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:

The New Testament says Christians should not curse anyone, but the Book of Psalms has many curses in it. Please explain.

Answer:

This is a very good question. The Church has traditionally had difficulty with many of the so-called “cursing” of “imprecatory” psalms, which is one reason why many of them were removed from the Liturgy of the Hours when the Divine Office was revised (or at least had the more problematic sections deleted for liturgical use).
How do I look at these texts? First, the psalms convey the very depths of human and religious emotions. Hence, one should not be surprised to find passages which are, at times, more human than profoundly religious. Second, the psalms were composed by individuals living hundreds of years before Christ. The fact that we find their sentiments unacceptable today is an indication of how far the Gospel has moved us from our forefathers in the faith of Abraham.
Can a Christian pray lines that ask that the children of one’s enemies have skulls smashed against rocks (cf. Ps 137.9)? Perhaps the best way to do so is to thank Almighty God for the gift of His Son, Who taught us and, indeed, commanded us to love all, even our enemies.

Question:

Did Jesus ever state that “either you are with me or you are against me?” If so, where can I find this statement?

Answer:

You are probably thinking of the verse: “Whoever is not with me is against me,” which appears in Matthew 12:30 and has a parallel in Luke 11:23. The point of the verse, of course, is Christ’s call for people to take a stand for or against Him, similar to the Book of Revelation’s condemnation of the lukewarm, whom Jesus will vomit out of His mouth (cf. Rv 3:16).

Question:

What is meant by a “Black Mass”? Does it follow the format of a regular Mass? What arenas are to be avoided to protect oneself from exposure to it? I understand that it is becoming rather widespread.

Answer:

A “Black Mass” is a “Satanic Mass” – in other words, devil worship. Many of the symbols, vessels, and vestments of the Mass are used; the rite of the Mass is followed in various contorted ways.  An essential element of such a diabolical event is a consecrated Host, which has obviously been taken from a true Mass and is then desecrated. It does not seem to be spreading, and the most important things to do are to stay away from any gathering which you suspect of being involved with Satanic worship and to remember that the devil is never more real than when he is denied or ignored, and hence the necessity of praying daily to be delivered from his wiles and snares.

Question:

Enclosed is some material that I received in the mail, which I find disturbing. In it Mary is referred to as the co-redemptrix. As I understand it, the redemption of mankind is found in the paschal mystery of Christ’s passion, death and resurrection. While I honor Mary, I have never thought of her as sharing equally with Christ in the redemption of mankind. Please share your thoughts on this.

Answer:

The term can have an acceptable meaning, but since confusion can arise from its use, I tend to avoid it. I would understand Mary as co-redemptrix in this manner:  Christ is the sole Redeemer of the human race; however, He deigns to associate all of us with Him in His work of salvation as we cooperate on our own behalf with the grace offered and as we work to bring others into a relationship with Him and His saving death and resurrection. St. Paul clearly envisioned the participation of believers in the salvation of the world: “In my own flesh I fill up what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ for the sake of his body, the church” (Col 1:24) If that can be true of sinful people like you and me, that is certainly true of the sinless Virgin Mary.

Lumen Gentium of Vatican ll discussed a variety of titles by which Our Lady is invoked by the Christian people; the Fathers of the Council did not mention “co-redemptrix” but did include Advocate, Helper, Benefactress, and Mediatrix, adding this caution:  The attribution of these titles should be “so understood that it neither takes away anything from nor adds anything to the dignity and efficacy of Christ the one Mediator.”

Question:

If a person gets an annulment, does that make the child illegitimate?

Answer:

No, it does not make children born of the union illegitimate because they are the fruit of what is legally (both civilly and canonically) known as a “putative marriage,” that is, one that was entered in good faith and had all the appearances of a real marriage.

Question:

We have some strange liturgical things going on in our parish: at least I think so. What is your opinion of the following:  May a priest with laryngitis have a laywoman stand with him at the altar and read all the prayers of the Mass? Is it right for the celebrant to leave the altar during the Our Father to hold hands with the people? Are the extraordinary ministers of Communion and choir supposed to be given Communion before the priest receives, so that they can all receive together with him? Is socializing in church permitted?

