TCA Life for July/August 2011

Tattoos for Priests? 

Q. Other than being improper, in my opinion, can a priest get a tattoo? This question was asked by one of my fifth-grade catechism students. 

Mike, via e-mail 

A. I agree with your opinion: in our contemporary culture, I think it would be improper for a priest to get a tattoo, just as I think it would be improper for him to have body piercings or wear a ponytail. That’s not what we’re looking for in a priest. We are looking for the image of Christ, not a rock star. Of course, today it might not be a surprise for a young man to have received some kind of a tattoo in the years prior to his entry into the seminary.  

However, in another cultural context, it could be appropriate to ordain a man who already has a tattoo, for instance an indigenous convert from an island in the South Pacific. But in our culture, tattoos carry a different significance.  

To support my answer, I will cite four authoritative sources: my mother, the Bible, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and the Code of Canon Law. Mom always reminded us that our bodies are “temples of the Holy Spirit,” so we should respect them and never get a tattoo. I discovered later that my mother was quoting St. Paul about the temple business. 

The Book of Leviticus states: “Do not lacerate your bodies for the dead, and do not tattoo yourselves. I am the Lord” (19:28). That’s pretty clear to me. 

The Catechism does not specifically prohibit tattoos, but under the title of the Fifth Commandment we are taught that “directly intended . . . mutilations . . . are against the moral law” (No. 2297). I think you might be able to make the case that a tattoo is a type of mutilation, or disfigurement of the human body, and therefore to be avoided. 

But the Code of Canon Law has quite a bit to say about priestly appearance and deportment. Canon 1041.5 prohibits the ordination of men who have “maliciously mutilated” themselves. Canon 282.1 states, “Clerics are to follow a simple way of life and avoid anything which smacks of worldliness.” The original word in Latin for worldliness is vanitatem, and the English cognate vanity says it all. Tattoos are vain, aren’t they? Finally, Canon 285 states, “Clerics are to shun completely everything that is unbecoming to their state.” 

Church Funerals 

Q. One couple gets married in a church; one couple gets married by a justice of the peace. They both get divorced, and the man from the first couple marries the lady from the second couple by a justice of the peace. They have lived together for 44 years, but since the Catholic marriage was not annulled can the couple have a Catholic burial? 

Tom, via e-mail  

A. The Church can deny funeral rites to unrepentant public sinners, but rarely does so these days. It sure would cause a great sensation. 

As for this case, I assume that the second marriage was invalid because there was no declaration of nullity of the first marriage. When it comes to marriage, let’s remember what Jesus said: “Whoever divorces his wife (unless the marriage is unlawful) and marries another commits adultery” (Mt 19:9). Those are hard words to hear, and hard words to preach, but they are the Lord’s words, and we need to take them seriously. Pastors who preach them and govern accordingly are courageous. Just remember what happened to St. John the Baptist when he called Herod and Herodias to task because of their adulterous living arrangement: she had his head chopped off. It can be dangerous to speak the truth. 

The Code of Canon Law addresses the question of burial under this title: “Those to Whom Church Funerals Are to be Allowed or Denied.” As recently as 2002, the reputed mobster John Gotti was denied a public funeral from his home parish, but that does not happen frequently. Even notorious pro-abortion politicians receive grand funerals these days because the Church is a haven for sinners, not a club for saints, and we should do our best to pray for the salvation of all. I suppose notorious pro-abortion politicians might need the prayers of the Church more than others would. 

Here’s what the code states: 

“Church funeral rites are to be denied to the following, unless they gave some signs of repentance before death: 

“1. notorious apostates, heretics and schismatics; 

“2. those who for anti-Christian motives chose that their bodies be cremated; 

“3. other manifest sinners to whom a Church funeral could not be granted without public scandal to the faithful” (Canon 1184.1). 

It’s unheard of that a Catholic in an irregular marriage would be denied a funeral. One hopes that the man had a chance to repent and amend his life before he died. That has happened many times before with people in such a situation. 

Additions to the Mass? 

Q. Concerning Psalms of Christian Prayers, interjected during the Mass before the readings and the Gospels. Are these considered acceptable? One of our parishioners was told that it was a mortal sin if there were extra prayers, such as the Christian Prayers. Our priest says it is acceptable, but a theologian on EWTN stated that it was a mortal sin. Any light you can shed on this subject would be helpful as we attend daily Mass and the subject was questioned. Some of the parishioners have not attended since this subject was brought up. 

