TCA Life for November/December 2013

Divorce and Remarriage?

Q. My daughter has divorced and is now contemplating marriage. She wants me to give her away. If I do, am I exhibiting acceptance of this action? If I refuse, I fear it will lead to a very unpleasant relationship with my daughter and her children. So what should I do?

Anonymous, via e-mail

A. Let’s begin with what Jesus said about marriage and divorce: “But I say to you, whoever divorces his wife (unless the marriage is unlawful) causes her to commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery” (Mt 5:32).

If your daughter’s previous marriage has not been declared null and void — annulment — then her next “attempted” marriage would place her in an adulterous situation. Do you wish to facilitate that in any way? You should meditate on the words of Jesus and then do what Our Lord would want you to do. 

Voting Issue

Q. Am I correct in believing that voting for a candidate who is strongly pro-choice is a mortal sin? If the answer is yes, could you please direct me to a source for verification? I currently have a copy of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, second edition, but am having difficulty finding what I am looking for.

Debra Holbus, via e-mail 

A. I think in the present political circumstances of the United States of America it is almost always a mortal sin — objectively speaking — to vote for a candidate who is “strongly pro abortion” if other candidates for the same office are pro-life. I write “objectively speaking,” because sometimes people are ignorant and therefore subjectively inculpable for their actions.

In 2004, then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger sent a note to the U.S. bishops addressing a similar question. On that occasion he answered: “When a Catholic does not share a candidate’s stand in favor of abortion and/or euthanasia, but votes for that candidate for other reasons, it is considered remote material cooperation (in evil), which can be permitted in the presence of proportionate reasons.”

What could possibly be considered proportionately worse than the killing of 53 million innocent and defenseless human beings? I can’t think of anything worse. God said: You shall not kill. 

Fulfilling Sunday Obligation?

Q. My husband recently got a job with a weird schedule. About every three months he will get weekends off for about a month. My question is, if my husband and I, along with our two children, do the readings together that day, is that still missing church? My son does not have a license yet, and I am blind in one eye, so we do not have a way to church. So, when we go to confession do we confess all the Sundays and days of obligation that we missed church on?

Katie DeHoyos, via e-mail 

A. You should try your best to attend Mass on Sunday, but if it is physically or morally impossible to do so, then you commit no sin by not attending. In that case, do your best to listen to a Mass on radio or watch a Mass on television. You can always hear the Sunday Mass on Relevant Radio ( at 9 a.m. CST. 

Changing the Sabbath?

Q. What can I tell my brother-in-law who claims that the pope had no authority to change the worship of God from the Sabbath day to Sunday?

Name withheld, via e-mail 

A. The first thing you could ask your brother-in-law is to name the pope who made that change. I am curious to know the answer myself! More likely, it was the very first Christians, as we read in the Acts of the Apostles and the Didache (an early Church document on the teachings of the apostles), who would gather on the first day of the week for the reading of the Scriptures and the “breaking of the bread.” That’s how Sunday worship and the Mass developed. If any pope made the change, it was the first pope, St. Peter, who was not even called pope.

The more important question that should be asked is, “Why did Jesus rise on the first day of the week, instead of the Sabbath?” The reason we revere Sunday as the Lord’s Day is because Jesus rose from the dead on a Sunday. So, I think your brother-in-law has problems with Jesus’ schedule rather than with the pope’s practices. 

Reflex Action?

Q. During Mass, is it proper to extend your hands to the response (“and with your spirit”) to the priest’s “The Lord be with you,” or is this optional?

Name withheld, via e-mail 

A. I have not seen people do what you describe, at least not on a regular basis. Perhaps it’s just a reflex action of someone who has been truly absorbed into the liturgical movement of the priest? In any case, the rubrics do not indicate that it should be done, so people should not do it. But if they do it, I would not worry about it.

