TCA Life for January/February 2012
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Eucharist and the Orthodox

Q. I was once told by a priest that if I were in a country that did not have a Catholic church, but there was a Greek Orthodox church, that I could receive the Eucharist, that it would not be a sin, and that it would be a valid Communion. My sister thinks I was told wrong. The priest said it had to be either a Catholic church not available or an emergency to be able to do this. My sister said they are not under the pope and therefore I cannot receive a valid Communion. I say that they still believe as we do that the Eucharist is truly the body and blood of Jesus Christ at the time the bread and wine are consecrated. Please let me know what the truth of this is. 

Janet Tobolski, South Bend, Ind. 

A. The priest is correct on this matter, and your sister is partially wrong. Let me explain. This question is answered in the Code of Canon Law under the topic communicatio in sacris, or, as we say in English, “intercommunion.” Let me print the pertinent section of the Code for your reference. 

“Whenever necessity requires or a genuine spiritual advantage commends it, and provided the danger of error or indifferentism is avoided, Christ’s faithful for whom it is physically or morally impossible to approach a Catholic minister, may lawfully receive the Sacraments of Penance, the Eucharist and the Anointing of the Sick from non-Catholic ministers in whose churches these sacraments are valid” (Canon 844.2). 

So if you are stationed in a country where no Roman Catholic church is nearby, say within an hour’s drive, but there is a Greek Orthodox church near you, you can lawfully — according to the Catholic Code of Canon Law — attend their liturgical services and receive holy Communion, or confession, or the anointing of the sick, because all seven sacraments instituted by Christ are valid in the Orthodox churches. 

Your sister is correct that the Orthodox churches are not completely united to the pope. However, their sacraments are valid because they have not broken the line of apostolic succession. 

Dating, Courtship and Lutherans

Q. My granddaughter, age 22, is seriously dating a young Lutheran man. Throughout all of her growing up years our family has talked through the many questions and issues that have come up. She has grown up with what the Catholic Church teaches. We pray, she prays, she and her friend talk, and we talk. Do you have anything else to share with us about how she may approach the subject of “religion” in their relationship? I would have to say that the young man is persistent in his beliefs, but hers seem to go so much deeper, and she really is suffering. 

Mary Richardson, Scobey, Mont. 

A. It sounds like your granddaughter is in love with a fine young man, and that this relationship could lead to marriage. It will be very important for the two of them to have a clear understanding of the place of religion in their lives. 

From what I have observed over the past 20 years as a priest, if a Catholic is serious about his or her faith — that is, they attend weekly Mass, pray daily, study the faith and frequent the sacraments — then they will most likely stay strong in their faith, because “practice makes perfect.” 

In such cases, the Catholic party to a marriage will insist on raising the children in the Catholic faith (see Canon 1125.1). Your granddaughter needs to tell her boyfriend that she will not budge on the issue of raising the kids Catholic. If he truly loves her, he will respect such deep conviction.

On the other hand, if a person is a nominal Catholic — that is, baptized and confirmed but rarely attends Mass or confession, or rarely prays — it is unlikely that they will insist on practicing as a Catholic or raising the children as Catholic. 

In either case, the person who is stronger and more dedicated in the practice of their faith usually wins the day. 

All the more important then is the responsibility parents have of practicing the faith themselves, thereby providing good example to their children. Fathers have a special responsibility to attend weekly Mass, as well as confess and pray regularly. 

The Same Old Sin

Q. I saw your response to the recent question about frequently confessing the same sin to the priest. However, there is a priest who frequently hears my confession that tells me I am not begging the Lord enough to free me from this frequently confessed sin (self-abuse), that I am not trusting enough in the Lord to free me from this sin, and that if I would only stop trying to overcome this sin and turn it over to the Lord then He will heal me of it. On some level I understand that it is only by the grace of God that I will be freed from this sin, but on the other hand his advice seems to indicate I have no part (other than prayer) in trying to free myself from this sin. What advice can you give me? 

