TCA Life for May/June 2010

Church and adoption? 

Q. I was wondering how and under what circumstances the Church approves of adoption, in light of the Church’s teaching that in vitro and inutero fertilization are wrong, and also that, as I understand it, a marriage is not advisable if one of the would-be spouses were infertile? Thanks. 

Daniel O’Neill, Savannah, Ga. 

A. The Church not only approves of adoption, but in light of Pope John Paul II’s 1995 encyclical Evangelium Vitae (“The Gospel of Life”), the Church encourages adoption, especially if the married couple has a stable and strong relationship. Even if a couple has already been blessed with natural children, some have the ability to adopt children who might otherwise be deprived of a loving home. Adoption is not the optimal choice for all couples, and the decision should be made only after prayerful and prudent consideration, but those who can adopt children out of a spirit of generosity do a good thing. 

Infertility could be a compelling reason to adopt, and so the recent instruction Dignitatis Personae (2008) states: “In order to come to the aid of the many infertile couples who want to have children, adoption should be encouraged, promoted and facilitated by appropriate legislation so that the many children who lack parents may receive a home that will contribute to their human development.” 

The Church prohibits in vitro fertilization for two reasons: First, it separates the unitive from the procreative aspect of the marital act; second, it leads to the destruction of embryos, which are, after all, tiny human beings. The Church stated the prohibition in 1987 with the instruction Donum Vitae , and it was reiterated in ­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­ Dignitatis Personae. 

As for in utero fertilization, you refer to fertilization techniques which help couples conceive with the aid of some technological assistance, such as artificial insemination after a natural marital act. Some of these techniques have not been prohibited by the Church, although pious commentators wonder if the dignity of the persons is truly respected when the modesty and intimacy of husband and wife are unveiled by a well-meaning but intrusive third party dressed in a white lab coat. 

The marital act has two objects: the procreation of children and the intimate expression of exclusive spousal love. Introducing a third party into the operation may strengthen the first object (procreation), but at the expense of shattering the second object (the intimate expression of exclusive spousal love). I am not convinced it is worth it. 

Here it may be helpful to stress what Dignitatis Personae points out: With regard to the treatment of infertility, new medical techniques must respect three fundamental goods: a) the right to life and to physical integrity of every human being from conception to natural death; b) the unity of marriage, which means reciprocal respect for the right within marriage to become a father or mother only together with the other spouse; c) the specifically human values of sexuality which require “that the procreation of a human person be brought about as the fruit of the conjugal act specific to the love between spouses.” Techniques which assist procreation “are not to be rejected on the grounds that they are artificial. As such, they bear witness to the possibilities of the art of medicine. But they must be given a moral evaluation in reference to the dignity of the human person, who is called to realize his vocation from God to the gift of love and the gift of life.” 

Marriage may still be advisable even if one of the would-be spouses were infertile, unless the other spouse specifically wanted to have children with that spouse. Not infrequently, widows and widowers marry even though they are beyond the age of fertility. And marriage in that situation is a very good thing.

Two weddings needed? 

Q. My fiancé and I would like to have two Catholic weddings. You see, we are college students applying for graduate school, and we will be more eligible for the loans we need if we’re married soon. Since we’re getting married anyway, it seems that we should be married by a point which will secure our future financially. We’ll have completed pre-Cana by the time we are married, but the date of the wedding is rather time sensitive. 

Here is the problem: We are currently in a small college town. My family and friends would not be able to attend the first wedding due to travel concerns, and we would not be able to travel because of classes and other obligations. Would it violate Catholic doctrine to be married once in our college town in a Catholic church (a simple celebration), and once more later in our hometown with our friends and family (a large celebration)? Since we are college students, even though we would be marrying, we would still be living in separate residences with roommates. For this reason, we have decided that we would put off “marital duties” until our second wedding. This won’t be a problem since we both do not believe in premarital sexual relations. 

Here’s the question: Will the Catholic Church marry us twice? And would I be able to wear a white dress to symbolize the fact that we both waited until marriage to consummate those duties? I have researched this issue, and come across convalidation ceremonies, but I don’t think they apply. Thank you very much for your help and consideration. 

Angelina Guidos, via e-mail  

A. You can only marry the same guy once! I suggest you marry at your local Catholic Church, then consummate your marriage and live together as husband and wife. Later, in the summer, you can celebrate with a party that your friends and relatives can attend. You are ready for marriage when you are ready to have children, and you should not let “loan eligibility” considerations determine the date of your wedding or reception. 

