TCA Life for March/April 2013

Q. My son, Jerry, raised Catholic, married a good girl who is Lutheran. As far as I know he goes to the Catholic church and her to her Lutheran church. Two daughters, both baptized Catholic. He was in the National Guard since high school so, often, was away on weekends, so the wife and girls went to the Lutheran church. The girls were raised Lutheran but always went to church. They all often come with us to Catholic Mass, but they do not receive holy Communion even though my son goes to receive Communion. I noticed when I was with them for Christmas Mass, Jerry went to holy Communion with me. They went along, but not to Communion. Later, we all went to the St. Paul Lutheran Church — I did not go to Communion there, but my son and all his family did go. Should I say anything to Jerry about this? He is 70 years old now. 

Adelaide Murphy, St. Joseph, Mo. 

A. Your son Jerry is 70 years old? From the way you describe it, Jerry got married in the Catholic Church, but his Lutheran wife is not a Catholic. While he had his daughters baptized in the Catholic Church, they have since drifted to the Lutheran church. 

You should remind your son that as a Catholic he is not supposed to receive holy Communion in the Lutheran church (see Canon 844). You might also recommend that this would be a good time, during the Year of Faith, to read the Catechism of the Catholic Church. You could also recommend the same to your daughter-in-law and your grandchildren. 

Response Needed?

Q. Has there ever been an official Catholic Church response to the claims made by sedevacantists? Many of my family members belong to a sedevacantist church, and I wish I could find if anyone has researched their claims and responded to them. There always seems to be evangelization materials directed toward various Protestant factions, but not for sedevacantists or even SSPX (Society of St. Pius X) members. Any suggestions?  

Lynn, via e-mail 

A. There is no need for the Church to provide an official response to “sedevacantists” because they would simply reject, a priori, any response from the pope. 

For our readers unfamiliar with the term “sedevacantist,” it literally means that the “seat is vacant.” In other words, no one is currently occupying the seat of Peter; no one is currently the pope. “Sedevacantists” maintain that for some time now — perhaps since after the pontificate of St. Pius X, and certainly by the time of Blessed John XXIII — the popes have been heretics, and therefore — ipso facto — have disqualified themselves from the office of Roman pontiff. 

I am not aware of any printed document that responds to such charges, no “official Catholic Church response” to such claims. When sedevacantists or others have themselves performed acts of schism — such as the unlawful consecration of bishops by Archbishop Marcel Lefevbre in 1988 — the Church has been compelled to declare that such unlawful episcopal consecrations caused a schism in the Church, and therefore placed those clerics in a situation of excommunication. 

The Holy See’s ongoing efforts to bring these schismatics back to the Church through the efforts of the Pontifical Council “Ecclesia Dei” have met with resistance. 

Handling the Our Father

Q. At the Our Father during Mass you have people doing many things, including holding hands. I have found the rubrics call for the priest to raise his hands, but everyone else (including deacons) should fold their hands in prayer as a defining difference between them and the priest. Supposedly, the charismatic movement has caused the people to raise their hands like the priest, and it seems to be the norm everywhere now. One priest told me not to get hung up on the rubrics. Could you clarify what the people in Mass should be doing at this time during the Mass?  

Dennis Shea, Council Bluffs, Iowa 


A. Although I have responded to this question a number of times over the years, it does not go away. First, let me copy what the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM) and the rubrics call for; then I will discuss the reality of what takes places in different locations; finally, I will copy a recent indication from a local bishop. 

According to the GIRM: “Then the principal celebrant, with hands joined, says the introduction to the Lord’s Prayer. Next, with hands extended, he says the Lord’s Prayer itself together with the other concelebrants, who also pray with hands extended, and together with the people” (No. 237). Therefore, according to the GIRM and the rubrics printed in the approved liturgical books, there is no indication that the faithful are supposed to hold hands during the Lord’s Prayer or to even extend their hands. At the same time, I can find no prohibition of this practice in the GIRM or the approved liturgical books. 

In fact, a widespread custom has arisen over the past few decades and is practiced frequently in many parishes across the land. Many hold hands during the Lord’s Prayer; others extend their hands. This custom, to my knowledge, did not arise spontaneously, but was imposed upon the people by liturgists often motivated by a worthy desire to help the faithful be more active in their participation at Mass. My observation is that in most places this custom is tolerated by the local bishop. However, in some places, the local ordinary has sought to restore the proper discipline in the liturgy. 

In previous editions of The Catholic Answer I have noted that the Church neither prohibits nor demands that the faithful hold hands during the Our Father. For that reason, I have written that no priest can demand that the people hold hands during the Our Father, but he does not have to prohibit it either.  

Recently, I became aware that the Diocese of Green Bay clarified that “because the GIRM does not prescribe this posture (holding hands), this is not to be done.” I find no fault with that interpretation. 

Difficult Questions

Q. What is the Church’s teaching regarding a pregnant woman who is in danger of death and an abortion may save her life? I believe that there is basically no hard-and-fast rule on this subject. I have friends who claim that the Church banned abortion, no matter what, even if the life of the mother is in jeopardy. 