John, via e-mail 

A. Thank you for your candor. You are not alone in your struggle. And thank you for having the humility and love of God to confess your sins regularly. Don’t give up! 

Your priest confessor has the gift of wisdom: you will only be freed from this habitual sin by God’s grace which is a free gift. Still, there are things you can do on your part to win God’s grace. The Church has always recommended frequenting the sacraments, especially holy Communion and confession, as well as devotion to the Blessed Mother, custody of the eyes, and keeping busy. I would also recommend that you exercise regularly and avoid occasions of sin, whatever they may be. 

Finally, you might consider following the example of Blessed John Paul II. It is said that he prayed the Rosary every day, as in the entire Rosary: all 20 mysteries — Joyful, Glorious, Sorrowful and Luminous Mysteries. Try that and see what happens. 

The Great Schism

Q. First allow me to say thank you for the magazine The Catholic Answer. I always look forward to each edition. I have a friend who is Greek Orthodox. Sadly, she seldom attends church except for weddings and funerals. I get the impression it is not obligatory for her to attend Mass on Sunday. Am I correct? Can you tell me what happened to cause this split from the Roman Catholic Church? When did the split occur? 

Madeleine Gough, via e-mail 

A. Your question deserves a book-length answer, but since this is a magazine, I will limit myself to one paragraph. All human beings are obliged to “Keep the Lord’s day holy,” for this is what the Lord commanded in the Third Commandment. Christians keep the Lord’s day holy by worshipping God on Sunday: Catholics attend Mass, while Protestants have a form of worship derived from the Mass; and Orthodox believers should worship the Lord as well. Whether Greek Orthodox are required to attend services according to the law of their Church is beyond the scope of this magazine. This is The Catholic Answer, not the Greek Orthodox Answer. As for the Great Schism, it was crystallized in 1054, partly for theological reasons dealing with the Trinitarian Processions, but mostly for geopolitical reasons later exacerbated by the excesses of the Fourth Crusade in 1204 when Christian knights sacked Constantinople and briefly overthrew the Byzantine Empire. At any rate, Jesus prayed for the unity of the Church the night before He died, and we should do the same. Little by little, we hope and pray, Christians are moving toward the unity that Christ prayed for. 

Confirmation and Marriage?

Q. My Catholic friends and I had a discussion about having to be confirmed before you can be married in the Catholic Church. I was told many years ago that you didn’t have to, but it was to the advantage to the couple getting married. I looked in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, but could not find it in there. Would you please give me the correct answer on this matter, and where I can direct my friends to look for more information about it. 

Betty L. Shrewsbury, via e-mail  

A. You won’t find the answer to your question in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, at least not directly, but one would assume that if you must be at least 18 years old to marry validly in the Catholic Church in the United States, you would have already received baptism, confirmation, holy Eucharist and confession. 

The Code of Canon Law makes this statement: “Catholics who have not yet received the Sacrament of Confirmation are to receive it before being admitted to marriage, if this can be done without grave inconvenience” (Canon 1065.1). 

The question is: Why is it fitting to receive confirmation before marriage? Because confirmation, if received worthily, brings with it the grace and strength you need to fight the good fight and live as a Christian. With confirmation the gifts of the Holy Spirit are strengthened: wisdom, understanding, knowledge, counsel, fortitude, piety and fear of the Lord. All of these are helpful for married life. 

Music Approval?

Q. I am in the music ministry at our parish. It seems that we are getting restrictions with regard to music, such as that it must come from the hymnal. However, some of the songs in the hymnal did not begin as “Catholic” songs and — yet — are approved for singing in our church. Also, some priests are now telling their ministers to follow the music line in the missalette rather than make up their own for the responsorial psalm, the reason being given that the Church wants unity in all its churches. I do not understand how it matters if all churches have exactly the same thing or not — people cannot be in two places at once! I’m getting the feeling that our Church no longer feels that God speaks through the very individuals He creates. 

