Dispensation from Sunday Obligation?
Q. I am in the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults class and was told by the instructor that the parish priest is able to give dispensation for missing Mass — not being sick but missing for other reasons. This doesn’t sound right, but maybe it is.
Steven Howard, via e-mail
A. The obligation to attend Mass on Sundays and other holy days is a serious duty since it is based on the divine command, “Remember to keep the Lord’s day holy.” Nevertheless, life can be complicated and members of the faithful can find themselves in a predicament. No pastor casually dispenses the faithful from the Sunday obligation, but he does have that right in law.
According to the Code of Canon Law, “Without prejudice to the right of diocesan Bishops in can. 87, a parish priest, in individual cases, for a just reason and in accordance with the prescriptions of the diocesan Bishop, can give a dispensation from the obligation of observing a holyday or day of penance, or commute the obligation into some other pious works” (Canon 1245).
Q. I noticed that you said there should be two Masses said on Sunday and one Mass a day during the week. Our pastor says several on Sunday and several on each day during the week. I guess he is wrong to do this, and as I had often wondered about this, now this confirms it. He must make a substantial amount of money doing this.
P. Schy, via e-mail
A. A priest is encouraged to celebrate Mass daily and is allowed to celebrate Mass twice on weekdays (bination) if there is a sufficient pastoral reason, and up to three times on Sundays and holy days of obligation to fill the needs of the community. In mission territories, it is not unheard of that priests have special permission to celebrate Mass even more times for the good of the people.
But a priest cannot get rich celebrating Masses. The Church expressly prohibits that. The typical offering for a Mass in the United States is $10. The priest can only accept one offering a day; additional offerings are to be sent to the bishop. If a priest accepts one offering a day and celebrates Mass every day of the year, he can make $3,650 in year, or even $10 more during a leap year, although he is allowed by law to keep all the Mass offerings (not the collection!) on Christmas day. If the celebrant is a visiting priest, it is customary for the parish to reimburse him for travel, typically 50 cents a mile, the current deductible limit per IRS regulations.
On this issue the Code of Canon Law states: “A priest who celebrates a number of Masses on the same day may apply each Mass for the intention for which an offering was made, subject however to the rule that, apart from Christmas Day, he may retain for himself the offering for only one Mass; the others he is to transmit to purposes prescribed by the Ordinary, while allowing for some compensation on the ground of an extrinsic title.
“A priest who on the same day concelebrates a second Mass may not under any title accept an offering for that Mass” (Canon 951).
Q. Is JustFaith legitimate Catholic teaching or is it liberal theology? My church wants me to get involved with it. I believe this is not a good thing. Am I correct?
Nancy, New Berlin, Wis.
A. I had never heard of JustFaith Ministries until I read your question, so my answer is based on what I could determine from its website. Here is its mission statement: “JustFaith Ministries forms, informs and transforms people of faith by offering programs and resources that sustain them in their compassionate commitment to build a more just and peaceful world.”
You can’t argue with that mission statement! JFM is a lay initiative to carry out, broadly speaking, the corporal works of mercy, with specific attention to the poor and marginalized. A number of Catholic organizations partner with JFM, including the Maryknolls, Pax Christi, Catholic Relief Services, and the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD). In recent years, the U.S. bishops have given greater scrutiny to the CCHD because some of their financial support had been given to some organizations that were not in conformity with Church teachings.
I think if you get involved with the group, you could do a lot of good for people, especially if you are well grounded in the teachings of the Church and the practice of the faith. You’ll never know unless you try.
What, No Gospel?
Q. I would like to know if the Gospel reading can ever be substituted. For example, at our Christmas Eve Mass for Children, the youth minister had gift bags with Nativity pieces, pulling them out of several bags and asking the children who they were, telling the children that they were gifts, and also asking the children questions about the Christmas story. This has been very troubling for me. I do not want to ask my priest why?
