TCA Life for November/December 2015

Liturgical Dance?

Q. Are parishes allowed to use liturgical dance? My parish has been talking about bringing it back, and some parishioners are very unhappy about it. Can’t say I blame them as it smacks of the 1970s. What is a good way to stop this in its tracks?

Name withheld by request, via e-mail

A. While it is true that David danced before the Ark of the Covenant as it was being carried in procession up to Jerusalem (see 2 Sm 6:14-15), it seems his performance was a spontaneous and unchoreographed event due to the irrepressible joy in his heart. Later in his life he would regret such lack of self-control because of his indiscretion with Bathsheba. I mention this biblical event because it is often cited as justification by those who seek to introduce “liturgical dance” into the Mass. All should take note of what happened to Uzzah for violating the rubrics of that “liturgical” procession of the Ark of the Covenant (2 Sm 6:7) and recommit themselves to treating the sacred liturgy with an attitude of humble reverence and as a gift that has been received.

Just as the Church is not ours — it belongs to Christ — so, too, the liturgy is not ours — it also belongs to Christ. Accordingly, no one has an unlimited right to creativity in the liturgy, no matter how noble their intentions might be. While there are numerous opportunities for choices and options — for instance, the choice of the Mass for the day, or the readings, or the prayers, or the songs, the number of ministers and acolytes, the arrangement of the offertory procession, etc. — the choices that are made should always take into account the pastoral needs and sensitivities of the people. Perhaps the attempt to introduce liturgical dance in the United States is predicated on the notion of a “right to liturgical creativity” or based on the view that the liturgy as it has been handed down to us by the Church is in some way deficient. There is no such subjective right to creativity, and any deficiency in the liturgy can be compensated by the faith and forbearance of the faithful who participate in it.

If the faithful want the Mass to be more relevant, such noble aspirations should be based on bringing personal sacrifices to the Mass, since the Mass — as a re-presentation of the sacrifice of Christ on the cross — is in its essence a sacrifice. Why would people insert a liturgical dance in the Mass if it will both annoy some of the parishioners who consider it artificial and distract the faithful from centering their attention on Jesus Christ?

On the other hand, why would someone frown on a youngster who feels moved by the music and beauty of the liturgy to dance in her pew? Or why would we scold an 11-year-old girl humming “For All the Saints” to herself — but audible to others — after she has received holy Communion and kneels in her pew with eyes closed as she talks to God? Yes, there is a need for unity in liturgy, but unity is not uniformity and our participation in the Mass need not be like marching in a marching band. There is room for personal creativity and expression at Mass, but there are limits.

Having said that, there are historical cultures and traditions that have allowed for some form of dancing or bodily movement during liturgical processions such as the medieval Spanish Mozarabic rite during Eucharistic Exposition.

As for the current guidelines for the Catholic liturgy in English, neither the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM) nor the Roman Missal itself provides for “liturgical dance.” As a wise person once said to me, “Father: read the black, do the red!” This means, when it comes to celebrating Mass, follow what has been set down by the Church in the approved books. Black is for the words and red (rubrics) is for the actions.

As for suggestions on the best way to “stop this in its tracks,” I am not sure what to suggest other than to pray and speak your mind to the folks involved.

The Gay Marriage Business

Q. So, in the wake of the whole gay marriage business, can you clarify what exactly a priest does from a civil-law standpoint? Is he an official of the state, and can he be forced to preside over a homosexual marriage? What do you think will happen with all of that?

Worried in Michigan, via e-mail


A. Thank you for your timely question. When a priest “assists” at a Catholic wedding, he fulfills at least two roles, one for the Church and one for the state. As an agent of the state (or county as the case may be), he is the official witness of the vows and signs his name to the marriage license, which is then placed on file at the county courthouse. He testifies that “John Doe” promised to take “Jane Smith” as his wife, and vice versa. His witness makes the marriage legal in civil law.

