TCA Life for July/August 2014

Generational Drift

Q. I have a grandniece that is about to be married. She is not Catholic, even though her father was until his marriage, when he was perhaps 20, but has not practiced his faith since then. I do not believe his daughter is even baptized, but I am certain that she is not baptized in the Catholic Church. The young man she is marrying is Catholic, but not a practicing Catholic. He has been divorced, and I do not know if his first marriage was in the Church or not. I understand that they are going to be married by a deacon of the Catholic Church. Is that possible? Would it really only be a “civil marriage” and not recognized as a Catholic marriage? And is it permissible for a Catholic deacon to perform this marriage?

Name withheld, via e-mail

A. If the marriage cannot be valid in the Church because the groom does not have an annulment from his first marriage, the deacon cannot officiate the wedding.

Cardinal Walter Kasper has pointed out that “each subsequent generation drifts farther away from the Church” in his remarks to the cardinals in consistory in February 2014. On that occasion, Cardinal Kasper noted: “Should not the worst be avoided precisely here? In fact, when the children of the divorced and remarried do not see their parents approach the sacraments they too usually fail to find their way to confession and Communion. Should we not take into account the fact that we will also lose the next generation and perhaps the one after it too? Our long-established practice, is it not showing itself to be counterproductive?”

Pope Francis thanked the cardinal for his observations. Perhaps the complex and thorny question of readmission to Communion of the divorced and remarried is one of the reasons that Pope Francis has devotion to Our Lady, Untier of Knots.

Now, as for the particulars of your question: First, no ordained Catholic minister is to “assist” (witness) a wedding unless such a wedding is valid in the eyes of the Catholic Church. If the man who will marry your grandniece was baptized Catholic, the groom needs to follow the Church’s rules about marriage. If he was married before and divorced — whether the marriage took place in the Catholic Church or not — he needs to submit that first marriage to the judgment of the competent diocesan tribunal, which will judge on the matter. Perhaps it was null or perhaps it was invalid due to lack of canonical form. In any case, before he is free to marry, he needs to have that cleared up.

However, let me raise this question: Is it reasonable to think that a non-practicing Catholic will even care what the Church has to say about marriage? If he does not attend weekly Mass and regular confession, will he have the minimum necessary operative faith to be motivated to follow the Church’s guidelines? I really do not think so, and in practice I have rarely seen it.

Back to your question: By the way you describe things, unless you see an official paper signed by the authorities of the Church authorizing this wedding, I would assume that the proper dispensations have not been granted and it will not be recognized as valid or sacramental in the Church. An ordained Catholic minister (bishop, priest, deacon) is not to witness the marriage of a Catholic unless it will be valid.

Could it be a civil marriage? Yes. But if the marriage is not valid in the eyes of the Church, it would not be sacramental.

I Love Sundays!

Q. Get these Sunday haters off my back and tell me who changed Saturday worship to Sunday and why.

Dr. David Kennedy, via e-mail

A. It was not that people hated Sunday, but they hated the complete and total fast from food and beverage from midnight on Saturday until Mass on Sunday morning. So, 60 years ago, Pope Pius XII began to loosen up those restrictions by allowing Mass in the evening without a total eight-hour fast from food and beverage. That opened the way for what we have now: many folks go to Mass on Saturday and forget about Sunday.

Back in 1953, Pope Pius XII offered the possibility for evening Masses with the following norm of the apostolic constitution Christus Dominus:

“Rule VI. If the circumstance calls for it as necessary, we grant to the local ordinaries the right to permit the celebration of Mass in the evening, as we said, but in such wise that the Mass shall not begin before four o’clock in the afternoon, on holy days of obligation still observed, on those which formerly were observed, on the first Friday of every month, and also on those days on which solemn celebrations are held with a large attendance, and also, in addition to these days, on one day a week; with the requirement that the priest observe a fast of three hours from solid food and alcoholic beverages, and of one hour from nonalcoholic beverages. At these Masses the faithful may approach the Holy Table, observing the same rule as regards the Eucharistic fast, the presumption of Canon 857 remaining in force.”

