TCA Life for July/August 2016

Lenten Absence?

Q. So why is there no Gloria or no Alleluia during Lent? I get that Lent is supposed to be simple and penitential, but what does removing them do to make the Mass more solemn? Are there other things removed or not done?

Gloria, Newark, N.J.

A. Just as we are called to fast and abstain from certain rich foods in Lent — in a spirit of penance and self-discipline — so, too, we “give up” for a time some of the more glorious and joyful aspects of the Liturgy: not only the Gloria — the joyous hymn the angels sang the night our Savior was born — but also the Alleluia (what could be more exhilarating than Handel’s Alleluia chorus from the Messiah?). Moreover, we also omit floral decorations and instrumental music in our churches during those 40 days (see General Instruction of the Roman Missal, Nos. 53, 62, 305, 313). Why? Because all of those elements are external and exuberant expressions of joy; Lent is not a “joyful” season, it is a “penitential” season. While it is true that we should always rejoice (Phil 4:4), during Lent we are soberly and penitentially preparing for the passion and resurrection of Christ.

You ask, “What does removing them do to make the Mass more solemn?” Personally, I don’t think the removal of the Gloria, Alleluia, flowers and instrumental music makes the Mass more solemn. I think it makes the Mass less solemn, but it does make it more sober and austere, more somber. And that sobriety, that frugality of spirit, helps to purify the soul and focus the mind.

The 40 days of Lent offer us an opportunity to imitate what Jesus did in the desert for 40 days: He prayed and fasted in preparation for His public ministry. The Church asks the faithful to perform works of prayer, fasting and almsgiving during the Lenten season in imitation of Christ and for the good of our souls. This “spiritual spring training” makes us stronger if we embrace these practices with mindfulness and generosity.

An essential aspect of the life of the Christian is to worship God at Mass. The Liturgy uses signs and symbols to teach and inspire us, and to help us along the way toward Christ. There are many elements to the Liturgy: sacraments and sacramentals, readings and hymns, gestures and actions, vestments and vessels, art and architecture, priest and people, and so forth. The selection, combination and arrangement of these various elements keeps the Liturgy fresh and engaging. As we read in the Book of Ecclesiastes (see 3:4), so we worship in the Liturgy: There is a time for weeping, and a time for rejoicing.

Prudential Judgment?

Q. I read a lot after Pope Francis issued his encyclical on global warming (Laudato Si’) that he used mostly prudential judgments in it rather than formal teaching. First, what is a prudential judgement, and, then, don’t we still have to give our assent?

Name withheld by request, via e-mail

A. We are only called to give the “assent of faith” to matters of faith and morals definitively and infallibly taught by the magisterium. To matters of faith and morals not taught in such a way we are to give “religious submission of intellect and will.” To matters taught in a magisterial document on the social teaching of the Church, such as Laudato Si’, we are invited to respectfully listen to the voice of the good shepherd.

A prudential judgment is a personal decision about the right course of action to be taken given a concrete set of circumstances. Arriving to a prudential judgment can be a complex and sophisticated process by which a person, using all of his intellectual abilities, applies general moral principles or revealed truths of the Faith to a concrete situation. Prudence is enhanced by other virtues, such as study, patience, honesty and fortitude, and is assisted by the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Generally, the quality of one’s prudence grows with experience, humility and faith.

Two well-formed, intelligent, prudent and faithful Catholics, using their full freedom and intellect and with the best of good will, can come up with different prudential judgments about the right course of action to be taken for a given set of circumstances. In the social doctrine of the Church, such as Laudato Si’, there can never be a one-size-fits-all solution; such a proposal would fail to respect the freedom and intellect of the members of the faithful.

Laudato Si’ (On Care for Our Common Home) is part of the growing social doctrine of the Church. As such, the Pope does not propose doctrine or moral truths, but encourages a vigorous discussion of serious issues with the hope that some or many will take action. Pope Francis writes: “In light of this reflection, I will advance some broader proposals for dialogue and action which would involve each of us as individuals, and also affect international policy” (No. 15). The Pope offers proposals, but does not mandate solutions. Solutions to the problems are what he hopes for.