Marriage is regulated by natural law, civil law and ecclesiastical law. A priest can only serve as the witness of a marriage that follows natural law and ecclesiastical law. Whenever possible, he has to abide by the civil law, too, but sometimes that is difficult in countries and places where religious freedom is not honored by the state.

As of this writing, I do not think anyone can be forced to be the official witness for a homosexual “marriage” in the United States if he does not want to be. The person can refuse, but the time might come when a justice of the peace who refuses to do so will be fired from his job. That would be the unjust consequence for following his conscience, but he must still follow his conscience. The time may also come in the United States when priests will no longer serve as agents of the state for the civil effects of matrimony, and I know that question has been raised by some bishops in the United States. But we are not at that point yet.

What will happen? Priests and the faithful of the Church will have to make choices: to follow Jesus Christ’s clear teachings or to ignore Him.

Prayer of the Faithful

Q. Is it permitted to change the prayer of the faithful? My parish is constantly changing “Lord, hear our prayer” to all sorts of things. Can they do that? It is very distracting. Also, is there any rule about content? Can we be praying for anything and everything?

Charles, Denver, Colo.

A. Yes, it is both permitted and fitting to change up the prayer of the faithful, because the needs of the faithful are ever-changing. As you can see from the pertinent sections of the GIRM, the prayer of the faithful provides a broad scope for flexibility in order to respond promptly to the changing challenges that the faithful face:

“In the Universal Prayer or Prayer of the Faithful, the people respond in some sense to the Word of God which they have received in faith and, exercising the office of their baptismal Priesthood, offer prayers to God for the salvation of all. It is desirable that there usually be such a form of prayer in Masses celebrated with the people, so that petitions may be offered for holy Church, for those who govern with authority over us, for those weighed down by various needs, for all humanity, and for the salvation of the whole world.

“The series of intentions is usually to be:

“a) for the needs of the Church;

“b) for public authorities and the salvation of the whole world;

“c) for those burdened by any kind of difficulty;

“d) for the local community.

“Nevertheless, in any particular celebration, such as a Confirmation, a Marriage, or at a Funeral, the series of intentions may be concerned more closely with the particular occasion.

“It is for the Priest Celebrant to regulate this prayer from the chair. He himself begins it with a brief introduction, by which he calls upon the faithful to pray, and likewise he concludes it with an oration. The intentions announced should be sober, be composed with a wise liberty and in few words, and they should be expressive of the prayer of the entire community.

“They are announced from the ambo or from another suitable place, by the Deacon or by a cantor, a reader, or one of the lay faithful.

“The people, for their part, stand and give expression to their prayer either by an invocation said in common after each intention or by praying in silence” (Nos. 69-71).

Valid and Licit?

Q. You probably get asked this all the time about the sacraments, especially the validity of the Mass. But here goes: What is the difference between valid and licit? And how do we laypeople know the difference. How often is a Mass or sacrament valid but not licit? Some Masses I go to seem very sloppy, and the priest sometime misses words and forgets parts. How do I know whether what I attended was valid, etc.

Charles, Portland, Ore.

A. “Valid” means the sacrament has happened; “licit” means that the sacrament happened and took place according to the rules. I think the easiest way to answer your question is by using an example. At Mass, for instance, the priest has to use bread from wheat and wine from grape to validly confect the holy Eucharist. He also has to say the words of the consecration for validity. Now, the Church states that the wheat bread must be unleavened, just as Jesus used when he celebrated the Last Supper. However, if the bread is not unleavened, the sacrament is still valid, but illegal — that is, not licit. If the bread is not of wheat — for instance, corn — the sacrament is neither valid nor licit. Likewise, if the wine is not made from grapes — for instance, apples — it is neither valid nor licit.

It can happen that a priest forgets or omits a particular word or action during the celebration of a sacrament. That might make the action illicit, but rarely — in practice — would it make the sacrament invalid. I think you should assume that the sacraments you receive are valid, and if something illicit takes place, you should assume that the priest/minister made an unintentional mistake. To put your conscience at ease, you could ask the priest afterward why he did what he did.

