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:

Where in the Bible is the subject of premarital sex discussed?

Answer:

Part of the Christian inheritance from Judaism is the Decalogue, which has always been seen as condemning sexual acts outside marriage. Therefore, the New Testament simply picked up on that where the Old Testament left off. Some passages which condemn premarital or extramarital sex are the following: 1 Corinthians 6:9ff; 1 Corinthians 7:12-20; 1 Corinthians 10:8; 2 Corinthians 12:21; Colossians 3:5; Revelation 22:27.

Question:

Somewhere in the Old Testament it says, “The dead know nothing.” How does that square with our belief in the Communion of Saints?

Answer:

Many Fundamentalists are very fond of quoting this line from Psalm 6:5 in order to prove wrong the Catholic teaching on prayers to and for the dead. If they are to use this verse properly, what it demonstrates is that the psalmist did not believe in the resurrection of the dead, which was not commonly held in Judaism until only a century or two before our Lord’s time. As a matter of fact, even in Jesus’ day the doctrine of an afterlife was a sticking point between Pharisees and Sadducees. This is a classic example of what can happen to people who are bent on a literal interpretation of Scripture, especially of isolated texts. Christians always read the Old Testament in the light of the New Testament, and the Church has always interpreted vague or confusing passages in the light of the more certain ones. Some people, however, are more intent on proving their debate partner wrong than in discovering the truth; proof – – texting is a handy tool to disarm someone, but it does nothing for genuine dialogue or understanding.

Question:

When will the laity be permitted to teach Scripture classes?

Answer:

Any qualified believer – clerical, religious, or lay – can teach Sacred Scripture. That has always been the case.

The charism of teaching is not necessarily tied to the Sacrament of Holy Orders, and the Church has traditionally recognized this. Therefore, we have had many lay people and Religious (both male and female) serve the Church as theologians. Generally speaking, however, most theologians are still priests because of their training, but nothing in Church law or tradition would inhibit a layperson from obtaining the necessary background and credentials.

Lay preaching in a liturgical setting is another story. That is not permissible because of the unity of the Eucharistic celebration (ideally, the one who breaks the Bread of the Lord’s Body should also break the Bread of His Word). It is also not permissible due to the special nature of the Eucharist in which the one who presides is seen as the alter Christus, that is, another Christ.

Lay people may engage in street preaching – once a very popular way of attracting non-believers to the Catholic faith. In priestless missions, laity may also share their reflections on the assigned Scripture readings during the Liturgy of the Word, which would precede a Communion service.

Question:

Why is the “Amen” dropped from the Lord’s Prayer even when it is said apart from Mass?

Answer:

It shouldn’t be. The only reason for omitting the “Amen” from the Lord’s Prayer at Mass is that it is followed by another prayer directly related to it. At all other times it is still presumed that one recites the concluding word. In the public recitation of the Rosary, for example, one finds the strange situation in which people say “Amen” after each “Hail Mary” or “Glory be,” but fail to do the same with the “Our Father,” obviously an unconscious carryover from Mass.

Question:

Can a non-Catholic be a godparent for a Catholic?

Answer:

No, for obvious reasons; namely, someone who does not share our faith cannot promise to provide the candidate with an example to follow. For social reasons, a non-Catholic may serve as a Christian witness to a baptism, but his name is not entered into the baptismal register or onto the certificate; nor should the impression be created that he is indeed a godparent. In that instance, at least one Catholic party (of either sex) must serve as a sponsor.

Question:

Is it a sin for a boy and girl to live together before being married, even if they don’t sleep with each other?

Answer:

Without being cute, one can say that sleeping together is not a problem, but what goes on before and after sleeping is.

It seems to me that an intelligent and realistic understanding of human nature would keep a young couple living in separate homes until after marriage. The sexual drive is one of the most powerful; in our society, premarital chastity is hard enough to live without placing oneself under additional strain and temptation.

What you describe is imprudent at best and an occasion of sin at worst. Furthermore, this kind of an arrangement could also be a source of scandal since the average person would presume that the couple were indeed engaging in marital relations.

Question:

What did Jesus mean when He said everyone must be “born again?” Can people who are “born-again” sin and lose out on heaven?

Answer:

John 3:3 is the verse in question. Jesus was indicating that due to our fallen nature, it is necessary to be “born again” of water and the Holy Spirit – a reference to baptism, which incorporates a believer into Christ and His Church.

While baptism removes Original Sin, it does not remove the human inclination to sin. So, the logical question is: “How do I know I am saved?” No absolute assurance is available; one must have recourse to the virtue of hope, which is a firm trust in God’s goodness and mercy. Some Fundamentalists hold that someone who is saved “knows” for sure, but St. Paul had some different ideas on the subject. He said the Philippians needed to, “work with anxious concern to achieve (their) salvation” (2:12). Paul, likewise, warned against presumption in this matter. “Let anyone who thinks he is standing upright watch out lest he falls” (1 Corinthians 10:12). Certainly, this was also the mind of Christ, who counseled constant vigilance as the best preparation for His coming (e.g. Matthew 25).

Question:

How are the readings for weekday and Sunday Masses selected? It seems that they are the same year after year. Why not delve more into the entire Bible?

Answer:

Actually, the readings are not the same “year after year.” The Sundays work on a three-year cycle, while the weekdays operate on a two-year cycle. Therefore, the Gospel you heard last Sunday will not be read again until that day three years later.

If a Catholic were to read no scripture beyond the passages used for Sunday Mass, that person would have been exposed to more than 7,000 verses of the Bible – no mean accomplishment. Bible reading has always formed the first half of the Mass from apostolic times (as the New Testament demonstrates), but the Lectionary revised in response to the renewal of Vatican II opened up even more of the Bible to the Sunday Catholic Mass. The new Lectionary is so extensive in its coverage of nearly the complete New Testament and the most significant portions of the Old Testament over the three-year period that most mainline Protestant denominations have adopted it from us. If a Catholic attends daily Mass, the percentage of Scripture taken in over the two-year span is more than double that of the Sunday figure. Sometimes we just don’t appreciate what we have, because we are too close to it.

Question:

If a baby is in danger of death, I know that any doctor or nurse can baptize. If the baby gets better, can he be baptized in church by the parish priest, or is the original baptism good enough?

Answer:

You are correct that anyone may baptize in danger of death, but “rebaptism” is not only unnecessary but sacrilegious. You will recall from your study of the catechism that three sacraments (baptism, confirmation, holy orders) imprint what is referred to as an indelible mark; that is, they confer a permanent character on the recipient, marking him or her for life.

When the child leaves the hospital, God willing, the parents may arrange with their parish priest what is called “supplying of ceremonies.” It is a public celebration in which all the rites not performed in the emergency baptism are now done (e.g., the anointings, the clothing with the white garment, etc.). This gives family and friends, as well as the parish community, an opportunity to share in the joy of this new life brought into Christ’s Church.

Question:

What is the Church’s teaching on oral sex between married persons during regular intercourse?

Answer:

Traditional moral theology distinguishes between oral sex as an end in itself and as a means to the end of a completed act of intercourse. The first instance would always be viewed as immoral, while the second could be morally justified, provided it did indeed lead to a normal act of intercourse and was engaged in willingly by both parties.

I suspect the reason for this is that more and more couples are foregoing artificial contraception and are practicing natural family planning. In those training sessions, couples are often told to find alternative modes of expressing affection during periods when they do not perform the marital act. Therefore, it is necessary to repeat that oral sex can never be regarded as a legitimate substitute for normal intercourse.

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