Then, shortly after the Second Vatican Council, Pope Paul VI allowed a Saturday evening Mass to fulfill the Sunday obligation, but the original intention was that Mass was for those who might have difficulty attending Mass on Sunday. In no time, the Saturday evening Mass became the most popular Mass in most parishes, allowing many Catholics to stay out late on Saturday nights and sleep in on Sunday mornings.

Fifteen years later, with the promulgation of the updated Code of Canon Law in 1983, the anticipated Mass on Saturday evening just became one more Sunday Mass since the liturgical day begins at sunset the evening before. Accordingly, Canon 1248.1 states: “A person who assists at a Mass celebrated anywhere in a Catholic rite either on the feast day itself or in the evening of the preceding day satisfies the obligation of participating in the Mass.”

During the course of his pontificate, St. John Paul II tried to help the faithful recover their sense of the sacredness of Sunday in his apostolic letter Dies Domini, on the day of the Lord. His successor, Pope Benedict XVI, continued this effort to reclaim continuity with the past with this statement in the 2007 apostolic exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis:

“Sunday thus appears as the primordial holy day, when all believers, wherever they are found, can become heralds and guardians of the true meaning of time. It gives rise to the Christian meaning of life and a new way of experiencing time, relationships, work, life and death. On the Lord’s day, then, it is fitting that Church groups should organize, around Sunday Mass, the activities of the Christian community: social gatherings, programs for the faith formation of children, young people and adults, pilgrimages, charitable works, and different moments of prayer. For the sake of these important values — while recognizing that Saturday evening, beginning with First Vespers, is already a part of Sunday and a time when the Sunday obligation can be fulfilled — we need to remember that it is Sunday itself that is meant to be kept holy, lest it end up as a day ‘empty of God’” (No. 73).

So, I agree with you, and I agree with Pope Benedict XVI: It is Sunday itself that is meant to be kept holy, lest it end up as a day “empty of God.”

Youths in Belgium

Q. I recently heard that Belgium is now planning to euthanize children. Could you please give me some arguments against this, especially because some friends don’t see what is so bad in ending the suffering of little children?

Noreen, via e-mail

A. For me, the most compelling argument against euthanasia is the Lord’s commandment “You shall not kill” (Ex 20:13).

Organ Transplants

Q. What does the Church teach about transplants? Are there ethical considerations for what is allowed? What about donating organs?

Brad, Des Moines, Iowa

A. The Church allows what the natural moral law allows: a living person can donate any of his or her non-vital organs in order to help another person. This is not only allowable, but praiseworthy.

The principal ethical consideration is that no one may donate a vital organ (heart, brain) as long as they are alive, because that would cause their own death. A person could donate one lung, or one kidney, or several pints of blood, because normally people can do just fine with only one kidney or one lung, and the blood regenerates itself in very little time.

Allow me to reprint answers to a similar question which appeared in previous editions of TCA:

“First, the issue of organ transplants — and this is directly connected to organ donations — is addressed succinctly in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 2296. A couple of principles need to be kept in mind here: (1) Organ donation is only acceptable if the donor has given his informed consent. (2) You one can only donate a non-vital organ while you are alive.

“If the donor has died, all organs can be donated. But the current debate focuses on what constitutes death, and in particular medical experts disagree about how to define ‘brain death’ in particular. I think the most prudent course of action is to not allow the ‘harvesting’ of vital organs from a human body until brain activity, respiration and circulation has ceased: no breathing, no heartbeat, no blood pressure and no brain activity.

“Such a restrictive definition of death, however, can cause a problem for those engaged in the organ-transplant business, as it is medically preferable to remove a vital organ from a body with a heartbeat, than from a dead body. However, caution and prudence should prevail, as there are documented cases of surgeons removing vital organs from accident victims before it was certain they were dead” (March/April 2005).

