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Kiddie Homilies and Lay Sermons?
Q. Once a month our parish celebrates a “Children’s Liturgy of the Word,” in which all children, ages 6 through 13, are led out of the sanctuary and into a classroom where a lay person reads them the Gospel and gives them a “kiddie” homily. It is my understanding, however, that once a child makes first Communion, he becomes an adult in the Church and is responsible to attend the Mass from beginning to end.
Am I correct or being too rigid? I have scoured the Catechism of the Catholic Church and the GIRM, but for every paragraph I cite, the DRE claims: “It’s up to the pastor, and our pastor allows it.”
N.N., via email
A. Here’s a reply from TCA columnist Father Francis Hoffman, J.C.D.:
Basically, you’re correct. It sounds as if your DRE (Director of Religious Education) is trying to keep peace and unity, which is fine, but never at the expense of truth. Certainly, many pastoral decisions are “up to the pastor,” but not everything is in play.
We need to recognize humbly that the Church is Christ’s, not our own, and we must follow God’s will, especially as regards the sacraments and the liturgy. In fact, the General Instruction on the Roman Missal (GIRM) states, “The priest … is not permitted, on his own initiative, to add, to remove, or to change anything in the celebration of Mass” (no. 24).
According to canon law “the faithful are obliged to participate in the Mass” on Sundays and holy days of obligation (Canon 1247); this precept obliges all who have attained the use of reason (from around the age of 7). A person is not considered an “adult” in the Church until 18, but in this case, that distinction is irrelevant.
According to trusted moralists, a Catholic’s obligation to participate in the Mass is fulfilled if he is physically (and mentally) present at least from the beginning of the offertory to the conclusion of the celebrant’s communion. That part of the Mass is the essential part: It is the Sacrifice.
However, to be purposely absent during the readings and the homily is a disorder. No matter how praiseworthy the intention to make that part of the Mass more relevant to the youngsters, they should remain with the rest of the assembly.
Moreover, it is entirely illicit to have a non-ordained member of the Church proclaim the Gospel and deliver the homily. Evidently, the custom of “lay homilies” has become so widespread that Rome has had to address and correct this problem at least twice in so many years: first, in the GIRM (no. 66), and more recently in the Instruction Redemptionis Sacramentum issued by the Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments in April 2004 (nos. 64-67).
I think a better solution is to have the celebrant prepare and deliver his homily specifically for the children. Rather than being tedious for the adults, such basic instruction can serve as an appealing review for them.
How Many Catholics Worldwide?
Q. You’ve been citing statistics about Catholic gains and losses in the U.S. How many Catholics are there in the entire world?
R.Q., via email
A. A few weeks ago Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican’s Secretary of State, presented Pope Benedict XVI with the latest (2008) edition of the Annuario Pontificio, or pontifical yearbook. It contains, among other intriguing reams of information, statistics about the Catholic population worldwide.
Between 2005 and 2006 (the most recent years for which statistics are available), the global Catholic population grew from 1,115,000,000 to 1,131,000,000, a growth of 1.4 percent. In the same period, the number of bishops increased from 4,841 to 4,898, an increase of 1.2 percent.
The number of religious and diocesan priests grew from 406,411 in 2005 to 407,262 in 2006, a growth of 0.21 percent. I’m happy to report that the number of priests worldwide has grown steadily from 2000 to 2006, though we should note that the growth was in Africa and Asia; priestly numbers have fallen in Europe and America.
In 2007, eight new episcopal sees were created, along with one apostolic prefecture, two metropolitan sees and one apostolic vicariate. In addition, 169 new bishops were appointed.
Students of philosophy and theology in diocesan and religious seminaries number 115,480, an increase of 0.9 percent over the previous year. Of these 24,034 are in Africa, 37,150 in America, 30,702 in Asia, 22,618 in Europe, and 976 in Oceania.
How Many New American Catholics?
