Q. Do I need to give up something for Lent or can I increase prayer time?
A. Each Lent the Church invites us to deepen our obedience to and love for God with increased penitential practices. Here, we take our direction from Jesus who spent 40 days and nights in the desert penitential and gave us a model to overcome our weaknesses and temptations. “By the solemn forty days of Lent the Church unites herself each year to the mystery of Jesus in the desert” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 540).
The Catechism states that times like Lent are “particularly appropriate” for “voluntary self-denial such as fasting and almsgiving” (CCC, No. 1438).
Penance properly must lead to conversion. An increased prayer life should accompany our penitential practices. That would include more frequent attendance at Holy Mass or reception of the sacrament of penance or increased reading of Sacred Scripture or devotions.
The Church requires certain penitential practices of Catholics. During Fridays of Lent (and each Friday of the year) Catholics over the age of 14 are obliged to refrain from meat. The current exception to this in the United States for Fridays outside of Lent is that we may perform another acceptable penance in substitution to abstinence from meat. Additionally, the Church requires that Catholics aged 18 to 59 are required to fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.
The penitential acts of fasting, prayer and almsgiving — and all penances — are “a radical reorientation of our whole life, a return, a conversion to God with our whole heart, an end of sin, a turning away from evil, with repugnance toward the evil actions we have committed” (CCC, No. 1431). Penance enables us to draw more fully into the heart of God.
Q. What are the beliefs surrounding the Divine Mercy chaplet?
A. A Polish nun received messages from and visions of Jesus in the early to mid-20th century. Obedient to the request of her spiritual director, St. Faustina wrote over a diary of more than 6,000 pages documenting these messages and visions.
The primary themes of the message of Divine Mercy as revealed to St. Faustina reminds us of God’s great love for us. The message calls us to see God’s mercy as the impetus to trust him and overcome our sins. Having received his mercy, then, we are called to share it with others so that we may all come to know the joy only God can give.
Part of the private revelation to St. Faustina included what is referred to as the Divine Mercy chaplet, which was rooted in divine inspiration. Subsequently, Jesus asked her to spread recitation of the chaplet invoking an abundance of divine mercy on the entire world. Since Jesus asked for his mercy to be remembered especially at the hour he died on the Cross — 3 p.m., the “Hour of Mercy” — the chaplet usually is prayed then.
Q. Why were doves chosen as a symbol of God and peace, particularly representing Jesus?
A. Doves are mentioned frequently in Scripture. Think of Noah releasing the dove from the ark, which finally brought news the flood waters had receded. Or the two doves offered at the time of Jesus’ presentation in the temple, 40 days after his birth.
The most significant appearance of a dove in Scripture, though, would likely be at Jesus’ baptism — representative of the Holy Spirit (see Mt 3:16). For this reason, sacred art and architecture often uses the symbol of a dove to depict the Holy Spirit.
Q. Why can’t a priest get married?
A. A distinction must be made from the outset: some Catholic priests can get married and some can’t. This distinction is possible because there is nothing in the Deposit of the Faith that prohibits priests from being married. There is a long-standing practice, though, to require celibacy of Latin (or Roman) rite priests. In the Eastern rites, celibacy is generally not required — although it is required for bishops. Additionally, you will find married Catholic priests who come, for the most part, from one of the following scenarios: former Protestant ministers who have been ordained as priests under provisions approved by Pope St. John Paul II, former Anglican priests who have been received into the Catholic Church and been ordained Catholic priests after erection of Anglican Ordinariates by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, or Orthodox priests who are received into the Catholic Church.
The Latin Church does not see celibacy as an imposition. Rather, it sees celibacy as a sign that the priest’s consecration to the Lord is with an undivided heart, where “they give themselves entirely to God and to men.” “Celibacy is a sign of this new life to the service of which the Church’s minister is consecrated; accepted with a joyous heart celibacy radiantly proclaims the Reign of God” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1579).
For any Catholic priest, if already ordained a priest, they cannot subsequently marry. Likewise, marriage after ordination is not possible ordinarily, without permission of the Holy See. This would apply in a situation if a wife died.
Michael R. Heinlein is editor of The Catholic Answer magazine. Follow him on Twitter at @HeinleinMichael.