Question for a Priest

Question for a Priest?


With our new bulletin format, there will be weeks with free space for us to fill. I thought that this would be a good opportunity
for you to ask any of those nagging questions about the Church, the liturgy and the sacraments, moral issues, or theology. I will do
my best to answer your questions. We will have two ways to ask a question: email Fr. Jonathan at: jhemelt@arch-no.org or click this link to submit your question.

We will also keep an archive here of all past questions that have been answered in the bulletin:

 

November 10, 2013

Q:          This week one of our parishioners asked me why we bow to the altar during the Mass instead of to the tabernacle.

A:          This was a very keen observation on his part. We all learned at a young age that before we take our seat in the church we should genuflect in the direction the tabernacle (that is, we place our right knee on the ground while making the Sign of the Cross). This is done to show our adoration for our Lord Jesus Christ, whose Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity is present in the tabernacle. Genuflecting reminds us that the Blessed Sacrament is the center of our prayer and attention while we are in the Church.

But during the Mass this sign of reverence changes. When the priest and the other ministers arrive at the sanctuary (the raised portion of the Church where the altar is located) during the entrance procession, the priest and deacon genuflect to the tabernacle; but after entering the sanctuary the focus of our reverence becomes the altar. During the Mass, instead of genuflecting to the tabernacle, the priest and the other ministers bow to the altar. We show this reverence to the altar during the Mass because it is the place where the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is offered – the place where ordinary bread and wine become the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. The altar has been set apart for this special use by being consecrated by the bishop at the blessing of the church.

The altar is the place of sacrifice and that is why the priest and deacon kiss the altar at the beginning and end of Mass, why the lectors bow before and after the readings, and why the priest or deacon bows before the Gospel and after the homily. After Mass has ended and the priest and ministers exit the sanctuary, they genuflect toward the Blessed Sacrament present in the Tabernacle, which has once again become the focus of our prayer and attention.

 

November 24, 2013

Q.           This week I was asked by a parishioner about the Sacrament of Reconciliation. She asked me to give some direction as to how we celebrate this sacrament.

A.           The Sacrament of Reconciliation can be intimidating, even for those of us who go to Confession frequently. If it has been a while since your last confession, it can be even harder to muster the courage to go. But there is nothing to fear. The love and mercy of God which is offered in this Sacrament is infinitely greater than any sin we confess.

How do we go to confession?

               There are several standard ways of making our Confession. This is the way that I use: We begin with the Sign of the Cross. Then we says: “Bless me father, for I have sinned” and we tell the priest how long it has been since our last confession. Next we confess our sins. After we confess our sins, the priest will offer some counsel by reminding us of God’s great love and mercy and of the necessity of avoiding sin in the future. Then, the priest will give a penance to be done as a sign of our contrition and our desire to be restored to God’s grace. After we receive our penance we make an Act of Contrition. This can be a standard prayer or a prayer that we make in our own words to express our contrition for our sins and our resolve to avoid sin in the future. Finally, the priest will pray the words of absolution by which our sins are washed away. Never worry if you forget what to say when going to Confession; the priest should be happy help you along.

How often should we go to confession?

               It is a precept (or law) of the Church that each member of the faithful is obliged to confess faithfully his or her grave (or serious) sins at least once a year. It is especially important that we go to confession before receiving Holy Communion, if we are aware of having committed a grave sin. But it is a good practice for us to go to confession even more often than this minimum requirement. The more often we go, the more we can experience the sacramental forgiveness that God offers, as well as receive the grace that that helps us to avoid future sin.

What should we confess?

               The Church reminds us that we must confess all grave or serious sins according kind and number (what the sin was and how many times we committed it). If we intentionally withhold a serious sin in the confessional, then our sins cannot be forgiven. But it is also recommended that we confess our venial sins in order to receive the grace of the sacrament. It is important that we always make a good examination of conscience before Confession so that we are aware of the ways that we have fallen short of God’s desire for us and so that we can confess those failings with honesty and humility.

 

December 8, 2013

This week I was presented with a question that I have received a number of times before:

Q.            Is a Catholic permitted to receive communion when attending a Protestant worship service?

A.            The short answer is “no”, but allow me to explain why.

Most of us have family and friends with whom we share a Christian faith but who are not members of the Catholic Church. This can often lead to being invited to weddings, funerals, or other services that are celebrated in Protestant ecclesial communities. It is permitted for Catholics to attend such services and even participate in prayers, songs, and gestures of those services, provided this does not replace one’s obligation to attend Mass on a Sunday or Holy Day.

However, the Catholic Church makes it very clear that Catholics are not permitted to receive communion in Protestant services. This teaching of the Church is found in the Canon Law of the Church, canon 844. Part of that canon reads as follows: “…Whenever necessity requires it or true spiritual advantage suggests it, and provided that danger of error or of indifferentism is avoided, the Christian faithful for whom it is physically or morally impossible to approach a Catholic minister are permitted to receive the sacraments of penance, Eucharist, and anointing of the sick from non-Catholic ministers in whose Churches these sacraments are valid…..”