Theresa Benton, Gainesville, Texas 

A. It seems to me that the real issue here is not music, but governance in the Church. In other words, can the bishop govern the celebration of the sacraments in his diocese? Does he have the authority to govern even the music that is performed at Mass? The Church says yes he does and yes he can. You and I may not like it, but ultimately it comes down to faith: Do we trust that Jesus Christ is alive and well and active in the Church and guides the decisions of the bishops? 

I really don’t think it’s a big deal or a huge sacrifice to simply “get with the program” and play the music in the missalette. If you want your compositions to be played, then submit them for approval. If it’s good music, I’ll bet it will be approved. 

Our Church knows that God speaks to us, but such guidance is hierarchical. After all, Jesus said to the apostles, and in turn to the bishops: “Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Mt 16:19). 

Liturgical Colors

Q. If we put up a wooden cross in the sanctuary for Ash Wednesday/Lent draped in violet, and white for Easter, do we leave it until Pentecost Sunday and then remove it after that feast?  

Sophie, via e-mail 

A. Lent begins on Ash Wednesday, and the liturgical color for Lent is violet. It is appropriate to drape the crucifix and appoint the sanctuary with violet cloth during Lent. Once we arrive at Passion Sunday, the crucifix and other sacred images can be completely covered over with a violet cloth. On Easter, the violet disappears and is replaced with white, symbolic of the fullness of color and light, since “Christ is the Light of the World.” The Easter season ends on Pentecost Sunday, and at that time the white drape over the crucifix can be removed. 

Organ Donation Revisited

Q. Our pastor is a big advocate of organ donation and has put organ-donation pamphlets from the DMV in our parish bulletin. I listened to a talk from a very knowledgeable doctor who said that donors of major organs are still alive when the organs are removed. He stated that the cells would die too quickly for use if, in fact, the person were truly dead when the organs were extracted. He also mentioned that “brain death” is not the only criteria that should be used to declare death. I’ve also read of patients who were declared dead and during preparation to remove the organs a family member noticed movement and further preparations were stopped. One patient recalled hearing the conversation of the plans for organ removal when he supposedly was “dead.” These people are alive and well today. When we discussed our concerns with our pastor, he said that we were talking against Church teaching. I realize that Pope Benedict XVI has said organ donation is a noble gesture; however, I can’t bring myself to embrace major organ donation as moral. Am I truly in contention with “Church teaching”? Is this a matter of faith and morals? 

Name withheld, via e-mail 

A. The “Catholic” answer to your question pivots on the correct understanding of “death” and of “brain death.” Theologians, philosophers and physicians are not in total agreement about how to determine this. The Church states that vital organs cannot be transplanted until the person is dead. But what constitutes “death”? I wrote on this topic several years ago, and nothing significant has changed since that time. For the record, here is the answer from the November-December 2005 issue: 

Q. In the March/April 2005 issue of the Catholic Answer, you answer a question about organ donation by recommending that “the most prudent course of action is not to allow the ‘harvesting’ of vital organs from a body until brain activity, respiration and circulation have ceased: no breathing, no heartbeat and no brain activity.” As a pro-life Catholic physician, I thought you would be interested in the following portion of Pope John Paul II’s “Address to the International Congress on Transplants” given Aug. 29, 2000. While you probably cannot print it in its entirety, it certainly gives a contrasting view to what you presented. When can a person be considered dead with complete certainty?  

“With regard to the parameters used today for ascertaining death — whether the ‘encephalic’ signs or the more traditional cardio-respiratory signs — the Church does not make technical decisions. 

“Here it can be said that the criterion adopted in more recent times for ascertaining the fact of death, namely, the complete and irreversible cessation of all brain activity, if rigorously applied, does not seem to conflict with the essential elements of a sound anthropology. Therefore a health worker professionally responsible for ascertaining death can use these criteria in each individual case as the basis for arriving at that degree of assurance in ethical judgment which moral teaching describes as ‘moral certainty.’ This moral certainty is considered the necessary and sufficient basis for an ethically correct course of action. 

