TCA Life for March/April 2014

Care for the Blessed Sacrament

Q. Please tell me if it is OK for an extraordinary Eucharistic minister to dispose of a Host that a nursing-home patient spits out by putting it in the small creek that runs thru the grounds of the nursing home. He said a priest told him it was OK as long as it returns to the ground. Also, is it OK to take the Communion Hosts from the morning Mass and stop at home first, wait a half-hour or so (eat breakfast, etc.) because the nursing-home patients are still getting dressed, etc., if you go too early? Is there a book explaining on what should be done with the Hosts when different problems arrive for the Eucharistic minister?

Helen Moll, via e-mail

A. Your three questions show that you have deep concern for the reverential and respectful treatment of the holy Eucharist, and that is commendable. Since the Most Blessed Sacrament is the “summit and source of all worship and Christian life,” and by it “the Church continually lives and grows” (Canon 897), it is difficult to overdo it when we show reverence for the holy Eucharist. The basic principle in this regard is: Sancta, sanctae tractanda sunt, which is theological Latin for, “Sacred things should be treated in a sacred way.”

As to your first question, the extraordinary minister of holy Communion (EMHC) should first take note that the patient in the nursing home who spit out the Host does not want to receive holy Communion, and common sense would suggest that holy Communion should not be offered to that patient in the future unless that patient specifically requests the holy Eucharist.

Second, while the local priest is correct that the natural ground is the proper terminus for situations like this, it seems to me that a very important step has been skipped. First, that rejected Host should be carefully retrieved and placed in a covered receptacle of water (and the spot where it fell should be purified). Something of the sort (purifier bowl) is usually located next to the tabernacle for the purification of the fingers of the priests who distribute holy Communion. Once the sacred Host has dissolved to the point that the consecrated bread no longer appears to be bread (which can take a day to several weeks depending on the texture of the Host), it may be poured into natural ground. But sending a consecrated Host that still looks like bread down the river does not seem right to me.

As to your second question, I always advise the wonderful ministers of care who visit our brothers and sisters in nursing homes to go directly to the nursing home, not stopping on the way to do errands. If you have to wait for 30 prayerful minutes in the Church after Mass before you go to the nursing home that would be better — in my opinion — than leaving the holy Eucharist in your purse on the table while you are having breakfast.

As for resources to consult on these questions, once again the priest is right when he counsels you to use your common sense. For further reading on these issues and to inform yourself properly, you should read the pertinent sections on the holy Eucharist in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the Code of Canon Law, Pope John Paul II’s encyclical Ecclesia de Eucharistia (2003) on the holy Eucharist, plus other documents such as the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, Redemptionis Sacramentum (2004) and, finally, Sacramentum Caritatis (2007).

What’s a Mother to Do?

Q. My sister, who is wheelchair bound, allows her daughter’s boyfriend to live with them. The daughter and boyfriend share a bedroom. They have children. Because of her condition, my sister receives Communion at her home. I’m sure the woman administering Communion is aware of this set up. Doesn’t this put my sister in a grave state of sin allowing this arrangement? I hate the thought of her not taking Communion, but wrong is wrong. Or can she?

Carol, via e-mail

A. Your poor sister — confined to a wheelchair at home and apparently unable to attend Mass in her parish, plus the added difficulty you describe! While clearly the daughter and boyfriend should be married if they sleep in the same bedroom and have children, it is not necessarily sinful for your wheelchair bound sister to provide them housing. Who knows, maybe they are paying the bills at home and providing for your sister when she has no alternative? Or, perhpas it’s the other way around and her daughter and boyfriend have nowhere else to go? I think you can presume that it is a difficult situation, and your sister is doing the best she can. The main point is that your sister cannot formally condone what her daughter and boyfriend are doing: she must at least speak up and urge them to get married, letting them know that she opposes their cohabitation.

Clearly, the daughter and boyfriend should refrain from holy Communion until they marry.

Why Go to Mass?

Q. My 23-year-old daughter was raised Catholic and finds church service similar to a cult. She wants to know why she needs to go to Mass when Jesus is with her all of the time.

Name withheld, via e-mail


A. I suppose the most compelling reason for your daughter to attend Mass is what Jesus said: “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man, and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day” (Jn 6:54-55). Your daughter can only “eat his flesh” at Mass at Communion time, and we presume that she desires eternal life. Ergo . . .

Certainly God is with us all the time, by His immanence, and also by sanctifying grace. But His presence in the holy Eucharist is different. In the holy Eucharist Christ is present, really, truly and substantially; body, blood, soul and divinity, according to the Fourth Lateran Council, held in 1215.

