Celebrating sacraments

Question: I was delighted to see 3 million people at Mass on the beach in Rio de Janeiro with Pope Francis. However, this stands in contrast to the Church’s rules that a marriage must be celebrated inside a church. I wonder what to tell my nieces, who are upset they cannot have weddings outside.

— Karen Nelson, Tampa, Fla.

Answer: All the sacraments, as a general rule, should be celebrated in a sacred space. Therefore, a dedicated parish church or oratory is almost always the proper place for the celebration of any sacrament.

But there are exceptions. For example, in danger of death, baptisms are sometimes celebrated in the hospital. On account of urgency, confessions are sometimes celebrated in settings other than the church.

In the example you cite, no church building exists to accommodate the 3 million who assembled in Rio.  

Hence, for urgent pastoral reasons, many general norms can be adapted where necessary. 

Regarding weddings, certain permissions can be obtained for weddings to be celebrated outside of the sacred space. However, the reasons ought to be serious, not just because it would be more convenient or pleasing to someone in the wedding party.

While permissions are sometimes granted, most dioceses resist granting them too easily. Of all the sacraments, the celebration of holy matrimony tends to be most influenced by secular trends. And many of these trends take the focus off Christ and the actual sacrament that is being conferred. The emphasis too easily falls on dresses, flowers, food and other social aspects. Moving weddings to beaches, backyards, reception halls and other such places shifts the focus further away from the sacrament itself.

Hence, the celebration of the sacraments ought generally to take place in the parish church. For serious pastoral reasons, such as stated above, exceptions can be made. But weddings seldom present pastoral conundrums significant enough to warrant the movement of the sacrament outside the church and, more problematically, shift the focus even further from where it should be.

Freed from original sin?

Question: The Church teaches that we are born with original sin. But if the mother is baptized and thus freed from original sin, how is it that her child is born with original sin?

Katey, McKinleyville, Calif. 

Answer: Human parents can supply to their children only the fallen human nature that came from Adam and Eve. They cannot supply what is divine and supernatural.

Even in terms of mere human nature, parents are only able to supply the basic elements. So, for example, the child receives from his parents a brain and an intellect, as basic elements that come with human nature. But parents cannot transfer at conception their knowledge of language, mathematics or history to the child. The child must acquire this for himself, with the help of others.

If this is the case with human nature, it is even more so with the supernatural life of grace. The mother may be baptized and free of original sin, but she cannot communicate this to her child, only God can. And thus she must bring her child to the Lord in baptism, who begins a saving work in which the child must grow. 

Msgr. Charles Pope is the pastor of Holy Comforter-St. Cyprian in Washington, D.C., and writes for the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., blog at blog.adw.org. Send questions to Pastoral Answers, Our Sunday Visitor, 200 Noll Plaza, Huntington, IN 46750 or to msgrpope@osv.com. Letters must be signed, but anonymity may be requested