TCA Life for July/August 2013

Ministry Requirements

Q. I would like to know the requirements necessary to become an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion and also to become a lector. I help train the ministers for my church and would like to know that I am telling the people correctly when I tell them that they must first be 18 years old or validly confirmed, and if married their marriage must be blessed by the Church. If there are other conditions please let me know.

Sunny Railey, North Richland Hills, Texas 

A. Any of the Christian faithful can serve as an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion or lector as the situation demands. However, if the person is going to serve in a stable capacity as an acolyte, which brings with it the permission to serve as an EMCH, or if he or she is to serve in a stable capacity as a lector, then they should be 21 years old. The Code of Canon Law leaves it up to each bishops’ conference to determine the age and other characteristics necessary to serve in these ministerial roles. The code states: “Laymen who possess the age and qualifications established by decree of the conference of bishops can be admitted on a stable basis through the prescribed liturgical rite to the ministries of lector and acolyte. Nevertheless, the conferral of these ministries does not grant them the right to obtain support or remuneration from the Church.

“Laypersons can fulfill the function of lector in liturgical actions by temporary designation. All laypersons can also perform the functions of commentator or cantor, or other functions, according to the norm of law.

“When the need of the Church warrants it and ministers are lacking, laypersons, even if they are not lectors or acolytes, can also supply certain of their duties, namely, to exercise the ministry of the word, to preside over liturgical prayers, to confer baptism, and to distribute holy Communion, according to the prescripts of the law” (Canon 230).

On Nov. 17, 1999, the U.S. bishops approved this norm: “Complementary Norm: The National Conference of Catholic Bishops, in accord with the prescriptions of Canon 230.1, hereby decrees that a layman who is to be installed in the ministries of lector or acolyte on a stable basis must have completed his twenty-first (21) year of age. The candidate must also possess the skills necessary for an effective proclamation of the Word or service at the altar, be a fully initiated member of the Catholic Church, be free of any canonical penalty, and live a life which befits the ministry to be undertaken.” 

Funeral Availability?

Q. My friend recently went to another state to arrange a funeral for her brother. He was a practicing Catholic, but he liked to go to Mass in different churches in his area, so he did not register in his parish. The parish he lived in would not do the funeral because he was not registered there, and several other surrounding churches refused also. My friend finally found a priest who was willing to come about 20 miles and offer the funeral Mass where he was being buried.

Is registration a requirement for Catholics to be able to receive sacraments and the consolation of the Church? I know we all should want to be in a church community, but many Catholics are not aware of this, if it is so, and many come to Mass faithfully but never register. My friend came back from this experience very disappointed and let down by her faith at a time when it should have supported her and her family. Catholics are always accused of having too many rules. At the time of bereavement, couldn’t we be a little more flexible?

Phyllis Ross, Fountain Valley, Calif. 

A. I am so very sorry for your friend’s loss of her brother and even sorrier for her negative experience. I can find nothing in Church law stating that a person must be registered in a parish in order to receive a Catholic funeral. However, unless the pastor or staff of the parish recognizes the person, how will they know he’s Catholic if he has not registered in his parish? I find it difficult to believe that the pastor of the parish would refuse a Catholic funeral to a parishioner he recognized. That’s unheard of.

Even if the person is not registered, and even if the pastor does not know the person, a funeral Mass can be offered for anyone so long as it does not cause scandal or canon law does not prohibit it. When in doubt, try to comfort those who mourn. For safety’s sake, I think it would be helpful to make regular announcements at Sunday Mass encouraging parishioners to register so they will be eligible for all of the benefits of sacraments, sacramentals and rituals of the Church just in case they might need them. 

Marriage Jurisdiction

Q. Recently, my niece, who is a practicing Catholic and who has attended Catholic schools and colleges for 17 years, has become engaged to a Jew. He has agreed that future children will be raised Catholic. He refuses to be married in a Catholic Church, but has agreed to be married by a Catholic priest in a non-church setting such as on a beach or at a country club. I understand that an approved marriage between a Catholic and a Jew is referred to as “diversity of cult,” if both parties agree to raise and educate future children as Catholics.

