TCA Life for July/August 2015

Adoration Guidelines

Q. My wife and I have been part of Blessed Sacrament adoration for the past dozen years. Recently, we read that during an Adoration Hour there should always be at least two people present. Occasionally, one of us will not be available. Is it liturgically necessary that two individuals be present at all times, and if so what is the purpose for that guideline?

Joe and Cathy Steffan, Van Wert, Ohio

A. Thank you for the great work you and your wife are doing for the Church and all souls by participating in Adoration for the past dozen years. It is a very hopeful sign of the new “springtime of holiness” for the Church that, in ever more places, the faithful are participating in regular adoration of the Most Blessed Sacrament. Very early in his pontificate, St. John Paul II established adoration chapels in the major patriarchal basilicas in Rome, realizing that the holy Eucharist is the source and summit of life in the Church. When there is faith, devotion and reverence for the Eucharist, the faithful grow in charity and holiness, and the community is blessed with a variety of vocations that serve the Church and all souls with joy and simplicity. The Eucharist is the source of life for the Church.

Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament has been a pious custom in the Church since time immemorial, and likewise the custom of having at least two persons present at all times has been the rule. The Rites for Holy Communion and Worship of the Holy Eucharist Outside of Mass, issued by the Congregation for Divine Worship in 1973, mentions the two-person norm (see No. 90). Likewise, a helpful guideline from the Diocese of Lansing, Michigan, states:

“Perpetual adoration occurs when parishioners, religious orders and communities, and other interested people arrange their visits to Church in an organized way. Typically, two or more people, taking turns, spend an hour, in prayer and silence, before the Blessed Sacrament reserved in the tabernacle. The hours of the day or night are so divided that adoration is considered perpetual or extended over a period of time.

“Perpetual adoration is worthy to be promoted. In parishes and oratories where it does occur, measures should be taken to ensure that there are two or more of the faithful present and that there is a safe and secure environment for the adorers.”

So you ask, what’s the reason for having two people present? Safety! In case something happens to one of the adorers (falls asleep, faints, has a medical emergency, etc.) the other can call for aid while at the same time insuring that the Most Blessed Sacrament exposed in the monstrance is not left unattended. Why should we not leave the Most Blessed Sacrament in the monstrance unattended? First, out of courtesy, and second for safety, because — while in the monstrance — the Eucharist is vulnerable.

It may happen, no matter how hard you try, that sometimes there is only one person in the Adoration chapel. When that happens, that person cannot leave until another person arrives, or if that is not possible, that person should carefully repose the Blessed Sacrament in the tabernacle or secure the safety of the Eucharist in some other way. Finally, those good souls who are entrusted with managing the Adoration program at their parish should continue to promote Adoration so that there be at least two people there at all times. This may be difficult, but it’s well worth the effort.

Still Going Strong at 90!

Q. I am 90 years of age and for a period of time I attended daily early morning Mass at my local church (in fact, I was an acting sacristan, setting up the altar, etc.). During a period when I was first hospitalized and then confined to my home, I watched Mass on Catholic television. Now, I only go to morning Mass when it is a special occasion (anniversary of the death of my wife or her birthday). I know that there is no obligation that I attend daily Mass, but my question relates to holy days of obligation. There are times when I can get a ride, but at times I cannot. My question is: Does watching Mass on TV cover my obligation? The times when this has happened and I confessed this, I have received absolution and an “easy” penance, but no mention if my watching TV covered my obligation. I still attend Mass on Saturday afternoon on good days, and on snowy days I manage to “bum” a ride.

Henry Cheetham, via e-mail

A. God bless you, Henry! Ninety years old and still going strong! I think it’s good that your priest gives you an “easy” penance in confession, because that will keep you coming back for more grace and absolution, but as to your question about are you obligated to attend Mass on holy days of obligation, the answer depends on how strong you are feeling that day. If you are able to attend regularly on the weekends (by walking, or driving, or bumming a ride), then I would suppose you could attend on holy days of obligation, too.