Laudato Si’ is rooted in a humble attitude of gratitude to God for the enormous unmerited gifts we have received from God in the order of nature: life, air, water, food, the marvels and beauty of nature, etc. We are stewards of God’s creation, not outright owners, because God is the Creator and we are the creature.

There is an entire section in the Code of Canon Law that addresses how the faithful are to respond to papal magisterium (see Canons 750-753). The following canon may be helpful in this regard:

“It belongs to the Church always and everywhere to announce moral principles, even about the social order, and to render judgment concerning any human affairs insofar as the fundamental rights of the human person or the salvation of souls requires it” (Canon 747.2).

Laudato Si’ does “announce moral principles” connected to the cardinal virtue of justice. The encyclical also “renders judgment on human affairs that affect the fundamental rights of the human person.” What are those rights? Those rights are articulated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) and, as they pertain to this document, are associated with a right to life and health, and an implied right to clean air and fresh drinking water.

However, Laudato Si’ provides these caveats:

“On many concrete questions, the Church has no reason to offer a definitive opinion; she knows that honest debate must be encouraged among experts, while respecting divergent views. But we need only take a frank look at the facts to see that our common home is falling into serious disrepair” (No. 61).

“There are certain environmental issues where it is not easy to achieve a broad consensus. Here I would state once more that the Church does not presume to settle scientific questions or to replace politics. But I am concerned to encourage an honest and open debate so that particular interests or ideologies will not prejudice the common good” (No. 188).

A “prudential judgment” is common in papal documents when discussing the social teaching of the Church. While they seek to apply the truths of revelation to a concrete set of circumstances, these judgments are also based on contingent realities. For instance, scientists may disagree on the existence of climate change; or if they agree it exists, they may disagree on what causes it; or if they agree what causes it, they may disagree whether it is truly harmful to the human race; or if they agree that it is truly harmful to the human race, they may disagree that harm to the human race is something bad, etc. At some point, science crosses over into the realm of moral philosophy and ethics, and this is where the Church must speak. The Church has a predisposition in favor of the human race, since Jesus Christ took on human nature and the human race is the crowning achievement of God’s work of creation.

Agent of the State?

Q. In the Sacrament of Matrimony, the husband and wife are the ministers. The priest presides, but he is, I believe, also the agent of the state? How does that work, exactly? How did that arrangement come about? And what impact will the Supreme Court’s terrible decision have on all of that?

Nancy, Phoenix, Ariz.

A. The Church teaches that “the matrimonial covenant, by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of the whole of life and which is ordered by its nature to the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of offspring, has been raised by Christ the Lord to the dignity of a sacrament between the baptized” (Canon 1055).

You are correct in stating that the husband and wife are the ministers of the sacrament, while the pastor of the parish or his delegate presides as the official witness of the Church. In the United States, the religious minister of a marriage is also the official witness for the state. You ask how this arrangement came about?

The origins for this practice can be found in antiquity, and even in non-Christian cultures. Weddings were and still are very important events, affecting not only the lives of the spouses, but also their families, their communities and their future progeny. For that reason, in most cultures, weddings were and are public events requiring an official witness. Accordingly, the higher the stakes for a marriage — sharing and distribution of property and assets, etc. — the greater the number of witnesses. Since marriage has civil effects (property, taxes, tort law, estate law, etc.) it has been regulated by civil law from antiquity till today.

In the Church, at least since the time of the Council of Trent, Catholic marriages had to be witnessed by the pastor of the parish or his delegate, plus two other witnesses. This is called the “canonical form.” The fundamental purpose of this public canonical form was to address the widespread abuses inherent in “common law” marriages. If a common law marriage fell apart, a spouse rarely had recourse to a just settlement and would simply be abandoned, having to carry on raising the children and supporting the household without the assistance of her husband. With the canonical form, there are witnesses for the marriage (as a public event), thus allowing spouses to support their claims with the testimony of a witness.