Breaking Free from Pornography

Q. Can you provide the names of resources and organizations that can help a man deal with the addiction to pornography? Are there websites that can be used, or books?

Name withheld by request, Dallas, Texas


A. Thank you for your question! You are already on the road to recovery because you have admitted to yourself your problem and your need. Let me suggest two online resources for you: “Reclaim Sexual Health,” out of Green Bay, Wisconsin. The website is: The other resource is Both should provide you with encouragement and direction.

You should also frequent the Sacrament of Penance and be very sincere, trying to put into effect the wise and prudent counsel you receive from the priest. At the same time, you should work on strengthening your willpower through the time-tested practice of Christian mortification.

Mortification entails the daily and systematic practice of self-denial, usually in little things at meals and other moments of comfort seeking. Just taking a cold shower for the length of two Hail Mary’s can be enough to keep the beast of sensuality — that lurks in all of our hearts — in the cage where it belongs.

As St. Josemaria Escrivá famously wrote years ago: “It has been well said that the soul and the body are two enemies who can’t get away from one another and two friends who cannot get along” (“The Way,” 195). And this coda: “One has to give the body a little less than its due. Otherwise it turns traitor” (“The Way,” 196).

The Line of Melchizedek

Q. In the ordination rite, we hear mention of being a priest forever in the line of Melchizedek. What line is that? I thought priests were in the line of Jesus? What am I missing?

Name withheld by request, via e-mail

A. Priests are in the “line of Jesus,” but Jesus was “in the line of Melchizedek”; therefore, by extension, those ordained as Catholic priests can be traced back to the line of Melchizedek through the line of Jesus.

Melchizedek, the first priest-king of Salem (later Jerusalem), without lineage — without father or mother — is a type of Jesus the King-Priest. This is discussed at length in the Letter to the Hebrews (see Chapters 7 and 8). Discussing the specific line of Melchizedek is from Psalm 110:4: “You are a priest forever in the manner of Melchizedek.”

The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains: “Everything that the priesthood of the Old Covenant prefigured finds its fulfillment in Christ Jesus, the ‘one mediator between God and men.’ The Christian tradition considers Melchizedek, ‘priest of God Most High,’ as a prefiguration of the priesthood of Christ, the unique ‘high priest after the order of Melchizedek’; ‘holy, blameless, unstained,’ ‘by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are sanctified,’ that is, by the unique sacrifice of the cross” (No. 1544).

Proper Reception?

Q. When receiving the Eucharist, what is the best way to do so? I don’t believe that we should receive the Blessed Sacrament in the hand, but I am not sure about kneeling either, although it seems the most reverent way to celebrate receiving Our Lord. What are the actual laws for all of this? And how long have people been allowed to receive in the hand? What do you think is most appropriate?

Name and address withheld by request


A. The ancient and venerable tradition of receiving holy Communion on the tongue while kneeling is still the “official norm” — if not the actual practice — for the universal Church.

The best way to receive the holy Eucharist is with reverence and devotion, having kept the one-hour fast from food and beverage, and being in the state of grace — which is to say, not being conscious of any unconfessed mortal sin. For the rest, you are free to do what the Church allows: you may stand or kneel, and you may receive on the tongue or on the hand.

In the United States, the faithful have been allowed — by indult (an exception) — to receive the holy Eucharist in the hand since June 17, 1977.

As for what I consider the most appropriate way to receive holy Communion, I think that is a personal and subjective question. Whatever posture and attitude allows for maximum care for the holy Eucharist and profit for the soul is the best.

Nicene or Apostles’ Creed?

Q. I recently visited Canada and went to Mass in a church in Ontario. I was surprised that instead of the Nicene Creed they recited the Apostles’ Creed. Why are they different? Is it up to the country or the diocese? Are there other choices? Thanks! I always enjoy your column.