My question is: May a Catholic priest from my niece’s parish conduct the marriage ceremony to her Jewish partner on an ocean beach outside of their parish which is under the jurisdiction of another archdiocese in another state?

Matthew, via e-mail 

A. We prefer the term “disparity of cult” rather than “diversity of cult,” but you’re on the right track. The only way that a Catholic priest could validly witness the marriage of a Catholic to a Jewish person on a beach would be if the archbishop of that archdiocese (where the oceanfront beach is located) gave explicit permission to such an exception of “lack of canonical form.” In my experience, such permission is not usually given. Getting married in a Catholic Church is not a trivial matter. It clearly establishes that the marriage is about three persons: husband, wife, and God. That’s getting off to a good start! 

Making Amends

Q. Must those who have received a vasectomy or a tubal ligation have it reversed to “be right” with God and the Church?

Name withheld, via e-mail 

A. No, those who have been sterilized do not have to have the procedure reversed in order to “ ‘be right’ with God and the Church.” It is sufficient that they truly repent and express their contrition in the Sacrament of Penance and receive God’s mercy. However, if they do attempt to reverse the procedure, that would be an unmistakable and praiseworthy sign of true and profound repentance. Short of that, some couples refrain from marital intimacy during those periods that the woman might have been fertile in an attempt to mirror “natural family planning,” and that, too, is a praiseworthy — though not mandatory — expression of repentance. I know of one couple who had their procedure reversed, and God blessed them with two more children. How beautiful! 

Dress for the Wedding Feast

Q. When a visiting priest comes to our parish church to celebrate Mass, he does not wear the chasuble at weekday Masses. He only wears the long white alb and stole. When asked about this, his response was that he only wears the chasuble when celebrating Sunday Masses. Is this permissible?

Gerard T. Rooney, Chandler, Ariz. 

A. Whenever possible, the priest who celebrates Mass should wear the chasuble, stole and alb. Additionally, he can wear the cincture and amice, if the alb is designed for such haberdashery (see General Instruction of the Roman Missal, Nos. 119, 209, 336, 337). For a just cause — for instance, the number of concelebrants is such that there are not enough chasubles for everyone — the chasuble may be omitted. But in the case you state — a weekday Mass — the priest should wear the chasuble.

In this regard, I ponder the parable of the wedding feast and the folks who showed up who were not properly dressed. It would appear that the Lord is somewhat particular about how we dress for Mass, since how we dress says something about where our heart is on the matter. 

Attending a Wedding?

Q. Is it a mortal sin for me to attend my son’s or daughter’s wedding if it is held in a Lutheran church and no Catholic priest is in attendance to bless the marriage?

Diane, via e-mail 

A. Is it a mortal sin indeed? That is the question. A lot depends on the circumstances. If the Catholic spouse has received the proper dispensation from “canonical form” by his bishop, everything is fine. If not, you will need to exercise prudence. I should refer you to my article published in this magazine last year (“May I Attend the Wedding?” May/June 2012). It could be a mortal sin — under the usual conditions of grave matter, full advertence and complete consent — if either of the spouses is already married, or if by attempting marriage outside of the canonical form their act is a contumacious declaration against the Catholic Church and your presence is a formal support for such an act.

More likely what we are dealing with here is a combination of ignorance and lack of practice of the Catholic faith, which according to most reputed moralists reduces to a minimum culpability for such behavior. 

Church Differences

Q. What, exactly, makes Orthodox Catholic churches more valid than Protestant churches? I know that Orthodox sacraments and priests are considered valid; could a Catholic make her Mass obligation by attending an Orthodox Mass in a heavily Orthodox country — for example, Greece? Also, if a Catholic were to be engaged to marry an Orthodox Catholic, how would the Church handle this?

Jo, via e-mail 

A. I think your question could be titled: “What’s the difference between Latin-rite Catholics, Eastern-rite Catholics and Protestants?” The terminology in your question is not clear, so in order to attempt an answer I simply must make some assumptions and some clarifications. You use the term “Orthodox Catholic” Church, but I am not sure what you mean. So let me tell you what I think you mean. I think you mean “Orthodox Church” as in the Greek Orthodox Church. Latin-rite Catholics and Eastern-rite Catholics are under the jurisdiction of the pope in Rome; Orthodox churches (Greek, Russian, etc.) and Protestants are not.

