TCA Life for January/February 2014

Pastoral Care in Hospitals

Q. I have two questions: (1) I am a Eucharistic minister for the hospital and was told that I can give holy Communion to everyone who is Catholic, even if they are not following Catholic beliefs, such as regarding missing Mass, living with someone and not married, etc. I do not like to give holy Communion out like candy. (2) What is sin?

Name withheld, via e-mail

A. Thank you for serving the sick! Your charitable service as an extraordinary minister of holy Communion in the hospital is one of the corporal works of mercy. Through your service, the mercy and kindness of Christ is present to the suffering. So, thank you for that!

I agree with you. We should not “give holy Communion out like candy.” In order for a patient to receive holy Communion worthily, he or she should be a practicing Catholic in the state of grace. For that reason, it is very helpful for the parish priest to visit the sick in the hospital, because he can offer them the Sacrament of Penance, as well as the anointing of the sick and holy Communion.

In your case, you should only give holy Communion to those patients who request it. If you have a doubt about whether they are in the state of grace because of some manifest and obstinate sin (see Canon 915), you should encourage them to go to confession and then facilitate a visit of the priest. Often, when people are in pain and suffering, they are much more open to God’s grace and conversion. It’s a privileged moment to help them. By all means you should avoid a judgmental attitude that might discourage the patient.

As to your second question, “What is sin?” Sin is disobedience against God. It is any thought, word, deed or omission that goes against God’s law. The original sin of Adam and Eve was not so much the eating of the apple but their loss of trust in God, which led them to disobey Him. The Catechism of the Catholic Church offers this for our consideration:

“Sin is an offense against reason, truth, and right conscience; it is failure in genuine love for God and neighbor caused by a perverse attachment to certain goods. It wounds the nature of man and injures human solidarity. It has been defined as ‘an utterance, a deed, or a desire contrary to the eternal law.’

“Sin is an offense against God: ‘Against you, you alone, have I sinned, and done that which is evil in your sight.’ Sin sets itself against God’s love for us and turns our hearts away from it. Like the first sin, it is disobedience, a revolt against God through the will to become ‘like gods,’ knowing and determining good and evil. Sin is thus ‘love of oneself even to contempt of God.’ In this proud self-exaltation, sin is diametrically opposed to the obedience of Jesus, which achieves our salvation” (Nos. 1849-1850).

Canned Music?

Q. I was wondering if a church can use canned music for some celebrations when live music is not available or is costly?

Tony DeFelice, via e-mail

A. We should always try to give God the best, especially in the liturgy. If you can do better than “canned music” for Mass, you should do so. Nonetheless, I am not aware of any current universal prohibition against using prerecorded digital, mechanical or automatic music at Mass, although there was a time (around 1958) that it was prohibited.

Technology has evolved in such a way that musical instruments (acoustic pianos, electric organs and even pipe organs) can play a hymn by remote control. However, if the congregation sings the hymn, the congregation must keep pace with the prerecorded music. And that can be difficult to do.

Based on my 20 years of liturgical experience, I suggest that you find an organist. If you are unable to do so, or cannot afford an organist, then just sing the songs without musical accompaniment.

Papal Miter

Q. Why would the pope have inscribed on his miter vicarius filii dei, which is not an official title for the pope, instead of vicarius Christi, which is an official title?

Ben Bohman, Auburndale, Wis.

A. The pope can do whatever he wants as long as he is faithful to Christ. The Code of Canon Law states, “No appeal or recourse is permitted against a sentence or decree of the Roman Pontiff” (Canon 333.3). So, the Holy Father himself can determine what is an official title, because he is the official.

All the same, there is really no difference between the term vicarius filii dei and vicarius Christi. The first means “Vicar of the Son of God,” and the second is translated “Vicar of Christ.” As the Son of God is Christ, the two mean the same thing.

Communion rituals

Q. There is much discussion about this point at our church. We have a new pastor, and he seems to think differently than the former pastor.

So, question for you: After the reception of the Body of Christ and/or the Blood of Christ, one says “Amen.” What is the proper teaching — any documentary source you can cite — on doing the Sign of the Cross as well? And if you do it after the minister says “Body of Christ,” should you cross yourself and then say “Amen,” or say “Amen” and then cross yourself (which seems backward since the Sign of the Cross is a prayer).