Peter Holtz, Hicksville, N.Y. 

A. Since its beginning the Church has taught the first moral principle is “do good and avoid evil.” One is never permitted to perform an evil action, no matter how good the intention might be. In short, the end does not justify the means. It is never licit to directly kill an innocent unborn child, even if the intention is to save the life of the mother. The direct killing of an innocent unborn child violates the Fifth Commandment: “Thou shalt not kill.” It is always seriously wrong. 

There are cases, however, when the direct medical treatment of the mother whose life is in danger has the double effect of the loss of the child. The loss of the child is neither intended, nor sought by the medical treatment completely necessary to save the life of the mother. Such would be the case when a seriously diseased and life-threatening uterus carrying a baby is removed to save the life of the mother. The mother is saved, the diseased uterus is removed, and the unborn child indirectly deprived of support dies. That is a difficult choice, but morally permissible. 

Another permissible case would be providing chemotherapy to a pregnant woman suffering from cancer. The cure of the cancer (direct effect) could result in the unintended death of the unborn child (double effect.) Again, a difficult — but morally permissible — choice. 

But saints have always chosen the higher road. A woman would be within her rights to forego cancer treatment until her child is born. That was the case of St. Gianna Beretta Molla. Her child survived, but St. Gianna died soon after childbirth. The Church canonized her as a saint. You can visit her national shrine at the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in LaCrosse, Wis. 

Spanish Liturgy of the Hours

Q. In our parish, we pray evening prayer in Spanish three times a week. We have been doing this for the past three years. Recently, we were assigned a new associate, and he attended one evening prayer. After the dismissal he told us that we need to use “vosotros, vos, etc.” To us who are Hispanic Catholics this is very awkward. He said that the use of “Ustedes” instead of “vos” is for use in Latin American countries. Comments? 

Name withheld by request,via e-mail 

A. When you pray evening prayer in Spanish, you should follow the approved version for the country where you are praying it. Each episcopal conference, in union with the Holy See, can approve the liturgical books for its country. Just as it is true that English in the United States uses different expressions than English in Australia, Mexican Spanish is somewhat different from Castilian as spoken in Spain. So, just use the liturgical books approved for your language in the country where you live. 

The U.S. Catholic bishops consulted this question with the Holy See some years ago, and as of this writing the official Spanish translation of the Liturgy of the Hours and the Prayers in the Roman Missal for the United States of America requires the use of “vosotros, vos, etc.” instead of the more familiar “Ustedes” used commonly in Latin American countries. 

However, we expect the new Spanish translation of the Missale Romanum, editio typica tertia to be available in the United States in late 2014. At that time, those who are accustomed to “Latin American Spanish” will be able to use the “Ustedes” form of address they are familiar with. At that time, too, we expect the prayers of consecration to read: 

Tomen y coman todos de él,  
porque esto es mi Cuerpo 
que será entregado por ustedes. 

Abstinence Technicality?

Q. I abstain from meat on Fridays and recently wondered if gelatin was considered a meat product and to be avoided on Fridays. I avoid meat, gravies and meat broth. 

Gelatin can be made from animal products such as meat, skin, etc. Since gelatin has meat as a source, should I also avoid gelatin and all vitamins that use gelatin capsules as their container?  

Mary, via e-mail 

A. I think most reasonable people would not consider gelatin to be meat, so you do not need to avoid it on Fridays in Lent. 

References to Christ

Q. Jesus Christ is referred to as priest, victim and altar. I can get priest and victim. Why altar? 

Daniel, via e-mail 

A. Jesus Christ is more commonly referred to as priest, prophet and king, and so the Church — His mystical body — carries on the three missions of teaching, sanctifying and ruling. Yet in various prayers in the liturgy, for instance Preface V of Easter, Christ is indeed referred to as priest, altar and lamb of sacrifice: “Christ our Passover . . . showed himself the Priest, the Altar, and the Lamb of sacrifice.” 

Why altar? Because Jesus is sacred, and so is an altar. Because Jesus is the “place” where the sacrifice takes place, and so is the altar. 

An altar is a sacred fixture at the center of a church, normally made of stone, and immovable. Gifts of a profane nature are sanctified when placed upon the altar, which is of a different — a sacred — nature. Likewise, Jesus Christ is at the center of the Church, the cornerstone upon which the Church is founded, and like the altar, the divine nature of Jesus is truly “fixed and immovable.” In fact, St. Thomas Aquinas describes God as the “unmoved mover.” Our human nature becomes sanctified when placed upon the divine nature of Christ in the Incarnation.  

Additionally, when our profane human nature comes in contact with the divine nature of the Second Person of the Holy Trinity through the Incarnation, we become sanctified. The gifts we offer to God can only be pleasing to Him insofar as they are united to Jesus Christ. For that reason, at the end of the Eucharistic Prayer, as the priest celebrant offers the Body and Blood of Christ to God the Father by raising the chalice and the paten, he says: “Through him, and with him, and in him, O God, almighty Father, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, all glory and honor is yours, for ever and ever.” 