Certainly the Church provides the possibility of a “convalidation” ceremony, but that’s for couples who did not know any better at the time of their attempted marriage; so you are correct, in your case it would not apply. 

If you and your fiancé get married in a Catholic Church in the presence of the pastor of the parish and two witnesses, then your marriage is valid and a convalidation ceremony is entirely unnecessary. Finally, it could be possible — theoretically — to have a small wedding ceremony now, and then have a special Mass with renewal of your wedding vows later in the company of friends and relatives followed by the reception. I hope it works out for you. 

And by the way, you can wear the white dress on both occasions! 

Mass intentions 

Q. Could you please tell me about Mass intentions? 

Paulette Hill, via e-mail 

A. The holy Eucharist is the source and summit of the interior life and the very life of the Catholic Church. Every time Mass is celebrated, the sacrifice of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ on Calvary is re-presented in an unbloody manner affording the priest celebrant and all congregants who participate in the Mass an infinite amount of sanctifying grace. That grace can be applied to specific intentions, whether of the priest celebrant or the faithful. 

Whenever a priest celebrates Mass, he has at least two intentions. The first intention is to celebrate the Mass according to what the Church does. The second is to apply the grace of that Mass toward a specific need, whether it be a person(s), living or dead, baptized or not, or a special need. Every parish pastor is required, by canon law, to offer at least one Mass on Sunday for the needs and intentions of his parishioners (see Canon 534.1). 

As to the first intention, a priest may find it helpful to pray this traditional prayer while he is vesting: “My purpose is to celebrate Mass and to make present the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ according to the rite of the holy Roman Church to the praise of our all-powerful God and all His assembly in the glory of heaven, for my good and the good of all His pilgrim Church on earth, and for all who have asked me to pray for them in general and in particular, and for the good of the holy Roman Church. May the almighty and merciful Lord grant us joy and peace, amendment of life, room for true repentance, the grace and comfort of the Holy Spirit, and perseverance in good works. Amen.” 

It is good for the priest to pray that prayer before Mass just in case he gets distracted at Mass and loses track of what he is doing. At least he stated his intention before the Mass, and God takes that into account. 

As to the second intention, commonly called “the intention of the Mass,” and most likely what you want to know about, that intention is usually announced in the Church bulletin at least one week before, and then it is usually announced out loud at Mass. Often the Mass intention is requested by a parishioner for the repose of the soul of a loved one. When a parishioner requests that a Mass be offered for a specific intention, and the priest agrees to celebrate the Mass for that intention, then the priest has a most serious obligation to offer the Mass for that intention. It is a good and pious custom for the faithful to make an offering, usually about $10, to the priest who celebrates the Mass. The $10 does not buy a Mass! Masses and graces are not for sale. Rather, the $10 is a gesture of solicitude to the priest for his upkeep. 

In case you are wondering, a priest cannot get rich on Mass offerings since he is limited to one Mass on weekdays, and two on Sundays, although in special circumstances he could celebrate two Masses on weekdays (that’s called bination) and three on Sundays. The most he could make on Masses in a week is $150, or about $7,500 a year. 

It happens that the parish might receive more requested intentions than Masses are available. In that case, the pastor can bundle a bunch of intentions once or twice a week and load those intentions on to one Mass so long as the person requesting the Mass knows the Mass is for more than one intention. In that case, no one loses out because there is an infinite amount of grace available at each and every Mass (see the decree Mos iugiter obtinuit from the Congregation for the Clergy, 1991). 

St. Peter’s Burial Crypt 

Q. Greetings. I know the following is not true (and I often wonder where on earth people get the things they tell others from? Good grief!). I told a co-worker that my wife and I had just returned from Rome, where we renewed our marriage vows at St. Peter’s Basilica. When I mentioned that St. Peter’s is where St. Peter, Pope John Paul II and many other popes are buried — that is, those popes who chose to be buried there — my co-worker said (and I hope you’re sitting down for this one) that the popes are not buried there but only their heart is in each tomb. I just looked at him and walked away. Where on earth did he get this “information”? He said that a “tour guide” gave him and his group that information. Needless to say, I’ve not mentioned this to anyone other than you because this is something so stupid that people will start passing it along just as this co-worker did. And, again, I say, “GOOD GRIEF!!” What all of us as Catholics and Christians need to do is pray for Catholic misinformation to stop. Thank you and God bless you.  

