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Relics of saints
Q. The Catholic Church teaches that the human body is sacred and gives instructions regarding where the remains can be placed after death. Why then are there so many body parts of saints scattered in reliquaries throughout the world? Is the dead body more respected by the Church today than it used to be?
— S.M., Monitowoc, Wis.
A. Here’s a reply from OSV columnist Msgr. M. Francis Mannion:
Catholic funeral and post-funeral practices have varied a great deal over the centuries. It is not unusual to find body parts of the same saint in different places. For instance, the head of St. Catherine of Siena is kept in a reliquary in Siena, while the rest of her body is in Rome.
The intent of these traditional practices was not to show disrespect for the bodies of the dead, but to respond to the devotional needs of Catholics.
Readers may recall that the relics of St. Thérèse of Lisieux were on tour in many parts of the world in recent years. The Church’s concern in such cases is that the relics be authentic and generate true devotion.
Joining an Extra-Territorial Parish
Q. Can I attend any Catholic Church of my choice? I prefer one in another county that is the same distance as the cluster I’m a member of.
A. Here’s a reply from Father Reginald Martin:
The Church’s Code of Canon Law states, “As a general rule, a parish is to be territorial, that is, it embraces all the Christian faithful within a certain territory;whenever it is judged useful, however, personal parishes are to be established based upon rite, language … or even upon some other determining factor” (Canon 518).
The commentary on this canon goes into some detail about “particular pastoral needs” that could justify a personal parish within the larger territorial boundaries of an existing parish, and even “experimental parishes.”
Since the 1980s, this legislation on parishes has effectively allowed individuals to choose the parishes they wish to join, without considering territorial boundaries. Once registered, however, an individual is expected to remain a member of that parish. This makes sense when we consider the Catechism of the Catholic Church’s reflection that a parish is “a definite community of the Christian faithful established on a stable basis within a particular church” (No. 2179).
Prudence suggests that individuals should carefully seek out a parish community where they feel at home. Once found they should remain there; “church-hopping” does little to foster the stability that a parish is intended to offer its members.
Why Wisdom Books?
Q. If the Wisdom books of the Old Testament, such as the Book of Proverbs, don’t contribute to the story of salvation history, what is their purpose in Scripture? Much of it sounds as if it could be included in any secular collection of folk wisdom.
A. Here’s a reply from TCA columnist Father Ray Ryland, Ph.D., J.D
It is true that some of Israel’s wisdom literature is quite similar to that which was widespread throughout the ancient Near East. It focuses on the individual: how to live successfully — that is, happily.
Yet unlike that of her neighbors, Israel’s wisdom literature always had in its background the religion of Israel. Israel recognized that all wisdom comes from God. We can see development of doctrine in Israel’s literature. Whereas other literature contrasted wisdom with folly, Israel began to see the contrast as that between virtue and vice. And then, gradually, there emerged a contrast between true religion and false religion.
In the early chapters of Proverbs (especially in 8:22-31), we find wisdom personified in the female gender (see also Jb 28; Prv 1 and 9; Sir 24; Wis 7:7—9:18). Wisdom speaks as a person, eternally present with God, actively involved in the creation of the world. “Before all ages, in the beginning, he created me, and through all ages I shall not cease to be” (Sir 24:9). Though the personification of Wisdom here may be only a poetic device, still it foreshadows the revelation of Persons within the Godhead. And that, in my opinion, is its chief merit and purpose.
NFP not ABC
Q. A friend in a neighboring state lives in a parish with two deacons. She teaches RCIA and CCD, and now she and her husband are asked to counsel engaged couples. She tells them the only means of birth control approved by the Catholic Church is the condom. I was appalled and shocked, asking her where she got that information. She said from the deacon. What has changed?
A. Here is a reply from Father Francis Hoffman, J.C.D.:
You are not out of touch. Nothing has changed. It’s possible that your dear friend misunderstood the deacon, and it’s possible that the deacon does not know any better. So I’m happy you came to the right place for the correct answer. The Catholic Church does not approve of any kind of artificial birth control — pill, condom, IUD, vasectomy or tubal ligation — because it only makes the situation worse.
If a married couple needs to avoid pregnancy for serious and generous reasons, the couple has recourse to natural family planning, a method which strengthens the marital bond because it relies so heavily on spousal communication.
Marks of the Church
Q. My older brother is always going against me regarding the faith. My question is: What does Roman, Catholic and Apostolic Church mean?
Catholics profess belief in the “one, holy, Catholic and apostolic Church.” These four “signs” have identified our faith community from its earliest days.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us that the Church is a “convocation or an assembly … for a religious purpose” (No. 751). The Church is “one” because she professes a single faith, based on Christ’s word (see Nos. 813, 815). The Church is holy because “united with Christ, the Church is sanctified by him; through him and with him she becomes sanctifying” (No. 824).
The word “catholic” means “universal.” The Catechism teaches that the Church is “catholic” in a double sense: first, because Christ is present everywhere in her. In this fundamental sense, the Church was “catholic on the day of Pentecost and will always be so until the day of the Parousia” (No. 830). The Church is also catholic because “she has been sent out by Christ on a mission to the whole of the human race” (No. 831).
The Church is apostolic because “she is founded on the apostles” (No. 857), teaching what the apostles taught.
“Roman” simply identifies the geographical home of the chief bishop of the Church, “the perpetual and visible source … of the unity … of the whole company of the faithful” (No. 882).
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