For the record, as things stand now, this is how Christians the world over organize themselves in churches and “ecclesial bodies”: 1. Latin-rite Catholic (99 percent of Catholics under the pope celebrating the seven sacraments and using the Bible of 73 books); 2. Eastern-rite Catholic (1 percent of Catholics under the pope organized in 22 sacramental ritual traditions — for example, Byzantine, Maronite, Coptic, Syro-Malabar, Syro-Malankara, Ambrosian, etc. — celebrating the seven sacraments and using the Bible of 73 books); 3. Orthodox churches not under the jurisdiction of the pope, but under the jurisdiction of their Metropolitan Patriarch (Greek Orthodox, Russian Orthodox, etc., and validly celebrating the seven sacraments and using the Bible of 73 books); 4. Protestant churches, technically called “ecclesial communities” (not under the jurisdiction of the pope, not validly celebrating all seven sacraments — yet validly celebrating baptism and matrimony — and using only a Bible of 66 books, having omitted the seven deuterocanonical books of the Old Testament).

As for Catholics living in a foreign country and far away from a Catholic Church — for instance, in Greece — the Catholic Church allows them to fulfill their Sunday obligation by attending the Liturgy in a Greek Orthodox Church and even receiving holy Communion (see Canon 844.2) under those circumstances. However, it is my understanding such gestures are not welcomed by Greek Orthodox priests. From my experience, if the Catholic party wishes to raise his children in the Catholic faith, it is best not to marry a Greek Orthodox spouse. You will have a major fight when the time comes for baptism. 

Birth Control

Q. Why can’t married couples who have 12 children followed by two successive miscarriages be allowed to practice birth control?

Chloe, via e-mail 

A. A married couple with 12 children gets my vote for canonization, especially if they have borne the cross of two consecutive miscarriages. I suspect that a married couple with 12 children has developed enough virtue and supernatural outlook that they would not choose to use artificial birth control.

If it would be imprudent for the couple to conceive a child, then they may have recourse to natural methods of preventing conception, often referred to as natural family planning. NFP is a form of “birth control” which relies on self-control, and it is acceptable in the Church.

But the couple may not have recourse to artificial methods of birth control, which demand no self-control, because such methods in marriage separate the unitive from the procreative aspect of the marital act, and thus violate God’s design for the marital act.

Whether the couple has no children or 20 children, the circumstances do not change the nature of the act of artificial birth control. Because it separates the unitive and procreative aspect of the marital act, it is always wrong. Pope Paul VI was prophetic in the 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae (“Of Human Life”) when he predicted that acceptance of artificial birth control would lead to much greater problems such as divorce, abortion and disrespect for life. 

New Translation Music

Q. My question has to do with the use of repeating styles of Mass chants such as the Gloria and Sanctus. I had heard from a teacher that with the new missal they are no longer allowed, and I was wondering what the Church’s official position is on the subject.

Anthony Shipley, via e-mail 

A. Great question! I must admit that I miss some of the musical settings for the parts of the Mass of the old translation, and that it will take some time to find a favorite musical setting for the new translation, a setting that works in season and out of season. For the old translation, the Mass of Creation seemed to work quite well, although some musical critics may disagree. (And when it comes to musical preferences — which are NOT a matter of morality — the intensity of emotion in the debate can be high!)

Composers have attempted to adopt previous scores to the new translations. The Church asks that the music we sing for the Gloria and the Sanctus follow the actual translated text. The music must correspond to the text. It will take some time to adjust. But change can be good. 

Recording During Mass?

Q. What are the rules regarding discreetly videoing (with a small iPod) a daughter that is singing the psalm. It was a four-minute video. I was in the second pew and was singing along with the responsorial.

Peyton, via e-mail 

A. To my knowledge, there are no universal rules about taking pictures or videos during Mass other than what common sense and Christian piety suggest. At your local parish, however, there may be certain rules, and you can find out what they are by calling the parish office or asking your pastor. I know that some parishes make announcements, before first Communion or confirmation, for instance, that no photos or videos are allowed during the services, that the faithful should turn off their cell phones, because there will be plenty of opportunities for photos after the Mass.