While it is praiseworthy to watch Mass on TV, you and I both know that it’s just not the same, is it? So, when is a person not obliged to attend Sunday Mass or Mass on holy days of obligation? When it would be physically or morally impossible for them to attend. In your case, if you are too weak one day, then stay home and watch the Mass on TV.

The elderly do get some “breaks” in the Church, for instance they are not obliged to fast on Ash Wednesday or Good Friday if they are older than 59. But there is no upper limit for the obligation to attend Mass. No matter how old or weak we become, we want to keep fighting the good fight so that when we die we will be able to say, as St. Paul said, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Tm 4:7, RSV).

Ana Martinez de Mingo/

Work for Musicians

Q. What does the Church have to say about Catholic musicians playing in Protestant churches? I have a friend who plays with a band. He is Catholic and thinks it is OK to perform for Protestant services (I think he plays for evangelical churches). Is he allowed to do this? He says he does it just for the money — the whole starving musician thing. What should I tell him?

Name withheld, via e-mail

A. It’s true: Many talented musicians find it hard to make ends meet.

Nonetheless, your question raises an important consideration, something the American bishops have been concerned about since at least the Second Baltimore Council (1866) when they warned Catholics in the United States against “religious indifferentism,” the attitude that it really does not matter what religion you are as long as you are a believer and you are respectful to your neighbor and a good citizen.

If your friend’s participation in the Protestant services were to draw him away from the full practice of his Catholic faith, that would be a serious concern. We all have the duty to avoid any dangers to our faith and morals. Since we believe that the fullness of the truth of God’s revelation is to be found in the Church founded by Jesus Christ upon the rock of St. Peter and his successors (see Mt 16:18; Pope Paul VI’s decree Christus Dominus) — that is, the Catholic Church — we have a duty according to the First Commandment to stay strong and persevere in the practice of our Catholic religion. If his work as a musician in Protestant churches were to diminish his faith, he should stop.

However, if your friend is strong in his Catholic faith, his exposure to Protestant worship services might, in fact, deepen his appreciation for the rituals, sacraments, teachings and truths of his own Catholic religion. I have had that experience in attending a Protestant funeral. I felt sorry for the bereaved that the ceremony was so lacking compared to what I experience in the Catholic Church.

A final consideration for your friend is that his musical talents might be adding so much to the Protestant services that anyone who attends might conclude, “Why should I go to the Catholic Church when the music here is so good?”

In sum, I think it would be much better for your friend to use his musical talents for Catholic services, and if he needs extra money, let him play extra times for funerals and weddings. If that still does not cover his needs, let him pray to St. Joseph for his financial concerns and all will turn out well.

Wearing White Scapular

Q. I enjoyed the article by Eddie O’Neill about the meaning of the vestments and the prayers that are recited by the priest as they are donned (“What Is Father Wearing?” January/Februrary). I have been a lay Dominican for over 30 years. I wear the white scapular of the order beneath my clothing. Is there a prayer that should be said when I put my scapular on in the morning and take it off in the evening?

Theresa Rudowski, via e-mail

A. I agree with you. Eddie O’Neill is a gifted writer! The vesting prayers prayed by the priest before Mass are little known, and I think that is a pity, because there is so much depth and meaning to every ritual and every vestment of the holy Mass.

The custom of the white scapular that you mention is also little known by the wider Church, but equally rich in history. The Dominicans, also known as the Order of Preachers, have given the Church many saints over the course of history. Devotion to the Blessed Mother, and especially her Rosary and scapular, is an essential aspect of Dominican spirituality. Pope St. Pius V, of the 16th century, was a great saint who promoted the Rosary and established the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary on Oct. 7 in gratitude for the Blessed Mother’s protection of the Christian fleet at the Battle of Lepanto on Oct. 7, 1571. As a Dominican friar who became pope, he customarily wore his white habit. Since that time, popes wear a white cassock, partly in veneration of that Dominican saint.