Two centuries after the Council of Trent, common law marriages were abolished in England and Wales by the Marriage Act of 1753. After that date, any person living in the British Empire had to be married by an Anglican minister, and that included those living in the American colonies.

With the independence of America in 1776, and the U.S. Constitution (1789) guaranteeing religious freedom for its citizens, henceforth any elected official or religious minister, not just ministers of the Anglican Church, could be the witnesses of marriage, not only for the religious dimension of the marriage, but also for the civil effects.

Today, in practice, just about anyone who is over 18 years old can serve as an “officiant of marriage.” In the state of Illinois, where I reside, no law exists that would require a religious minister of any denomination or no denomination to register with any government office in order to perform a marriage.

In the Catholic Church, the priest assists at the wedding. After the ceremony, he signs the civil marriage license noting his title, his name, the name of the Church where the wedding took place and the date of the marriage. The names of the spouses are listed on the marriage license, and the couple has 60 days to complete it and turn it in to the county clerk, where it is kept in the permanent registry.

Finally, you ask about the potential impact of the Supreme Court’s decision on so-called marriage of people of the same sex. At this point, I doubt there will be any impact. No one is obligated to witness a marriage, so if a priest were asked to witness such an event he can simply say no. A priest may only assist at a marriage which is valid in the eyes of the Church.

Political Correctness

Q. What do I say to friends and some family members when we start talking about Bruce Jenner. He is still biologically male, despite any surgery and dress. Why are people so eager to call him by some new name and to call him a her? I know about political correctness, but what do I say to them? What are some key arguments?

Name withheld by request, via e-mail

A. I wonder how Jesus would answer this question. Jesus would speak the truth, but he would be charitable. Jesus said, “The truth will set you free” (Jn 8:32), and He also reminded His listeners on another occasion that the Creator “made them male and female” (Mt 19:4).

When the transgender issue comes up, you might ask your family members to take a moment and read what Pope Francis wrote about the subject in the recent apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia (On Love in the Family):

“Yet another challenge is posed by the various forms of an ideology of gender that ‘denies the difference and reciprocity in nature of a man and a woman and envisages a society without sexual differences, thereby eliminating the anthropological basis of the family. This ideology leads to educational programmes and legislative enactments that promote a personal identity and emotional intimacy radically separated from the biological difference between male and female. Consequently, human identity becomes the choice of the individual, one which can also change over time.’

“It is a source of concern that some ideologies of this sort, which seek to respond to what are at times understandable aspirations, manage to assert themselves as absolute and unquestionable, even dictating how children should be raised. It needs to be emphasized that ‘biological sex and the sociocultural role of sex (gender) can be distinguished but not separated.’ On the other hand, ‘the technological revolution in the field of human procreation has introduced the ability to manipulate the reproductive act, making it independent of the sexual relationship between a man and a woman. In this way, human life and parenthood have become modular and separable realities, subject mainly to the wishes of individuals or couples.’ It is one thing to be understanding of human weakness and the complexities of life, and another to accept ideologies that attempt to sunder what are inseparable aspects of reality. Let us not fall into the sin of trying to replace the Creator.

“We are creatures, and not omnipotent. Creation is prior to us and must be received as a gift. At the same time, we are called to protect our humanity, and this means, in the first place, accepting it and respecting it as it was created” (No. 56).

I think the most useful quote from the Pope on the subject is this: “Let us not fall into the sin of trying to replace the Creator. We are creatures, and not omnipotent.” You are scientifically correct by stating that Jenner is still a male. Male and female are genetically determined and there is no choice in the matter.

If you speak or write truth about sex and marriage and the human person these days, you may encounter a hostile reaction from the broader culture. St. Paul encountered something similar at Ephesus when his words challenged the comfort zone of his listeners (see Acts 19:38).