Later that year, I wrote:

“Since this issue requires the experience and expertise of trustworthy physicians known to be supportive of the Magisterium of the Church, I have consulted with Dr. Frederick Smith, board member of the National Catholic Bioethics Committee and pathologist at Children’s Memorial Hospital in Chicago. His response:

“ ‘I agree with the Pope, of course, but call your attention to the phrase “if rigorously applied.” Complete and irreversible cessation of all brain activity is not so easy to demonstrate with moral certainty. In principle I agree on brain death, but I do not think there is a strong medical or ethical consensus among people I trust on how to be morally certain it has occurred, short of the cessation of brain-stem-dependent functions like breathing.

“‘So, basically, I agree the prudent thing is to wait until cardio-respiratory function ceases. Serious irreversible brain damage is a reason to remove a ventilator, which I view as extraordinary in a lot of instances. If breathing and heart stop then, there are no moral reservations for organ donation. Frederick Smith, M.D.” (November/December 2005).

Life after Abortion

Q. What ministries does the Church offer for women who have had abortions? What does a woman need to do to be forgiven?

Name withheld by request, via e-mail

A. To be forgiven, tell God that you are truly sorry and then go to confession as soon as possible. After that, commit yourself to a life of service toward others, supported and strengthened by a life of prayer and frequenting of the sacraments. And have hope. Remember the great good that Dorothy Day did after her conversion? Remember the great good that St. Paul did after his conversion? Remember the great good that St. Augustine did after his conversion? Yes, there is conversion. There is redemption. There is a second chance, because Jesus who made you loves you and died for you on the cross to redeem you from your sins.

There can be life and there can be hope after abortion for all who have been involved in something so sad. The Church wraps her arms around all of her children, offering the grace of forgiveness and mercy through the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and the supernatural strength and sustenance that our soul needs through the Eucharist and prayer.

There are a number of programs that reach out to those affected by abortion, and a few that come to mind are Project Rachel, sponsored by Catholic Charities, and Rachel’s Vineyard, sponsored by Priests for Life. All those who have been directly or indirectly involved in an abortion can be forgiven by going to confession. In most dioceses of the United States not only does the priest/confessor have the power to forgive the sin, but he has the delegated ability to lift any canonical penalties such as excommunication. I know the very mention of the word “excommunication” can terrify people, but it just shows how committed the Church is to upholding the dignity and sacredness of life, from the moment of conception until natural death.

For the record, only a person who is aware of the canonical penalty incurs it, and only if they are 18 years or older and fully aware of what they are doing.

Matter and Form

Q. I am trying to explain why matter and form are essential to the validity of a sacrament to some non-Catholic friends. First, can you provide a basic definition of matter and form? Second, can you give some points to explain how matter and form work with the sacraments?

Suzanne, via e-mail

A. When Jesus said, “Do this in memory of me” (Lk 22:19), the apostles were listening very carefully. Without out even knowing it, the “this” that Jesus spoke of embraced the matter (bread) and form (words) of the Sacrament of the Eucharist. While the terms “matter and form” are still useful to our understanding of the action and essence of the sacraments, these terms are not used in the 1992 Catechism of the Catholic Church. “Matter and form” are Aristotelian-Thomistic philosophical terms which are useful — to an extent — for our understanding of the sacraments. The Catechism of Trent (1566) states: “Every sacrament consists of two things, matter, which is called the element, and form, which is commonly called the word.” For baptism, the matter is natural water, the form is the words, “I baptize you in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” In the Eucharist, the matter is the unleavened bread made of wheat and wine made of grape, while the form is the words: “This is my body. This is my blood.” And so forth.