C.G. and T. R., via e-mail

A. I know what Psalms are and I know what Christian Prayer is, but I do not know what “Psalms of Christian Prayers” refers to. But I think you have given me enough information to provide a useful answer. The Liturgy of the Word at weekday and Sunday Mass always has a “responsorial psalm” after the first reading and before the Gospel. It can be recited or chanted, and it can vary in length. It should not be omitted. 

As for adding prayers or texts to the Mass, the General Instruction of the Roman Missal points out, “The priest must remember that he is the servant of the Sacred Liturgy and that he himself is not permitted, on his own initiative, to add, to remove, or to change anything in the celebration of the Mass” (No. 24). That directive does not mean that the priest celebrant is a robot: on the contrary, there are moments when he is allowed to make some comments by way of explanation to help the faithful enter more deeply into the mystery of the Liturgy. 

If the addition of these “Psalms of Christian Prayer” constitutes a deliberate abuse, then it would be sinful, but I doubt it would be a mortal sin. For a listing of liturgical abuses which could constitute a mortal sin, we refer to the Vatican instruction Redemptionis Sacramentum, issued by the Holy See in 2004. That document lists three levels of abuses: a) the more serious crimes (de gravioribus delictis); b) serious matters (de rebus gravibus); and c) other abuses (de aliis abusibus). The first two categories could be mortal sins under the usual conditions: serious matter, full advertence and full consent. It could be that many good priests are not familiar with these specifications and would never think, for instance, that it could be a mortal sin to celebrate Mass with a breakable glass chalice. 

For your information, and for the benefit of our readers, I will restate the more serious crimes as well as the serious matters from that instruction: 

The more serious crimes 

a) taking away or retaining the consecrated species for sacrilegious ends, or throwing them away; 

b) the attempted celebration of the liturgical action of the Eucharistic Sacrifice or the simulation of the same; 

c) the forbidden concelebration of the Eucharistic Sacrifice with ministers of ecclesial communities that do not have the apostolic succession nor acknowledge the sacramental dignity of priestly ordination; 

d) the consecration for sacrilegious ends of one matter without the other in the celebration of the Eucharist or even of both outside the celebration of the Eucharist. 

Serious matters 

a) only unleavened wheat bread with no additives can be used for the Eucharist; 

b) only natural grape wine may be used; 

c) the Eucharistic Prayer must be in the Roman Missal or legitimately approved by the Apostolic See; 

d) only a priest can proclaim the Eucharistic Prayer; not the deacon and not the layman; 

e) the Pope and diocesan bishop must be mentioned in the Eucharistic Prayer; 

f) you are not allowed to celebrate Mass sitting around a table; 

g) you may not use prayers or books from other religions; 

h) the priest can not deny holy Communion to someone who kneels for Communion; 

i) no self-intinction; 

j) no passing the Body of Christ or Blood of Christ from one person to another; 

k) you cannot celebrate the Mass in a non-Christian church (mosque, synagogue, temple); 

l) you cannot use sacred vessels of glass, earthenware, clay or other materials that break easily; 

m) you cannot celebrate Mass without vestments. 

So, back to the original question. If the “Psalms of Christian Prayers” are prayers or books from another religion [see “Serious Matters” (g) above] it would be a serious matter to insert them in the Mass, and as such, possibly a mortal sin. It’s best to stick to the text. 

“A People Redeemed”? 

Q. Is there a general instruction to kneel during Mass at “This is the Lamb of God” (Agnus Dei) and during the Communion rite? What if the priest tells the people to stand because “we are a people redeemed?” 

Therese, via e-mail 

A. The General Instruction of the Roman Missal states, “The faithful kneel after the Agnus Dei unless the diocesan bishop determines otherwise” (No. 43). If your priest directs you to stand at that point in the Mass, it’s likely because the diocesan bishop has made that indication, and not just because you are “a people redeemed,” since the faithful in the next diocese — who might be kneeling — are also redeemed.

Calvinist Predestination 

Q. What is the Catholic position on predestination, and how does it differ from the Calvinist position? I have felt for a long, long time that I must be one of the damned as I have not received the gift of faith. 