Arturo J. Ortiz Sr., El Paso, Texas 

A. Good grief is right! Beneath the main floor of St. Peter’s is the crypt, called the Vatican Grottoes. There you will find buried many, but not all, of the popes, and in most cases the mortal remains are intact, although with the passage of time, nothing much remains except the bones. There are many guidebooks or Internet sites that describe and list who is buried where in St. Peter’s. The canonized or beatified popes are customarily moved upstairs to the Church. Pope Blessed John XXIII, for example, was moved from the grottoes in 2001 and now rests under the altar of St. Jerome in the main basilica. 

Your co-worker either misheard the tour guide or the tour guide misheard his mentor. There have been occasions in the history of the Church when parts of the body of a saint wound up in different places, either because of theft or overzealous relic hunting. But it’s never been the practice of the Church only to inter the heart of a deceased pontiff in the crypt. 

The mortal remains of Pope John Paul II were laid to rest in a very simple tomb in the Grottoes. Since his death, tens of millions of pilgrims have filed by his tomb to pay their respects and say a prayer for his intercession. The author of this column had the immense good fortune to spend a half hour praying at that spot during Holy Week 2007, and was amazed at the constant flow of humanity filing by his tomb. We hope that Venerable John Paul the Great will be raised to the glory of the altars soon! 

Marriage outside the Church 

Q. My nephew is marrying outside the church; although baptized, he hasn’t been to church in years. Should his Catholic relatives attend? Of course, it would cause bad feelings if we don’t. Please answer ASAP! P.S. He and his girlfriend attend family religious (Catholic) weddings. 

Carol Kirsch, via e-mail  

A. Your nephew should get married in the Church, and you should tell him that. If all of his Catholic relatives protest and refuse to attend his wedding, unless he gets married in the Catholic Church after having received adequate preparation, I’ll bet THAT will get his attention. More likely, his Catholic relatives are split on the issue, and so the confusion just continues. 

If your nephew wants to improve his chances for a successful and durable marriage, let him know that Churchgoers have more stable marriages, and that those who follow the teachings of the Church with respect to procreation have both better and stronger marriages. 

It sounds to me that you have an opportunity to speak with him and engage him in conversation and give witness to the benefits of marriage in the Church. As Pope John Paul II said, “Do not be afraid!” 

NFP not ABC 

Q. A friend in a neighboring state lives in a parish with two deacons. She teaches RCIA and CCD, and now she and her husband are asked to counsel engaged couples. She tells them the only means of birth control approved by the Catholic Church is the condom. I was appalled and shocked, asking her where she got that information. She said from the deacon. What has changed? 

Name withheld 

A. You are not out of touch. Nothing has changed. It’s possible that your dear friend misunderstood the deacon, and it’s possible that the deacon does not know any better. So I’m happy you came to the right place for the correct answer. The Catholic Church does not approve of any kind of artificial birth control — pill, condom, IUD, vasectomy or tubal ligation — because it only makes the situation worse. 

If a married couple needs to avoid pregnancy for serious and generous reasons, the couple has recourse to natural family planning, a method which strengthens the marital bond because it relies so heavily on spousal communication. TCA

Fulfilling Sunday Mass Obligation in China (sidebar)

Q. My question concerns travel to China. What is the best way to meet the Sunday obligation to attend Mass? Any visible churches are part of the Catholic Patriotic Association controlled by China and not in communion with Rome. Should we skip Mass altogether? Should we attend the services available but not receive Communion? I’m assuming Communion at these churches would not be valid. I know some bishops and priests in the Patriotic Association have secretly reconciled with Rome, but we would have no way of knowing who that would be. Also, it would be difficult and foolish to try to find Mass at an underground church. We never miss Mass when we travel, but I’m not sure what the best course of action would be in this case. 

Betsy DeBry, via e-mail  

A. The situation of the Catholic Church in China is complex and ambiguous, and Pope Benedict XVI recognizes that. So let me offer some clear advice and then an explanation. First, you should not skip Mass altogether. If you can safely attend Sunday Mass celebrated by an “underground” priest who is loyal to Rome, then that could be your first option. But you should not assume that a cleric who is recognized by the Chinese civil authority is not united to Rome. You can, in good conscience, attend Mass celebrated by a priest or bishop who is a member of the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, if you cannot find anything else. It is not clear that the sacraments are invalid; nor is it clear that they are not in union with Rome. For example, Pope Benedict invited at least two bishops from the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association to attend the Synod of Bishops on the Eucharist in Rome in 2005; and in 2006 Beijing cooperated with the Holy See in the naming of a new bishop. To this point, Pope Benedict wrote in 2007, “The lay faithful too, who are animated by a sincere love for Christ and for the Church, must not hesitate to participate in the Eucharist celebrated by bishops and by priests who are in full communion with the Successor of Peter and are recognized by the civil authorities.” 

