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Sign of peace
Q. As a medical doctor, I always have to disagree with the Catholic practice of shaking hands to express the sign of peace in the Mass. Lots of illnesses are transmitted through the shaking of hands. Why can't we go back to the old way of giving the sign of peace -- whereby the priests gave the sign of peace to each other and simply nodded to each other?
M.J., Norfolk, Va.
A. Here’s a reply from OSV columnist Msgr. M. Francis Mannion:
While the revised liturgy restored the sign of peace to the people, no norms were provided on how it should be given. The ordinary means of social greeting -- the shaking of hands -- was simply assumed into the liturgy.
I can see your objection as a doctor to the sign of peace as it is generally given. However, the higher value of worshiping together takes priority over concerns about health. The fact is, even gathering together in an enclosed space and breathing the same air poses a risk to our health. Passing around germs is part of the price we pay for living in the world of community and Church.
Your point of going back to the old way of giving the sign of peace has, however, lots to commend it. It continues quite often in the way priests at concelebrated Masses give the sign of peace to each other -- which is by extending one's arms over those of another and bowing as if to embrace -- but not quite. You will see this form followed at papal Masses on television.
While your concern is health, my concern is with the general chaos that goes with the sign of peace. In my opinion, people would do better to give the sign of peace to one or two people and to refrain from various conversational greetings.
The way in which the sign of peace is shared in the Maronite liturgy -- which is very much akin to the old Roman way of doing things -- could well become the norm for the Roman liturgy as well.
Is Missing Mass on Sunday a Mortal Sin?
Q. A catechist has told her students it is not a mortal sin if you don’t go to Mass on Sunday. Is it or isn’t it? They were having a discussion of the Ten Commandments.
A. Here’s a reply from Father Reginald Martin:
“For a sin to be mortal,” the Catechism of the Catholic Church states, “three conditions must together be met”: grave matter, committed with full knowledge of the act’s gravity, and deliberate consent (see No. 1857). “It presupposes knowledge of the sinful character of the act, of its opposition to God’s law. It also implies consent sufficiently deliberate to be a personal choice” (No. 1859). If any of these conditions is lacking, an act cannot be mortally sinful. Likewise, if a person commits a sinful action with contempt, or the desire to lead others from the path of virtue, the gravity of the sinful act is increased.
The Ten Commandments and the Precepts of the Church unequivocally express a Catholic’s obligation to attend Mass on Sunday; deliberately to ignore the obligation is a serious matter. However, many things might mitigate this seriousness in individual cases. Poor health, family obligations and difficulty in getting to Mass considerably lessen the obligation, and thus reduce the seriousness of failing to attend Mass.
Determining the seriousness of particular acts demands sensitivity and prudence. We must examine our motives carefully, and confessors “must … conscientiously examine the objective facts and the subjective state of the penitent” (“Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma,” by Ludwig Ott).
All Mothers Have Sorrows
Q. As a Catholic mother I am devoted to our Blessed Mother. Yet, with all due respect to her, I wonder why the Church calls her "Mother of Sorrows." All mothers have sorrows; some have tragic burdens of sorrow. Can you explain why the Church honors the Virgin as supremely "Mother of Sorrows"?
A. Here’s a reply from TCA columnist Father Ray Ryland, Ph.D., J.D
It is true that every mother is in some ways a mother of sorrows. But here are brief summaries of just two of the reasons why the Church honors Mary as supremely "Mother of Sorrows." One reason lies in the focus of her sorrows; the other, the depth of her sorrows.
First, the focus. Deep maternal sorrow centers largely on family relationships, family hardships. Those sorrows may at times involve larger concerns, but the primary concerns are usually domestic.
By contrast, consider the focus of our Blessed Mother's sorrows. The world's deepest suffering -- far deeper than physical or emotional suffering -- is its suffering from lack of the Savior. All the Virgin's sorrows centered on the suffering of the Savior of the world. Indeed, her sorrows were cosmic in scope.
Think also about the depth of her sorrows. Ordinary human sorrow always has a component, even a strong component, of self-concern -- that is, sorrow over one's sorrow; a strain of self-pity: "Why should I have to endure something like this?"
This is an inevitable reflection of our broken human nature, even though it has been redeemed. Yet, being free from original sin through her Immaculate Conception, the Blessed Virgin was able to focus entirely on the suffering of her divine Son.
She could identify with Him completely with no self-concern to detract from that identification. She plumbed the depths of human sorrow as no other person (aside from her Son) ever has or ever could. She knows the true nature of total human sorrow.
For these and other reasons, the Catholic Church venerates our Blessed Mother as the "Mother of Sorrows."
Confession Once a Year?
Q. When the Catechism states that we must go to confession once a "year," what does "year" mean? If I went to confession on Jan. 7, 2008, must I go on or before Jan. 8, 2009?
A. Here is a reply from Father Francis Hoffman, J.C.D.:
With respect to confession once a year, the Catechism copies directly from the Code of Canon Law by stating: "After having attained the age of discretion, each of the faithful is bound by an obligation faithfully to confess serious sins at least once a year" (see Nos. 1457, 2042; and Canon 989).
This precept of the Church has been on the books since the early Middle Ages, and the ecumenical Council of Trent reiterated this practice in the 16th century.
Since neither the code nor the Catechism are more specific than confession "once a year," the time is reckoned as 365 days (see Canon 202.1). So, to use your example, if you went to confession on Jan. 7, 2008, you should go again before Jan. 7, 2009.
Old Testament Saints?
Q. Why are there no saints from the Old Testament in the Catholic Church?
John J Kowalski, Emmett, Mich.
When we consider the saints, the Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us, “It is in the Church, in communion with all the baptized, that the Christian fulfills his vocation” (No. 2030). This does not deny the holiness of those who lived before Christ, but acknowledges the power of baptism, which enables us to follow the example of Christ in the Church.
Christ’s witness creates and sustains the Church, and provides the key to understanding how the Church identifies saints. Msgr. Ronald Knox, a 20th-century English theologian, wrote, “Our Lord [claimed] to bring with him a unique revelation from God … a theological certitude earlier ages had never even aspired to.” To emphasize this uniqueness, early Christians (Chrysostom, Ambrose) downplayed similarities between the New Law and the Old, and those who lived under them.
The Church’s earliest saints were martyrs, who most clearly imitated Christ’s heroism. Nonetheless, the Maccabees were highly regarded because their witness anticipated Jesus’. Likewise, our liturgical calendar honors Moses and Elijah on the feast of the Transfiguration (Aug. 6), the parents of Mary (July 26), the Holy Innocents (Dec. 28) and even the Good Thief (March 25) — individuals who imitated Christ’s example, although they were, at most, remote members of the Church.
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