Protestant nuptials

Question: Why do non-Catholics divorced from a Protestant or civil marriage need a Catholic annulment before they can be remarried to a Catholic in the Catholic Church?

-- A.F. Koselke, Wanatah, Ind.

Answer: One of the misapprehensions under which some Catholics labor is that only marriages in the Catholic Church are valid, so that if two Protestants get married in a Protestant or civil ceremony, their marriage is not valid.

The truth is that all non-Catholics enter a valid marriage when they get married in any kind of recognized legal or religious ceremony -- and there are no previous valid marriages in the way to prevent the validity of the marriage.

If a non-Catholic wishes to get married to a Catholic and he or she has a previous valid marriage, it is necessary to seek an annulment in the Catholic Church.

To some people this seems like Catholic Church interference in non-Catholic marriages. But the Catholic Church is, in fact, only respecting the validity and authenticity of non-Catholic weddings for non-Catholics

Memory loss

Question: Can people with memory loss receive holy Communion? One priest said there is no point since they will forget they received Christ. But if they recognize Christ somewhat, would that be enough grounds to receive the host?

-- Richard Hurzeler, Tyler, Texas

Answer: Would anyone refuse to show love or affection to one who has memory loss? Would we deny them food? Of course not. Then we would not deny them heavenly food.

The only circumstances in which we would not give the Eucharist to someone who is not in possession of his or her mental faculties is when we know they would not have wished to receive it when they had full mental capacity, or when they would spit it out, or when they are unable to swallow the host (although many people in this condition are able to receive a small piece of the Eucharistic host along with a small amount of water).

A good pastoral principle is that we always give people the benefit of the doubt when administering the sacraments.

Praying with icons

Question: Watching a television program lately, I learned that icons were designed not just to be admired but to be mediated upon. Can you tell me more about praying before icons, and can you recommend any books on the subject?

-- Marianne, Columbus, Ohio

Answer: I recall visiting an exhibition of icons in a museum and thinking how out of place they were and how odd it was that people were admiring and studying them merely as art.

Icons are designed to be part of the liturgy of the Church and are venerated (and incensed) as part of the liturgy. This is meant to recognize that the person represented in the icon is truly present in the liturgy enabling the unity of the earthly and the heavenly liturgy.

Icons are used also in the home. In this way, they bring the saints and angels into the life of the home. Prayer before icons is highly contemplative in character. One does not so much pray to the saint as place oneself in a deeply reflective and meditative posture before the icon and allow it to speak of the mysteries of faith.

Among the many books on the spirituality of icons, two seem to be the most popular. The first is "Behold the Beauty of the Lord: Praying with Icons," by Henri J.M. Nouwen (Ave Maria Press, $14.95), and "Praying with Icons," by Jim Forest (Orbis Books, $22). Of the two, Nouwen's would be more accessible for the beginner.

Msgr. M. Francis Mannion is a priest and theologian of the Diocese of Salt Lake City. Send your questions to Pastoral Answers, Our Sunday Visitor, 200 Noll Plaza, Huntington, IN 46750 or to mfmannion@osv.com. Letters must be signed, but anonymity may be requested.