Q. What is the policy of the Church when it comes to paying for a sacrament? Why should there be any mandated price associated with the reception of any particular sacrament? I know of one parish that has a $1,000 fee assessed for the privilege of being married in the church.
Emanuel, via e-mail
A. Sacraments are not for sale. The person who sells or buys a sacrament commits the serious crime of simony and is to be punished with the canonical penalty of interdict or suspension. Canon 1380 states: “A person who through simony celebrates or receives a sacrament, is to be punished with an interdict or suspension.”
Nevertheless, the Code of Canon Law does anticipate that the faithful may wish to make offerings to the Church on the occasion of the celebration of a sacrament. It is up to the local bishops to determine the appropriate amount, and the offering is for the local parish, not the priest, unless the person wants the priest to benefit from it personally. In that case, it is simply a gift to the priest. If the person is unable to make an offering, the priest is still obligated to perform the sacrament for the faithful.
As for the $1,000 fee charged by a parish for a wedding, that seems rather high, but I do know from experience that Catholic parishes regularly charge from $100 to $500 for the use of the church for the wedding.
That fee covers the cost of heating, air conditioning, electricity, maintenance, etc., just like the fee that the couple will pay for the rental of the banquet hall where they will have their reception. But that fee ($1,000 or $100) is NOT for the sacrament. It’s for the use of the building. Sometimes that fee is waived for active and supporting parishioners. That fee goes to the church, not the priest.
Sacraments are free, but the use of the building is not. If I were the pastor of the parish, and a poor person wanted to get married but had no money to pay for the use of the Church, I would waive that fee. But I would also make sure that same couple was not spending $5,000 to $100,000 on their wedding reception. Fair is fair.
Free to Marry?
Q. My daughter and her fiancé plan to be married. She is Catholic, but he is of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church. The problem is he has been married before in a civil ceremony. Do you know if the Bulgarian Orthodox Church recognizes this first marriage, or is it like the Catholic Church when it comes to civil ceremonies? I guess what I’m asking is, Are they free to marry in the Catholic Church?
L.B., via e-mail
A. My competency is limited to the praxis of the Catholic Church, so I would not be qualified to answer your question whether the Bulgarian Orthodox Church recognizes the first “civil” marriage.
In any case, before your daughter marries her fiancé, both will need to speak with the pastor at their local Catholic Church to determine that both are free to marry. Since he was married before, that case would need to be adjudicated by the local Catholic diocesan tribunal.
Without knowing all of the particulars, my hunch is that his first marriage may have been invalid due to lack of canonical form, just as it would have been if he were Catholic.
Moreover, your daughter will need to promise that she will do her best to raise the children in the Catholic faith, and her fiancé will need to be informed of her intention in this regard.
Remarriage after Adultery?
Q. My friend (a former Catholic, now a member of the Church of God) believes it is permissible for a divorced person to remarry if the person’s spouse committed adultery. He cites Matthew 19:1-9. I don’t believe the Church permits remarriage in this situation (assuming no declaration of nullity), but the passage he cites seems to indicate it is permissible. Given this passage, how does one justify the Catholic position that remarriage is not permitted?
Brent Billman, Hamilton, Ohio
A. You are correct: the Church does not permit remarriage in this situation unless there has been a declaration of nullity. While your friend no longer considers himself a Catholic, when it comes to marriage law, “once a Catholic, always a Catholic.” Still, your friend is not far from the truth in his understanding of the Scriptures, but a few points have to be clarified.
If the person’s spouse committed adultery and was not willing to change, that could be a sign that that person excluded the essential property of marriage that is fidelity when he gave the matrimonial consent. Marriage has two qualities: unity (fidelity) and indissolubility (till death do you part). If one spouse is not capable of remaining faithful, that could make the marriage null.