As for Jesus Christ as “altar,” we need to recall that an altar is a sacred place upon which a sacrifice is offered. Jesus Christ can be referred to as “altar” because the sacrifices we offer to God only have merit insofar as they are “placed upon Christ,” insofar as they are united to Him and His passion and suffering on the cross.  

Necessity of Baptism?

Q. I have a sister-in-law who wants teenage nieces and nephews baptized so they can be “saved.” Is there something in the Bible that says it is better not to be baptized than to be baptized and not practice your faith. Neither the children or their parents are practicing their faith. 

Anonymous, Escanaba, Mich. 

A. God bless your sister-in-law for her concern for the salvation of her nieces and nephew. She certainly has their best interest at heart and should be commended for her care. 

I know of nothing in the Bible that “says it is better not to be baptized than to be baptized and not practice your faith.” On the contrary, Jesus said, “Amen, amen, I say to you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit” (Jn 3:5). Later, moments before He ascended into heaven, Jesus mandated His apostles to, “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded of you” (Mt 28:19-20). Therefore, it is Our Lord’s desire that every living soul on the face of the earth be a baptized and practicing Catholic. 

In the case of your teenage relatives, I doubt they will desire baptism unless they are determined to practice the Faith. If they cannot convince the pastor of the parish of their sincere desire for baptism, he will not baptize them. 

Three for One

Q. My pastor has on four known occasions at the Masses he has officiated withdrawn aside and not distributed Communion so the Eucharistic ministers would have the occasion to do so. (“Not to hurt their feelings,” in his own words.) I heard that a priest must always be present to give Communion at Mass. Where can I find it in writing what the priest has to abide with in regards to this matter? Or are there new guidelines? 

Also, the choir has sung “My Country Tis of Thee” during Communion. This almost seems like a direct insult to Jesus, when we are supposed to give Him thanks for dying for us and coming to us, Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity, through the Blessed Eucharist — that we are praising our country instead. I know this is not permissible, but where can I find the guidelines for me to show my pastor? 

Also, when in line to receive from the priest the Eucharist, a Eucharistic minister will deliberately go right up to you in the line to give Communion, leaving us with a dilemma and our rights to receive from a priest infringed? I know why he does it, to help bring the line down quickly, but it upsets me greatly. 

Jeanne Richmond, via e-mail

A. Jeanne, it sounds like you’re upset. But I understand your concern. You should speak with your pastor first, and perhaps he could be a bit more sympathetic to your feelings. People often ask me why “priests and bishops” are not better, or holier, or more faithful, or more obedient (according to their measure of those qualities), and I believe the answer is because none of us pray enough for them.  

So let’s start there: pray three Rosaries daily for your priest, and watch what happens! But for the record — and to answer your specific questions — the bishop, priest and deacon are the ordinary ministers of holy Communion.  

Extraordinary ministers of holy Communion (duly deputed laypeople) are only to serve in the absence of the ordinary ministers or because of insufficient ordinary ministers present on that occasion. It is a disorder if the priest does not distribute holy Communion at Mass, unless he is reasonably impeded (in a wheelchair, handicapped, violently ill at the moment, etc.).  

These indications are sufficiently clear in the liturgical documents from the Holy See over the past 20 years (General Instruction of the Roman Missal in 2012, Roman Missal in 2000, Sacramentum Caritatis in 2007, Redemptionis Sacramentum in 2004, and an instruction on certain questions regarding the collaboration of the non-ordained faithful in the ministry of priests in 1996). The priest should distribute holy Communion at Mass. That’s Catholicism 101. 

As for the hymns at Mass, anything that is published in hymnals approved by the bishops can be sung at Mass. I have seen “My Country Tis of Thee” in approved hymnals. I agree, that’s not the song I would pick for Communion time. I think it would be fitting at the end of Mass, or even during the offertory, on patriotic holidays. 

Finally, you always have a right to receive holy Communion from a priest, deacon or bishop present at the Mass. If the EMHC steps into the front of your line, to help speed things up, just get in the other line where the priest is. Here’s what the GIRM states on the matter: 

“The Priest then takes the paten or ciborium and approaches the communicants, who usually come up in procession. It is not permitted for the faithful to take the consecrated Bread or the sacred chalice by themselves and, still less, to hand them on from one to another among themselves.  

“The norm established for the Dioceses of the United States of America is that Holy Communion is to be received standing, unless an individual member of the faithful wishes to receive Communion while kneeling (Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, Instruction Redemptionis Sacramentum, March 25, 2004, no. 91). 

“When receiving Holy Communion, the communicant bows his or her head before the Sacrament as a gesture of reverence and receives the Body of the Lord from the minister. The consecrated host may be received either on the tongue or in the hand, at the discretion of each communicant. When Holy Communion is received under both kinds, the sign of reverence is also made before receiving the Precious Blood” (No. 160). TCA 

Father Francis Hoffman, J.C.D., serves as Senior Director — Mission, Programming, Development for Relevant Radio, the Catholic talk radio network.