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:

Are there various dioceses around the country requiring certain mandatory preparation periods for marriages? Ours now calls for a four-month notice and either an Engaged Encounter or Pre-Cana conference.

Answer:

Most dioceses now require a period of four to twelve months’ notice to the parish before marriage, lest a couple rush into a union without proper consideration and preparation.

Similarly, various programs are offered and mandated to ensure that the couple has the best information possible available to them, so that they can make an intelligent and informed judgment on their suitability for marriage, in general, and to this partner, in particular.  While such programs may seem like an annoying and unnecessary obstacle to young people head over heels in love, they are usually rather grateful later on, if the formation either causes them to understand each other better or brings them to a decision that marriage is not right for them at the present moment, or at any time.

The Church exercises pastoral care for couples when she provides such programs, and likewise protects the sanctity of marriage from unthought-out celebrations.

Question:

What should I do when I discover my Fundamentalist in-laws indoctrinating my children in their beliefs?

Answer:

The problem you identify is one reason why the Church has always discouraged “mixed marriages.” Religion is such an important part of life that it automatically impels a believer to share it with others.

Presuming that your in-laws are people of goodwill who love your children, they undoubtedly feel they are loving their grandchildren by imparting their version of the Gospel to them. All the goodwill in the world, however, cannot justify an attempt on the part of anyone (relative, teacher, or government official) to interpose himself between a parent and child. It is both your right and responsibility, then, to make it known to your in-laws that they are engaging in what you consider reprehensible action, which you will not tolerate. If they will not agree to cease their proselytizing of your children, they should be told that they will not be allowed to see them.

All this naturally presupposes that your husband sees things your way. If he does not, you have a most serious problem on your hands, perhaps calling for family counselling. Let’s hope and pray that the difficulty can be settled in a spirit of true Christian charity.

Question:

I have been asked to participate in a Roman Catholic/Greek Orthodox wedding. The Catholic says her pastor will be there and that it is completely approved by the Church. I realize there are unity talks going on between the Churches, but I wonder about participation in their liturgy. What about receiving Holy Communion?

Answer:

Yes, it is possible for a Catholic to marry a Greek Orthodox in an Orthodox ceremony, and to do so licitly and validly, provided the proper dispensation has been obtained. I presume that is the case here since you say the bride’s pastor will be present.

As a matter of fact, many Catholic theologians and canonists say that it is better to have the wedding in the Orthodox Church because some Orthodox question the validity of our marriages for a most interesting reason: they believe the priest is the minister of the sacrament, while we hold that the spouses administer the sacrament to each other. If the Catholic priest does not see himself as the minister, they reason that he cannot have the intention to administer the sacrament, and hence it is invalid. Therefore, the simplest procedure is to obtain a dispensation from the Catholic form of marriage.

Since I do not know what you are expected to do in the wedding, I cannot answer you any more completely. Neither the Orthodox nor the Catholic Church permit intercommunion, so that is out of the question.

Question:

Why is our Eucharistic service called the Mass?

Answer:

The name comes from a historical accident. As you may know, at the conclusion of the Mass the priest (or deacon) used to say, “Ite, missa est.” Literally, that means, “Go, it (the Church or congregation) is sent.”  “Missa” (dismissal) gradually and eventually became the name for the entire service. That translates into English as “Mass.”

Question:

What is the tradition around the use of holy water upon entering and leaving the church?

Answer:

The use of holy water is an act of purification, a prayer for protection, and an implicit renewal of one’s baptismal promises.

Question:

What makes the altar so special that it is kissed by the priest and other ministers?

Answer:

The altar in every religion is viewed as special because it is the site of sacrifice. In the early Church, the altar came to symbolize Christ Himself. At the same time, the Eucharistic sacrifice was being celebrated over the tombs of the martyrs, those who continued Christ’s passion in their own lives. This latter practice eventually evolved into placing martyr’s relics in the altar. For all these reasons, the altar is kissed. You say that this is done “by the priest and other ministers.”  The only ministers who should reverence the altar in this way are bishops, priests, and deacons because of their relationship to the altar through the reception of Holy Orders.

Question:

Why does the priest incense the altar and the coffin at a funeral Mass?

Answer:

Incense is a sign of respect or reverence. As such, it is used to show veneration for the altar (which represents Christ), for the book of the Gospels, for the gifts to be transformed into the Body, and Blood of Christ, for the Eucharist itself. Incense is also used for people, who are made in the image and likeness of God and more especially for Christians, who are conformed to Christ through baptism and thus made temples of the Holy Spirit. That regard for the human body remains even after a person has died, and so the censing of the casket in the funeral rite.

Question:

Is it optional for a priest to skip the prayer between the Our Father and “for the kingdom…”?

Answer:

The prayer to which you refer is technically known as the embolism, and the people’s response (“For the kingdom, etc.”) is called the doxology.

I am sure some readers get tired of reading the same remark week after week, but the answer is the same: no priest has the authority to make changes in the liturgical text. They are the possession of the whole Church; he is merely their guardian.

Question:

Quite often in our parish we have a considerable amount of consecrated wine left at the end of Communion. It is too much to be consumed by the ministers. One priest says we should simply pour it into the special sink in the sacristy; the other says that is forbidden and that it must be consumed. Who is right?

Answer:

Under no circumstances is the Precious Blood to be poured down any sink, even the special one in the sacristy (which leads not to the sewer but directly to the ground); nor is any of the consecrated wine to be kept in the tabernacle, even from one Mass to the next. All of the Precious Blood must be consumed at the end of the Communion Rite. If such excess amounts exist, it would seem that too much wine is being consecrated.

Question:

How often should I go to confession? As a convert, I find confession very difficult and unpleasant. Besides, I find myself committing the same sin over and over again.

Answer:

Certain aspects of confession are unpleasant for anyone (convert or not), and they probably should be. An honest confrontation with the sinful self is difficult but necessary if genuine reform or conversion is to occur.

 

The frequency of confession is a personal need and decision.  The law of the Church requires one to seek out sacramental forgiveness only if conscious of mortal sin; that is the minimum standard only.  A devout person, however, will endeavor to grow in holiness, and this effort is assisted by the grace offered in the Sacrament of Penance and by the guidance of a spiritual Father.

 

Sacramental grace and good spiritual direction provide invaluable help for a penitent to understand his or her behavior patterns and, thus, avoid situations that lead to temptation and sin. Most importantly, a believer must also be possessed of a spirit of confidence in the struggle against evil because he or she realizes that the power of Christ is equal and superior to any worldly allurement, “for there is One greater in you then there is in the world“ (1 John 4:4).

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