Tina Driesman, via e-mail
A. A Mass without the Gospel reading is like a football game without a football. Are you sure there was no reading of the Gospel? The Gospel is the essential part of the Liturgy of the Word, which is the first part of the Mass. I think you ought to ask your priest what’s going on.
Crucified or Risen?
Q. I was concerned about the crucifix in our church. It has the Risen Christ on it! I feel very strange about this and believe it should not be there year-round. Please let me know if it is OK? Why would it not be the traditional Corpus Christi?
Mark Steele, via e-mail
A. Let’s see what the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM) has to say about this:
“Also on or close to the altar, there is to be a cross with a figure of Christ crucified. The candles and the cross adorned with a figure of Christ crucified may also be carried in the Entrance Procession” (no. 117).
According to the GIRM, your church should have a traditional crucifix, which is a cross with the “figure of Christ crucified.” Now, to be fair, one could make the claim that the Risen Christ is also the “Crucified Christ,” because before He rose from the dead, He was crucified. And once crucified, always crucified. But I think that misses the point.
I suspect the reason why certain members of the faithful prefer a cross with the Risen Christ is to emphasize the hope and joy of the Resurrection. Additionally, sometimes we don’t want to be reminded of what Jesus really suffered, because it was so awful. We’d rather see the Risen Christ rather than the Crucified Christ. In the same way we are more comfortable with the benign sounding “Planned Parenthood” title, because calling it what it really is, “Organization for Killing Unborn Children,” is simply too jarring.
“Come One, Come All!”
Q. I am a Catholic Answer subscriber and enjoy your magazine. Do you know if a non-Catholic can take an hour of Eucharistic adoration by themselves without another Catholic being present during the hour? We have perpetual adoration at our Church and have been getting requests by Protestants to take an open hour.
Craig Cina, via e-mail
A. When it comes to Eucharistic adoration, I say, “Come one, come all!” Non-Catholics are more than welcome to attend so long as they behave respectfully and piously in the presence of the Eucharistic Lord.
When organizing Eucharistic adoration, please remember that the Blessed Sacrament should never be left alone. For that reason, it’s best to schedule two to four persons per time slot in case someone doesn’t show up.
Hope for the Hopeless?
Q. I have a brother who has fallen away from the Catholic faith. He married a woman who was not raised with any sort of religion and has never been baptized. Amazingly, they live moral lives and act more Christian-like than most people I know who are Christians. However, my brother adamantly denies any religious organization. He also questions the existence of God. My sister-in-law says she believes in a “life force,” which I suppose could be God. My brother and his wife were married in a civil union and have had three children, none of which have been baptized. For several years, I have been praying for my brother, sister-in-law and their children to experience a conversion. My prayers are heard, I am sure, but have not been answered yet or perhaps the answer is, “not yet.” In the instance of my sister-in-law, I know there must be a case of holy ignorance to be made in her defense. My brother, I feel, should know better, but I do also understand that, while my parents stressed the importance of our faith and took us to church, he does not truly understand the doctrine of the Church. (I myself have only been recently learning and starting to understand the Catholic faith despite having been a Catholic my whole life). He always makes arguments about the evils that have happened and does not seem to realize that is humanity and not God. I do understand that he is separated from God and this troubles me deeply. I am also troubled by the fact that my sister-in-law and nieces and nephews are not baptized. I realized God is not necessarily bound by the sacraments, but that is not a guarantee. I am also aware that despite my praying fervently for him and his family to go to heaven, that too may not happen. Recently, all of my fears came to light when my nephew died at just under three months old. This was the youngest son of my brother and his wife. The baby had never been baptized. I would think that God would be merciful to such an innocent soul, but one never knows for sure. I guess I am hoping for reassurance. I am also asking if there is a specific saint or prayer that may be utilized for the conversion of souls.
A. Thank you for sharing your story with us. Many of us have similar stories. Your prayers are certainly heard, and in time they will be answered. You are concerned most of all for the salvation of your brother and his wife and their family. What a terrible misfortune they have suffered with the death of a three-month-old child. Perhaps God is at work in all of this, reminding them that none of us can control anything.
