TCA Life for September/October 2013

The Catholic-Orthodox Schism of 1054

Q. I faithfully read with great interest The Catholic Answer. It is truly a great magazine. Bless you all for your fine work. I have a question in response to “Orthodox Sacraments?” in the September/October 2012 issue. 1. Could you offer a brief summary of what prompted Pope Leo IX to issue the bull of excommunication? 2. How is it possible for a patriarch to excommunicate a pope. Meaning no disrespect, isn’t this somewhat similar to a colonel firing a general or putting the cart before the horse?

Jerry, via e-mail 

A. Our contemporary perception of the power and scope of the office of the Roman pontiff has been greatly affected by at least three modern developments: 1) The dogma of papal infallibility (1870); 2) The highly public and “activist” pontificates of Pope John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis; and 3) The modern phenomenon of instantaneous international media coverage of anything the pope says or does. There were no “world youth days” in the Middle Ages; the pope did not travel the world; and the papal “iconic” status was very much diminished in the mind and imagination of common folk.

A thousand years ago, at the beginning of the Great Schism between the Catholic and Orthodox churches, the world was much different. Even though both the charism of papal infallibility and universal jurisdiction is implicit in sacred Scripture, not all Christians understood it that way or accepted it. Put quite simply, Pope Leo IX asserted, “I am the Pope, so I am in charge.” To which the patriarch of Constantinople replied: “No you’re not in charge. You are the bishop of Rome, and I am the bishop of Constantinople, so we are equals.” The particulars of the argument (land, politics, doctrine, morality or liturgy) are not as important as the essence of the argument: papal infallibility and universal jurisdiction. So the pope excommunicated the patriarch, and then the patriarch “excommunicated” the pope.

Pope Leo IX was a good man. He reigned as pontiff from 1049 to 1054. During those five years he attempted to strengthen and renew the Church by enforcing the mandate of clerical celibacy for the clergy and by penalizing any act of simony. What complicated matters at that time in history is that popes and patriarchs were not only spiritual leaders, but also held temporal power over lands and peoples. As it turns out, the bull of excommunication was canonically invalid because by the time the pope’s legate delivered it to the patriarch, the pope was dead. In 1965, during the Second Vatican Council, Pope Paul VI and Athenagoras, the Patriarch of Constantinople, rescinded the mutual excommunications.

The only way Christians can be effectively united is by the grace of God, which will lead all to genuine humility, the true pathway to unity. Pope John Paul II continued the ecumenical outreach of Pope Paul VI and the Second Vatican Council with his 1996 encyclical Ut Unum Sint. We hope and pray and work so that all Christians may one day be reunited in the one true Church which Jesus founded. 

Cremated remains

Q. We are elderly Catholics preparing as best we can for the inevitable. We both have decided to be cremated, but need an answer to the question “What does the Church say about how cremated remains should be handled?” Our daughter, an excellent Catholic, spread her husband’s remains at a favorite site. We’ve not wanted to ask her about it since it might be disturbing. Is what she did permitted by the Church? We’ve heard conflicting answers from lay friends.

Name withheld by request, via e-mail 

A. This is a common question, and the answer is simple. Cremated remains of the baptized faithful are to be treated with the same reverence with which we treat the mortal remains of those who are not cremated: they should be buried in a Catholic cemetery or interred in a Catholic mausoleum whenever possible.

As for preparing for the “inevitable,” please remember the most important task is care for your soul. Use your remaining days to grow in grace. Plan to ask for the anointing of the sick and viaticum when the end draws near. Foster devotion to St. Joseph, the patron of the dying. And perhaps learn and pray this prayer for a happy death:

“Dear God and Father of mine, Lord of life and death, with an immutable decree you have established that, as a just chastisement for our sins, all of us have to die. Look at me here bent low before you. From the bottom of my heart, I abhor my past faults, for which I have merited death a thousand times, a death that I now accept as atonement for my sins and as proof of my submission to your lovable will. O Lord, happily will I die at the moment, in the place, and in the way that you want. And until that day I will take advantage of the days of life that remain in order to fight against my defects and grow in your love, to break the bonds that tie my heart to creatures, and to prepare my soul to appear in your presence; and from this moment on I abandon myself without reserve into the arms of your fatherly providence.” 

How Things Used to Be

Q. I remember going to church on Easter Sunday morning in the 1950s and the blessing of the new oil and other things, but I do not remember the baptisms like we have now. When did all that change? I was busy raising a family and did not go to the vigil.