Accordingly, even if the duly ordained minister had the right intention and used the right words (form), he would not baptize validly if he did not use natural water, nor would he validly confect the holy Eucharist if he did not use bread of wheat and wine of grape. The required matter and form (elements and words) are proscribed both in the corresponding sections of canon law as well as in the liturgical rites for each sacrament. Likewise, in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, the matter is the “personal sins of the penitent and his contrition,” while the form are the words of absolution spoken by the priest, “I absolve you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.” So, if the penitent was not truly sorry (contrition) for his sins — matter lacking — the confession would be invalid. Sacraments are meeting points with Christ, and not magic. Jesus comes halfway, but we have to come the other half of the way. In the Catechism, as mentioned, the traditional categories of “matter and form” and “sacraments of the living and sacraments of the dead” are no longer used. In their place we have the following categories: Sacraments of Initiation (baptism, confirmation, holy Eucharist), Sacraments of Healing (confession and anointing of the sick), and Sacraments at the Service of Communion (matrimony and holy orders).

Born that Way?

Q. I have been hearing for years the phrase “a woman trapped inside a man’s body” or vice versa. What do Catholics think about sex-change operations? Is it a sin? What about the idea that some women or men feel that they are actually the other sex?

Name withheld by request, via e-mail

A. I think it would be better to take the money you might spend on a sex-change operation and give it to the poor. I think that would make the person happier.

A complete and proper answer to your question has to be informed from what we know and do not know from medicine, biology, psychology, revelation and morality. I am not qualified to speak on the issue except from revelation and morality, but I can point you in the right direction for the other disciplines so you can read for yourself.

The best article I have found on this issue which can be understood by the average well-educated person appeared in the February issue of the journal First Things. The article is titled “Surgical Sex,” by Dr. Paul McHugh, University Distinguished Service Professor of Psychiatry at Johns Hopkins University. You can find it online here: If you are unable to find and read the entire article, you could at least read his concluding remarks:

“I have witnessed a great deal of damage from sex-reassignment. The children transformed from their male constitution into female roles suffered prolonged distress and misery as they sensed their natural attitudes. Their parents usually lived with guilt over their decisions, second-guessing themselves and somewhat ashamed of the fabrication, both surgical and social, they had imposed on their sons. As for the adults who came to us claiming to have discovered their ‘true’ sexual identity and to have heard about sex-change operations, we psychiatrists have been distracted from studying the causes and natures of their mental misdirections by preparing them for surgery and for a life in the other sex. We have wasted scientific and technical resources and damaged our professional credibility by collaborating with madness rather than trying to study, cure and ultimately prevent it.”

As for what revelation has to say, let’s turn back to the sixth day of creation when “God created mankind in his image . . . male and female he created them” (Gn 1:27). Science and biology will tell you that each human being has either an xx (female) chromosome or an xy (male) chromosome, which serve as the genetic fingerprint for their sexual identity. In the rare cases of chromosomal and anatomical anomalies, medical science continues to study these cases to understand their causes, effects and appropriate treatment.

As for the morality of a sex-change operation, I think that would have to be taken case by case. However, the preponderance of evidence that I have studied would move me to discourage the person from seeking that. The Fifth Commandment forbids us from mutilating our body; I think sex-reassignment surgery would fall under that category. In all cases, every human creature needs to be recognized and loved as a child of God, and led to a deep encounter with Jesus Christ.

Sunday Obligation

Q. Are there acceptable reasons for missing Sunday Mass? Is it a mortal sin, and if so, is it always a mortal sin?

Sean, via e-mail

A. Our Sunday Mass obligation is based on the Third Commandment: “Remember the sabbath day — keep it holy” (Ex 20:8). All of the commandments of God are serious matter, so to deliberately miss Mass on Sunday — without a just reason — would objectively be considered a mortal sin. However, there are reasons that excuse from the Sunday obligation. While the Third Commandment is part of Divine Law and therefore admits no exceptions, the specification of how we fulfill that commandment (Sunday Mass) is part of human positive law and thereforce can admit of exceptions. Such an exception would be the physical or moral impossibility of attending Mass. Physical impossibility would include the person who is too ill to attend or just lives too far away; moral impossibility would be higher extenuating circumstances for a higher act of charity, such as caring for the sick, or a young mother having to care for infants.