Answer:

No, a lay person (male or female) cannot say the priest’s prayers of the Mass for him, acting as his ventriloquist. No, the celebrant is not supposed to leave the altar for any reason once the Eucharistic prayer has begun – not for the Our Father nor for the sign of peace. No, the priest is to receive Communion first, then the deacon, then any other liturgical ministers, then the congregation. The liturgy documents make it clear that the hierarchical nature of the Church is to be demonstrated in the reception of Holy Communion. No, socializing in church, whether before, during or after the liturgy, reveals a lack of awareness of the presence of the Eucharistic Christ and of the sacredness of the place of worship. That does not mean that one cannot or should not respectfully greet one’s neighbor upon entering the pew, but that act of Christian courtesy should not dissolve into a social hour.

Question:

Do Catholics believe in the rapture?

Answer:

The word Rapture is connected to the Latin word rapiemur, which appears in Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians in the Latin Vulgate translation of the Bible. It means to be raised up or caught up:

“The dead in Christ will rise first; then we who are alive, who are left, should be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air; and so we shall always be with the Lord.” (1 Thessalonians 4:16–17)

Therefore, Catholics believe that those Christians who are still living at the Second Coming of Christ will be gathered together with those who have died in Christ to be forever with the Lord. Catholics do not generally use the term Rapture, nor do they believe in a Rapture that will take place sometime before the Second Coming, as do many Evangelicals.

Question:

Is it always a sin to lie? For example, what if the Gestapo asked me if I had seen any Jews? Does the Church teach that I should tell the Nazi officer the truth, even if it will result in suffering and death?

Answer:

The Catechism of the Catholic Church’s treatment on lying can be found in paragraphs 2475-2487. In a separate treatment of the subject that falls under the heading “Respect for the Truth” (2488–2492) the Catechism states:

The right to the communication of the truth is not unconditional. This requires us in concrete situations to judge whether or not it is appropriate to reveal the truth to someone who asks for it. Charity and respect for the truth should dictate the response to every request for information or communication. The good and safety of others, respect for privacy, and the common good are sufficient reasons for being silent about what ought not be known or for making a discreet language. The duty to avoid scandal often commands strict discretion. No one is bound to reveal the truth to someone who does not have the right to know it. (CCC 2488–2489)

This means there could be cases in which it is morally licit to reserve the truth. Avoiding giving the location of people in danger of being murdered would be one such case. A person in such a situation should try to avoid directly lying, if possible; however, fear for the safety of innocents and the unjust external pressure brought to bear on him could mitigate against culpability should he inadvertently cross the line to lying.

Question:

Several passages in the Scriptures seem to forbid us to eat or cook with the blood of animals. I am anxious about this, as a favorite delicacy of mine, traditional in my culture, has blood as an ingredient. Is this a problem?

Answer:

The Jewish dietary regulations (kosher laws) were extremely important under the Old Covenant, and still are for observant Jews today. However, very early in the Church’s history, the apostolic community faced this issue and decided that such customs were not at the heart of the Christian life and that, in fact, Christ had freed us from most of those laws. That initial position was modified even further by St. Paul in such noteworthy epistles as those to the Galatians and Romans.

Question:

I am told that the Church will not permit aborted babies to be baptized. Doesn’t this contradict our teaching that they are human beings?

Answer:

Some pro-abortion activists in the Church have been passing off that statement as truth, but it is patently false. Unfortunately, most abortions are so “successful” that the poor little victims are killed; if they are dead, they obviously cannot be baptized since only the living may receive a sacrament. In spite of that, if the baby survives the procedure, for however short a period, it should indeed be baptized.

Furthermore, it should be recalled that in many cities funeral services have been held for aborted babies whose bodies were found in trash receptacles and the like, and surely we only do that for human beings.

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