Name withheld by request, via e-mail 

A. Jesus gave the best response to the predestination question in the Gospel of Luke when asked, “Will only a few people be saved?” (13:23). It’s an answer and at the same time not an answer, because Our Lord gets to the heart of the matter and says, “Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I tell you, will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough” (13:24). The right answer, the Jesus answer, the Divine answer to the question about predestination is: TRY. Try your best to keep the Commandments and avoid sin, and love and serve God.  

You ask a question about the convergence of our free will with God’s will. The Bible tells us that God wants all men to be saved (see 1 Tm 2:4). But the Bible also tells us about the existence of hell. So how could God — who’s will is perfect (in fact, omnipotent) — want all men to be saved, if hell exists? This seeming contradiction has been the subject of reflection for centuries. 

The Catholic position about predestination is a “both/and” response. God wants all men to be saved, and yet man can freely choose to not cooperate with God’s will and wind up in hell. God counts on man’s free cooperation with his grace. Man cannot be saved without God’s grace, but God, who created man without his cooperation, will not save him without his cooperation. Man is predestined to heaven, but only insofar as he cooperates with God’s grace.

Calvinists incorrectly conclude that some men are predestined to hell, while others are predestined to heaven, and nothing they do will change the outcome. Essentially, the Calvinist position denies man’s free will as he confirms the supremacy of God’s will. The Calvinist response to the question about predestination would be, “Why even bother trying since God already knows the outcome.” 

Multiple Mass Intentions 

Q. Please tell me why a holy Mass would be concelebrated. My deceased father’s Mass (for which I had given a $20 stipend) showed up in my parish bulletin together, on the say day, same time, to be concelebrated for two other (unknown to me) people who are living. 

Respectfully and lacking a little peace of mind concerning the above. 

Mildred Misaiet, Brooklyn, N.Y. 

A. First, let’s clear up some terminology. A “concelebrated” Mass refers to a Mass with two or more priests celebrating at the same altar at the same time. The situation you refer to is not a “concelebration,” but a matter of “collective intentions,” or when one Mass is celebrated for multiple intentions.  

Normally, a Mass is celebrated for one intention, per the Code of Canon Law: “Separate Masses are to be applied for the intentions of those for whom a single offering, although small, has been given and accepted” (Canon 948). It seems that is what you were expecting. 

However, for some time the Church has allowed “collective intentions” at a couple of Masses celebrated in the parish each week, but the people who request the Mass — in this case, you — should be informed beforehand that your intention will be “bundled” with other intentions. They are bundled together because there are more intentions requested than priests and Masses available. Since the merits of each Mass are infinite, the intention of the repose of the soul of your father will not receive any less grace. 

A 1991 decree from the Congregation for Clergy (at the Vatican) specifies: 

“1. In cases in which the people making the offering have been previously explicitly informed and have freely consented to combining their offerings in a single offering, their intentions can be satisfied with a single Mass celebrated according to a ‘collective’ intention. 

“2. In this case it is necessary that the place and time for the celebration of this Mass, which is not to be said more than twice a week, be made public.” 

By what you ask in your question, apparently you were not informed that your intention would be bundled with other intentions. But you had a right to be informed.  

Validity of Confirmation 

Q. If a priest (authorized by the bishop) celebrates the Sacrament of Confirmation with the words “Receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” while anointing, instead of the formula “Be sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit,” would it still be valid? 

Danny, via email 

A. Let’s begin with the Catechism of the Catholic Church: “The essential rite of the sacrament follows. In the Latin rite, ‘the sacrament of Confirmation is conferred through the anointing with chrism on the forehead, which is done by the laying on of the hand, and through the words: “Accipe signaculum doni Spiritus Sancti” [Be sealed with the Gift of the Holy Spirit.]’” (No. 1300; see also Code of Canon Law, Canon 880, which the Catechism quotes). 

The “essential rite” with which this sacrament is conferred consists in the application of the matter (anointing with chrism on the forehead, which is done by the laying on of the one hand: one single gesture) and the words of the minister (“Be sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit”). So, the words are the form, and both matter and form are essential for the validity. 

But I think the sacrament would still probably be valid since it meets the essence of the matter and form of confirmation. 

