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Donating one’s body
Q. I am thinking of donating my body to a medical school. What does the Church say about this — and about the cremation that follows its use at the school?
— T.C., Grosse Pointe Woods, Mich.
A. Here’s a reply from OSV columnist Msgr. M. Francis Mannion:
The Catechism of the Catholic Church states simply: “Organ donation after death is a noble and meritorious act and is to be encouraged as an expression of generous solidarity” (No. 2296). This would apply also to the donation of one’s total body. The cremated remains should be properly buried and not treated as refuse. A memorial Mass would be appropriate.
Deacons in Parishes
Q. Could you please explain what is the proper role of a deacon in a parish setting?
A. Here’s a reply from Father Reginald Martin:
The Acts of the Apostles describes how certain men were chosen to assist the apostles in the early Church’s charitable efforts (see 6:6). Two thousand years later, the deacon’s job description has been expanded, but deacons continue to serve as bishops’ administrative and liturgical ministers. For this reason, the Catechism of the Catholic Church points out, only the bishop lays hands on a candidate for ordination to the diaconate (see No. 1569). Although a deacon will serve in a parish, he is a special assistant to the bishop.
The Catechism states, “It is the task of deacons to assist the bishop and priests in the celebration of the divine mysteries, above all the Eucharist, in the distribution of Holy Communion, in assisting at and blessing marriages, in the proclamation of the Gospel and preaching, in presiding over funerals, and in dedicating themselves to the various ministries of charity” (No. 1570).
Deacons do not preside at Mass, offer absolution or confer the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick, but their liturgical ministry is large and varied, and a deacon’s services to a parish’s charitable outreach are as vital as they were in the first century. Parish communities may consider themselves fortunate to have the assistance of dedicated deacons.
How Many Orthodox Sacraments?
Q. Do the Eastern Orthodox Churches have the same number of sacraments as the Catholic Church?
B.H., via e-mail
A. Here’s a reply from TCA columnist Father Ray Ryland, Ph.D., J.D
The answer you get to this question depends on whom you ask. Modern Eastern Orthodox apologists boast that Eastern Orthodoxy has never defined the number of sacraments.
This claim — which is true — raises two issues: the meaning of “Eastern Orthodoxy,” and the ultimate doctrinal authority for the separated Eastern Churches.
The phrase “Eastern Orthodoxy” is an abstraction. There is no entity which we can call “Eastern Orthodoxy.” Rather, the phrase is a generic term designating a dozen or more totally independent ethnic national Churches of the East.
Centuries after the Eastern Churches broke away from the pope’s universal jurisdiction, Eastern apologists came up with a totally new theory of doctrinal authority to justify their separation. They began to claim that the ultimate authority for the Church is (a) an ecumenical council (b) whose decrees are received [accepted] by all the faithful.
First of all, these apologists accept some of the decrees only of the first seven ecumenical councils. Again, not one of those councils ever decreed or even suggested that the council itself is the ultimate authority in doctrine. The decrees of each became effective only after being approved by the pope. Furthermore, the decrees of each of those councils were never “received” by all the faithful. Significant numbers of Eastern Christians rejected the decrees of each council. Still further, modern Eastern apologists admit there is no way by which to determine whether or when the faithful have accepted a given council. Finally, Eastern theologians also admit their Churches have no way of convoking an ecumenical council.
Now back to your question. Some Eastern Orthodox writers agree there are seven sacraments, like those of the Catholic Church. Others agree with that number, but disagree about which are sacraments. A 13th-century monk, Job, added tonsure as a sacrament, combining penance and anointing of the sick into one. Authors in the 15th century, like Joasaph, Metropolitan of Ephesus, held there are 10 sacraments. He added to the list the funeral service, the monastic tonsure and the consecration of a church.
Two facts are clear. One, there is no definite answer to your question. Two, the varying answers — indeed, every Eastern Orthodox disagreement with Catholic teaching — is purely personal opinion of the writers. None have been ratified by what they claim is their ultimate authority.
Another time, another place?
Q. At our local parish, a deacon’s homily was a eulogy for one of his friends. It seems a eulogy to praise people at Sunday Masses when we are there to worship God is a clear violation of rubrics. Am I wrong in being scandalized by his actions?
B.R., via e-mail
A. Here is a reply from Father Francis Hoffman, J.C.D.:
I am confident that your deacon meant well, and perhaps his intention was to inspire the congregation to follow the virtuous example of his friend. Still, I agree that it’s best to point to the saints when we want to inspire other Christians to virtue. As you describe it, a eulogy is out of place during the homily at the Sunday parish Mass; while you need not be scandalized at his actions, it is appropriate to be concerned.
Even during the funeral, eulogies are not to be given. In the Order of Christian Funerals, the general introduction states: “A brief homily based on the readings is always given after the Gospel reading at the funeral liturgy and may also be given after the readings at the vigil service; but there is never to be a eulogy” (No. 27). After holy Communion, a friend or relative can “speak some words in remembrance” of the deceased, but acquired pastoral experience suggests that only one person should speak, the remarks should be brief (two typed pages double space), and the celebrant should insist on this with family members before the funeral liturgy commences.
“Fear” or “Love” of the Lord
Q. When I was younger and in school we learned that one of the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit was “the Fear of God.” Now it says that it is “the Love of God.” Who and when did they change that?
— Doris DeHay
The Catechism of he Catholic Church identifies “fear of the Lord” as one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit (see No. 1831). In everyday life, fear is commonly understood as cowardice or trepidation, but in Catholic theology “fear” has a precise, technical meaning that describes one’s feeling in the face of losing something she or he loves.
Our spiritual journey begins when love for God becomes strong enough that we trust God to guide and strengthen our will. As our love for God grows, we develop a greater and greater dread of offending him by sin.
Fear of endangering our intimate friendship with God is true fear of the Lord. It manifests itself in a deeper awareness of — and determination to avoid — sin, and a greater appreciation of the Sacrament of Reconciliation. St. Thomas Aquinas saw a connection between the gift of fear and the virtue of hope because the two are closely linked with our trust in God’s mercy and our anticipation of life in God’s kingdom.
Because love is closely connected with fear of the Lord, and because fear can so easily be misunderstood in this context, substituting “love” for “fear” makes sense. So does consulting Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologiae (Part II-II, q. 19).
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