By Father Francis Hoffman - The Catholic Answer, 11/1/2011
The Light of Christ
Q. A Wisconsin senator, several years ago, stated that while flying over Rome, he “saw the Colosseum lit up and learned that the pope requested this whenever there was a stay of execution. A building used for death would be used now as a symbol for life.” True or not?
Al Seawell, via e-mail
A. It is true, the Colosseum has been lit up on several occasions, either for a stay of execution, or when the death penalty has been abolished somewhere in the world. Blessed John Paul II was not in favor of capital punishment; he thought civilized societies could do better than that. What he wrote in his encyclical Evangelium Vitae (“The Gospel of Life,” 1995) has been incorporated into the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
“Assuming that the guilty party’s identity and responsibility have been fully determined, the traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty, if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor.
“If, however, non-lethal means are sufficient to defend and protect people’s safety from the aggressor, authority will limit itself to such means, as these are more in keeping with the concrete conditions of the common good and more in conformity to the dignity of the human person.
“Today, in fact, as a consequence of the possibilities which the state has for effectively preventing crime, by rendering one who has committed an offense incapable of doing harm — without definitely taking away from him the possibility of redeeming himself — the cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity ‘are very rare, if not practically nonexistent’” (No. 2267).
While the Church has not prohibited capital punishment, she has clarified that it would only be appropriate in particular — rare — circumstances. Many people — even smart and otherwise well-educated people — remain ignorant of the Church’s teaching about capital punishment, and hold that “murderers deserve the death penalty; since they took a life, they should lose their life.” That’s not truly justice; rather, it’s more like vengeance, which Jesus prohibited when he criticized the Old Testament mentality “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.”
The virtue of justice means to “give to each his due.” If you take the life of a person, justice could only be served by returning that person’s life. But clearly that is impossible. There are some crimes on earth that, sadly, defy complete justice until eternity.
What are the purposes of punishment? There are three: 1) Restitution; 2) Rehabilitation; and 3) Public safety. Capital punishment necessarily fails the first two criteria, and therefore can only be appropriately applied for the sake of public safety. Capital punishment cannot accomplish restitution, nor can it rehabilitate the criminal, but it could protect public safety when the penal system cannot permanently isolate the criminal from society.
But what about the “iconic” value of an imprisoned terrorist? Could not he represent a threat to public safety as long as he lives? Some would argue that he could, and in that case the execution of an international terrorist could be justified.
Blessing of Throats
Q. My son lives on Long Island, N.Y. Neither his parish nor the Catholic church in Manhasset, N.Y., blessed throats on the feast of St. Blaise. Is this the way of the future of the Church?
Name withheld by request
A. The blessing of throats on the feast of St. Blaise (Feb. 3) is a custom which is quintessentially Catholic, and most Catholics I know look forward to it, especially since it occurs at the height of the cold and flu season. When I attended Catholic grade school, all the thousand-plus students lined up for the blessing. I guess we parochial students were ahead of the curve when it came to “wellness practices.” While the blessing is not mandatory — because it is in the nature of a sacramental or popular devotion — it is connected to the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick and also to Our Lord’s practice of healing the sick, and helps to foster a healthy dependence on the intercession of the saints.
The prayer of blessing is quite simple: “Through the intercession of St. Blaise, bishop and martyr, may God deliver you from ailments of the throat and from every other evil. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.”
I rather doubt what’s happening in your parish is the “way of the future of the Church,” since I expect colds and the flu to be around as long as the human race is on earth. I also expect many will pray for good health and resort to the intercession of the saints when all else fails.
Q. Is it acceptable for a large, framed picture of Our Lady of Guadalupe to be on display at the left side of the altar while a statue of St. Patrick is on the right side of the altar, and while the statue of the Blessed Mother is in a corner of our vestibule? The statue of St. Joseph is in the cry room. The Holy Family is not present inside the church. Our parish has a large attendance of Hispanic members. I have asked our priest, liturgy council and parish council about trying to change the statues, but to no avail. For the feast day of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the Spanish group adorned the whole corner of the church with the picture of Our Lady of Guadalupe with so many flowers. I understand during Advent that the church is not to have flowers for decorations, only the Advent wreath. I am really frustrated along with other parishioners with not having the Holy Family near the altar. Please help!