“While you must be commended for continuing to advance the culture of life, I believe the above quote is a strong defense of the legitimacy of using brain death criterion (rigorously applied) as a basis for organ donation. Thank you for your time.  

“Francis Darr, MD, FAAP” 

A. Since this issue requires the experience and expertise of trustworthy physicians known to be supportive of the Magisterium of the Church, I have consulted with Dr. Frederick Smith, board member of the National Catholic Bioethics Committee and pathologist at Children’s Memorial Hospital in Chicago. His response: 

“I agree with the Pope, of course, but call your attention to the phrase ‘if rigorously applied.’ Complete and irreversible cessation of all brain activity is not so easy to demonstrate with moral certainty. In principle I agree on brain death, but I do not think there is a strong medical or ethical consensus among people I trust on how to be morally certain it has occurred, short of the cessation of brain stem dependent functions like breathing. So basically I agree the prudent thing is to wait until cardio-respiratory function ceases. Serious irreversible brain damage is a reason to remove a ventilator, which I view as extraordinary in a lot of instances. If breathing and heart stop then, there are no moral reservations for organ donation. Frederick Smith, M.D. 

Serving as an EMHC

Q. Recently in our church we were told that in order to be an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion we must attend an hour of adoration every week. Is there any church rule that supports this mandate? 

Name withheld by request, via email  

A. To my knowledge there is no church rule that supports that mandate, but I sure think it’s a great idea. I would even go further: I would invite EMHC to attend daily Mass, confess their sins monthly, pray the Rosary daily, visit the sick weekly and make one hour of adoration each week. How happy they would be! All of those practices would serve to increase their awareness of the sacredness of the holy Eucharist and the importance of their service. 

Prenuptial Agreements?

Q. Sometimes when couples marry they sign a prenuptial agreement. What is the Catholic Church’s official position on prenuptial agreements?  

William Mauk, via e-mail 

A. The Church has no official position on prenuptial agreements. However, the Church teaches that marriage is indissoluble, which means the couple is married “until death do us part.” If a prenuptial agreement signals that the spouses do not regard marriage as indissoluble, that is a bad sign, and potentially grounds for declaration of nullity. Marriage is forever.  

Blessing Cremated Remains

Q. I would like to know if it is correct for a priest to bless cremated remains of a person that was not Catholic? Can he do the blessing in church?  

M. Champagne, via e-mail 

A. I wonder if you are talking about funeral rites or just a simple blessing. If it’s a simple blessing, I see no reason why a priest could not bless the cremated remains of a human being, since all are made in the image and likeness of God, even the non-baptized. Such a blessing would not be a sacrament, but a sacramental gesture recognizing the dignity of the human person. Sacramentals and blessings are not restricted to the baptized. Accordingly, the Church provides blessings for Christmas trees, places of work and animals, especially on the feast of St. Francis. If a priest can bless your pet dog, he should be able to bless the cremated remains of a human being, baptized or not. 

What the priest is not allowed to do is perform funeral rites for “notorious apostates, heretics and schismatics; those who for anti-Christian motives chose that their bodies be cremated; and other manifest sinners to whom a Church funeral could not be granted without public scandal to the faithful” (see Canon 1184). The local bishop can decide otherwise. 

Holding hands during the Our Father?

Q. I’m looking for clarification concerning the holding of hands during the Lord’s Prayer at Mass. I have come upon several answers to the question: It is optional; it should not be done; it is required; it is merely traditional; hands are clasped only during the Offering of Peace, etc. Can you give me an answer to this puzzle? 

Eugene J. Nebelung, Beaufort, S.C. 

A. 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. 

Since that time I have become aware that the Diocese of Green Bay, Wis., has recently 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.

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