Q. Last week you talked about American Catholics leaving the Church. How about Catholics coming into the Church?
P.T., via email
A. Tens of thousands of Americans joined the Catholic Church this year through the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA), most of them at the Easter Vigil. Many were baptized, confirmed and received Communion for the first time; others, who had already been baptized, were received into full membership in the Church.
The numbers of course varied widely from diocese to diocese. The Diocese of Orange, California, reportedly baptized more than 650 people and received more than 500 others into full communion at the Easter Vigil. The Archdiocese of Detroit reported 589 catechumens (receiving full initiation) and 497 candidates (baptized in other Christian traditions) being received into full communion.
According to figures from the 2007 Official Catholic Directory, last year almost 64,500 adults were baptized in the Catholic Church in the United States. Nearly 93,000 came into full communion. In addition, it’s estimated that more than a million infant baptisms will take place in the Catholic parishes of the U.S. during 2008.
IVF and Transplants?
Q. My husband and I teach RCIA classes. The question came up the other night about what the Catholic Church teaches with reference to in vitro fertilization (IVF) and organ transplants. What is the Catholic Church’s stand officially on these procedures? We told them that to the best of our knowledge, IVF is not accepted, but transplants are OK.
F.N., via email
A. Your answer was correct. The Church does condemn all methods of human conception apart from the physical union of husband and wife. On the other hand, if done according to certain ethical criteria, it’s acceptable to transplant human organs from one person to another.
The ethical criteria are suggested by these words of Pope John Paul II in an address to the First International Congress of the Society for Organ Sharing (June 20, 1991):
“In effect, transplantation presupposes a prior, explicit, free and conscious decision on the part of the donor or of someone who legitimately represents the donor, generally the closest relatives. It is a decision to offer, without reward, a part of one’s own body for the health and well-being of another person. In this sense, the medical action of transplantation makes possible the donor’s act of self-giving, that sincere gift of self which expresses our constitutive calling to love and communion” (par. 3).
For more details, click here. For some cautions about organ transplantation from two American bishops, several medical professionals and a philosopher, click here.
Q. I recently read a passing reference to a custom called the “Easter laughter.” Can you explain?
J.J., via email
A. “Easter laughter,” known in Latin as Risus Paschalis, is the custom of including jokes or funny stories in Easter homilies, then drawing spiritual lessons from them. The rationale for the tradition runs something like this.
Easter was Our Lord’s great cosmic “joke” on the devil, giving Him the last laugh. Just when Satan thought he’d triumphed over the Son of God, the tables were turned, and the enemy of our souls discovered that God had outwitted him, using him to carry out the great plan of redemption for the fallen human race.
Telling a joke on Easter, then, is offering a token of the Christian’s scorn for the devil’s folly.
The custom was once common in gatherings held on Easter afternoon or evening throughout Central Europe. Similar traditions developed in the East, with humorous celebrations on Easter Monday.
The custom reminds me of the words of the Irish poet Patrick Kavanaugh, who once observed that the resurrection of Jesus was truly “a laugh freed forever and ever.” It’s a laugh that still echoes through the lives of the saints, as it did when St. Thomas More joked with his executioners as he went to his martyrdom on the scaffold.
The old Catholic Encyclopedia suggests that “this strange custom originated in Bavaria in the fifteenth century,” though its exact historical origins apparently have been debated. It also reports that “this Easter laughter, giving rise to grave abuses of the word of God, was prohibited by [Pope] Clement X (1670-1676) and in the eighteenth century by [Elector] Maximilian III [of Bavaria] and the bishops of Bavaria.” (The encyclopedia’s article on Easter can be found here.)
For more on intriguing Easter traditions around the world, click here. For a closer look at the relationship between humor and faith, see my essay here. For humorous last words spoken by Catholics before they died, see chapter 10, “No One Will Take Your Joy,” in my recent book Last Words: Final Thoughts of Catholic Saints and Sinners (Servant, 2006; click here). For several volumes of humorous Christian anecdotes and jokes collected by my old friends Cal and Rose Samra, see the “Holy Humor” series (click here)
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