When Jesus says in Matthew 19:9, “Whoever divorces his wife, except for unchastity, and marries another, commits adultery,” He is defending the original plan of marriage based upon the properties of unity and indissolubility. The Navarre Bible gives a really good and complete summary of the long explanation of what “immorality,” or “unchastity,” means: The phrase “except on the ground of unchastity” should not be taken as indicating an exception to the principle of the absolute indissolubility of marriage which Jesus had just re-established.
It refers to unions accepted as marriage among some pagan peoples, but prohibited as incestuous in the Mosaic Law (see Lv 18) and in rabbinical tradition. The reference, then, is to unions radically invalid because of some impediment. When persons in this position were converted to the true faith, it was not that their union could be dissolved: it was declared that they had never in fact been joined in true marriage. Therefore, this phrase does not go against the indissolubility of marriage, but rather reaffirms it. In the course of history the Church — an expert in humanity — understands that some people lack the requisite maturity or psychological capacity to be married. Hopefully, over time, and with grace and education, they can acquire such maturity and psychological growth. For this reason, the 1983 Code of Canon Law states:
“The following are incapable of contracting marriage:
“1. those who lack sufficient use of reason;
“2. those who suffer from a grave lack of discretion of judgment concerning the essential matrimonial rights and obligations to be mutually given and accepted;
“3. those who, because of causes of a psychological nature, are unable to assume the essential obligations of marriage” (Canon 1095).
An early and continuing pattern of infidelity (immorality, or unchastity) is addressed by Canon 1095.2 and 1095.3.
As to your final question: “Given this passage, how does one justify the Catholic position that remarriage is not permitted?” There is one last juridical principle to bear in mind, and that is, “Marriage enjoys the favor of law” (Canon 1060). In other words, where there is the slightest doubt that a marriage is valid, the Church assumes it is valid until proven otherwise by the competent ecclesiastical tribunal. One act of adultery does not necessarily mean that the marriage vows — taken years ago — were invalid.
In all cases the Church first recommends reconciliation and forgiveness. But, if there is a long-standing pattern of infidelity, the Church tribunal could declare that marriage null, and the innocent party would be free to attempt a new marriage.
Q. Do any Catholic churches still cover statues of the Blessed Mother and the crucifix during Lent? Why are there so many different ways of marking Lent in Catholic churches. Covering statues seems more reverent.
Gladys, San Diego, Calif.
A. There was a time when all Catholic churches covered the sacred images of Christ Crucified and the saints during the final weeks of Lent, from Passion Sunday (the week before Palm Sunday) until Holy Saturday. The covering of the sacred images with violet or purple cloth is allowed from sundown on Saturday before the Fifth Sunday of Lent all the way until the Easter Vigil. It is not mandatory, but it is allowed, and I see it coming back in more and more places. I suppose there are various and sundry ways of marking Lent in Catholic churches because we are not robots. Even though the Church specifies some practices, it also leaves it up to each community to express its own devotion in various ways.
Q. I am one of few who still receive Communion on the tongue, and I am wondering if our priests are trying to avoid having to give Communion to those who wish to continue receiving Communion this way. I’m hoping I’m imagining this, but it seems that our priests switch sides with the extraordinaty minister of holy Communion when I’m at Mass.
Name withheld by request, via e-mail
A. In the United States, Christ’s faithful are free to receive holy Communion on the tongue or in the hand, while kneeling or standing. Here is what the most recent English edition (2012) of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM) has to say on the subject:
“160. The Priest then takes the paten or ciborium and approaches the communicants, who usually come up in procession. 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.
“The norm 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, 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.”
The only way you will know if your parish priest is avoiding you because you are receiving on the tongue is to ask him. But you’re right, you are probably imagining this. Why would a priest avoid someone who wants to receive holy Communion on the tongue?
Communion for Shut-ins?
Q. There are three people living in a home and all appear capable of getting to church. The question is: Can someone take holy Communion to them, or can one or two of them go to church and bring back holy Communion to the other one?
Charles E. Aud, Philpot, Ky.