Crucifix in the Sanctuary

Q. My new parish church in Auckland, New Zealand, does not have a crucifix or cross on the altar. The crucifix is on the wall at the back of the church in place of the Stations of the Cross image depicting Christ’s death on the cross. What are the rules regarding the positioning of the crucifix in Catholic churches? The other parishes in Auckland which I have attended do have a crucifix on the altar.

Anonymous, via e-mail

A. While it is customary to have a crucifix facing the celebrant on the Altar of Sacrifice, I can find no rubric that mandates it. On the contrary, the rubric from the latest version of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (2012) states the following:

“Likewise, on the altar or close to it, there is to be a cross adorned with a figure of Christ crucified” (No. 117).

So, a cross with Christ Crucified can be on the altar or near it. The important point is that the crucifix should be visible to all. 

Bad Liturgical Art

Q. The crucifix in my church is a hideous metal piece of art not like any other I’ve ever seen. Jesus is depicted draped on a tree like a piece of slaughtered meat, His right arm slung over the “cross,” not nailed. His left arm is extended, not held up by anything. His feet are not apparent for they are covered by a serpent whose head is being stepped on by Mary who is on Jesus’ left side holding a baby in her right arm, wearing a skimpy garment which highlights her left breast. Mary’s head is uncovered, and she looks to be in her early 20s with her hair long and feathered as in a modern style. There are infants coming out of Mary’s figure and all over the base of this monstrosity images depict Adam and Eve with terrifying facial expressions, people suffering in hades and a slew of animals randomly distributed over the entire base. I want to write the bishop to possibly have this thing replaced by a liturgical crucifix, but I am unable to find any literature addressing the guidelines of what an approved crucifix should be like. Can you please help!

Jerry, Grayling, Mich. 

A. If it’s as bad as you describe it, you can go ahead and complain to the bishop. But before you do so, I think you should express your opinions to the pastor of the parish. Perhaps a benefactor who paid for the construction of the Church commissioned that piece to a mentally disturbed relative? There may be more to the story than you know. As for what the GIRM indicates, please read the answer above. 

Reverence Level?

Q. I have a question about the reverence that is to be shown to an immersion-style baptismal font. This morning my daughter was standing on the steps that led to a gated entrance to the baptismal/holy water. She was looking in at the water. We were admonished by one of the ushers for this.

Should we show more reverence and stay clear of this font (my almost 2-year-old will not leave any steps unclimbed)? Is there a spiritual/Catholic dogma reason that I am missing? This is actually one of the highlights when we are leaving the church after Mass.

Monica, via e-mail 

A. Perhaps the usher thought your daughter was older? Well, as they say, “build it and they will come!” Who can blame a 2-year-old for curiosity? Still, the usher was right: a baptismal font should be accorded reverence and respect because it is the place of holy actions. 

Ministers of Holy Communion

Q. Why do priests allow laypeople to give out the sacred Host at holy Communion? This is supposed to be for the hands of a priest only. Sometimes it may be an acolyte, extraordinary minister or, as I noted at a funeral recently, a woman who obviously had no training. These days the Precious Blood is always given out by a layperson or extraordinary minister even when there is more than one priest on the altar. Today, I think these are the misuses of our blessed Sacrament.

Fran, via e-mail 

A. What you describe is nothing new. It’s been going on for decades, and I really don’t think most local ecclesiastical authorities consider it a big deal. During the pontificates of Blessed John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI, various congregations and dicasteries (departments) of the Holy See attempted to correct this liturgical innovation. The first step is to correctly label the function: we don’t have “eucharistic ministers” but “extraordinary ministers of holy Communion.” The emphasis is on the word “extraordinary.” If laypeople whose hands have not been duly consecrated for sacred services serve as extraordinary ministers of holy Communion at every Mass, one wonders what is so “extraordinary” about that?

Vestments for Altar Servers

Q. I have a question regarding altar-server vestments: Recently, I attended Sunday Mass and was surprised to see the three altar servers (one male, two female) each wearing a red cassock and white surplice. This surprised me for two reasons. One, aren’t females not supposed to wear a cassock? Two, is there any significance behind the color choice, or did this parish simply decide on the red cassock rather than a black cassock or white alb like one would choose between a red or blue shirt? I have only ever seen a red cassock worn at one other parish, and there they were worn by several young servers whose only job was to hold a paten during distribution of Communion. The servers who assisted during the entire Mass wore a black cassock.