If you teach what the Church teaches on these matters, or teach what Jesus taught, be prepared to be ridiculed. Even offering objective evidence from qualified scientific journals or academic studies will not provide you cover if you oppose this “dictatorship of relativism,” as Pope Benedict XVI labeled it on the eve of his election as pope. And that is precisely the issue at hand: the nature and source of truth — objective vs. subjective, emotional needs vs. objective realities.

I can understand why many people would want to avoid these unpleasant and awkward situations and conversations, so they decide to “go along to get along” and either keep their mouth shut or acquiesce in the matter with little further thought. But the truth is always the best policy. So my suggestion is, if the topic comes up, simply state the case: “Bruce Jenner changed his name to Caitlyn Jenner, and wishes to be known as a woman. However, Jenner’s DNA fingerprint remains the same with xy male chromosomes.”

Frozen Embryos

Q. I understand that as a result of science there are many (millions?) of frozen embryos that have been preserved for different reasons, such as IVF (in vitro fertilization). What is their designation by the Church? What is permitted by the Church? What are the accepted forms of use for them? If they are being destroyed for medical purposes, isn’t this another slaughter of the innocents?

Brad, New York, N.Y.

A. There is no good solution to the situation of frozen embryos. Biological science and the Church are in agreement about their status: from the moment of conception, they are human beings. The Church does not permit them to be destroyed. It would be best if their natural parents brought them to term.

As I wrote in the January/February 2010 edition of The Catholic Answer (“Cancer and IVF”):

“Whenever we discuss the ethics of human reproduction, the necessary starting point is the recognition that children — offspring — are a gift from God and not a human right. That premise may be difficult for some to accept, but it is based on the unique sacred dignity of each human person endowed with a unique spiritual and immortal soul.

“With respect to IVF, the Catechism is quite clear in No. 2377, a teaching which repeats verbatim what the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith stated in Donum Vitae in 1987. This same teaching is expressed in Pope John Paul II’s encyclicals Veritatis Splendor (1994) and Evangelium Vitae (1995). Most recently the Holy See has repeated this teaching with the instruction Dignitatis Personae (2008). All of those documents declare IVF to be immoral, and do so for a variety of reasons.

“There are several moral problems with IVF ... [a] serious problem is the disposition of ‘excess’ embryos. Often they are left in a state of suspended animation, or even destroyed. We cannot treat human beings so callously.

“Here it will be helpful to revisit what Pope John Paul taught on this subject in 1995:

“‘The various techniques of artificial reproduction, which would seem to be at the service of life and which are frequently used with this intention, actually open the door to new threats against life. Apart from the fact that they are morally unacceptable, since they separate procreation from the fully human context of the conjugal act, these techniques have a high rate of failure: not just failure in relation to fertilization but with regard to the subsequent development of the embryo, which is exposed to the risk of death, generally within a very short space of time.Furthermore, the number of embryos produced is often greater than that needed for implantation in the woman’s womb, and these so-called spare embryos are then destroyed or used for research which, under the pretext of scientific or medical progress, in fact reduces human life to the level of simple “biological material” to be freely disposed of’ (Evangelium Vitae, no. 14).”

I also answered a similar question in the March/April 2006 issue of TCA (“Embryonic Stem-Cell Research”). On that occasion I wrote:

“There seem to be four ways to treat the embryos, but not all of them are ethical:

“1) Use them for research. This is clearly wrong because it constitutes the direct killing of human life. No matter how good the intention of the research, this would always be wrong.

“2) Do nothing and eventually they will die. (They deteriorate even while frozen.) This seems unsatisfactory.

“3) Thaw them, let them die and bury them. This also seems unsatisfactory, for all human life deserves to be cared for. As for your husband’s suggestion that ‘they should all be given a burial,’ this is problematic, too: How could it be moral or ethical to bury alive a living human being?

“4) Implant them in the mother or in another woman willing to adopt the child and bring them to term. Implanting them in the mother is the best course of action at this point, but unlikely in many cases. As for adoption and implantation, reputable, trustworthy, and orthodox moral theologians have different opinions about adoption of the embryos. But there seems to be a growing consensus that it could be ethical and even ‘heroic’ to adopt a frozen embryo, although that action would not be morally obligatory for anyone.