Margaret, Independence, Ore.
A. When it comes to the decoration of the parish church, I have observed the golden rule: he who holds the gold, makes the rules. Or, just as likely, the majority rules. What you describe seems to be a parish that used to be predominantly Irish and then went Hispanic, or a parish that has an Irish pastor with a large Hispanic congregation. As far as the rubrics are concerned, it appears everything you describe is in order, even if you don’t like it. For the record, here is what the General Instruction of the Roman Missal states about placement of images of saints in the Church:
“Images of the Lord, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and the Saints … should be displayed for veneration by the faithful in sacred buildings and … care should be taken that their number not be increased indiscriminately. … There should usually be only one image of any given Saint. Generally speaking, in the ornamentation and arrangement of a church as far as images are concerned, provision should be made for the devotion of the entire community as well as for the beauty and dignity of the images” (No. 318).
So, it’s fine to have Our Lady of Guadalupe on the left, St. Patrick on the right, and the Blessed Mother (who is also Our Lady of Guadalupe) in a corner in the vestibule, while St. Joseph is in the cry room. Come to think of it, he’s probably in there for a reason, since St. Joseph’s primary reason for existence was to care for the Christ Child. Why an image of the Holy Family is not present anywhere in the Church is beyond me. Perhaps the liturgist-in-charge has taken the GIRM literally and thinks the separate images of Our Lady, St. Joseph and Jesus on the Cross constitute the Holy Family, so there’s no need for anything more. But to me that seems like a family picture album with just one picture of mother, father and baby. Personally, I think the album is more interesting with a variety of pictures of the family. But what do I know?
As for flowers during Advent, here’s what the GIRM says: “Moderation should be observed in the decoration of the altar. During Advent the floral decoration of the altar should be marked by a moderation suited to the character of this season, without expressing prematurely the full joy of the Nativity of the Lord. During Lent it is forbidden for the altar to be decorated with flowers. Laetare Sunday (Fourth Sunday of Lent), Solemnities, and Feasts are exceptions. Floral decorations should always be done with moderation and placed around the altar rather than on its mensa” (No. 305).
So it’s fine to have lots of flowers for Our Lady of Guadalupe on Dec. 12. Even though that day always occurs in Advent, it’s a feast day, and that’s an exception to the rule. If you really want an image of the Holy Family near the altar, then I suggest you pray a 54-day Rosary novena for that intention, and watch how the parish authorities change their hearts.
Old-fashioned or New-fashioned?
Q. At Mass today, my niece referred to their priest (new to their parish) as an old-(fashioned) priest versus a “new” priest. I am confused! This is the second time I have heard a young “Catholic” use the phrase “old Catholic,” compared to “new Catholic.” What is meant by that, besides the obvious? I wasn’t aware until recently that there was a difference, but apparently there is? So, maybe we aren’t really all “Catholic” anymore, but split into “old” and “new”— and what on earth is the difference? The whole concept is kind of depressing – and, yes, I guess I fall into the “old” category, as a convert of 45 years! Is this what our children are being taught by unqualified lay “teachers.”
Marilyn Olson, Omaha, Neb.
A. Without knowing more specifics, it’s difficult to provide a useful answer. But in general terms, the priests being ordained today have received a more well-grounded doctrinal and spiritual formation in the seminary than those who were ordained in the 20 years immediately following the Second Vatican Council. Things are settling down liturgically, doctrinally, spiritually and ecclesiologically (if such a word exists). The situation should not depress you if who you seek is Christ. As the Letter to the Hebrews says: “Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever” (13:8).
Q. Is the Society of St. Pius X in union with Rome? Can we attend their Masses? I need to know because our son belongs to this. Thank you.
Patricia Schy, via e-mail
A. As long as the Society of St. Pius X rejects the Second Vatican Council, it would be difficult to claim they are in union with Rome. Not long ago (January 2009) Pope Benedict XVI lifted the penalty of excommunication on the four priests who were illegitimately consecrated as bishops by Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre in 1988, as a gesture of conciliation with this schismatic group, but that act has raised as many questions as it has answered.