At the Third Order of Saint Dominic website ( we read: “The Dominican habit, too, like that of the Carmelites, incorporates a full-length scapular which symbolizes humility and service and is thus associated with Mary. The white Dominican scapular was added to the canons’ traditional white tunic and cape after Our Lady appeared to a mortally ill Blessed Reginald of Orleans and healed him by anointing. She asked that the scapular be worn by members of the Order from that time onward.”

I have been unable to find any indication for what prayers are to be said by Third Order Dominicans when they put on or take off their white scapular. Perhaps a reader could inform us, or perhaps the leader of your Third Order Dominican association might know? In any case, you certainly cannot go wrong by praying any Marian prayer such as the Hail Mary, Hail Holy Queen or Memorare when you put on the scapular.

Gluten-free Hosts

Q. Can you help me with the issue of gluten-free hosts for Communion? What are the guidelines for those? I have a cousin who does not have celiac problems but chooses to go gluten free because she thinks it is healthier. She insists that she should receive gluten-free hosts and has changed parishes to find Communion in the cup. This strikes me as an insult to those Catholics who really can’t eat wheat.

Bradley, via e-mail

A. I agree with you. A person should only ask for a low-gluten host for a legitimate health reason. Nonetheless, no one is prohibited from receiving the holy Eucharist under one species only — the species of bread or the species of wine.

For the consecration of the Eucharistic bread to be valid, it must have at least some gluten in it, since the unleavened bread must be made of wheat, and wheat contains gluten. If a person with celiac disease is under medical order to ingest absolutely no gluten, then that person should communicate by receiving only the Precious Blood (consecrated wine). In my experience, it is not unusual during a Sunday Mass for 500 to 1,000 people that there will be one to three of the faithful who ask for Communion under the species of the consecrated wine only. The priest presumes they have a valid medical reason and does not ask for a note from their doctor.

While there may be gluten-free hosts available, I do not think such would be valid for the sacrament. However, there are low-gluten hosts available, which are valid. Dr. Barbara Coughlin of “Catholic Celiacs” writes:

“Now there is another choice. The Benedictine Sisters of Perpetual Adoration in Clyde, Missouri, have developed a Communion host that is extremely low in gluten. They have worked for 10 years on this project. The host is made from gelatinized wheat starch. The hosts have been tested for the presence of gluten. According to the sisters, they were tested to a level of 0.01 percent gluten. At that level, the lowest that could be tested, no gluten was detected. This means that there is less than 0.01 percent gluten in one of these hosts; however, it is not known how much less. The Secretariat for the Liturgy of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has stated that these meet the requirements of the Code of Canon Law and may be validly used at Mass with permission of the person’s pastor. They are manufactured by hand in a separate facility from the ordinary wheat hosts and are shipped separately from the wheat hosts so that there is no danger of cross contamination.”

Waiting for Annulment

Q. My nephew filed for a divorce several years ago and has recently started dating. He claims that a priest told him that since the annulment was in process, it was acceptable for him to date. I have no idea if he is serious about the woman he is dating, but is that allowed at all? Is it permitted for him to do this?

Roberta, via e-mail

A. I agree with you: I do not think he should be dating yet. Until he has received the declaration of nullity for his previous marriage, the Church presumes that he is still married because “marriage enjoys the favor of the law” (see Canon 1060). Consequently, when in doubt, the validity of a marriage must be upheld until the contrary is proven. And if he is currently presumed to be validly married in the eyes of the Church, then he should not be dating someone else.

If he starts dating seriously, and then later is informed that the petition for annulment was denied, then what? That would be an injustice to the person he is dating. I know from personal experience that this can be very difficult advice for a priest to give to people in this situation, that it requires a certain degree of faith and humility — and that it can be even more difficult to accept and follow — but in such cases when I have given this advice, and the couple trusted in God and in the Church, everything turned out well in the end. Sometimes, God tests our faith, and that may be the case in this situation.

The Church and Vaccines?

Q. Vaccines have been in the news lately, and everyone seems to have an opinion. This is a big topic, but the health of children is at stake. What does the Church teach about vaccines? Are there any guidelines for deciding?

Name withheld by request, via e-mail

A. The moral principles are clear: everyone is obliged to take care of his health, and parents also have the duty of caring for their children’s health. That is part of the Fifth Commandment.