As to the Church service being “similar to a cult,” your daughter is not entirely incorrect, since the original meaning of “cult” is “a system of religious veneration and devotion directed toward a particular figure or object,” such as the cult of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Nevertheless, the word cult has taken on a generally negative meaning to describe high pressure organizations where people do not think for themselves. The last thing God wants in His Church are people who do not think for themselves. He has given us a brain for a reason: to use it.

Ultimately, I sense that your daughter’s issues are likely to be about faith and generosity. I would hope most people, most of the time, go to Mass on Sunday as just one way to show gratitude and thanks to God for the many undeserved blessings that they have received. Grateful people tend to be happy people.

“Blow, blow, thou winter wind, / Thou art not so unkind / As man’s ingratitude; / Thy tooth is not so keen, / Because thou art not seen, / Although thy breath be rude” (William Shakespeare, “As You Like It”).

Apostolic Blessing

Q. I have an Apostolic Benediction and plenary indulgence signed by Blessed John XXIII and addressed to my parents and family. It was petitioned by and granted to a virtuous and holy priest and friend of the family on one of his trips to the Vatican. I have two questions: Is this considered a second-class relic, and how far down the family line could this indulgence be considered? I am looking forward to Pope John XXIII’s canonization in April and cherish this document signed by a soon-to-be venerated saint. Do you have any suggestions for its safekeeping?

D. Keough, via e-mail

A. By all means, take good care of it! I suggest that you have it framed and mounted on the wall in your living room in a prominent place for all to see. For safekeeping, it should be placed under glass and away from sunlight, but these last two suggestions are not dogma, just common sense.

Apostolic Blessings are not considered relics — not even second-class relics — since they normally do not touch the hands of the pope who extends his blessing. Nevertheless, they should be treated with great respect and certainly are a treasure for the family. However, if your “Apostolic Benediction” was indeed signed by Pope John XXIII and is not just a facsimile of his signature, then it is indeed a second-class relic.

The blessing and indulgence with it are limited to the names on the blessing. Therefore, if it says “Pope John XXIII bestows his Apostolic Blessing with Plenary Indulgence to Mr. and Mrs. John Doe on the occasion of the Marriage” then it only applies to Mr. and Mrs. John Doe on the day of their marriage. But, if it would happen to say, “to Mr. and Mrs. John Doe and all their descendants forever more” then it would apply to the progeny as well, but I have not seen that before.

Rosaries on Necks

Q. I see a lot of people wearing rosaries around their necks. I was taught as a child that that is very irreverent and a sin. Could you please tell me what the teaching of the church is on this?

Michelle Caswell, via e-mail

A. There is no Church teaching about wearing rosaries around your neck, nor have I seen that custom very often. At most you might see it during World Youth Days, but it’s usually a fad, and I don’t think it’s entirely bad. After all, monks and nuns sometimes wear large rosaries from their cinctures or belts as part of their habit, and no one seems to object to that.

The only reference I could find to this would be Canon 1171 on sacramentals: “Sacred objects, set aside for divine worship by dedication or blessing, are to be treated with reverence. They are not to be made over to secular or inappropriate use, even though they may belong to private persons.” So, if a rosary has been blessed, it should be treated with reverence. I think you could wear a rosary in a reverential way. But if the person who wears the rosary never prays the Rosary, what’s the use?

Medal Choices

Q. I am looking for guidance with regards to sacramentals, specifically, in trying to determine the most theologically sound decision on selecting a medal.

I am getting married this coming month and my sister is looking to purchase a medal for me. I wear both a Miraculous Medal (as it is significant to the Legion of Mary and has great graces associated with it) and a brown scapular (wool) at all times except when showering, swimming or exercising. During these times I have been wearing a scapular medal in place of the wool scapular (though I realize there is a “grace” period allowed, provided that my intent is not to no longer wear my scapular in temporary removal).

I realize there are four- and five-way medals that have both the Miraculous Medal and Scapular Medal on them (which could be worn at all times,), but I am curious if this is somewhat like not making up your mind and deciding you want to be a Franciscan/Dominican/Jesuit all at the same time because you love aspects of each order (to make a not-so-perfect comparison).

Would a four-way medal be encouraged? Also, am I being too legalistic in never wanting the scapular off at any time, but also wanting to wear a Miraculous Medal? I simply want to make a good decision that will provide grace, sound logic and not be something that would be superstitious or silly (like burying a statue of St. Joseph to sell a house).

Alex, via e-mail

A. Yes. It seems to me that you are being too legalistic. It really should not be that complicated. Wear whatever you want, whenever you want. And if it becomes too tangled up for you, take off all of the medals and scapulars for a year and simply trust in God.