Keep praying — daily — for your brother and his family. The Rosary is a most powerful prayer, and so is the Memorare, and the St. Michael Prayer, and the Chaplet of Divine Mercy. Offer your Masses for this intention, and be sure to set a good example for them of love, kindness, understanding, compassion and generosity. When we really live our Catholic faith, it is so beautiful that others are irresistibly attracted to it. That’s how the early Christians wound up converting the very pagan Roman Empire. Don’t give up!
As for a specific saint to pray for the conversion of souls, pray to St. Joseph, “Head of the Holy Family.”
Anointing of the Sick
Q. We will be celebrating the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick during Mass. What is the Church’s teaching on who should be anointed. In the past nearly the whole parish comes forward. Father wants to be more specific.
Marge Boron, via e-mail
A. The Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick is intended for those who are seriously ill or in danger of death. Let me print what the Code of Canon Law states. You will see that it is both clear, and open to a very broad interpretation and application:
“The anointing of the sick can be administered to any member of the faithful who, having reached the use of reason, begins to be in danger by reason of illness or old age” (Canon 1004.1).
“If there is any doubt as to whether the sick person has reached the use of reason, or is dangerously ill, or is dead, this sacrament is to be administered” (Canon 1005).
From what you describe, it sounds like most of your parishioners are dangerously ill or elderly.
“Teach Us to Pray”
Q. Your column is fantastic. Thank you so much for all your work, advice and research!
My daily prayers are always a combination of a recited prayer and then very plain conversation with Our Lord. I try to thank Him for the numerous blessings I have in my life, and often I pray for the deceased, especially my brother who passed away 18 years ago. I know that we are always supposed to pray for the deceased, but I have a hard time finding the words in plain language. I don’t know what to ask for in the name of my brother. That he’s in the right place by now? That he is closer to Jesus? That he has found eternal peace? What specific words would you use in a prayer to Our Lord about a beloved member of your family who has died?
Bill Moloney, Jeffersonville, N.Y.
A. Your question reminds me of the time when the disciples approached Jesus and one of them asked Him, “Lord, teach us to pray” (Lk 11:1). That’s when He taught them the Our Father.
From the description of your daily prayer ritual, it sounds like you are well on your way to being a good pray-er. I especially like the part of your daily “litany of thanksgiving” and your prayers for the dead. The Church always remembers the dead at Mass, and often at other times, too.
You should pray for your brother’s salvation: that he be in heaven with God, the angels and the saints, and not just in a “better place” or in “the right place.” Try to gain a plenary indulgence for your brother and offer it up for the repose of his soul. The easiest way to do that is to spend an hour in adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, and be sure to go to Mass and Communion that week, go to confession, pray for the Holy Father, and be detached from the desire to sin. That should just about do it.
Let me recommend two traditional prayers for the dead: “May the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.” Or the longer one: “Let us pray. All powerful and merciful God, we commend to you (N.), your servant. In your mercy and love blot out the sins he (she) has committed through human weakness. In this world he (she) has died: let him (her) live with you forever. We ask this through Christ Our Lord. Amen.”
May I Attend Wedding?
Q. My granddaughter, who is not baptized and does not attend any church, is marrying a Catholic boy, who does not practice the faith. They are marrying at a country club. I, a devout Catholic, feel I shouldn’t attend. Right now, that is the situation. What does the Church teach about this situation? Not sure if a priest is allowed to marry them at a country club, but since she is not baptized am I allowed to attend on her behalf, or not attend on his behalf, because he would not be marrying in the church setting?
Kathy Hays, via e-mail
A. I just wrote an article for this magazine to answer that very question (May/June). Since she is not baptized, and she is your granddaughter, you can attend her wedding. In fact, I think you should. A priest cannot perform a wedding at a country club, unless he had special permission from the bishop, but it’s not usually given.
You should deepen your friendship with your granddaughter and pray for her each and every day. With time and grace, your prayers and sacrifices will draw her and her husband back to Jesus and the Catholic Church.