When it comes to vaccinations there are many opinions, some based on fact and others based on fear or a mix of the two, and good parents look for guidance and wonder who they can trust. Clearly, vaccinations against measles and polio have saved countless lives and improved the health and living conditions of many millions over the past 50 years. That is an undisputed fact. However, when I was a child, kids my age received only a couple of vaccines. Today, it is standard to receive many vaccines.

With the reality of the unexplained genesis of autism, some parents worry that vaccinations might be part of the cause, even though this has not been scientifically proven. Additionally, it is well documented that the origin of some standard vaccines currently in use can be traced to cells of aborted children, and that in itself is repugnant. However, expert bioethicists accredited to the Vatican have studied these issues in depth and have stated that a Catholic in good conscience can receive a vaccination of this kind.

Perhaps the most useful statement on this issue can be found at the National Catholic Bioethics Committee website (, which I copy here in part for your convenience:

“FAQ on the Use of Vaccines

“What is the Church’s teaching about the use of certain vaccines that have a distant historical association with abortion?

“There are a number of vaccines that are made in descendent cells of aborted fetuses. Abortion is a grave crime against innocent human life. We should always ask our physician whether the product he proposes for our use has an historical association with abortion. We should use an alternative vaccine if one is available.

“Are there any vaccines for which there are no alternatives?

“Unfortunately, at present there are no alternative vaccines available in the United States against rubella (German measles), varicella (chickenpox), and hepatitis A. All of these are grown in the cell lines WI-38 and/or MRC-5. (See note #7 of the statement from the Pontifical Academy for Life for a listing of vaccines and their source).

“What do I do if there is no alternative to a vaccine produced from these cell lines?

“One is morally free to use the vaccine regardless of its historical association with abortion. The reason is that the risk to public health, if one chooses not to vaccinate, outweighs the legitimate concern about the origins of the vaccine. This is especially important for parents, who have a moral obligation to protect the life and health of their children and those around them.

“What support is there in Church teaching for this position?

“A statement from the Pontifical Academy for Life issued in 2005 holds that one may use these products, despite their distant association with abortion, at least until such time as new vaccines become available.

“Am I free to refuse to vaccinate myself or my children on the grounds of conscience?

“One must follow a certain conscience even if it errs, but there is a responsibility to inform one’s conscience properly. There would seem to be no proper grounds for refusing immunization against dangerous contagious disease, for example, rubella, especially in light of the concern that we should all have for the health of our children, public health, and the common good.”

Church Decorations

Q. I recently saw a picture of the sanctuary of a church decorated for Mass just before the Super Bowl. It was filled with logos and banners for the Seattle Seahawks. Is that allowed during Mass? It got me wondering what the rules are exactly for decorating the altar. Surely, Father, it cannot allow football team logos?

Carl, Cleveland, Ohio

A. Maybe the picture you saw had the Seahawks banners and logos photoshopped into it? It’s hard to imagine NFL football logos in the sanctuary of a Church!

You are right: NFL football team logos in the sanctuary of a Catholic church are out of place. A Catholic church is a place for the worship of God, and the religious art in the church should move our minds and hearts to God and the veneration of the saints. Here, pious common sense should apply.

You will not find a specific prohibition against the display of profane imagery in a church in either the General Instruction for the Roman Missal (2012) or the U.S. bishops’ document regulating Church buildings, “Built of Living Stones” (2004). Yet both documents provide general guidelines for the decoration of sacred worship spaces.

From “Built of Living Stones”:

“In choosing images and devotional art, parishes should be respectful of traditional iconography when it comes to the way sacred images are recognized and venerated by the faithful” (No. 136).

“Worthy art is an essential, integral element in the sacred beauty of a church building. . . . Artistic creations in the place of worship inspire contemplation and devotion” (No. 149).

In light of these two paragraphs, one wonders how NFL logos in the sanctuary would be “respectful of traditional inconography” or how they would “inspire contemplation and devotion.”