I teach PSR Sacrament Prep. After teaching it one way (no Sign of the Cross is preferred, but OK if it is your family’s tradition so as not to cause strife) for 10 years, I hate to now say something different. If there is a source I can cite perhaps our new pastor will allow me to maintain consistency.

K.A.P., via e-mail

A. You sound very eager and sincere about doing things correctly, but perhaps in this case there is much ado about nothing? My suggestion is live and let live. If the person who receives holy Communion wants to make the Sign of the Cross after receiving the Eucharist, I see no harm in that, and I can find no prohibition of that practice in any liturgical document.

If a person wants to make the Sign of the Cross immediately before receiving holy Communion — again, there is no prohibition of that, but it is not the custom or tradition, and I think it is rather awkward. In your case, I would try to follow what your new pastor has indicated and make it easy for him.

You asked for a source to cite. Here it is. Please notice, there is no mention about making the Sign of the Cross when you receive Communion. So, I suggest you follow what is stated here in the General Instruction of the Roman Missal and do no more and no less: “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” (No. 160).

In addition, the normal procedure 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, see 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.

Freedom to marry?


Q. I am confused by whether or not I would be able to marry in the Church. My daughter’s father was previously married to a woman in a registry office in England and at the time they had made no religious vows, just civil marriage vows, as he is not a believer in God. She was brought up a Catholic, but I am unaware if she is a confirmed Catholic. They have a legal divorce from 22 years ago. I know he was baptized, but he was not brought up as a Christian throughout his life, so I think she probably was never confirmed. Would this mean that he is still free in the eyes of the Church to marry me or not? The lady herself has gone on to marry and divorce again.

Laura Clarke, via e-mail

A. To properly answer your question, I would have to ask a number of other questions for further clarification. Since that is not possible, I can only proceed by making assumptions.

But first it may be helpful to recall that the Church takes the Sacrament of Matrimony seriously because we take Jesus Christ, who is God, seriously. And remember what Jesus said about marriage: “Whoever divorces his wife (unless the marriage is unlawful) and marries another commits adultery” (Mt 19:9). Adultery is against the Sixth Commandment. This is serious stuff.

My first piece of advice is don’t try to figure this out on your own. Go to your local parish priest, and he will help you.

Before you attempt to marry the man who is the father of your daughter, it needs to be established that both of you are free to marry. In this case, that means that your local diocesan marriage tribunal would need to determine that his first attempted marriage was not valid. Since his first wife was baptized Catholic, they should have married in the Catholic Church. But it appears they did not do that, and I assume that they did not have permission to marry outside of the Catholic Church. For that reason, that first marriage could be declared null because of lack of canonical form. In that case, you would be free to marry him.

Whether or not his first wife was confirmed has no bearing on the validity of the marriage. Since she was baptized a Catholic, she had to follow Catholic rules for marriage, but apparently she did not, so the case could be very easily remedied.

Sacrament of Reconciliation

Q. I understand all the positive reasons for Catholics to receive absolution in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. I appreciate being in the state of grace. What I don’t understand is why none of the other religions believe that members need to confess to a minister. Surely these people need God’s forgiveness for their sins (mortal and venial). I am a Stephen Minister at a local hospital. The non-Catholic ministers in our group tell me they ask for God’s forgiveness and know He is an all forgiving God.

I believe many Catholics today approach the Eucharist and are not in the state of grace as defined by the Church because they are uncomfortable telling their sins to a priest. I am not being judgmental, but the proof is in the sparse participation at Saturday confessions and yet an increase in people receiving Eucharist at Mass. What are your thoughts?

Michael Yantek, Strongsville, Ohio

A. I believe there is a direct correlation between the lack of participation in the Sacrament of Reconciliation and the precipitous decline in Sunday Mass attendance that we have witnessed over the past 50 years. When people stop going to confession, they tend to drift away from Christ in the holy Eucharist, and their souls — wounded by original sin — tend to go from bad to worse, the conscience becomes warped and the heart hardens.