Frances, via e-mail 

A. The 1950s were almost 60 years ago, so it’s possible that your memories are not quite accurate. As for “blessing the oils,” as far as my research suggests, that never took place on Easter Sunday during your lifetime. Up until 1956, the sacred oils were blessed (Oil of Catechumens and Oil of the Sick) or consecrated (Chrism) during the Mass of the Lord’s Supper — that is, the evening of Holy Thursday. Then, in 1956, the “Chrism Mass” was developed for both the Blessing of the Holy Oils (Chrism, Oil of Catechumens, Oil of the Sick), and the Renewal of Priestly Promises. The Chrism Mass is to be celebrated on Holy Thursday morning and is distinct from the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday night.

The Second Vatican Council continued the liturgical renewal with the recovery of the Easter Vigil. Today, the Chrism Mass — celebrated by the local ordinary (bishop) with his clergy in attendance — can be celebrated earlier in Holy Week, and it provides not only the occasion for the annual Blessing of the Holy Oils but also the Renewal of Priestly Promises. The Mass of the Lord’s Supper commences the sacred Paschal Triduum. During this special Mass, the faithful witness the optional washing of the feet, the Eucharistic procession and Eucharistic vigil that lasts through the night. On the afternoon or evening of Good Friday, the faithful may participate in the Celebration of the Lord’s Passion. Then, after sundown on Holy Saturday, the Easter Vigil takes place. It is during the Vigil that baptisms and confirmations take place, as well as the renewal of baptismal promises, the Blessing of the Easter Candle and the Blessing of the Water. 

Can Non-Catholics Be Saved?

Q. I need help with a certain Catholic question if you don’t mind. Most of my family consists of non-Catholics who don’t really have a religion. I don’t know how to get through to them, and I was wondering, is it possible for a non-Catholic to eventually get into heaven?

D.M, via e-mail 

A. Only good non-Catholics can be saved.

Not only can non-Catholics be saved, but recently Pope Francis stated that “atheists have been redeemed by Christ.” For many, that sounded revolutionary, but in fact, it’s not. That has been the teaching of the Church all along. Christ died on the cross to save all mankind. He redeemed everyone. Anyone who is ultimately saved is saved by the merits of Christ, whether they know it or not, and whether they believe it or not. But there is a hitch: In order for a person to gain access to heaven, they must die in a state of grace. Doing good works is a sign of grace.

The person who lives his or her life according to the first moral principle, “do good and avoid evil,” can be saved, even though through no fault of his or her own they do not believe in God. However, all people are obliged to follow the truth, and if they come to the knowledge of the divinity of Christ, they are obliged to follow Christ and His teachings.

Nevertheless, it is easier for a practicing Catholic to get to heaven because he/she can take advantage of the redeeming graces of the sacraments, chiefly the holy Eucharist and the Sacrament of Penance. 

Fearful about the Future

Q. Does the pope condone secret societies? What does Catholicism say in regard to the Illuminati? What does the Church say in regard to a one-world government? I tried to look for an email for Pope Francis to ask such questions. I’m worried about the state of affairs in this world nowadays. I pray a lot for the United States and the world in general (as it is not just the United States suffering). I’ve been wondering if there truly is such a thing as secret societies as conspiracy theorists say? I used to laugh about Freemasons — I grew up thinking they were the harmless little old men driving the scooters and wearing fez hats in parades. Now I’m not so sure. Hopefully this doesn’t sound too ridiculous. America is in a sad state these days.

Tammy, via e-mail 

A. You sound fearful about the future: the Illuminati, secret societies, one-world government! Calm down. You should remember what St. Paul wrote centuries ago to the early Christian communities: “All things work for good for those who love God” (Rom 8:28). Certainly, Western civilization has witnessed an alarming decay in public morality in recent years, but it’s no surprise. Pope Paul VI made that prediction in paragraph 17 of his encyclical Humanae Vitae (“Of Human Life”) back in 1968. He predicted that if people practiced artificial birth control, then marital infidelity would increase and public morality would decrease. That’s exactly what we have seen. I once saw a bumper sticker which proclaimed, “Contraception causes drive-by shootings.”

When we fail to respect the sacredness and purpose of sex, then human life is trivialized, marriage is threatened, and the weak (unborn and aged) are at risk for survival.

Yes, there are “secret societies” in the world, and there has been a conspiracy against the human race ever since Genesis 3:15 and original sin. The devil is out to get us and attacks the human race through abortion, contraception, divorce and gay marriage. But none of this is progress.

Christians are not afraid to live, just as Christians are not afraid to die. We place our hope in Christ. One could argue whether contemporary culture today is worse than it was in Rome, Antioch and Athens during the time of St. Paul, or worse than during the time of the missionaries in Mexico when Montezuma and his minions practiced terrible and unspeakable rituals of human sacrifice. Whether it’s better or worse, the conclusion is the same: Christians are called to be saints and place their trust in God. 

