TCA Life for May/June 2014

How to Receive Holy Communion

Q. When I was taught my catechism by the nuns as a young lad, we were told that only the celebrant at Mass should chew the Eucharist; others should retain it whole on the tongue until it dissolved, something I still practice to this day. I can understand the priest’s chewing of the Eucharist as he will shortly be consuming the Precious Blood and it would cause a bit of a problem if the Host were to be still whole. Yet I am dismayed to see communicants return from receiving the Host chomping away as if they are masticating a piece of steak! Can you tell me what is the proper way to consume Our Lord’s body?

Guy A De Gagné, Pismo Beach, Calif.

A. I was taught the same thing in the mid-1960s, but I cannot find any official Church document that mandates it. Rather, the Church teaches that to receive holy Communion worthily, the communicant should be: 1) a practicing Catholic; 2) in the state of grace; and 3) having fasted from food and beverage for an hour before receiving Communion.

The faithful should receive holy Communion with true piety, reverence and devotion, but no one is restricted from “chewing” it. Nevertheless, the case can be made that the holy Eucharist should not be consumed “like ordinary food.” The Code of Canon Law states, “The blessed Eucharist may, however, be administered to children in danger of death if they can distinguish the Body of Christ from ordinary food and receive communion with reverence” (Canon 913.2). One clear manifestation that we can distinguish the Body of Christ from ordinary food is our manner of reception.

In any case, what is most important are the subjective dispositions and preparation (faith, state of grace, fasting) of the communicant before he or she receives holy Communion. We should look forward with great anticipation to this sublime encounter with Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

In this regard, it might be helpful for everyone to reflect on these classic words (literal translation) penned by St. Thomas Aquinas (1264) for the feast of Corpus Christi:

“The good receive Him, the bad receive Him, / But with what unequal consequences of life or death. / It is death to the unworthy, life to the worthy: / behold then of a like reception, / how unlike may be the result!’’


Q. Would you please explain your answer to the article of “Ministers of Holy Communion” (TCA Life, November/December 2013)? I am reading your answer to say that “extraordinary” ministers should have their hands consecrated. Am I right? Please explain further as to what the requirements are of an “extraordinary” minister.


A. No, your understanding of my answer is not correct. Only the ordinary ministers of holy Communion (deacon, priest, bishop) have their hands consecrated. Extraordinary ministers of holy Communion (EMCH) do not have their hands consecrated.

To serve as an EMCH, the person should be a practicing Catholic, with the maturity and preparation and ability to carry out this ministry in a serious and reverential manner. I think it is helpful that the EMCH be a person who is well regarded by the local parish community as outstanding in virtue, at least 16 years old and already confirmed. When serving in this capacity it is helpful that the EMCH dress appropriately.

But let us remember, the role is really supposed to be “extraordinary.” If we have EMCH at every Mass, is it really “extraordinary”? See also Ecclesiae de mysterio, a Vatican document on certain questions regarding the collaboration of the non-ordained faithful in the sacred ministry of priests. The document is available on the Vatican website (

Bigger and Bigger

Q. Can you explain to me how the vice of gluttony works? Are we guilty of the vice if we eat too much during the holidays? Does that mean too much pie at Thanksgiving is a mortal sin?

Chuck, via e-mail

A. How does gluttony work? You just get bigger and bigger and bigger! Gluttony is the vice that leads us to eat and drink more than we need and more than we ought. It is a very easy vice to fall into if we are not mortified and become accustomed to satisfying our cravings.

The sense of taste is just one sense that needs to be mortified. If we give our body all that it wants, it takes over and suffocates our soul, easily leading toward that downward path of sin and degradation. Instead of living as children of God, we wind up living like animals.

Pleasure is not wrong. But always in moderation. Remember what St. Paul wrote to the Romans: “Let us then throw off the works of darkness [and] put on the armor of light; let us conduct ourselves properly as in the day, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in promiscuity and licentiousness, not in rivalry and jealousy” (13:12-13).

Yes, you can sin — more or less deliberately — if you eat too much during the holidays. But you can also sin against charity if you do not eat your mother-in-law’s pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving. Rather, pace yourself, and then express your appreciation for the hard work and care that others have spent to make life pleasant for you at Christmastime.