Bridget Ryan, Chantilly, Va. 

A. According to the most recent edition of the GIRM (2012) we read: “In the Dioceses of the United States of America, acolytes, altar servers, readers, and other lay ministers may wear the alb or other appropriate and dignified clothing” (No. 339).

As you can see, this indication is very broad and allows for a great deal of interpretation and variation. The red cassock and white surplus is not as uncommon as you might think, as I have seen it used at several parishes in Chicago.

While this indication is quite broad, if it is read and studied in the context of the entire GIRM, the role of the duly-instituted acolyte seems to be distinct from other altar servers or ministers.

In my opinion, if the duly-instituted acolyte is a seminarian studying for the priesthood, it would be fitting that he wear a black cassock with Roman collar underneath a classical Roman surplus. The other servers, especially if they are younger boys and girls, would wear something different yet dignified.

What Would Jesus Do?

Q. How can I react to constant criticism in the manner that Jesus would expect?

Mary, via e-mail 

A. A lot depends on the nature of the criticism, and a lot depends on your personal level of holiness. While Jesus establishes a high bar for our behavior with His teachings at the Sermon on the Mount (Do unto others, turn the other cheek, etc., etc.), His own reactions varied depending on the circumstances and the issue at hand.

I have a friend who quips “no good deed goes unpunished.” It’s an ironic statement, but we always get a good chuckle from it.

If you are having a difficult time putting up with criticism, it’s time for you to turn to the assiduous practice of mental prayer and contemplate the passion of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Any of our sufferings in this life pale in comparison with what Our Lord suffered. So that’s my recommendation: practice mental prayer.

Washing Hands at Mass

Q. Our priest that we were so blessed with for 24 years has just retired. This past weekend was our first Mass with the new priest. I’m sure he will be very much received in our parish, but at Mass this past weekend the servers brought up the towel and finger bowl for the priest to wash his hands, and he never did, he just continued with the Mass. The servers stood there for about five minutes, not knowing what to do, so they left the altar and just put it away. I thought the priests are supposed to wash their hands. Is it OK not to do it?

Name withheld by request, via e-mail 

A. Why your new priest does not wash his hands at Mass is beyond me. Perhaps his skin is allergic to water? Perhaps he has no desire for “interior purification?” Or perhaps he does not want to be like the Pharisees during the time of Our Lord who were self-satisfied by merely keeping the letter of the complex Mosaic law then in force?

But if you wish to know the answer, you will have to ask him directly. As for what the Church asks in this regard, here is what is stated in the GIRM:

“Then the Priest washes his hands at the side of the altar, a rite in which the desire for interior purification finds expression” (No. 76).

“After the prayer In spiritu humilitatis (With humble spirit) or after the incensation, the Priest washes his hands standing at the side of the altar and, as the minister pours the water, says quietly, Lava me, Domine (Wash me, O Lord)” (No. 145). 

Not Valid?

Q. I am wondering how it is possible that a marriage of 20 some years and that produced children could be found to be invalid? How can it not be valid?

Name withheld by request, via e-mail 

A. Many good people wonder the same thing, especially the children of such a putative marriage.

Still, upon investigation, ecclesiastical tribunals can discover incapacitating impediments or other factors that allow the Church authorities to declare that the marriage attempted 20 years previously was null and void. When that happens, the Church issues a decree of annulment.

Sometimes couples seek a divorce and annulment because marital life has become difficult over time, but difficulties do not mean that the original marital consent was invalid. Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI reiterated this message in their yearly addresses to the Roman Rota.

However, declaring a marriage null does not necessarily address or resolve the deeper issues that led to the breakup of the marriage. What is needed is brutal honesty, humility and a spirit of sacrifice if couples are to remain married and find peace and joy in this life. 