For your information, those who “are recognized by the civil authorities” are members of the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, and you can assume they are in communion with Rome unless you are certain that they are not. 

It is true that some bishops have been consecrated without papal approval. Pope Benedict addresses this point in his 2007 letter to the Catholic Church in China: “Finally, there are certain bishops — a very small number of them — who have been ordained without the pontifical mandate and who have not asked for or have not yet obtained the necessary legitimation. According to the doctrine of the Catholic Church, they are to be considered illegitimate, but validly ordained, as long as it is certain that they have received ordination from validly ordained bishops and that the Catholic rite of episcopal ordination has been respected. Therefore, although not in communion with the Pope, they exercise their ministry validly in the administration of the sacraments, even if they do so illegitimately.” Therefore, you can assume the sacrament celebrated by any cleric who is also part of the CCPA is a valid one. 

As business with China increases, this question will be more frequently asked. It is true that the Church in China is divided, but it’s not really the fault of the Catholics in China, and it is not the desire of Rome. It is the result of the Chinese communist government’s intolerance of foreign intervention. China regards the Catholic Church as a foreign body, and does not recognize the “separation of Church and state” as we do in the United States. For that reason, China reserves to itself the right to appoint bishops. Nor is China the first country to do this. Back in the Middle Ages, the Holy Roman Emperor arrogated to himself the right to appoint local bishops, and that contentious chapter of Church-state relations is known as the “lay investiture” crisis in the 11th century. 

Many Chinese Catholics have suffered brutal persecution because of their allegiance to Rome. Even foreign Catholic priests and bishops have been persecuted and imprisoned in China, most notably the Maryknoll Bishop James Walsh. Vatican diplomatic entreaties with China have failed to procure an invitation for the Pope to visit China, but one day that will happen. It is truly unbelievable, that in the year 2010, both Russia and China still fear to invite the Roman Pontiff to visit those countries.

Tithing and Sacrificial Giving 

Q. Could you please tell me more about what the Catholic Church believes about tithing? 

Siobhan Brogan, via e-mail 

A. Tithing is first mentioned in the books of the Old Testament and represents a sacrificial gift of one’s produce or income for the benefit of the worship of God by maintenance of the Temple and the priests caring for temple worship. It was usually around 10 percent. The earliest reference in Scripture to tithing is in patriarchal times. Abraham gave a tithe from spoils to the priestly king Melchizedek (see Gn 14:17-20). Jacob promised a tithe to God (Gn 28:18-22; see Am 4:4). According to the law of Deuteronomy (14:22-27), the Hebrews were expected to tithe grain, wine and oil, as well as the firstborn of the animals (Lv 27:30-32). Every third year tithes were distributed to the poor (Dt 14:28-29; 26:12). 

Tithing represents a sacrifice, and sacrifice is one of the acts of the virtue of religion, the others being prayer, adoration and worship. All peoples in all times in all religions that acknowledge an infinite being have recognized the intrinsic need of sacrificial offerings to God. In the Christian tradition, the Sacrifice of the Mass is the sacrifice par excellence! 

A sacrifice offered to God awakens the soul and sharpens the spiritual powers of perception. Sacrifice is to prayer what a magnifying glass is to sunlight: it intensifies the power. Sacrifice is a proof of faith and trust in God, as well as a demonstration of love for God. Anyone who loves another is always willing to make a sacrifice for the good of the other. 

Not everyone is able to give 10 percent of their income to the Church or to charity; some can give more, others can give less. But it is necessary that everyone make a sacrificial offering on a regular basis, and a sacrificial offering is one that you can feel. Tithing is one way to fulfill the fifth precept of the Church: “You shall help to provide for the needs of the Church.” 

On occasion a young man may tell me that he does not get much out of the Mass. While there may be subjective reasons for this (bad music, bland preaching, confusing architecture, empty stomach), more often the determining factors are subjective (lack of grace, lack of faith, lack of sacrifice). Archbishop Fulton Sheen famously quipped, “You don’t get much out of the Mass because you don’t bring much to it.” If you want to enhance the fruitfulness of your participation in Mass, just bring a generous sacrifice.

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