The GIRM states:

“Thus, in sacred buildings, images of the Lord, of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and of the Saints, in accordance with most ancient tradition of the Church, should be displayed for veneration by the faithful and should be so arranged so as to lead the faithful toward the mysteries of faith celebrated there” (No. 318).

In summary, churches should display sacred, not profane, images.

What were Clown Masses?

Q. I am not old enough to have attended Mass during what my parents tell me were the crazy days of the 1970s. I have heard about the “clown Mass,” but I was told that they never actually happened. First, what were they, supposedly, and did they actually take place?

Name withheld, via e-mail

A. Nobody who loved Jesus was “clowning around” at the foot of the cross the day Jesus died. When ministers dress as clowns during the Mass, it suggests that they do not realize what is taking place at the Mass: the re-presentation of the death of Christ on the cross in an unbloody manner. It’s deadly serious business, and not the place for clowning around. I was born in 1959, so I am old enough to remember the crazy days in the wake of the Second Vatican Council and liturgical reform. Thankfully, things have settled down quite a bit just about everywhere, and good, sober, supernatural liturgical sense prevails in most places.

What was a “clown Mass”? You can see pictures for yourself by googling that term on the Internet. But brace yourself, because the pictures can be disturbing. As for myself, I have only once seen clowns at a Mass, and that was several years ago in Mexico City while visiting the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the national shrine for all of Mexico and the Patroness of the Americas. On that day, the national association of clowns came to Guadalupe for their annual pilgrimage and Mass. Understandably, they dressed in their uniforms — as clowns — but did not enter the sanctuary to perform any of the sacred rituals or carry out any of the liturgical ministries. The next day was the annual pilgrimage of firefighters and, as expected, they too dressed in their uniforms.

But the notion of a clown Mass belongs to the category of “Liturgical Creativity in Search of Relevance,” and under this title you could include any liturgical effort or innovation beyond both the bounds of the rubrics and the bounds of good pious common sense. I can understand the need to find meaning in life, and meaning in the liturgy. For that reason I will share a story about how the cross really brings the deepest meaning to liturgy, and not externals such as the music, the dancing, the incense, the ministers, or the decorations — all of which often reveal a rather shallow understanding of the mystery of the Cross and what the Mass is.

Some years ago a high school student confided to the chaplain of his school that he found the Sunday Mass at his parish tedious and boring. The priest suggested that the following Sunday he should change his ordinary routine and this time dress up for Mass, walk to Mass, sit in the front pew and toss in all the money he had in his wallet during the offertory collection, and then report back to him the following Monday. The young man did just that. He admitted that even though the music was bad, the church architecture confusing and that the sermon seemed aimless, it was the best Mass he had ever attended. Why? Because at that Mass he made a generous and personal sacrifice for Jesus Christ. And it is precisely that generous and personal sacrifice for Christ that helps us pierce through the externals and find God.

Old Testament Saints?

Q. Is it true that the Eastern churches recognize some of the figures of the Old Testament as saints? If so, why? And can Latin-rite Catholics venerate them also? Who are they?

Name withheld by request, via e-mail

A. It is true that some Eastern churches recognize some of the figures of the Old Testament as “saints” with feast days in their honor, but that does not mean that the Latin rite does not recognize them as saints, too, even if we do not add the title saint before their name. You will recall that a saint is any human being that has made it to heaven, whether they have been canonized and declared a saint by the Church or not, and whether they have a feast day in the liturgical calendar to commemorate them or not. So, yes, Latin-rite Catholics can venerate Old Testament saints, too. In fact, we do so in a few, but limited, places in the liturgy.

Some of the great figures of the Old Testament are commemorated in the Melkite-rite liturgical calendar, including Malachi, Zechariah, Job, Amos, Ezekiel, Eleazar, the Seven Holy Maccabees, Joshua, Moses, Hosea, Daniel and the Three Holy Youths.

The Latin-rite liturgy does honor some Old Testament figures, without calling them saints, such as Melchizedek and Abraham in the first Eucharistic prayer, and then Abraham, David and all the Holy Patriarchs in the Litany of the Saints.

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