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:

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).

Question:

My husband and I were married by a minister. We now have children baptized in the Catholic Church and want to get our marital situation rectified. What do we have to do?

Answer:

All you need to do is go visit your parish priest and ask him to begin the process of having your marriage validated. It only involves filling out some forms and then going through a ceremony of vow renewal.

Question:

I recently went to Confession and was told by the priest that it was perfectly permissible to receive Holy Communion without having gone to the Sacrament of Reconciliation. I was under the impression that one could not receive in the state of sin.

Answer:

One must be in the state of grace before receiving Holy Communion, which means the absence of mortal sin, to put it negatively. Your priest was obviously referring to this when he said it is not necessary to go to confession before each reception of the Eucharist, and he was right. If, however, one is conscious of serious sin, then one must use the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

Question:

Why do Catholics pray to the Saints when Jesus is the sole mediator between God and man?

Answer:

Catholics agree that Jesus is the sole mediator between God and man, but that in no way makes prayer to the Saints useless or wrong.

Many times one finds the New Testament recommending intercessory prayer (Colossians 1:9; 2 Thessalonians 1:11; 2 Thessalonians 3:1; James 5:16), and very few Christians seem to have a problem with taking the prayers of a fellow believer.

Jesus Christ is the sole mediator between God and man. No other person in heaven or on earth can take His place. The role of Mary or any other saint is still to lead the believer to Christ. This subordinate form of mediation derives its meaning and efficacy from the Lord Himself and is not something the saints possess on their own.

Intercessory prayer is a powerful expression of the beautiful doctrine of the communion of saints whereby the saints in heaven, the souls in purgatory, and the faithful on earth are involved and concerned with one another’s eternal salvation. Intercessory prayer declares our love for one another in the Church—and our faith that the bonds to Christ and His Church forged in baptism cannot be dissolved by death.

Question:

Why and how can the Church teach that Mary is the Mother of God? To be the Mother of God, she would have to be before God and thus the creator of all things. The Bible and the Church, however, teach that God is the creator of all.

Answer:

When the Blessed Virgin Mary is referred to as the “Mother of God,” the primary focus is on Jesus, not on Mary. The fifth-century Council of Ephesus insisted on according Mary the title of “Theotokos” (God – bearer) rather than “Christokos” (Christ-bearer) to emphasize Jesus’ Divinity.

In other words, early heretics had argued that Jesus was not coeternal with the Father, and they attempted to demonstrate this by pointing to Jesus’ origin in time from a human mother. The Church responded by distinguishing the Son’s existence as the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity from all eternity and His assumption of a human nature from Our Lady in the Incarnation. To stretch the continuity between the Lord’s Divinity (not lost in the Incarnation), the council saw the appropriateness regarding Mary as the Mother of God, that is the Mother of the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity in His earthly life.

“Mother of God,” then, is Christological and not Mariological in its emphasis.

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