TCA Tuesday – January 10

Q. What is the proper etiquette for Sign of the Peace?

A. The celebration of the Mass is regulated by a document called the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM), so in order to answer most questions about practices such as postures or positions at the Mass, the GIRM is a good place to start.

Regarding the laity’s action at the Rite of Peace, GIRM No. 82 says: “As for the sign of peace to be given, the manner is to be established by Conferences of Bishops in accordance with the culture and customs of the peoples. It is, however, appropriate that each person offer the sign of peace only to those who are nearest and in a sober manner.”

The current GIRM was promulgated in 2002, but a 2014 circular letter was sent to conferences of bishops throughout the world by the Holy See’s Congregation for the Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments. In response to that, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said this, which gets most fully to the heart of your question: “No ‘official’ expression of peace has ever been stipulated for the dioceses of the United States. Perhaps the most common form for the exchange of peace in this country is shaking hands, but the diocesan bishop may encourage other forms as well for cultural or other pastoral reasons.”

Q. I recently saw that there are three types of oil used in the sacraments when I was given a tour of my diocesan cathedral. What are there different types of oil?

A. There are three types of holy oil used in the Church’s sacramental life. Each is blessed for a specific purpose and used to convey the grace they signify.

The Oil of Catechumens is used to anoint those preparing for baptism – those who have been admitted to the order of catechumens. The Oil of the Sick is used in the anointing of the sacrament of the sick, wherein the recipient’s sins are forgiven and they are given God’s grace to bear their illness as a means of sanctification since the sacrament conforms them to Christ crucified. The Sacred Chrism is an oil that may be consecrated only by a bishop and is used at the baptism of infants, at confirmation, and to anoint the hands of priests and heads of bishops at their respective ordinations.

Q. When should I take down my Christmas decorations at home?

A. The Church’s liturgical season of Christmas ends in the Ordinary Form with the feast of the Baptism of the Lord — celebrated this year on Monday, Jan. 9. The Church’s calendar prior to the liturgical revisions following Vatican Council II had the Christmas season ending on Feb. 2 — the feast of the Lord’s Presentation in the Temple (literally 40 days after Christmas, as it says it was in Scripture).

Our homes are to be domestic churches, where God is at the center of our family life, as our call is to worship Him always and everywhere. And so it is important for us to live liturgically in the home, as Chene Heady writes about so eloquently in our recent edition of TCA.

So, then, it’s recommended that if we put up Christmas decorations, we should consider keep them up until the end of the Church’s liturgical season of Christmas. But practically speaking, this isn’t always possible. While we might need to discard our tree earlier, we can always keep up a Nativity scene longer — and some even keep it out till the traditional ending of the season on Feb. 2. However you choose to keep Christmas alive in your home is ultimately up to you!

Q. How do I convince my atheist friends that God exists?

A. Given my experience as a high school teacher, I think that Msgr. Charles Pope describes a good place to begin in his recent reply to a similar question in his column in the most recent edition of TCA.

It’s important to explain the reasonability of Christian faith. Many atheists have faith in science, which is only as good as the observable events that support scientific hypotheses. So it’s also a good idea to start by looking at nature, such as with Aquinas’ famous Quinquae Viae. I remind my students that science, if used correctly, does more to prove God than to disprove him.

Michael R. Heinlein is editor of The Catholic Answer magazine. Follow him on Twitter @HeinleinMichael. Follow The Catholic Answer on Twitter @tcanswer.