May I Attend the Wedding, Part 5

Q. When invited to a wedding between people of the same sex, is it wrong for Catholics to attend such a wedding? It’s family and very sensitive.

Lucille, via e-mail 

A. Last year I wrote an answer to that question (“May I Attend the Wedding?” May/June 2012), which I copy for you below. In a few words, no one should attend the so-called marriage of two people of the same sex, because it is not a marriage and directly contradicts what God and nature teach us: Sex is for the transmission of human life, and two people of the same sex cannot reproduce the human species. Sodomy is not marriage:

“Case 5: ‘Attempted marriage of persons of the same sex.’ Invalid. No remedy possible. No one should attend or witness this. Against natural law and canon law.

“Just as the in first case it is obvious that anyone can attend, in this case it is obvious that no one can attend.

“So, in this case, how do you ‘love the sinner, but hate the sin’? By explaining things clearly: marriage is about children, and two persons of the same sex can not procreate children, so marriage is not possible. But friendship is possible, and friendship which leads to love of and imitation of Christ is good. And chastity is a great virtue which enables us to serve as Christ served.” 

Wearing Sunday Best

Q. An observation that I have made of our Protestant friends is that when they go to Sunday services all the men are wearing suits and ties and the women all wear dresses. At our Catholic Church, on Sundays, about the only ones wearing sports coats are the ushers. Some in the pews wear shorts and sandals, like they’re going to work in their garden. Even lectors wear faded jeans. How could a pastor promote proper attire for Mass?

Chris, via e-mail 

A. I too have noticed that Protestants these days tend to dress up for Sunday services, while in many — but not all — Catholic churches “casual” tends to be the norm. Now, there is a time and a place for “casual,” but there’s also a time and a place for “Sunday best.”

In my role as executive director of Relevant Radio, I travel extensively around the country and have had the good fortune to celebrate Sunday Mass in a variety of parishes and settings. I have seen the following trends: on special occasions (funerals, weddings, graduations, confirmations, first Communions, ordinations, Christmas and Easter), the faithful tend to dress very well and quite elegantly.

But on regular Sundays, especially during the Saturday anticipated Mass, the trend is to be “casual.” However, one notable exception is the following: Parishes that host perpetual adoration of the Most Blessed Sacrament tend to also get high marks for “Sunday Mass” attire, as well as more robust collection plates, better singing and better preaching. The only downside I have noticed in the parishes that host perpetual adoration is that the parking lots are either too small or too jammed.

But that’s a good problem to have. 

Spilled Matter

Q. I splattered the blood of Christ on my jacket. I tried to lick it off of the jacket. It is now dry. Do I need to do something special with the jacket?

Jennifer, via e-mail 

A. Your question illustrates a good reason to avoid Communion under both species. Quite simply, the consecrated wine (now the Precious Blood of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ) is much less stable than the consecrated bread. That’s the nature of liquid: it spills. And when it spills on the ground, that’s a catastrophe. Liturgists: pay attention! We can do better!

While I completely understand that the “symbolic” character of Communion is more perfect when the faithful receive holy Communion under both species, even a third grader can understand and accept the Church’s perennial teaching that Christ is truly present — body and blood — under the species of bread.

That being the case, when you receive the consecrated bread at holy Communion, you are receiving the entire risen and glorious body of our Lord Jesus Christ, so you have everything you need, and then some.

In your case, you should treat your jacket as if it were a linen purificator used by the priest to cleanse and purify the sacred vessels at Mass after Communion. The affected part of your jacked should be submerged in fresh water and allowed to soak for 10 minutes. Then you squeeze the water out of the jacket back into the bowl that you used for soaking. Then you pour the remaining water into natural ground.

If you continue to serve as an extraordinary minister of holy Communion distributing the Precious Blood from the chalice, you may find it helpful to pray a prayer to your Guardian Angel to make sure nothing of the Precious Blood is lost. 

Communion Question

Q. Do you know about receiving Communion if you are a widowed Catholic?

Ellen, address withheld 

A. Hmmm. You’ve got me on this one. Are you sure there’s not more to your question? I see no problem with a widowed Catholic receiving holy Communion. Perhaps you were in an irregular marriage, and now that your husband is deceased you are no longer living in a “state of sin” or in an irregular marriage, so you are free to receive holy Communion once you’ve been to confession. I’ve heard of cases like this before, especially with respect to the Miraculous Medal as the catalyst for resolving a difficult situation. 


Q. This question is about fasting on Good Friday. I ate boiled crayfish. However, there was sausage boiled in the same water. I did not eat the meat, but was told it was a sin because the meat was boiled in the same water as the crayfish. There were non-Catholics at the function, I was not in control of the situation, but need to know if this is a sin.