Colin, Des Moines, Iowa

A. On Sundays and holy days of obligation, the faithful recite the Creed (from the Latin credo — “I believe”), but the Creed can be either the Nicene Creed or the Apostles’ Creed. The typical reason for reciting the Apostles’ Creed (which is shorter) is because the youngsters attending that Mass are preparing for the Sacrament of Confirmation, and a standard part of the preparation for confirmation is the instruction in the twelve articles of the Apostles’ Creed.

The two Creeds are presented side by side in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The Apostles’ Creed came first and can be traced to the first centuries of Christianity, while the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed is a result of the Councils of Nicaea (A.D. 325) and Constantinople (381), at least 200 years later than the Apostles’ Creed was adopted. The Nicene Creed is a lengthier and more precise declaration of what is contained in the Apostles’ Creed.

The rubrics of the Roman Missal state: “Instead of the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed, especially during Lent and Easter Time, the baptismal Symbol of the Roman Church, known as the Apostles’ Creed, may be used.”

What are First Fridays?

Q. What are First Fridays? What are some of the things we should do on them? Is this still officially sanctioned?

William, Minneapolis, Minn.

A. A “First Friday” is the first Friday of the month and is often marked by special devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus since Jesus died for us and won our salvation on a Friday. Every Friday of the year, and not only the Fridays in Lent, is a special day of penance as stipulated in the Code of Canon Law: “The penitential days and times in the universal Church are every Friday of the whole year and the season of Lent” (Canon 1250).

St. Margaret Mary Alacoque (1647-1690) reported visions of Jesus Christ directing her to promote devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus on nine consecutive First Fridays in reparation for sins and in order to show love to Jesus. In return for this act of devotion, which usually includes Mass, Communion, confession and even an hour of Eucharistic Adoration on the eve of the first Friday of the month, our blessed Savior reputedly promised St. Margaret Mary the following blessings:

“In the excess of the mercy of my Heart, I promise you that my all powerful love will grant to all those who will receive Communion on the First Fridays, for nine consecutive months, the grace of final repentance: they will not die in my displeasure, nor without receiving the sacraments; and my Heart will be their secure refuge in that last hour.”

You ask if this devotion is still “officially sanctioned.” Yes, it is still officially sanctioned, but it was not so at first. In fact, St. Margaret Mary met with resistance and incredulity from the start in her own religious community, and not until 75 years after her death was the First Friday devotion to the Sacred Heart officially recognized. Almost 240 years after her death, Pope Pius XI stated that Jesus had appeared to St. Margaret Mary in his encyclical Miserentissimus Redemptor (1928), fully eight years after she was formally canonized a saint by Pope Benedict XV.

What is a Sacristan’s role?

Q. What are the official rules and duties for being a sacristan?

Thomas, Santa Barbara, Calif.

A. Without a well-qualified and dedicated sacristan, most parishes would fall into disarray. So I am surprised that the term “sacristan” does not seem to appear anywhere in the current Code of Canon Law (1983), and only appears once explicitly in the 1917 Code of Canon Law (Canon 1185) and another time obliquely (see Canon 1306.1), although it does appear once in the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (2012):

“A liturgical function is also exercised by: a) The sacristan, who diligently arranges the liturgical books, the vestments, and other things that are necessary for the celebration of Mass” (No. 105).

And that’s about all you will find for official rules and duties for being a sacristan. However, if you dig a little deeper, you will discover many parishes have composed elaborate manuals for sacristans, outlining and describing in detail their duties, timelines to follow and expectations. One of the best I found on the internet is the “Guidelines, Policies, and Procedures for the Parish Sacristan” from St. Charles Borromeo Parish in Stratton, Colorado, dated Sept. 15, 2010. It can be found online and does not appear to be copyrighted.

Upon review, you will see that serving as a sacristan is a big job and is nothing glamorous. One could argue that there is no work more important than the sacristan’s work, because the sacristan is doing the work of God by caring for the liturgy. God bless sacristans, one and all!

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