Each day during the week of August 6 through 10 you'll find a new question and answer. Check back every weekday and scroll down to see that day's entry! Let us know what you think--or question!--by emailing us at email@example.com»
Q. Is prayer more effective the more I limit its scope? For example, I can pray for the healing of those who are sick in my parish, or I can pray for the healing of all sick people in the world. If I do the latter, have I “diluted” my prayer such that it’s less effective for those in my parish? -- James Becker, Woodstock, N.Y.
A. Now that’s an intriguing question! In reply, I think the first thing we must note is that prayer is a mystery with regard to the ways it actually works. That is, the intricate, complex, often hidden ways in which God responds to a prayer, and the subtle ways in which it affects the one praying as well as the one being prayed for, are beyond our full knowing or understanding.
We can’t think of prayer so much in mechanical terms: Apply this much pressure to this wheel, and it turns this fast; apply pressure to these several wheels at once, and they all turn, but more slowly. In addition, we must keep in mind that prayer is much more than petition (asking for something), including intercession (asking for something for someone else).
Having said all that (and at the risk of still sounding too “mechanical”), I think it’s reasonable to assume that a more general prayer is no less powerful in its total effect, but the power is “distributed” in a different way. When we pray for the sick of all the world, we join others around the globe who are also praying that prayer, and the cumulative effects of our prayers are powerful indeed for all the millions of people in our intentions.
On the other hand, when we pray more specifically, we bring to our task all the benefits of greater focus: greater clarity about what we’re seeking; greater sympathy for those we intercede for, because they are less likely to seem only an abstraction; greater joy, and a greater boost to faith, when we can actually see God’s particular answer to our particular prayer. There’s a certain parallel here to the successful business strategy of employing “measurable objectives.” In a sense, the more specific and concrete our prayer goals, the more likely we are to see them accomplished.
Viewed from this angle, then, more specific prayer appears to have a greater effectiveness, or potential for effectiveness. You might compare it to gardening: We can spend our time scattering seed far and wide, or we can invest our time cultivating a small plot. But the small, cultivated plot is more likely to show the fruit of our labors.
Nevertheless, we must also remember that someone needs to be “scattering” the prayer “seed,” especially in those places where no one else is doing the job. We all need to be praying some of what we might call the “big picture” prayers.
I think, for example, of a deacon I know who regularly prays at Mass “for all those who have asked for our prayers.” Then he adds: “And for all those who have no one to pray for them.”
That’s a beautiful and powerful intercession. It reflects two realities: God’s love for every person, no matter how forgotten by everyone else; and the deacon’s desire to love them as God does.
For that reason, whenever people are petitioning Our Lord, I encourage them to include both kinds of prayers, both “deep” and “wide.” Each is efficacious in its own way.
Q. Recently our niece, who has never been baptized and was not raised as a Christian, was married to a Catholic in the church. They did attend pre-marriage counseling, directed by another Catholic couple, not the parish priest. It is our understanding of Church doctrine that a valid Catholic wedding is between two baptized individuals. Please explain the Church’s position and rules regarding this matter, as we are totally baffled as to how this occurred. -- Name withheld
A. I’ve asked TCA columnist Father Francis Hoffman, J.C.D., to answer this one. Here’s his reply:
If your niece was married in a Catholic Church, I am confident that all issues pertaining to the validity of the marriage were discovered during the “pre-marriage counseling,” which usually includes a pre-nuptial questionnaire, as well as a FOCUS test (Facilitating Open Couple Communication Understanding and Study.) The questionnaire will identify your niece’s lack of baptism and alert the pastor of the parish to seek a dispensation from the impediment of “disparity of cult” according to the rubrics of canon 1086. The priest would not witness the marriage without the proper dispensation. So rest assured, your niece has been validly married.
In order to grant the dispensation, the local ordinary needs confidence that the following conditions are fulfilled (see canon 1125):
1. The Catholic party is to declare that he or she is prepared to remove dangers of defecting from the faith, and is to make a sincere promise to do all in his or her power in order that all the children be baptized and brought up in the Catholic Church.
2. The other party is to be informed in good time of these promises to be made by the Catholic party, so that it is certain that he or she is truly aware of the promise and of the obligation of the Catholic party.
3. Both parties are to be instructed about the purposes and essential properties of marriage, which are not be excluded by either contractant.
The Church teaches that marriage between the baptized has been raised by Christ to the dignity of a sacrament. While a Catholic can validly marry a non-baptized person subject to the proper dispensations, authors still do not agree (auctores disputant) whether such a marriage is a sacrament for one, or both, or neither of the parties.
Q. I’ve heard occasionally about “ember days” on the old Church calendar. What exactly were they? -- D.J., Las Vegas, Nev.
A. Ember days (in Latin, Quatuor Tempora, “four times”) are the days at the beginning of the four seasons formerly prescribed by the Church as days of fasting, abstinence and prayer. Christians were also encouraged to receive the sacrament of Penance on those days.
The origins of Ember Days are somewhat obscure. Pope St. Leo the Great (d. 461) considered them an apostolic tradition, but they also seem to have corresponded to ancient pagan ceremonies (Roman or perhaps Celtic) that called on agricultural gods for help in times of harvest and seeding. Perhaps, given her well-known strategy of sanctifying popular practices by reinterpreting and re-orienting them according to the Christian faith, that’s why the ancient Church at Rome established these fasts in June, September and December. In the beginning the exact days weren’t fixed, but were announced by the priests.
By the third century, Ember Days were fixed at Rome by Church law; by the fifth century, the celebration of a fourth season was included. Ember Days also became a time for the ordination of priests and deacons, which had formerly been reserved to Easter.