I think the only time gluttony becomes a mortal sin is if you eat so much you become ill, or if you wear down your health over time, or you drink so much that you cannot find your way back home. St. Thomas Aquinas points out in the Summa Theologica that “drunkenness by it’s nature is a mortal sin” (Q. 150, Article 2), but the sin admits for parvity of matter, which means if you are a little tipsy, that is not a mortal sin, but if you cannot stand up and are out of control, then that’s a mortal sin.

But pay attention here! If you are only concerned about avoiding mortal sin, you are skating on thin ice! We need to avoid even deliberate venial sin, because venial sin easily accepted inevitably leads to mortal sin. So we have to keep the battle far from the walls of the main fortress.

Buckets of Holy Water

Q. Is it appropriate to keep a jug of holy water? Is there some regulation about that? I like to use it to bless my house, but I am not sure if that is proper.

Wendy, Phoenix, Ariz.

A. Along the way I have learned that Catholics from Mexico love to have large quantities of holy water on hand, just in case. But I really do not think it is appropriate or necessary to keep a five-gallon jug of holy water on hand, unless it’s kept at the parish, where everyone can come and have access to it.

To my knowledge there is no regulation about how much holy water you can warehouse, but common sense should apply. It is necessary to avoid superstition here. When folks give large quantities of holy water to the farm animals to drink, or cook with holy water so their children might grow up holy (I am not kidding, I have seen it done!), that is not piety; that is superstition. When it comes to holy water, less is more. It is a sacramental, and should be used with moderation.

Some years ago, when I was in Mexico, a family asked me to bless their new car with holy water. I was happy to oblige. When I had finished, they did not seem satisfied. They wanted more holy water on the car, in the trunk, on the driver’s seat, etc. To which I replied, “This is a blessing, not a car wash!”

Normally, a Christian might keep a very small bottle of holy water on his night table and bless himself with a few drops at bedtime and when rising in the morning. That is a praiseworthy practice. Remember what St. Teresa of Avila said:

“From long experience I have learned that there is nothing like holy water to put devils to flight and prevent them from coming back again. They also flee from the Cross, but return; so holy water must have great virtue. For my own part, whenever I take it, my soul feels a particular and most notable consolation. In fact, it is quite usual for me to be conscious of a refreshment which I cannot possibly describe, resembling an inward joy which comforts my whole soul. This is not fancy, or something which has happened to me only once. It has happened again and again, and I have observed it most attentively.

It is, let us say, as if someone very hot and thirsty were to drink from a jug of cold water: he would feel the refreshment throughout his body. I often reflect on the great importance of everything ordained by the Church and it makes me very happy to find that those words of the Church are so powerful that they impart their power to the water and make it so very different from water which has not been blessed.

“One night, too, about this time, I thought the devils were stifling me; and when the nuns had sprinkled a great deal of holy water about I saw a huge crowd of them running away as quickly as though they were about to fling themselves down a steep place” (Autobiography, Chapter 31).

Concurrent Sacraments?

Q. Recently, I have been hearing talk about doing baptisms and confirmations at the same time. Is this true? How would that work?

Emily, Milwaukee, Wis.

A. In the Latin rite of the Catholic Church, which comprises 99 percent of Catholics around the world, baptism is to be administered to newborn children “within the first weeks” of the birth. Generally that is understood to mean infants should be baptized before the month is over. The sooner the better (see Canon 867.1).

Confirmation may be conferred when the child reaches the age of reason (about 7 years old), but the national bishops’ conference can determine the age. In the United States, confirmation is given to youths between the ages of 7 and 17. The age depends on the diocese where you live. In emergency cases, children younger than 7 years old can be confirmed.

However, in the Eastern-rite Churches (Byzantine, Ruthenian, Coptic, Armenian, etc.), the three sacraments of initiation (baptism, confirmation and holy Eucharist) are given to the infant at the same time.

Both the Latin and Eastern rituals are valid and praiseworthy, but are founded on different theological emphases.

Spiritual Communion

Q. Would you help me understand how a “spiritual communion” works? What graces do you receive? What do you need to do to make it official?

Thomas P., St. Charles, Mo.

