Ask Fr. Shea

Faith-based questions and answers about a range of topics.

Answers are provided by Fr. Michael Shea, CM, Associate Director of the Central Association of the Miraculous Medal.

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Question:

I always get conflicting answers to this question: Does the Penitential Rite of the Mass absolve us from sin? Must the absolution formula be used?

Answer:

Yes, the Penitential Rite absolves us from venial sin, but not mortal sin. And yes, the prayer of absolution must be recited in every Mass.

A great deal of confusion seems to exist on this score, but is really quite simple. Mortal sin requires sacramental confession and absolution, while less serious sins do not.

Question:

How many times is “40 days” or “40 years” used in the Bible? What does it signify?

Answer:

The number 40 is used three times in the Hebrew Scriptures and nine times in the New Testament. Occasionally, it reflects an exact count, but usually it is a symbolic number suggesting an indefinite period of time. Frequently, “40” also seems to indicate a time of waiting in preparation. Thus do we read of the 40 days and nights of the flood (Genesis 7:6ff) or of the Hebrews wandering in the desert for 40 years (Exodus 16ff). In the New Testament, Jesus fasts for 40 days (Matthew 4:2), and the Church is instructed by the Risen Christ for 40 days before His Ascension into heaven (Acts 1:3).

The number 40 figure is predominately in the liturgical calendar, as the Church has routed its Lenten observance of 40 days in the Lord’s desert experience. Similarly, we celebrate the paschal season with reference to the calculations offered in Acts.

Question:

My husband is a Lutheran and wishes to become a Catholic. Our parish priest says he must go through the RCIA program, but my husband’s work schedule does not allow him to participate in the classes. The pastor says he should wait until his schedule changes. What do you say?

Answer:

RCIA stands for “Right of Christian Initiation of Adults,” a restored series of ceremonies to bring converts into the Church. The whole process is really quite beautiful and has the wonderful effect of introducing candidates to the entire parish community and thus involving everyone in a person’s entrance into the Church, at least to some degree.

I am somewhat surprised, however, that your husband is being put off because his work schedule does not allow him to attend the RCIA classes. Surprised for two reasons: first, the RCIA is mandatory only for those who are not baptized and is entirely optional for those who are coming into full communion with the Catholic Church from some denomination which has valid baptism (which the Lutherans do); second, I would suppose that any priest would be so delighted at the prospect of a new Catholic, that he would go out of his way to facilitate the process.

My advice is to seek out another priest. If nothing positive results, contact the diocesan office. I cannot imagine that your bishop would place participation in an optional rite above a person’s salvation.

Question:

If a girl was molested at the age of three or four until the age of 14, when she finally left home, would she be responsible for sins of impurity? The girl in question actually forgot everything until she was an older woman and now wants to know if she has to confess those sins.

Answer:

Children under the age of reason (usually given at seven) are incapable of sin of any kind. What you describe does not sound as though the girl (even at the older ages) was anything but a victim; therefore, there is nothing to confess, in my judgment.

Question:

Recently a Jehovah’s Witness came to our door and said that God’s Name is Jehovah. Please comment.

Answer:

The Hebrew name for God, as given in the Book of Exodus, is Yahweh. Ancient Hebrew did not have written vowels; therefore, the name looks like, ‘YHWH.’ The four letters of the sacred Name are known as the Tetragrammaton. In German, Y can be replaced by J, and W by V, so that it would come out as ‘JHVH.’ When certain vowels are inserted, “Jehovah” emerges. However, the substitutions are shaky, and the best proof that the whole process is faulty is that Jews today know the Lord’s name as Yahweh, not Jehovah.

Question:

Can you please explain the Church’s attitude toward a program called “RENEW?” I’ve heard bad things about it, but my pastor says we’re going to use it.

 

 

Answer:

The program to which you refer began over a decade ago. It was designed to be, as the name implies, a program of parish renewal, combining prayer and study to deepen the faith life of the parish community. It placed great stress on small groups as a means to achieve its goals. All that is quite praiseworthy; anyone would agree.

