Each weekday, you'll find a new question and answer. Check back for the new question and scroll down to see previous day's entries! Let us know what you think - - or question! -- by emailing us at email@example.com.
Meeting up in heaven
Q. When we join our parents, spouses and relatives in heaven, will we recognize them? What shape will our spirits have in heaven?
J.S., Murray, Utah
A. Here’s a reply from OSV columnist Msgr. M. Francis Mannion:
The funeral liturgy of the Church, as well as the breadth of Catholic tradition, speak of the truth that we shall be reunited in the kingdom of God and that we shall all be together again. This is what the Communion of Saints means.
We will not be reunited as abstract entities but as the persons we were on earth -- body and soul -- but utterly transfigured and transformed by the Resurrection.
What shape will our spirits have? The shape of our bodies. Keep in mind that we are made of body and soul, both profoundly interconnected. The body is the shape of the soul, and the soul is the shape of the body.
Our communal lives in heaven will be in continuity with our lives on earth; and yet there will be a complete transformation. We hold both aspects -- continuity and discontinuity -- in creative tension.
Ash Wednesday Mass
Q. How come Ash Wednesday is not considered a holy day of obligation? It seems appropriate for it to be one.
A. Here’s a reply from Father Reginald Martin:
When it discusses the precepts of the Church, the Catechism of the Catholic Church remarks, “The first precept (‘You shall attend Mass on Sundays….’) requires the faithful to sanctify the day commemorating the Resurrection of the Lord as well as the principal liturgical feasts honoring the mysteries of the Lord, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and the saints” (No. 2042). The Catechism also states, “On Sundays and other holy days of obligation, the faithful are to refrain from engaging in work or activities that hinder the worship owed to God, the joy proper to the Lord’s day … and the appropriate relaxation of mind and body” (No. 2185).
Ash Wednesday is an important day in the liturgical life of the Church, as it introduces the season of Lent. This makes Ash Wednesday worthy of attendance at Mass, and the faithful are certainly encouraged to take part in the Church’s liturgy on that day. However, the day does not celebrate an event in the life of Jesus, his mother or one of the Church’s saints. Likewise, its penitential character does not lend itself to the joy that ought to characterize a Sunday or feast day. For these reasons, Ash Wednesday is not, appropriately, a holy day of obligation.
Q. Is our eternal salvation fully guaranteed just in Christ's dying on the cross?
A. Here’s a reply from TCA columnist Father Ray Ryland, Ph.D., J.D
With regard to our salvation, we must always distinguish between objective salvation and subjective salvation. Objectively speaking, Jesus Christ's death and resurrection have fully guaranteed that eternal salvation is available to all who accept His gift. Subjectively speaking, however, that salvation must be accepted and applied to the lives of each one of us.
Accepting and growing in Christ's gift of salvation is a lifelong process: "Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For God is the one who, for his good purpose, works in you both to desire and to work" (Phil 2:12-13).
Disposing of Blessed Palms?
Q. What is the proper way to dispose of blessed palms from the previous year's Palm Sunday? I understand that the ashes distributed on Ash Wednesday are the burnt remains of the previous year's palms held back by the church. But how is one supposed to dispose properly of the year-old palms in the home when the new palms are distributed?
M.C., via e-mail
A. Here is a reply from Father Francis Hoffman, J.C.D.:
Blessed palms are sacramentals. Therefore, they should be disposed of with reverence. You can bury them in the garden, or bring them to your parish before Ash Wednesday so they can be transformed into ashes.
Crucifix at the Altar
Q. How many crucifixes are allowed on or near the altar? Should the priest have a crucifix facing him on the altar?
When describing sanctuary appointments, the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM) states: “There is also to be a cross, with the figure of Christ crucified upon it, either on the altar or near it, where it is clearly visible to the assembled congregation. It is appropriate that such a cross, which calls to mind for the faithful the saving Passion of the Lord, remain near the altar even outside of liturgical celebrations” (No. 308).
The language of this statement should be examined carefully. The words are very important, both for what they demand and for what they leave to the discretion of the local pastor. Clearly, what must be present in the sanctuary is a crucifix; what is negotiable, within limits, is its location. Likewise, the GIRM does not restrict the number of crucifixes in a sanctuary, nor does the document demand (or forbid) placing the crucifix on the altar, or specify that the crucifix should face the priest.
At their very best, Roman Catholic liturgical documents establish minimum requirements that must be observed, and leave a great deal to local custom, individual taste and the personal devotion of the priest-celebrant and the particular congregation.
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