Husband Uses Contraceptives
Q. This is a very difficult issue: What should a spouse do if her husband insists on using contraceptives, even though she feels that it is morally wrong? Is there some resource she can use to talk to him? What does she need to do if he refuses to listen?
Name withheld by request, via e-mail
A. The simple answer is: Pray. Smile. Forgive. But the more detailed answer follows.
Your question is fundamentally about cooperation in evil. So, the question is asked, “Can a person in good conscience ever cooperate in evil?” The answer is “yes,” but only for proportionate reasons. In such cases the cooperation must be under protest and indirect.
In your case, since you have a well-formed conscience, it would be a serious sin for you to use contraception (pills or devices or sterilization). If your husband insists on using contraception, then he has to be the contracepting person — not you — and in that case he commits the sin, not you.
The Church, in her pastoral wisdom, addressed this case years ago in the papal encyclical Casti Conubii, written by Pope Pius XI and promulgated Dec. 31, 1930. In that papal document he wrote:
“Holy Church knows well that not infrequently one of the parties is sinned against rather than sinning, when for a grave cause he or she reluctantly allows the perversion of the right order. In such a case, there is no sin, provided that, mindful of the law of charity, he or she does not neglect to seek to dissuade and to deter the partner from sin” (No. 59).
If the husband uses a condom during marital relations, he commits the mortal sin, not the wife. She is being “sinned against rather than sinning.” She can only cooperate in such an evil when “for a grave cause she reluctantly allows the perversion of the right order.” What would be such a “grave cause”? The husband might leave her or go somewhere else and commit adultery and thus destroy the family. If she were to cooperate, it must be “reluctantly,” and she must pray for him and continue to try to change his heart. TCA
What are Sister Churches?
Q. I come across the term “sister churches” from time to time. What exactly does that mean? Does the Catholic Church have “sister churches”?
Name withheld by request, via e-mail
A. You ask a question about ecclesiology that bears on the relationship of the universal Catholic Church to the local or particular churches (commonly known as dioceses) as well as to the Orthodox churches. The term “sister Church” has been in use more frequently since the Second Vatican Council and often used in an effort to foster closer ecumenical relations with the Orthodox churches. In the year 2000, then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger offered some guidance as to how we should understand the term “sister Church.” From the CDF (Congregation on the Doctrine of the Faith) Note on the expression “sister Church” June 30, 2000, we read:
“The historical references presented in the preceding paragraphs illustrate the significance which the expression ‘sister Churches’ has assumed in the ecumenical dialogue. This makes the correct theological use of the term even more important.
“In fact, in the proper sense, ‘sister Churches’ are exclusively particular Churches (or groupings of particular Churches; for example, the patriarchates or metropolitan provinces) among themselves. It must always be clear, when the expression ‘sister Churches’ is used in this proper sense, that the one, holy, Catholic, and apostolic Universal Church is not ‘sister’ but ‘mother’ of all the particular Churches. However, as recalled above, one cannot properly say that the Catholic Church is ‘sister’ of a particular Church or group of Churches. This is not merely a question of terminology, but above all of respecting a basic truth of the Catholic faith: that of the unicity [uniqueness] of the Church of Jesus Christ. In fact, there is but a single Church, and therefore the plural term “Churches” can refer only to particular Churches.
“Consequently, one should avoid, as a source of misunderstanding and theological confusion, the use of formulations such as ‘our two Churches,’ which, if applied to the Catholic Church and the totality of Orthodox Churches (or to a single Orthodox Church), imply a plurality not merely on the level of particular Churches, but also on the level of the one, holy, Catholic, and apostolic Church confessed in the Creed, whose real existence is thus obscured.
“Finally, it must also be borne in mind that the expression ‘sister Churches’ in the proper sense, as attested by the common Tradition of East and West, may only be used for those ecclesial communities that have preserved a valid episcopate and Eucharist [i.e., as indicated in beginning of document, it is ‘improperly applied’ when referring to ‘the Anglican Communion and non-Catholic ecclesial communities’].”