A. Your question leaves a lot to the imagination. I will assume that the “three people living in a home” are elderly but still ambulatory and therefore living in an assisted living facility. From your perspective they may seem to be capable of getting to Church, but if they do not go to Church yet still want to receive holy Communion, I would assume that from their perspective they do not feel capable of “getting to Church.”
The only way to know for sure is to ask them. The Church never wants to forget the sick and disabled, the elderly and shut-ins.
When in doubt, we should go visit them and do everything we can to bring them the sacraments and make them realize that they are not forgotten.
On the Money
Q. I have a question related to distribution of the Eucharist at Mass. I am a grad student at a university which is Catholic, so it has a large enough Catholic student population to support two Masses on campus during the noon hour. I normally go to one of the Masses, but decided this semester to start attending the other one because it worked better for my current schedule. I was surprised when it came time to receive the Eucharist that the Precious Blood was to be distributed by way of placing the chalice on the front corner of the altar and having everyone come up to it. I assume, although cannot be certain, that there was no Eucharistic minister among the seven of us in the congregation (most people obviously go to the other Mass, which in my experience has about 75 attendees). I thought this was very strange and am wondering if the priest was supposed to do this. I would think the proper thing to do would be, if there is no extra help to distribute Communion, to forego distribution of the Precious Blood, since it is not required that the congregation be able to receive under both Species.
Bridget Ryan, Chantilly, Va.
A. Dear Bridget: I have nothing to add. You are right on the money.
But to support your intuition, let me copy these words from the 2012 English edition of the GIRM:
“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).
Q. How do we know that we are dressing with sufficient modesty, especially for Mass? I have been wondering, what are some good guidelines, because some women are criticized for being immodest by some people, while others seem to have no problem with what they are wearing. This has been troubling me for some time.
Agnes, via e-mail
A. Common sense, informed by virtue and piety, should guide us in how we dress for Mass. You will find very little in Church documents that spell out how the faithful should dress for Mass other than just one passing comment in the GIRM, which suggests “dignified clothing” for laypeople who carry out any kind of ministerial function at Mass (see No. 339).
I think it is well within the scope of prudence to suggest that Christ’s faithful attend Mass in “dignified clothing.” The exact meaning of that phrase will vary by culture, climate, season and occasion. When it comes to modesty — and this is not only for Mass — I have come up with the following criteria for people: dress in such a way that when friends and strangers approach you their eyes are drawn to look you in the face. In other words, if our manner of dress causes others’ eyes to wander to the wrong places, we are probably immodest.
Examination of Conscience
Q. We are told that we must make a proper examination of conscience before going to confession. First, what does that mean exactly in the Church’s teaching? And, what are some good ways to do it properly?
Marcia, Newark, N.J.
A. It is true that to make a good confession we first need to examine our conscience. There are five steps to a good confession:
1. Examination of conscience;
3. Purpose of Ammendment;
When we examine our conscience, we should ask the Holy Spirit for the light and grace to know ourselves honestly.
We can search our heart, review our actions and words, deeds and omissions to judge if they were in accord with right Christian behavior. Many people find it helpful to read and reflect on an examination of conscience that follows the outline of the Ten Commandments.
Many Catholic prayer books and mobile apps have examinations of conscience to help you.
Gluten Free and Holy Communion
Q. So, my niece is required to go gluten free because of Celiac disease. This means she cannot consume the Eucharist under the species of bread. What does she do when traveling and attends Mass at a parish that only distributes Communion under one species? I am worried it will discourage her from going to Mass.
Is there any provision for gluten free? Also, would you explain why wheat is necessary for the Eucharist?
Name withheld by request, via e-mail
A.This problem is easily solved. When your niece is traveling, she can arrive at the Church for Mass just 10 minutes early, walk on back to the sacristy and tell the priest who will be celebrating that she is “gluten free.” The priest will then make sure that she can receive holy Communion by means of the Precious Blood (consecrated wine) at Communion time.