“However, implantation (adopted or not) is not free of ethical concerns: It constitutes a material cooperation in the business of IVF, which is intrinsically evil in the first place, although the implantation could be allowed under the principle of double effect.

“The only answer to this dilemma is to prohibit IVF.... In the words of Bishop Elio Sgreccia, president of the Pontifical Academy of Life: ‘The practice of in vitro fertilization must be stopped. It only encourages the production of frozen embryos, and freezing embryos is utilitarianism without mercy. When you start a wrong procedure like this, any solution is wrong and sad’ (Catholic World Report, May 2001).”

Abstinence, Chastity

Q. We hear a lot today about abstinence as the proven way to avoid HIV and pregnancy. It seems to me that abstinence is certainly good, but what about chastity? How does the Church define chastity?

Charlene, via e-mail

A. Every Christian is called to live chastely according to their state in life, but not all are called to live abstinence. Only those who are not married are required to practice abstinence. Sometimes, within marriage, it is prudent for a period of time to practice abstinence.

Regarding the virtue of chastity, the Catechism of the Catholic Church states:

“Chastity means the successful integration of sexuality within the person and thus the inner unity of man in his bodily and spiritual being. Sexuality, in which man’s belonging to the bodily and biological world is expressed, becomes personal and truly human when it is integrated into the relationship of one person to another, in the complete and lifelong mutual gift of a man and a woman.

“The virtue of chastity therefore involves the integrity of the person and the integrality of the gift” (No. 2337).

Cycle of Readings at Mass

Q. I have a question about the readings throughout the year. Who decides on the selection of readings? What is the logic of the order? What are the cycles supposed to do? Help me to understand, because I seem to be missing the rationale for all of it.

Name withheld by request, via e-mail

A. The cycle of readings at Mass throughout the year has been established by the Church; more specifically, with the Second Vatican Council’s reform of the Liturgy, and by the authority of the Pope, a new Roman Missal and Lectionary has been established. There are two cycles of readings: weekdays and Sundays (feast days).

The weekday readings are on a two-year cycle (I, II) except for Lent and Advent, when the readings are the same every year. The Sundays are on a three-year cycle (A, B, C), supposedly because during the time of Christ the Sabbath readings in the local synagogue were also on a three-year cycle, and in the Church we try to do what Jesus did.

Vatican II reforms introduced a much wider variety of readings for the Masses because of the Church’s desire that Catholics know a lot more of sacred Scripture.

Although the cycle of readings has been established by the Church, there is room for choice depending on the occasion. For instance, the readings for a funeral Mass on a weekday could be selected from Readings for a Funeral, and not necessarily the readings for that weekday; likewise with wedding Masses, etc.; and likewise for local celebrations of local saints. All of that is set forth clearly in the “Ordo,” an official guide for the daily celebration of the Liturgy available in every diocese. Usually there is a copy of the local Ordo in the sacristy of your Church.

Should Pope Francis sell the Vatican?

Q. I was asked by a non-Catholic whether Pope Francis is a hypocrite because he won’t sell everything and give it all to the poor. I was not sure how to respond. Thoughts?

Carlos, via e-mail

A. As Pope Francis said, he wants to the Church to be poor and to be for the poor. Perhaps your non-Catholic friend could ask that question to Pope Francis himself? However, Church property does not belong to the Pope, it belongs to the Church, and the Church is everyone and includes the rich and poor. Those buildings and property in Rome were donated by benefactors over the centuries and their wishes should be respected, should they not? If the Holy Father were to sell the Vatican, really, who would buy it? At least those beautiful building are currently open to the public and admission is free. Even the Vatican museums are free one day each month. In private hands, would they still be free? I doubt it.

Rev. Francis Hoffman, J.C.D., Executive Director of Relevant Radio. Follow him on his Facebook page “Father Rocky.”