Q. How can I get my daughter confirmed? The church we attend says she has to be in the 10th grade, but if she waits until then she will be 17 years old. She qualifies under the bishop’s rules of between the ages of 14 and 16 at the time of confirmation (two-year prep time).

Annette, via e-mail

A. Your daughter has the right to receive the Sacrament of Confirmation from the time she reaches the age of reason, which is around 7 years old. That’s the universal law for the Church. The Code of Canon Law states, “The Sacrament of Confirmation is to be conferred on the faithful at about the age of discretion, unless the Bishops’ Conference has decided on a different age, or there is a danger of death or, in the judgment of the minister, a grave reason suggest otherwise” (Canon 891).

For the record, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops decided in 2000, “The Sacrament of Confirmation in the Latin Rite shall be conferred between the age of discretion and about 16 years of age, within the limits determined by the diocesan bishop and with regard for the legitimate exceptions given in Canon 891.” That decree went into effect on July 1, 2002. Therefore, 17 years old seems a bit late.

It could be that in your daughter’s case the pastor does not think she is yet “properly instructed” (see Canon 890), and that might be the reason he wants her to wait.

I suggest that your daughter make an appointment with the pastor and state her case why she should be confirmed this year and without delay. If the pastor will still not budge, your daughter should break into tears in his presence. That usually works.

Infant Baptism


Q. More on infant baptism. I must start by admitting that I am prejudiced by my own experiences. When I was born, my grandmother insisted upon me being baptized in the Catholic Church. My mother died when I was 6 years old, and I was raised in many different churches as I moved from caretaker to caretaker. An older sister had told me that I was baptized Catholic. Somehow that impressed me. In my early teens an older sister took me in and I began going to her Catholic Church, and it was as though I came home. I recently learned that, as their archbishop, Pope Francis roundly scolded the Church of Argentina for refusing to baptize the children of non-practicing Catholics, much as we do in the United States. I know this was not generally practiced when I was born, or I never would have been baptized. We all cry over the large number of Catholics who do not go to church. Today, in the United States, to have a baby baptized the parents have to attend meetings and prove that the child will be raised Catholic. They are often intimidated into giving up on the possibility. This only leads to totally innocent babies being unable to be baptized. How many of our citizens never received the graces of baptism because of this practice? When I think of the Jesuit Martyrs who gave their lives in an effort to baptize God’s children I could cry. I can only hope our good Holy Father can put an end to this practice and allow and even encourage our priests to baptize all babies brought to them — and to make it known that they will. Our country needs all the grace-filled people it can get. I will never stop believing that I am Catholic today due to the graces I received being baptized Catholic into an unbelieving upbringing.

Annette Corrigan, Jackson, Pa.

A. I have only one word for you: Amen.

Precious Blood?

Q. I have a question about the answer you gave to a reader regarding what to do with a garment upon which the Precious Blood had been spilled (“Spilled Matter,” September/October 2013).

You told the reader to treat the garment (a jacket) “as if it were a linen purificator,” and then went on to describe how the garment was to be washed.

I had a similar problem with spilled Precious Blood, and the priest I consulted said that Jesus is present in the Sacred Species only as long as they are recognizable as such; in other words, until the Host is dissolved or digested, or until the Precious Blood is digested or has dried. I was advised that, since the Blood had dried, it was no longer Christ’s Blood, and therefore I could launder the garment without any problem. I think I can assume that the Blood on the reader’s jacket also had dried.

Now, either one of you is right and the other is wrong, or you are both wrong. But you cannot both be right.

Can you please (1) re-address this issue of how to care for spilled Precious Blood on a garment, and then (2) please answer this question: Why is it that when five different priests are asked a question such as this, when there can be only ONE correct answer, you can receive five different answers? What are seminaries for, if not to teach priests the truth? (Perhaps you can tell that this problem is frequent and very, very frustrating when one wishes to do the right thing!)

Anne, via e-mail

A. You write: “Now, either one of you is right and the other is wrong, or you are both wrong. But you cannot both be right.” And I answer, we’re both right (at least partially) and you are wrong (at least partially) for thinking that both of us cannot be right. Allow me to explain.

You write: “The priest I consulted said that Jesus is present in the Sacred Species only as long as they are recognizable as such.” What that priest said is correct, and that is what I was taught as well.

Where your priest and I might disagree is whether the “dried Precious Blood” is still recognizable as the “Precious Blood.” I would say yes, it is recognizable as dried Precious Blood because I know the source of the stain was not just ordinary wine, but consecrated wine. So I would treat it how the linen purificator is to be treated.

Put another way, if your only son died in a car crash and the emergency room technicians gave you his T-shirt covered with dried blood, what would you do with it? After all, it is the dried blood of your only son. I think you would take special care of it.

