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 Miraculous Medal Shrine.

Send Your Question to Fr. Shea.

Question:

Russia has not yet been consecrated to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, as requested by Our Lady of Fatima. Why are the Pope and bishops so reluctant to carry out this grave responsibility?

Answer:

I believe that the Holy Father has, indeed, consecrated the whole world to Our Lady’s Immaculate Heart; if that has happened, then presumably Russia has been brought under Mary’s mantle. By the way, I cannot help but think that so much of what happened in the former Eastern Bloc is precisely the fruit of all these rosaries and First Saturday devotions. Changes as startling as these cannot be the work of man; for that to occur at all, let alone with such astounding rapidity and force, can only be the work of Almighty God. Continued prayer and penance are obviously needed to bring these tentative beginnings to a happy conclusion.

Question:

My son and his non-Catholic wife were married in the Church. Subsequently, she became a Catholic, but the priest who received her never heard her confession. Three years later, she has still not received the Sacrament of Penance. Should I say anything to her?

Answer:

That such a thing could happen is a result of sheer carelessness at best. I would suggest that you speak to her very gently and let her know that she should be frequenting the Sacrament of Penance. Perhaps you might prod her by saying something like, “I’m going to confession this afternoon. Would you care to come with me?” Then help her prepare to receive the sacrament for the first time.  It might also be a good idea to precede her into the confessional and let the priest know that the next penitent is making her first confession, so that he is prepared.

Question:

I serve as a disc jockey at our high school dances. Sometimes I’m asked to play music which I think is anti-Christian. How should I handle the situation?

Answer:

If that’s your impression and you think it’s justified, then you should take the appropriate action, which I would see as the following: Refuse to play such music, and then explain to your classmates your rationale. Surely you don’t have to be nasty, judgmental, or abrasive; however, witnessing to the meaning of the Gospel in your life is both your right and obligation. Perhaps your honest and strong stand will lead at least some of your peers to consider what life in Christ in all about.

Question:

I am divorced and remarried. May I receive Holy Communion?

Divorce, in and of itself, does not constitute an impediment to a full sacramental life in the Church. The problem comes with a remarriage. Let me explain.

Remarriage presumably involves marital relations. However, since God and the Church do not recognize divorce, each and every marital relation in the second, invalid union is to be viewed in a literal sense as an act of adultery. Can one go to confession and receive absolution? Only if one is truly sorry for offenses committed and sincerely intends to avoid such sins in the future. Therein lies the difficulty with a remarriage. Unless one is willing to live as “brother and sister,” a sacramental life is ruled out, but one should still attend Sunday Mass and engage in prayer, seeking God’s assistance to deal with the present situation in such a way that God’s will can be done. 

Answer:

Divorce, in and of itself, does not constitute an impediment to a full sacramental life in the Church. The problem comes with a remarriage. Let me explain.

Remarriage presumably involves sexual intercourse. However, since God and the Church do not recognize divorce, each and every sexual encounter in the second, invalid union is to be viewed in a literal sense as an act of adultery. Can one go to confession and receive absolution? Only if one is truly sorry for offenses committed and sincerely intends to avoid such sins in the future. Therein lies the difficulty with a remarriage. Unless one is willing to live as “brother and sister,” a sacramental life is ruled out, but one should still attend Sunday Mass and engage in prayer, seeking God’s assistance to deal with the present situation in such a way that God’s will can be done.

Question:

All pre-Vatican ll Bibles indicate that the Synoptic Gospels and Acts were written before A.D. 65.  Recent Bibles give dates as late as A.D. 80.  What is the reason for this change in dates?

Answer:

Dating biblical texts is, at best, engaging in “guesstimation” at any time. Using linguistic, historical, and archaeological evidence available, determinations are made regarding place and time of composition, as well as authorship. It should be noted that none of those questions affects the inspiration, inerrancy, or canonicity of biblical texts. Whether the Gospel of John was written in A.D. 50 or 100, it is still part of the inspired Word of God. Dating can help us appreciate the process of development which went into the writing down of God’s revelation.

Question:

As a young nurse, I participated in a Cesarean delivery. The Jewish doctor asked me if I knew how to baptize, which I said I did and proceeded to do so. Later on, I realized the baby was in the amniotic sac and that the baptismal water never really touched the child. To this day, thirty-five years later, I am in agony when I think that I gave the baby a “limbo” existence. Tell me: Was the baby baptized or not?

Answer:

Baptism by water is the normal means by which one is incorporated into Christ. But I am sure you also recall that there is such a thing as baptism of desire. If parents, for instance, intend to have their baby baptized and the child died before the ceremony, the parental intention constitutes a kind of baptism of desire. I think one could see something similar in your efforts. Therefore, I would encourage you not to worry about the infant and leave him to the love and mercy of the God Who created him.

Question:

Why do so many of our readings and songs use the pronoun “he” instead of “He” when referring to God, as was formerly done?

Answer:

Capitalization is a sociocultural phenomenon. In German, for instance, all nouns are capitalized; in most Romance languages, what we refer to as “proper names” in English (names of nationalities, religions, etc.) are not capitalized. In our culture of late, there has been a tendency to downplay capitalization in general. I think it unfortunate that many liturgical books have thrown in the towel on this one so quickly, rather than leading an effort to restore some sense of the sacred in our language. It seems that some Catholics prefer to capitulate to the culture at large, instead of challenging it and offering it a different perspective.

Question:

Is it wrong for a priest to break the Host at the Consecration when he says, “he took the bread and broke it”?

Answer:

The Mass is not simply a dramatic rehearsal or mimicry of the Last Supper. The proper moment for the “breaking of the bread” is at the Lamb of God. The symbolism is then concentrated on the Eucharistic being broken so that it can be shared. Performing that action at the Consecration would signify something entirely different, and so the liturgy calls for it to be done in the spot indicated above.

Is the performance of the rite at the Consecration sacrilegious? I think that the correct word is “improper,” not “sacrilegious.” Once again, however, let me underscore the impropriety for priests to take upon themselves liturgical innovation.

Question:

My marriage of twenty-three years was annulled seven years ago. I was never notified that an annulment had been applied for, or on what grounds it was granted. Did I not have a right to this information?

Answer:

At the very outset of every procedure for a decree of nullity, the second party must be contacted, or at least every effort must be made to do so. The reason I couch the response somewhat carefully is that there are times when the respondent’s whereabouts are unknown; however, contact must be attempted to give that person an opportunity to offer important information bearing on the validity of the marriage.

If this is not done, your rights were violated, and you can seek canonical redress.

Question:

My husband was divorced, and we are in the process of seeking an annulment so that we can be married in the Church. Can I now receive the sacraments, or is that still forbidden?

Answer:

Applying for a decree of nullity does not guarantee the obtaining of such a decree. Most dioceses review potential cases and “weed out” cases with no chance of success. Of the cases then accepted, an even more thorough review is required. 

The priest who heads one marriage tribunal informs me that he accepts about sixty percent of the cases presented, and, of that number, about eighty percent are resolved in a manner permitting the parties involved to enter into a sacramental union.

The proper procedure while you wait, then, is to abstain from sexual relations until the case is completed. That failing, both you and your intended husband must refrain from receiving Holy Communion since he is presumed to be still validly married.

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