The problem surfaced in two areas. First, the methodology of the study groups was such that leaders were to function simply as “facilitators,” so that any answer offered by anyone in the group should be valued as much as any other. Needless to say, when one is dealing with matters of Faith and revealed Truth, one answer is not as good as any other. Second, for a program which extended over many months, one could rightfully expect a presentation of the Catholic Faith in all its fullness. However, many critical elements of Catholic Doctrine were missing. Thus, participants could emerge from the program with a less than complete appreciation of Catholicism.

As a result of numerous complaints about RENEW, the Bishops’ Committee on Doctrine was asked to conduct a study to determine if the objections raised were justified. The final report praised many aspects of the program but did identify the two areas cited above as requiring remediation from the program directors. Presumably, the changes called for by the bishops will be made.

Question:

Where can I find in any official document a teaching that duplications of statues is forbidden for the Church? The new priest in our parish says this is so and has acted accordingly by removing the second statue of the Blessed Mother. Can a priest just change anything in a church because he doesn’t like it?

 

 

Answer:

While very positive about images, the General Instruction of the Roman Missal states that “there should not be too many images, lest they distract the people’s attention from the ceremonies, and those which are there ought to conform to the correct order of prominence. There should not be more than one image of any particular saint” (N. 278).

Of course, problems of sensitivity, good taste, and liturgical priority all come into play in this area. No, the priest cannot do simply as he pleases, but it does not seem out of order for him to have the final say; after all, he is (or should be) the expert on such matters. That being said, there is no substitute for prudence in matters like these; at times not a few priests have won the battle of the statues and lost the war, especially in terms of parochial trust and affection.

Honesty also forces one to admit that all too often some sacred images are, objectively speaking, terrible art. A respect for the Liturgy and for the sacred would suggest the destruction of such works and the replacement with other more worthy representations.

 

Question:

Catholic priests refuse to baptize infants unless the parents make solemn promises they are not sure they can keep. Why should innocent babies be thus penalized and remain “guilty” of Original Sin?

 

 

Answer:

Priests do not refuse to baptize babies; they may, for good pastoral reasons, delay Baptism until the proper conditions are in place. To administer any Sacrament, faith is required – either the faith of the individual recipient or, as in the case of infant Baptism, a “borrowed faith” (that of the parents). In the Baptismal Liturgy, the parents are asked if they intend to raise the child as a Catholic; they promise to do that. If they are “not sure,” they have no right to promise to do so. If they are reasonably certain they will not (based on their own pattern of Catholic practice), they commit sacrilege to make their pledge.

Logically, why should any parents present their child for incorporation into the Church if they find that life burdensome themselves? Removal of Original Sin is indeed an important aspect of the Sacrament, but the idea of membership in the Church is equally important and inseparable from the first: One is free from the clutches of the Devil only to be embraced by Christ’s Church. A lack of interest in that decision bespeaks a lack of understanding of the full meaning of Baptism. What is needed, then, is for the parents to obtain better information or to engage in the necessary conversion process, so that their lives may be models for their infant’s growth in faith.

 

Question:

What is the position of the Church on a married man viewing pornographic material?

 

 

Answer:

The Church’s attitude toward pornography is the same for everyone, married and single alike: Pornographic viewing (whether films or photos) is sinful, whether done alone or with others (even one’s spouse). Why? Jesus put it most succinctly: “Everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28). Needless to say, that works the other way around as well. Pornography demeans the human person, both the one depicted and the one viewing the material, reducing a human being to little more than an animal in heat. Psychologists also now know the connection between this (which seems like a harmless private activity) and subsequent acts of violence. Sometimes people note that they get involved in pornography “to improve their marriage.” If this kind of smut is needed to improve a marriage, one or both partners should be seeking professional help from a physician, priest, or psychologist, or all three.

Question:

What does “INRI” stand for on the cross?

Answer:

They are the first letters of the Latin version of the inscription which hung over Our Lord’s head on the Cross: Iesus Nazarenus, Rex Iudaeorum – Jesus the Nazarene, the King of the Jews. St. John tells us this charge was written in the three major languages of the time and place – Latin, Greek, and Hebrew – so that all the passersby would know the reason for the execution. The irony, of course, is that what the Jewish leaders had considered blasphemy and what the Roman officials had regarded as treason was the very Truth.

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