As for your additional question about seminary formation and your frustration about not receiving the same answer from every priest you consult, please bear in mind that the teaching and learning of theology is not like programming robots: humans will provide slightly different answers to the same question. And be careful about that feeling of frustration.

Thank you for your passionate concern for care for the holy Eucharist. It is commendable.

Confessions by Phone?

Q. What is the rule in Church law about hearing confessions? Can they be heard over the phone? Does it have to be in person? What about by Skype? Can these technologies be used?

Name withheld by request, via e-mail

A. Just as you cannot receive holy Communion, confirmation, baptism, anointing of the sick, etc., over the phone, the Internet, or Skype, you cannot go to confession over the phone, and not just because the NSA might be listening in, but because a sacrament is to be given and received personally.

While I cannot find a specific prohibition of going to confession over the phone or the Internet, the following citations can help in this regard.

The 1983 Code of Canon Law states: “The proper place to hear sacramental confessions is a church or oratory. . . .

“Confessions are not to be heard outside a confessional without a just cause” (Canon 964).

Additionally, in 2002, the Pontifical Council for Social Communication published the following statement in “The Church and the Internet”:

“Virtual reality is no substitute for the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, the sacramental reality of the other sacraments, and shared worship in a flesh-and-blood human community. There are no sacraments on the Internet; and even the religious experiences possible there by the grace of God are insufficient apart from real-world interaction with other persons of faith” (No. 9).

I applaud your desire to facilitate the practice of confession, but though there is a mobile app for the Pope (Pope App), I don’t think we’ll ever see a mobile app for confession. Rather, as Pope Francis is demonstrating by his own action, priests need to facilitate the Sacrament of Penance by being more available for the faithful, and not just one hour before Mass on Saturdays. For this reason, the Pope has asked cardinals and bishops working in the Vatican to go out to the local parishes to hear confessions for some hours every week, especially on weekdays at convenient times for the faithful. I think it’s wonderful that the Holy See recently clarified that confessions can be heard while Mass is going on. If a parish has two priests, one can celebrate the Sunday Mass while the other hears confessions. If you want to catch the fish, you have to go where the fish are. No better time to offer confession than when the parishioners are in the pews for Sunday Mass.

Is there a Catholic God?

Q. I saw that Pope Francis said in an interview with the Italian publication La Repubblica that “I believe in God, not the catholic God. There is no catholic God.” Could you please clear up for me and tell me what Pope Francis means by this statement. What God does he believe in if not the trinity, Father, Son and Holy Ghost.

P. Kelly Jr., via e-mail

A. There is a serious reason why the interview you refer to was removed from the Vatican newspaper’s (L’Osservatore Romano) website. The transcription is not entirely reliable. It certainly is not a dogmatic statement nor an act of the papal magisterium. So, it should only be taken for what it’s worth: a conversation between two elderly gentlemen who are seeking some common ground. One is the Pope, and the other is an elderly Italian intellectual.

Nevertheless, if the Pope did say, “I believe in God, not the Catholic God. There is no Catholic God,” that statement is theologically correct and defensible, although not entirely without problems for the non-theologians in the crowd. The statement raises questions best answered by the Athanasian Creed and Cardinal John Henry Newman’s “A Grammar of Assent,” both of which are sufficiently dense that we will not be able to go into it here.

Suffice it to say, God — by his very nature and definition — is the God of everyone. There can only be one God. While “God” is not “the Catholic God,” that is not to say that the Catholic Church has not received and is the guardian of the fullness of the faith as passed on to us by Jesus Christ. In fact, she has.

So, God is for everyone, but the Catholic Church knows and guards the fullness of the revelation that has been communicated to mankind by Christ.

When Muslims, Protestants or Jews pray to God, they pray to the same God that we pray to, even if Muslims and Jews do not believe that God is a trinity of persons.

Following the GIRM?

Q. How closely should the GIRM (General Instruction of the Roman Missal) be followed? Is it to be followed precisely, as closely as possible, or is it only a guideline?

Alice, via e-mail

A. The GIRM is more than a guideline, but it’s not computer code. Good liturgical sense and common sense should guide one’s implementation of the GIRM.

The Code of Canon Law offers this directive in Canon 17: “Ecclesiastical laws are to be understood according to the proper meaning of the words considered in their text and context. If the meaning remains doubtful or obscure, there must be recourse to parallel places, if there be any, to the purpose and circumstances of the law, and to the mind of the legislator.”

We need to remember that in the celebration of the liturgy the direction of the action is for the people to offer praise and worship to God, but at the same time it is Christ himself who offers the gift.

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