A. Years ago, I learned a “spiritual communion” that St. Josemaría Escrivá learned as a child from his mother’s confessor. It goes like this: “I wish, my Lord, to receive you, with the purity, humility and devotion with which your most Holy Mother received you, with the spirit and fervor of the saints.” Millions around the world now pray that prayer.

A spiritual communion is a personal devotional that anyone can pray at any time to express their desire to receive holy Communion at that moment, but in which circumstances impede them from actually receiving holy Communion. The impeding circumstances might be a variety of things: the person could already be “maxed out” because they have already received holy Communion twice that day; or the person could be in prison and unable to attend Mass; or the person might be elderly and at home watching Mass on the television or listening to it on the radio; or the person might be hiking a mountain and wants to be more deeply united to Jesus Christ at that moment.

There is no such thing as an “official” spiritual communion. Everyone can make up their own, or use a prayer another person composed.

When you pray a spiritual communion, your soul receives grace to the degree that you have true hunger for the holy Eucharist.

No More Monsignors?

Q. The pope supposedly did away with the rank of monsignor, First, what does a monsignor do? Second, is it a permanent ban?

Brad, Gary, Ind.

A. Pope Francis recently decided (January 2014) that the honorific title “monsignor” should only be bestowed on secular priests (diocesan) once they reach age 65, and only after — in the opinion of their bishop — they have rendered noteworthy service to the People of God.

In addition to this restriction, Pope Francis streamlined the various categories of the title monsignor so that now there is only one.

However, those who are under age 65 and already have the title monsignor can continue to use it.

From the Vatican Insider of the Italian newspaper La Stampa we read:

“The decision does not come as a surprise to those who know Pope Francis. A humble man, he has always been averse to ecclesiastical titles, and when he was bishop and later cardinal in Argentina he always asked people to call him ‘Father,’ instead of ‘My Lord,’ ‘Your Grace’ or ‘Your Eminence’; he is convinced that the name ‘Father’ best reflects the mission that has been entrusted to a priest, bishop or cardinal. Indeed, during his tenure as archbishop of Buenos Aires (1998-2013), he never asked the Holy See to confer the title of ‘monsignor’ on any priest in the archdiocese.”

It is not entirely proper to refer to monsignor as a rank, because it is not.

Among those in sacred orders there are three ranks: deacon, priest, bishop. However, there are additional designations which do point to a hierarchical order in terms of the canonical power of jurisdiction. For the sake of simplicity it would go like this: deacon, assistant pastor, pastor, dean of the deanery/vicar forane, auxiliary bishop, bishop, archbishop, cardinal archbishop, primate, patriarch, pope.

While Pope Francis recognizes that the Church is hierarchical, he is clearly trying to educate the ordained clergy that they are supposed to be servants, not rulers. As shepherds they must have the “smell of the sheep,” he has said. Pope Francis does this in a marvelous way. I am especially inspired by his choice of car — Ford Focus — the kind of car that lower and middle-class Americans can afford.

As to what a monsignor does, that all depends on what assignment he has been given. Some are pastors of parishes, some head up departments for the diocese, some are teachers.

On a recent broadcast of “Go Ask Your Father” on Relevant Radio, Msgr. Swetland was asked: “What’s the difference between a monsignor and a priest?” To which he answered, “There really isn’t any difference, but monsignor doesn’t know that.”

You ask whether this a permanent ban? I would think it is permanent until a subsequent pope would change it.

Latin or Vernacular?

Q. Can you settle a disagreement? I argue that the official Church teaching is that the Mass is supposed to be in Latin, but that saying it in the vernacular is done by an exception. My friend says that it is officially in the vernacular.

Michael, Poughkeepsie, N.Y.

A. While the official language of the Church is Latin, since the Second Vatican Council the Mass can be celebrated in the vernacular so people can understand what is going on. At the same time, the faithful are not to lose their appreciation for and ability to use Latin.

Here it may be helpful to reprint what is stated in the 2012 edition of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal:

“And since no Catholic would now deny a sacred rite celebrated in Latin to be legitimate and efficacious, the Council was also able to concede that ‘not rarely adopting the vernacular language may be of great usefulness for the people’ and gave permission for it to be used.

