have difficulty understanding this, because the nature of God is far beyond anything we can relate to: He is beyond space and time. The very nature of God is to exist. God has other attributes as well, many of which can be deduced by reasoning: God is eternal, immutable, omniscient and omnipotent.
Just for fun, try to wrap your mind around this explanation of eternity by the Angelic Doctor. (Warning! Pay very close attention.):
“I answer that, As we attain to the knowledge of simple things by way of compound things, so must we reach to the knowledge of eternity by means of time, which is nothing but the numbering of movement (that is, change by ‘before’ and ‘after.’ For since succession occurs in every movement, and one part comes after another, the fact that we reckon before and after in movement, makes us apprehend time, which is nothing else but the measure of before and after in movement. Now in a thing bereft of movement, which is always the same, there is no before or after. As therefore the idea of time consists in the numbering of before and after in movement; so likewise in the apprehension of the uniformity of what is outside of movement, consists the idea of eternity.
“Further, those things are said to be measured by time which have a beginning and an end in time, because in everything which is moved (that is changeable) there is a beginning, and there is an end. But as whatever is wholly immutable can have no succession, so it has no beginning, and no end.
“Thus eternity is known from two sources: first, because what is eternal is interminable — that is, has no beginning nor end (that is, no term either way); secondly, because eternity has no succession, being simultaneously whole.”
Chaplet of St. Gertrude
Q. Can you tell me if the St. Gertrude chaplet is authentic? Did the Lord really tell St. Gertrude that the prayer would release 1,000 souls from purgatory each time it is said and that the full chaplet would release 50,000 souls? If authentic, I would like to do this for Lent. Thank you for answering this.
— Marcelle Pare
Gertrude the Great (1256-1302) ranks among the foremost German mystics. She left careful records of her spiritual experiences, and these texts are highly regarded. Gertrude’s spirituality is rooted in the liturgy, and she is one of the first of the Church’s saints to embrace devotion to the Sacred Heart. Christ’s mercy naturally extends to souls in purgatory, so the “chaplet” is certainly a prayer in her spirit: “Eternal Father, I offer Thee the Most Precious Blood of Thy Divine Son, Jesus, in union with Masses said throughout the world today, for all the holy souls in purgatory.”
However, standard biographies of St. Gertrude do not mention the chaplet. Scholars have determined that one book of prayers attributed to her was actually written in the 17th century, and Pope Leo XIII discounted one prayer attributed to her in 1898.
The promise of 1,000 souls to be released was approved by M. Cardinal Pahiarca, of Lisbon, Portugal, in 1936, but the promise seems to come from an unattributed source, so one might wonder whether Gertrude herself actually quoted it. Nonetheless, praying for the dead is a merciful deed, and the chaplet is beautiful and succinct — good reasons to employ it.
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