The reason wheat is necessary for Communion bread is because that is what Jesus used, and when he told his apostles, “Do this in memory of me,” that’s exactly what he meant: say the words, use unleavened wheat bread, and wine made of grape. We try to do what He said we should do.
How do you sell a church?
Q. I have been reading and hearing a lot about churches being sold. It made me wonder — what is the process, both legal, spiritual (and anything else I am missing) for making a space no longer sacred. In other words, how do you deconsecrate a church?
Wallace, St. Augustine, Fla.
A. As populations shift, it is not uncommon, in larger American cities in the north especially, that Church buildings become redundant. Sad, but true. Over 100 years ago, it was not uncommon for the Irish, the Italians, the Polish and the Germans to build their own national-language Catholic parish churches in the same neighborhoods. Over time, Catholic populations moved out to the suburbs or stopped practicing their faith, leaving large and beautiful churches empty and in disarray. What is a bishop to do? In many cases, the churches are closed or sold. The Code of Canon law provides the procedures and protocols for returning a building to secular use:
“If a church cannot in any way be used for divine worship and there is no possibility of its being restored, the diocesan Bishop may allow it to be used for some secular but not unbecoming purpose.
“Where other grave reasons suggest that a particular church should no longer be used for divine worship, the diocesan Bishop may allow it to be used for a secular but not unbecoming purpose. Before doing so, he must consult the council of priests; he must also have the consent of those who could lawfully claim rights over that church, and be sure that the good of souls would not be harmed by the transfer” (Canon 1222).
From what I have observed over the recent years, the best thing to do when a church has to be closed is to raze the building and then sell the property. Such a transaction may not yield the best price, but it really offends the pious sensibilities of the faithful to see their hallowed churches — where they were baptized and worshiped the holy Eucharist — to be turned into microbreweries or posh restaurants. Better to accept a lower price than offend the faithful.
The most important Cardinal Virtues?
Q. What do you think are the most important virtues, especially among the cardinal virtues? Someone told me that prudence is important, but I don’t understand that. What am I missing?
Charles, Phoenix, Ariz.
A. All of the virtues are important and all are connected, but when it comes to the cardinal virtues, prudence is the pilot of the others.
When we say, “virtue is its own reward,” we rightly point out that the effort we make to practice the cardinal virtues (prudence, justice, temperance and fortitude) brings joy and peace to the soul as each of the virtues are interconnected, and the spiritual effort we make to improve in one area helps us in all areas.
As far as the most important virtue, I like to say what St. Josémaria used to say when asked the same question. He would respond that “sincerity” (honesty) is the most important virtue, because it leads to humility and self-knowledge, and allows the soul to be directed effectively in spiritual direction and confession. Sincerity, also known as honesty, is related to each of the four cardinal virtues.
But don’t just take it from me, take a moment to read and study the magnificent section of the Catechism of the Catholic Church that focuses on the virtues.
“ ‘Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.’
“A virtue is an habitual and firm disposition to do the good. It allows the person not only to perform good acts, but to give the best of himself. The virtuous person tends toward the good with all his sensory and spiritual powers; he pursues the good and chooses it in concrete actions.
“The goal of a virtuous life is to become like God” (No. 1803).
The Catechism also details that “human virtues are firm attitudes, stable dispositions, habitual perfections of intellect and will that govern our actions, order our passions, and guide our conduct according to reason and faith. They make possible ease, self-mastery, and joy in leading a morally good life. The virtuous man is he who freely practices the good.
“The moral virtues are acquired by human effort. They are the fruit and seed of morally good acts; they dispose all the powers of the human being for communion with divine love” (No. 1804).
For a fuller analysis of the cardinal virtues of prudence, justice, fortitude and temperance, read paragraphs 1805-1809.
Rev. Francis Hoffman, J.C.D., Executive Director of Relevant Radio. Follow him on his Facebook page “Father Rocky.”