Connie, via e-mail 

A. In the famous words of a former secretary of state, now that it’s happened, “What difference does it make?” However, I think you’re looking for a more complete answer here.

You are only culpable for a sin if you are aware it is a sin at the moment of the action. If you thought you were keeping the law by not eating the meat, then it was not a sin.

While it clearly would have been better for a Catholic to avoid eating something that was tainted by meat, I think you did the best you could in those circumstances.

But here’s the good news: welcome aboard, because we are all sinners! That’s why I never tire of suggesting that folks go to confession at least every 40 days. Otherwise, they will forget they are sinners, and then they will have no use for Jesus Christ, who came to save sinners. 

Destination Weddings?

Q. Our granddaughter is engaged to be married. She is a cradle Catholic and her fiancé is a Protestant who is planning on coming into the Church next year. However, they are planning a destination wedding before he comes into the Church. The wedding will be taking place in the Dominican Republic with a Catholic priest performing the ceremony on the beach. I wondered if this is something the Church approves of.

Carol, via e-mail 

A. If a Catholic priest performs the wedding ceremony on the beach, I would assume that the priest has valid permission to do so from the local bishop. If you have any doubt, ask to see a copy of the written permission. Ordinarily, such permission is not granted to priests by their bishops in the United States.

It is far better for a couple to exchange their vows in a Catholic Church in front of the altar of sacrifice and the crucifix — both vivid reminders of what it takes to remain faithful in marriage: sacrifice. 

Good Time for Confession

Q. As the Church commemorates the passion and death of Christ, what are sacraments that could be given or received during the Triduum? Particularly, can the priest give the Sacrament of Penance on Good Friday and Holy Saturday?

Obinna, via e-mail 

A. The sacred Paschal Triduum, from sunset on Holy Thursday to sunset of Easter Sunday, is an extra special time in the Church. It’s not business as usual on these days. All of our attention should be focused on the liturgies of these days.

Accordingly, during this time period, the Church does not celebrate funerals, weddings or ordinations. The baptisms and confirmations that take place occur on Saturday evening, during the Easter Vigil. Communal penance services should be held in the parish before Holy Week.

However, the Sacrament of Penance, as well as the anointing of the sick, can be given at any time for the pastoral benefit of the faithful. (And for that matter, any sacrament necessary for salvation can be given “in danger of death.”)

In fact, I think it’s a great idea (where you have priests available) to have priests in the confessional during the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday, during the Celebration of the Lord’s Passion on Good Friday, during the Easter Vigil on Holy Saturday, and during all of the Masses on Easter Sunday. And that’s for the simple reason that “the fishing is best when the fish are in the pond.”

The best time to offer confession is when the faithful are in the church, especially if they only come once or twice a year. Again, that advice is contingent on “where you have priests available.” TCA 

How long may I keep ashes?

Q. How long may I keep my husband’s ashes home with me, before I am ready to bring him to holy grounds. He has an urn next to the Blessed Mother on his nightstand. We had a Catholic Mass, and then went to chapel, for his final resting place before he was cremated. My daughters and I are not ready.

Di, via e-mail 

A. You will feel much better after you bury your husband’s remains in sacred ground. I see no reason why you cannot bury your husband’s remains in a Catholic cemetery or mausoleum immediately. If you can adorn the burial spot with an image of the Blessed Mother, so much the better. Catholic cemeteries are open every day of the year during daylight hours, so loved ones can come to visit, remember and pray for the deceased. A Catholic cemetery, because it has been blessed and sanctified, is sacred ground.

Your real need to feel physically connected to your deceased husband is understandable, and even beautiful. However, you will find a much greater connection to your husband by spending time in adoration of the Most Blessed Sacrament where Jesus Christ is really, truly and substantially present. Since your deceased husband is now in eternity, your best connection to him will be through Christ, who reigns in heaven but is here on earth in the holy Eucharist. 

What is the purpose of time?

Q. What is the purpose of time for us, if God is outside of time? What is our relationship with time?

Laura Klein, via e-mail 

A. I remember a TV game show from the 1960s called “Supermarket Sweep.” Contestants had a fixed amount of time to load up their shopping carts with the greatest value of items. When the time was up, contestants had to “check out” at the register, and whoever had the highest value of items in the cart won the game. Life is just like that. We each have a limited amount of time, and no one knows for sure just how much time you have. Some have a day, and some have 100 years, but no one has unlimited time.

The purpose of time is the purpose of your life: to do as much good by loving God and serving your neighbor as you can. In this game of life, as St. Paul says: “Do you not know that the runners in the stadium all run in the race, but only one wins the prize? Run so as to win” (2 Cor. 9:24). 

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