Catholics confess their sins to a priest because Jesus instituted this sacrament on the very night of His resurrection when He told the apostles, “Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained” (Jn 20:23).

Your friends who are non-Catholic ministers do well to believe that God is “all-forgiving.” He certainly is that, and the proof is in the parable of the prodigal son, as well as in the passion and death of our Lord Jesus Christ. Your non-Catholic friends who ask for God’s forgiveness also do well. However, your Protestant friends could be, and do, so much more if they went to confession. It is a truly liberating experience.

I suppose there are several reasons why “none of the other religions believe that members need to confess to a minister.” Among these reasons would be, once you separate yourself from the Vicar of Christ (the pope, Peter’s successor), you will drift away from the clear teachings of Christ and His Church. But there is a more fundamental reason: it’s humiliating to confess to a priest. But that humiliation is precisely part of the medicine and most of the remedy. “A contrite, humbled heart, O God, you will not scorn” (Psalm 51:19). God’s grace cannot help us if we are not humble.

Fallen-away Brother

Q. I have been talking with my brother-in-law, a former Catholic. He asked me about the Sacrament of Penance. Basically, he said that the line in the Gospel about “Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them” (Jn 20:23) is just one statement in the Gospel. You need to take the whole Bible and Gospels to support a sacrament, not just one statement. He also said that the Church basically has this confession thing just to give priests a job to do. Also, in the early Church, they didn’t have that confession thing and it was basically just asking God to forgive us. Like what Protestants do now. How do I answer him, and is there a good book on the history and development of confession and penance.

Ed K., via e-mail

A. Good luck getting through to your brother-in-law. From his comments that you cite, he sounds like a know-it-all. So, first you should answer your brother-in-law with prayer and fasting. I’ll bet one of the big reasons he is a “former Catholic” is because he stopped going to confession. If I were you, I would not engage him in a scriptural tit for tat, or a discussion on the history of the Church, because all of those are just excuses: he needs to humble himself and get on his knees and confess his sins to come out of his darkness and fear.

A good book that I could recommend on this subject is “Frequent Confession,” by Benedict Baur. And I will pray and fast for your brother-in-law. “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer and fasting” (Mk 9:29, RSV).

Homiletics 101

Q. Does the homily have to be on the reading that day, or is the priest or deacon allowed to talk about other things? Are there laws about that?

Megan, via e-mail

A. Yes, there are laws about that. The homily should be related to the readings of the day or the prayers of the Mass of that day, according to the most recent English edition of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (2012). While there are many references to the connection of the homily to the readings of the day in the GIRM, the following paragraph offers the clearest indication:

“The homily is part of the liturgy and is highly recommended, for it is necessary for the nurturing of the Christian life. It should be an explanation of some aspect of the readings from Sacred Scripture or of another text from the Ordinary or the Proper of the Mass of the day and should take into account both the mystery being celebrated and the particular needs of the listeners” (No. 65).

However, the homily is not limited to the readings of the day, and the homilist should take into account the particular needs of the listeners. For instance, the priest might use the homily to explain various parts of the Mass when he celebrates the Mass for students, so the homily then is not directly about the readings.

Proper Reverence

Q. In the Nicene Creed, we say, “For us men and for our salvation he came down from heaven, and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and became man.” Why do we bow our heads at that, and why do some people kneel? Which is right?

Bradley, via e-mail

A. Sometimes we are supposed to bow our heads, and sometimes we are supposed to genuflect, and those indications can be found in the rubrics of the Roman Missal inserted right before that line in the Nicene Creed. On almost all Sundays and holy days of obligation, we bow our heads when we recite that line, but on March 25 — the solemnity of the Annunciation — and then again on Dec. 25 — Christmas — the faithful are asked to genuflect. Why? Because that line refers to the most important moment in history — the Incarnation — and the bow of the head or genuflection, as the case may be, shows special reverence for that event. It was the moment when the Second Person of the Holy Trinity took on human flesh (March 25) and was born of the Virgin Mary (Dec. 25).

And it is for that reason that the standard calendar in use around the world today marks the current year as A.D. 2013, and the “A.D.” stands for “Anno Domini,” the Year of the Lord.