Married Life

Q. In a previous answer to a question about attending weddings [Editor’s note: Discussed across several issus of TCA], I was troubled by the response. It stated the failure to have sexual intercourse is an impediment to marriage. After approximately 40 years of marriage, due to health reasons, my husband and I decided to end this portion of our marriage. Is our marriage still valid? Should we be confessing this?

Name withheld, via e-mail 

A. It is necessary to read the answers carefully. Let me reprint what I previously wrote and then explain. I wrote: “Two persons of the same sex cannot procreate children, so marriage is not possible.” My answer dealt with the question of so-called same-sex marriage. I never stated “failure to have sexual intercourse is an impediment to marriage,” although it is true that “antecedent and perpetual impotence” is an impediment to marriage before you get married. If the impotence develops after marriage, it is not an impediment to matrimonial consent, although it certainly can be a difficult cross for some couples to bear.

If, after 40 years, you and your husband are unable to consummate the marital embrace, your marriage is still valid and there is nothing to confess in this regard. Still, it is important for couples to spend time close together as they age in grace and wisdom. 

What is the Code of Canons?

Q. Sorry if this has been asked before, but what exactly is in the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches? How different is the law for Eastern-rite Catholics from Latin-rite Catholics?

Thomas, Seattle, Wash.

A. The Code of Canon Law (CIC) for the Latin rites of the Catholic Church was promulgated in 1983, while the Code of Canons for Eastern Churches (CCEO) came into effect some years later (1990). The CCEO gathers into one text the laws common to 22 of the sui iuris churches of the Eastern tradition. Like the CIC, the CCEO does not regulate liturgy or the procedures for canonization, but it does cover Church organization and the sacraments, especially marriage.

The 1983 Code of Canon Law (CIC) provided a substantial updating to the code of 1917 and responded to a request of the Second Vatican Council. The CCEO is not an updating of a previous document, but the first of its kind, gathering common norms for the Oriental churches. 

All Catholics are subject to the authority of the pope, but in the Catholic Church there are currently 23 rites — the Latin rite, and 22 ancient or Eastern rites. The CIC covers the Latin rite, and the CCEO covers the rest.

Q. My roots are Catholic, However, at age 7, I went to Church with friends whose parents were either ministers or deacons of other religions. I read in the King James Bible to call no man father, but Our Father in heaven. Why do we call priests father, when His word says not to? 

Robin, via e-mail 

A. I think that you are suffering from “fundamentalist gridlock” and taking the scriptural verse out of context. You need to read the entire Bible and pay attention to all of the verses and relate them to each other. Our Lord Jesus Christ himself taught us to “honor your father and your mother” (Mt19:19) and also reminded the Jews, “Your ancestors ate the manna in the desert, but they died” (Jn 6:48). So, if Jesus taught us to “call no one on earth your father,” why does He quote the Fourth Commandment and refer to the Jewish ancestors as fathers? Being God, He cannot contradict himself, so there must be a deeper meaning to the notion call no man father but our Father in heaven.” 

Your question refers to Matthew 23:9 when Jesus said, “Call no one on earth your father; you have but one Father in heaven.” And yet I think all Christians call their dad “father” and vice versa, and this does not normally present a problem to them. 

The origin of calling priests “father” probably goes all the way back to apostolic times when St. Paul wrote: “Even if you should have countless guides to Christ, yet you do not have many fathers, for I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel” (1 Cor 4:15). 

When Jesus said, “call no one on earth your father; you have but one Father in heaven,” He taught us that all fatherhood and all authority comes from God the Father in heaven, source of all life and truth. For that reason we should revere, respect and obey legitimate authority as we recognize that fatherhood is a great gift to the human race. Now more than ever we need to promote and recover a high regard for fatherhood. Children who grow up fatherless are at much higher risk for bad behavior. 

We call priests “father” because they participate in the spiritual fatherhood of God as His ministers. For that reason, we respect priests because of their office of service. 

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