The local pastor of a parish has the authority to dispense from the Sunday obligation for certain personal and individual cases. Canon 1245 of the Code of Canon Law states:

“Without prejudice to the right of diocesan bishops mentioned in Canon 87, for a just cause and according to the prescripts of the diocesan bishop, a pastor can grant in individual cases . . . a dispensation from the obligation of observing a feast day or a day of penance, or commute the obligation into other pious works. The superior of a . . . religious institute or society of apostolic life has the same power in respect of his own subjects.”

How to Genuflect

Q. Is there a proper way to genuflect? Right knee, left knee? Both knees?

Brad, Stamford, Conn.

A. Ordinarily, we should genuflect in the presence of the sacred with our right knee; the faithful can do a double genuflection (both knees) in the presence of the Most Blessed Sacrament exposed in the monstrance, or in the presence of a first-class relic of the Holy Cross.

How many spiritual exercises are there?

Q. How many different type of spiritual exercises are there? I have heard about the Ignatian, but are there any others? What do you recommend?

Lucy, via e-mail

A. There are many different ways to make a retreat (spiritual exercises), but it is helpful to know that the custom dates back to the time of Our Lord who, on occasion, would take His apostles and disciples off to some remote place to rest a while in prayer and contemplation (see Lk 5:16 and Mk 1:35). St. Paul also made a retreat in Damascus after the Lord knocked him off his horse and blinded him (see Acts 9:7-20).

Today, Catholics have many opportunities to make retreats: alone in silence, directed with a group, or even weekend retreats for couples. Some programs that come to mind are the Retreat Hostels hosted by Carthusians, Benedictines and Carmelites; Jesuit Ignatian retreats at various retreat centers around the country; Christ Renews His Parish retreats; Cursillo retreats; TEC (Teens Encounter Christ retreats); or even retreats sponsored by Opus Dei at various retreat centers around the country. Besides these, many dioceses have their own retreat houses for the use of the faithful.

If you have never been on a retreat, do not delay. It is a good practice for every adult Catholic to make a weekend retreat each year. Why? To get to know Jesus Christ better and love Him more deeply.

Mass through the Ages

Q. What came before the Tridentine Mass?

Clifton, New York, N.Y.

A. The “Tridentine Mass” is the form of the Mass mandated by Pope St. Pius V in 1570 as a result of the Council of Trent’s attempt to eliminate liturgical irregularities which had crept in over the centuries. That Mass was used from 1570 until 1970, when the liturgical reforms of the Second Vatican Council went into effect.

Before 1570 there were various forms of the Roman rite in use, and each can be traced back to the time of our Lord Jesus Christ, who offered the first Mass in the Cenacle the night before He died. Evidence of the Mass can be found in the Acts of the Apostles with references to thanksgiving, prayer and breaking of the bread. Later, with Justin Martyr (A.D. 160), there are documents that refer to the essential elements of the Mass: Penitential Rite, Liturgy of the Word, Prayers of the Faithful, Liturgy of the Eucharist, Thanksgiving. Four centuries later, the great reforming Pope Gregory the Great (590-604), codified the Roman Liturgy. By the time of the Tridentine reform in 1570, not only did Catholics worship by celebrating various forms of the Gregorian Roman rite, but also the ancient Eastern rites (Maronite, Coptic, Byzantine, etc.) as well as niche Western rites (Mozarabic — Spain; Gallican — France; Ambrosian — north Italy) and such.

But through the ages the essence of the liturgy has remained the same: Liturgy of the Word followed by the Liturgy of the Eucharist.

That is why Catholics can feel at home anywhere in the world at Mass. Even if they cannot understand the local vernacular language, they know exactly what is going on in the Mass.

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