“The eagerness with which this measure was everywhere received has certainly been so great that it has led, under the guidance of the Bishops and the Apostolic See itself, to permission for all liturgical celebrations in which the people participate to be in the vernacular, so that the people may more fully understand the mystery which is celebrated” (No. 12).

Absolute Confusion

Q. I am confused. Does a general absolution forgive venial sins? If it doesn’t, what does it do?

Name withheld by request, via e-mail

A. General absolution forgives all sins that a person is sorry for: venial and mortal sins.

However, general absolution is NOT to be given unless there are serious reasons for it, such as soldiers marching into battle and the chaplain cannot hear the confessions of thousands of men who wish to go; or the Twin Towers are coming down on 9/11 and the EMT, NYFD and NYPD men and women are rushing into to rescue people in a dangerous situation and there is no time for confession.

At any rate, if a person receives a general absolution for his sin, he only does so validly if he has the firm resolve to go and make a personal confession as soon as possible (see Canons 961-963).

May a veil be worn at Mass?

Q. Is it still OK to wear a veil or mantilla at Mass? You don’t see them anymore, and someone told me you are not supposed to. Thoughts?

Name withheld by request, via e-mail

A. It’s OK to wear a veil or mantilla at Mass, but it is no longer required that women cover their heads upon entering a Catholic Church. The Code of Canon Law in effect from 1917 to 1983 required women to cover their heads in Church, as well as to be separate from the men.

When I was a child in a Catholic school, all the girls sat on the right side of the Church, and all the boys sat on the left side of the Church. If for some reason a girl was out of uniform and forgot to wear her stylish navy blue beret, the teacher — usually Sister — would quickly solve it with a bobby pin and a tissue of Kleenex. It was a rather odd spectacle seeing some girl with a white tissue on her head, but we all understood she had to have her head covered.

Where did this practice come from? St. Paul refers to it in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16:

“But I want you to know that Christ is the head of every man, and a husband the head of his wife, and God the head of Christ. Any man who prays or prophesies with his head covered brings shame upon his head. But any woman who prays or prophesies with her head unveiled brings shame upon her head, for it is one and the same thing as if she had had her head shaved. For if a woman does not have her head veiled, she may as well have her hair cut off. But if it is shameful for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, then she should wear a veil.

“A man, on the other hand, should not cover his head, because he is the image and glory of God, but woman is the glory of man. For man did not come from woman, but woman from man; nor was man created for woman, but woman for man; for this reason a woman should have a sign of authority on her head, because of the angels. Woman is not independent of man or man of woman in the Lord. For just as woman came from man, so man is born of woman; but all things are from God.

“Judge for yourselves: is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head unveiled? Does not nature itself teach you that if a man wears his hair long it is a disgrace to him, whereas if a woman has long hair it is her glory, because long hair has been given (her) for a covering? But if anyone is inclined to be argumentative, we do not have such a custom, nor do the churches of God.”

After reading such clear indications from St. Paul you might be thinking, “Now wait a second, how could the Church change that?” And the clue to the answer is in the last line of St. Paul’s comments: “we do not have such a custom, nor do the churches of God.”

In the Church, customs can change over time and across cultures. So can laws. What cannot change is the Law of God, which is permanent and immutable. But wearing veils or not wearing veils is a custom, not the Law of God.

Significance of the pallium?

Q. I know that on June 29 the pope gives new metropolitan archbishops a pallium. How exactly is this a sign of being a metropolitan, and why does the pope wear one?

Megan, Louisville, Ky.

A. You are correct! Every year on the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul, June 29, the pope imposes the pallium on all those who were appointed archbishops during the previous year. The pallium is a sign that the archbishop is particularly close to the See of Peter, and it is a sign of being a metropolitan because it is only worn by a metropolitan. The pope, as Bishop of Rome, is also the metropolitan bishop of the suffragan dioceses that surround Rome.

There are many theories about the origin of the pallium, but the one that makes most sense to me is that the pallium is linked to the liturgical vestments worn by priests of the Old Law and described in the Book of Exodus (see 28:15-19). The pallium may well be derived from the ancient ephod or even the priestly breastplate that had the Twelve Tribes of Israel engraved upon it.

Since the pallium is made of sheep’s wool and worn over the shoulders, it also symbolizes the Good Shepherd who carries the sheep upon his shoulders to bring it to safe pasture.

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