After the fifth century, the practice of Ember Days spread from Rome throughout Western Europe, though it never took hold in the Christian East. Pope St. Gregory VII (c. 1021–1085) prescribed them for the entire Church on the Wednesday, Friday and Saturday after Ash Wednesday, Pentecost Sunday, the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross (September 14), and St. Lucie’s Day (December 13).
The 1969 General Norms for the Liturgical Year describe Ember Days as times when “the practice of the Church is to offer prayers to the Lord for the needs of all people, especially for the productivity of the earth and for human labor, and to give Him public thanks” (n. 45). The local conference of bishops is to determine “the time and plan of their celebration” (n. 46).
I must admit that I’ve never belonged to a parish that observed Ember Days. Does anyone out there know of Catholic parishes that do — perhaps those that celebrate the older Latin Mass and observe the traditional Church calendar? Let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Q. I am rather confused about this. I know Pope Benedict wants to make the Latin Mass more available and I have no objection to that.
However, I have been told by several people that we are going back to Latin and there will be no more Masses in English or other languages. My church has a big Spanish membership and we have Mass in Spanish every Sunday.
Are these people right in saying that we are entirely going back to Latin, with no more Masses in English or other languages? If this is true, when will this take place? -- B. H., via email
A. You’re referring, of course, to the action taken by Pope Benedict XVI in his recent motu proprio (in Latin, “of his own accord”). Published July 7, 2007, it was entitled Summorum Pontificum. For an unofficial English translation, click here, and for an unofficial Spanish translation, click here.
I can understand why you’re confused. For the most part, the reporting in the secular media on this particular document and other recent Church documents has been both confused and confusing. Various rumors are making the rounds out there, often fueled by passionate disagreements over the value of the older Latin Mass.
In any case, those who told you the older Latin Mass will replace the newer form of the Mass have been misinformed. As you noted, all the Holy Father did was to make the older Mass more available to those who want it. He did not insist that it must become the exclusive form of the Mass to be celebrated.
In fact, Pope Benedict specified that the Novus Ordo — that is, the Mass in the vernacular languages that is most commonly said now — will remain the “ordinary” form of the Mass, while the older Latin Mass (as found in the Roman Missal of 1962) will be recognized as the “extraordinary” form of the Mass (see Article 1 of the document).
As the Pope said in an accompanying explanatory letter, “The total exclusion of the new rite [that is, the Novus Ordo] would not in fact be consistent with the recognition of its value and holiness.” For the full text of that letter in English, click here; for Spanish, click here.
Q. I am a former Evangelical Protestant convert to the Catholic faith. During my RCIA classes in 1996–97, I was taught that speaking in tongues (prevalent in my former church) was not the manifestation of the Holy Spirit and could possibly have an other-than-heavenly origin.
Recently, however, I met some charismatic Catholics, including a priest, who not only practice speaking on tongues, but even claim that it is proof of God’s presence in their movement and advocate that the practice has the backing of the Magisterium. They also say that those who do not have the gift lack it because of sin, lack of faith, or some other problem.
I am confused and cannot find official Church writing on speaking in tongues. Can the same Holy Spirit be backing the Catholic charismatics and at the same time be backing Protestant tongues-speakers to preach actively against the Catholic Church? Many thanks for a clear, forthright answer. -- R. G., Colorado Springs, Col.
A. I was an ordained charismatic Protestant pastor before I came into the Church fourteen years ago, so I suppose I could say a great deal about this. But I’ll let our TCA columnist Father Ray Ryland, Ph.D., J.D., offer a response:
The biblical word for speaking in tongues is glossolalia. It is possible that under the influence of an evil spirit a person might speak in tongues. But if your RCIA instructors denied that the Holy Spirit has anything to do with speaking in tongues, they were wrong. The Scripture makes it clear that speaking in tongues is one of the gifts of the Spirit (see 1 Cor 12:4–11).
On the other hand, your charismatic acquaintances were wrong in ascribing sin and lack of faith to those who do not practice speaking in tongues. Their self-righteous attitude is hardly charitable. Remember that right after addressing the issue of speaking in tongues in his letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul warned, “If I speak in human and angelic tongues, but do not have love, I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal” (1 Cor 13:1).
There is no evidence in Scripture or Tradition that the Spirit’s gift is intended for everyone. In fact, St. Paul once asked rhetorically, “Do all speak in tongues?” with the implication that they do not, because the Spirit gives varying gifts to various people (see 1 Cor 12:27–30).
The Catholic Charismatic Renewal, as it is called, began forty years ago among faculty and students at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh. The movement spread to faculty and students at the University of Notre Dame and other campuses. The head of the Global Evangelization Movement in Richmond, Virginia, reported in 2003 that by that time the Renewal had spread to over 230 countries, involving more than 119 million persons.
The charismatic Catholics you met are correct in saying that the charismatic movement has the approval of the Magisterium. Three popes (Pope Paul VI, Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI) have spoken favorably of the charismatic movement. Indeed, Pope John Paul spoke of the movement as integral to the renewal of the Church.
It is true, however, that some charismatic Catholics have become so involved in so-called “ecumenical” prayer groups that they have drifted away from the Church’s communion. That’s why both Pope Paul VI and Pope Benedict XVI have cautioned members of the movement to remain faithful to the Church and her teachings.
One final note. Recall the old cliché about the Native American who complained, “The white man speaks with forked tongue.” That is, he contradicts himself in his dealings with us. The Holy Spirit never speaks with “forked tongue.” He certainly never inspires non-Catholics to attack the Church.
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