The words “Receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” are not the official English translation of the original Latin, but the modified translation of the form is probably valid, since there have been a variety of formulae through the centuries. Still, you should not mess around with what pertains to the essence of the administration of a sacrament. Notably, in the Eastern rites, confirmation also uses sacred oils and laying on of hands, but the words used to express what is going on are quite different.  

Was Jesus lost? 

Q. Since I say the Rosary daily, I have wondered about the Fifth Joyful Mystery (Finding Jesus in the Temple) for a very long time. Why does the Church consider this event in Christ’s life a mystery, and why choose it before any of the Luminous Mysteries? 

Why does it state that the Son of God was lost? How would I explain to a nonbeliever that God was not lost. Was Jesus of Nazareth misplaced? Does the Church think that Jesus was lost? Frankly, the Transfiguration is more of a mystery than Jesus of Nazareth being lost. Any clarification would be appreciated. 

V. Huff, Safety Harbor, Fla. 

A. Congratulations for praying the Rosary daily! I wish more people prayed it. Perhaps it would be easier to think of the “mysteries” of the Rosary as “events” in the life of Jesus and the Holy Family. While some of the mysteries are truly mysterious, such as the Resurrection or Transfiguration, others have no more mystery to them other than they happened to Jesus, such as the Fifth Joyful Mystery — Jesus lost and found in the Temple as a boy. But the very person of Jesus is a mystery, which we call the hypostatic union: one person (divine) and two natures (divine and human). 

Why the Joyful Mysteries were part of the Rosary before the Luminous Mysteries, you would have to ask the Holy Spirit, or Pope John Paul II, the blessed who proposed the Luminous Mysteries for our consideration. 

As for how to explain Jesus was lost in the Temple, just ask Mary and Joseph! They would tell you He was lost for three days. They did not know where He was. He was indeed lost to them. That was such a huge event from His childhood that it’s the only one recorded in the Bible. As for Jesus himself, He was not lost. He knew right where He was: in His Father’s house. And isn’t that something? The very first words of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ which have been recorded in the Bible are these: “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” (Lk 2:49). 

What are the Petrine and Pauline privileges? 

Q. What is the difference between the Pauline privilege and the Petrine privilege? 

Name withheld by request, via e-mail 

A. Both the Pauline privilege and the Petrine privilege concern the previous marriage of converts, and the privilege is intended to help the convert persevere in the faith. In principle, a valid marriage is indissoluble, unless it threatens the practice of the true faith of the convert. 

The Pauline privilege remedies a previous marriage of two unbaptized persons (see Canons 1142-1149), whereas the Petrine privilege remedies a previous marriage in which at least one spouse was unbaptized (see Canon 1150). 

The Pauline privilege is founded in this passage from the First Letter to the Corinthians: “If any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she is willing to go on living with him, he should not divorce her. . . . If the unbeliever separates, however, let him separate. The brother or sister is not bound in such cases; God has called you to peace” (7:12-15). The Pauline privilege can be granted by the local bishop; whereas the Petrine privilege is granted by the pope. 

For a more precise and technical description of these privileges, copied here is the answer from the Archdiocese of Chicago Tribunal, truly expert in this area of the law: 

“The Pauline privilege is a dissolution of marriage in which both parties to a previous marriage were non-baptized throughout the entire duration of their married life. It can be requested when one of the parties either wishes Christian baptism or has been baptized Christian and the other party remains unbaptized. These cases remain here in the Chicago Tribunal, and are decided by the Archbishop of Chicago. 

“A Petrine privilege, or Privilege of the Faith, is a dissolution of marriage in which at least one of the parties to a previous marriage was non-baptized throughout the entire duration of their married life. If the petitioner is the non-baptized party or was baptized in another Christian church, he or she must either wish to be baptized or received into the Catholic Church, or seek to marry a baptized, practicing Catholic. If the petitioner is a baptized Catholic who was married to a non-baptized person, he or she must either wish to enter into marriage with a baptized Christian, or promise to enter marriage with a baptized Christian in the future. Privilege of the Faith cases involve a special petition to the Holy Father and are decided in Rome.”

Father Francis Hoffman, J.C.D., serves as Senior Director — Mission, Programming, Development for Relevant Radio, the Catholic talk radio network.