Limited Understanding

Q. I’ve been wondering: What do the different Protestant groups teach about the Eucharist? I know they don’t recognize the Eucharist in the Church, but what do they actually say theirs is, if they have any, I mean. Do they have communion at all at this point?

Name withheld by request, via e-mail


A. Since there are many different Protestant denominations, it would not be possible to offer a complete answer to your question, but, in general, Protestants — who are, after all, baptized Christians — take the gift of the Eucharist both seriously and with great respect. However, having severed their relationship with Rome and the clear guidance of the authority of the Church, their understanding of the Eucharist is limited to their subjective interpretation of sacred Scripture.

In the Catholic Church, we believe that only validly ordained priests can confect the holy Eucharist and initiate the miracle of transubstantiation. Once the consecration takes place at Mass, the bread and wine have been changed into the Body and Blood of Christ, and now Christ is truly present, under the appearance of bread and wine: really, truly, and substantially; body, blood, soul, and divinity. Catholics believe in the Real Presence, and this belief is reflected in our liturgical behavior: we genuflect in the presence of the holy Eucharist; we maintain reverential silence in the presence of the Eucharistic Lord; we have the devotion of Eucharistic Adoration; we reserve the Blessed Sacrament in the tabernacle; we keep the vigil light burning next to the tabernacle at all times; we lock the tabernacle and keep the key in safekeeping; we consecrate the hands of the priest with sacred chrism to prepare him for his Eucharistic ministry.

Annulment costs?

Q. I know that Catholics can seek an annulment for their marriage from the Church, but how much does it cost? If you don’t have a lot of money, can you still get an annulment?

Name withheld by request, via e-mail

A. An annulment costs a lot less than a divorce, because the Church subsidizes the wages of those who work in the diocesan tribunal and the parish priest usually donates his time for free to the couple. The priest, in turn, is supported by his parishioners and is definitely not doing his job for the money.

That said, the cost for an annulment depends on where you live and which diocesan tribunal is handling your case. The fees you pay are for the paperwork and a small part for the time involved in judging your case.

If you cannot even pay the minimum, I know of no diocese that will not handle your case for free. But in that event, you are still obliged — out of justice — to do something for those who are handling your case. Perhaps you could pray a Rosary for them?

For the record, a judge on the tribunal in Chicago wrote this to me: “Here are the numbers: $950. However, if a person cannot afford it. the case will proceed anyway. Also, they can pay in installments.”

Can Music Be Immoral?

Q. What is the moral aspect about listening to music? Is it immoral to listen to things like rap music or hip-hop? What about the argument that what people call classical music was often condemned when it was first composed?

Paul K., Portland, Ore.

A. Fashions in music and dress may change over time, but fundamental moral principles never change. The first moral principle is to do good and avoid evil, so if the music influences you to do good, then it’s good, and if it influences you to do evil, it’s bad.

The genre of music — in my opinion — is morally neutral. I think it would be a bit of a gnostic-stretch to condemn the “rock and roll beat,” or “jazz rhythm,” or “hip-hop sound,” or “rap rhyme,” as morally evil. However, the lyrics could definitely be an occasion of sin, and we should avoid anything that is an occasion of sin or glorifies immorality.

May Catholics use acupuncture?

Q. May Catholics receive acupuncture? What about tai chi?

Bree, via e-mail


A. Anyone may have acupuncture if they think it will improve their health. But be careful, and be sure to check with your doctor first. However, Catholics (and, for that matter, all believing Christians) have to be on guard against teachings that might lead them away from Christ. Remember what St. Paul said about that: “For the time will come when people will not tolerate sound doctrine but, following their own desires and insatiable curiosity, will accumulate teachers and will stop listening to the truth and will be diverted to myths” (1 Tm 4:3-4).

As for tai chi, it’s the same thing: Be careful that it does not lead you away from Christ. If the philosophy of tai chi can be adequately defined as “the soft and the pliable will defeat the hard and strong,” I see no reason why that would not be compatible with the Christian teaching of “turning the other cheek.”

Still, remember what St. Paul wrote to the Hebrews: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teachings. It is good to have our hearts strengthened by grace and not by foods, which do not benefit those who live by them” (13:8-9).

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