Such announcements and/or rules are not arbitrary, but are based upon long experience about what works best for everyone. Remember, the Mass is a sacred moment, and it’s best for us to be focused and pay attention rather than fiddling around with gadgets and distracting others.

That being said, I know for a fact all of the announcements and rules in the world will not keep the faithful from pulling out their smart phones and taking pictures or videos of Pope Francis as he walks down the aisle in St. Peter’s Basilica. 

Act of Contrition

Q. I recently went to confession and after I confessed my sins and the priest gave me absolution, I expected to be asked to recite an Act of Contrition. But the priest did not ask me to do so. When I asked him why, he said the Act of Contrition was not necessary. (Afterward, I said it on my own in the church.) I always thought that the Act of Contrition was essential to a valid confession as it expressed a firm purpose, with God’s grace, not to sin again. Without the Act of Contrition there is no purpose of amendment and an essential component of the sacrament is omitted. I would be grateful for your response.

Gerard T. Rooney, Sun Lakes, Ariz. 

A. Digging deep into my memory of sacramental theology from seminary days, I recall that the penitent must supply two essential “acts” for a valid confession: personal sins and contrition. If he or she confesses no sins, there can be no sacramental absolution. And if he or she is not truly sorry for the sins, the sacramental absolution would not be valid. Confession is not magic: Jesus meets us halfway by offering mercy if we offer sorrow. For that reason, the rubrics for the Rite of Penance specify that the penitent accuses himself of his sins. The priest gives opportune advice, imposes penance on him, and invites the penitent to manifest his contrition.

At that point the penitent can say his Act of Contrition out loud. It’s not clear that the penitent has to say an Act of Contrition out loud for a valid confession, but it is clear that the penitent must be truly sorry for his sins. Some sacramental theologians are of the opinion that the very fact that the penitent stepped into the confessional is a manifestation of sorrow, and therefore it would not be necessary to pray your Act of Contrition out loud.

But I have found, over my 20 years of priesthood, that penitents really do want to pray an Act of Contrition out loud; they have a deep psychological need for a human person, acting in persona Christi, to hear his voice expressing contrition. As for me, as a confessor, I have all the time in the world for a penitent to say an Act of Contrition. If he forgets how to say it, I ask them to repeat after me the simple one from the Gospel: “Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

To this day, one of my favorite prayers is the Act of Contrition I learned in second grade from Sister James Denise:

“Oh my God! I am heartily sorry for having offended Thee. And I detest all my sins because of Thy just punishment, but most of all because they offend Thee my God, who art all good and deserving of all my love. I firmly resolve, with the help of Thy grace, to sin no more, and to avoid the near occasions of sin. Amen.” What a beautiful prayer. And even more beautiful when you hear it from the lips of a 9-year-old child. 

Communion of Saints

Q. I have just lost my husband and have been talking to him as if he was alive. Sometimes, I would ask the Lord, if it is His will, to allow him to hold my hand like he used to when we prayed at night. Someone said this is dangerous because it invokes the evil spirits rather than my husband. Because he was a good man, I am convinced that he is in purgatory or in heaven and therefore a saint. Aren’t we allowed to talk to the saints anyway?

Name withheld by request 

A. I am so very sorry for your loss, but at the same time I rejoice at the love you and your husband had for each other. It is not only fine to talk to your husband as if he were still alive, it is praiseworthy. He was baptized and thus his soul lives forever.

Your communication with his is a normal expression of the Communion of Saints. You know him better than anyone — except God — so you would be the person most capable to determine if he is in heaven, hell or purgatory. Being a believer, I’ll bet you had Masses offered for the repose of his soul, and such a gift would usher him out of purgatory into heaven rather quickly. If you are convinced he is a saint, he probably is in heaven.

If he is in heaven, you should pray for his intercession. Your approach to remedy your loneliness is spot on: you’ve asked “the Lord, if it is His will” to allow your husband to hold your hand like he used to when you prayed at night. No evil spirits in that.

You’ve gone about this petition in the right way: through our Lord Jesus Christ. TCA 

Father Francis Hoffman, J.C.D., serves as Executive Director of Relevant Radio, the Catholic talk radio network.