In May 2011, the Vatican Press Office announced: “As long as the Society [of St. Pius X] does not have a canonical status in the Church, its ministers do not exercise legitimate ministries in the Church. . . . Until the doctrinal questions are clarified, the Society has no canonical status in the Church, and its ministers . . . do not legitimately exercise any ministry in the Church.”
Given that official announcement from the Holy See, what I can state with moral certainty is the following: the Sacraments of Baptism, Holy Eucharist, Confirmation, Anointing of the Sick and Holy Orders are valid but illicit in the Society of St. Pius X. The Sacraments of Confession and Matrimony are not valid since they require canonical jurisdiction, which the clerics of the Society of St. Pius X do not have.
You should not attend their Masses. Your son should not belong to that society. If you or he wish to participate in the “Latin Mass” (extraordinary rite), there are plenty of opportunities for you do to so at the hands of priests who are fully members of the Catholic Church and fully united to the Holy Father.
Picking up the Host?
Q. I was at Mass last Sunday at my local parish church and in line to receive Communion from an extraordinary minister. As a person in front of me approached the extraordinary minister, the Host was dropped. She immediately picked it up and gave it to the person. She then continued to serve the other people in line until all were served. At no time did she protect the area where the host fell. This seemed improper to me.
Peter Meenan, Bellmore, N.Y.
A. I find it very disturbing to read what you just wrote. That’s why when I celebrate holy Mass, I like to have a well-trained server holding a Communion plate to my left, just in case a Host might fall to the ground, or some “crumbs” of the holy Eucharist tumble to the floor and get trampled under foot. Some folks might think I am scrupulous, but I really wish that were my problem. The way I read the GIRM (see No. 118), it seems that the use of the Communion plate (patina) is not optional, but it’s taken for granted that it will be used, as is the case in papal Masses — the undisputed norm for the Roman Catholic liturgy.
Nevertheless, no matter how careful you are, sometimes accidents happen. What to do in that case? There is no prescribed liturgical remedy, but common sense suggests that when a consecrated Host falls to the floor, all liturgical action and movement should stop for a moment. The priest does not have to yell “freeze,” but he can address the incident by placing the communicants “on hold” while he takes his handkerchief out of his pocket, picks up the consecrated Hosts, and places the handkerchief over the area where the consecrated Host fell to the floor — kind of like what police do with that yellow tape at the scene of a crime. Distribution of holy Communion then continues. After holy Communion, the priest can return to that spot, and with a purificator and water, he can cleanse the area, just in case any particles of the sacred Host were lost. Granted, this gesture might be more symbolic than anything, but in this case the gesture speaks volumes about our faith.
Body Scans Again
Q. Your response to Adriana Leroy (“Airport Body Scans,” May/June) is concerning because the answer says that the scans and pat downs are legitimate.
Not only are these procedures offensive to the modesty of adults, but, even worse, we are now subjecting our children to invasive and immodest procedures. We have spent years teaching our children about good touch/bad touch and now, in the name of safety, we subject them to nudity machines and/or touches and groping that anywhere else would be considered sexual assault and liable to prosecution. No other country in the world requires this kind of scrutiny, and their safety has not been compromised. We have other means at our disposal. Why is it necessary for a free country to subject its people to this invasion of privacy when in all other areas we demand our constitutional rights? Short of not flying, we are forced to endure this process. A ho-hum public-safety excuse doesn’t cut it, and I question whether this is a legitimate governmental procedure. How far is the government allowed to go to insure safety? Freedom or safety? Soon no freedom or safety!
Joan Heidersdorf, via e-mail
A. I agree with you, but the best advice I can give is if you don’t like the law, then you should vote for politicians to change the law, or take other means of transportation. In the meantime, please do not miss the opportunity to offer up this inconvenience for the souls in purgatory. TCA
Father Francis Hoffman, J.C.D., serves as Senior Director — Mission, Programming, Development for Relevant Radio, the Catholic talk radio network.
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