In applying these criteria to receiving communion at Protestant services, the relevant phrase is the last one from this section – “in whose Churches these sacraments are valid.” Protestant ecclesial communities do not have valid sacraments because they have not maintained a validly ordained priesthood; and, therefore, their ministers cannot validly confect the sacraments. Since only a validly ordained priest can consecrate the Eucharist, it is impossible for communion in a Protestant community to be the same as the Body and Blood of Christ that we receive in Holy Communion at a Catholic Mass. This is the teaching of the Catechism of the Catholic Church in #1400 – “Ecclesial communities derived from the Reformation and separated from the Catholic Church, ‘have not preserved the proper reality of the Eucharistic mystery in its fullness, especially because of the absence of the sacrament of Holy Orders.’ It is for this reason that, for the Catholic Church, Eucharistic intercommunion with these communities is not possible….”

While it is permissible and can be beneficial for us as Catholics to participate in Protestant services, our participation cannot include partaking of communion at those services. It would be a serious offense against the obedience that we owe the Church to knowingly participate in Protestant communion. However, if someone has received communion at a Protestant service in the past without knowing the teaching of the Catholic Church on this matter, they are not held culpable or responsible for what they did not know.

 

December 15, 2013 & January 12, 2014

This question, concerning the Baptism of infants, comes up pretty often:

Q.                How soon should one bring a baby to the Church for Baptism, or how long can one wait before having a child baptized?

A.                This question gets to the heart of what has become a pastoral problem in the Church in some places. It seems that, at least in our country, parents choose to wait some time after birth to bring a child to the Church for the Sacrament of Baptism. There are probably a great variety of reasons for these delays, but it is important that we recognize that the Church calls on parents to avoid these delays, insofar as possible, and to have their children baptized soon after birth.

In #867 of the Code of Canon Law of the Catholic Church (which sets forth the ecclesiastical law to which all Catholics are bound), this instruction is given: “Parents are obliged to take care that infants are baptized in the first few weeks; as soon as possible after the birth or even before it, they are to go to the pastor to request the sacrament for their child and to be prepared properly for it.” This instruction sets forth an appropriate time for baptism, which is within the first few weeks after birth. It also gives a practical guideline that can help to remove some of the reasons for delaying this important sacrament, by ensuring that the parents preparation is completed either before or soon after the child’s birth.

The Church puts such emphasis on having an infant baptized in the first few weeks after birth because of the great importance of this sacrament. Baptism has several effects that are essential for our salvation as well as for our lives of faith: Baptism removes original sin; Baptism gives us a new birth in the Holy Spirit as adopted sons and daughters of God; and Baptism incorporates us into the Church, the Body of Christ. It is for these reasons that the Church calls parents’ to bring their children without delay to the Fount of Salvation to be cleansed and renewed in the saving waters of Baptism.

 

December 29, 2013

Q.                Why is adoration of the Blessed Sacrament an important part of our lives as Catholics?

A.                As Catholics, we should be keenly aware of the great value of spending time in adoration before the Blessed Sacrament. The reason why this is so important is because the Blessed Sacrament is Jesus Christ Himself. Through the power of the Holy Spirit and through the words of consecration, spoken by the priest during the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, the bread and wine become the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ.

                   Unfortunately, many Catholics no longer understand or believe this essential aspect of our faith. This is a tragedy because the Eucharist is the source and summit of the Christian life. If our faith in the Eucharist fades, so will our lives of faith as followers of Christ.

                   Since the Eucharist is such an essential part of our lives, the Church calls us to spend time in prayer in the presence of the Eucharist. This is why the parish holds a weekly Holy Hour on Wednesday evenings in the Church. This is also why our parish has spent considerable energy and treasure to construct a chapel for prayer before the Blessed Sacrament and has placed the new chapel in a central location on our campus.

                   It is important for us to remember that prayer before the Blessed Sacrament should flow out of our experience of worshiping God in the Holy Mass; and it should also lead us to a fuller love and appreciation for the Body and Blood of Christ that we receive in Holy Communion. Pope Blessed John Paul II spoke of this in his final encyclical, Ecclesia de Eucharistia (On the Eucharist in its Relationship to the Church): “The worship of the Eucharist outside of the Mass is of inestimable value for the life of the Church. This worship is strictly linked to the celebration of the Eucharistic Sacrifice. The presence of Christ under the sacred species reserved after Mass – a presence which lasts as long as the species of bread and of wine remain – derives from the celebration of the sacrifice and is directed towards communion, both sacramental and spiritual.”

Q.                When we spend time praying before the Lord who is present in the Blessed Sacrament, does it make a difference if the Blessed Sacrament is exposed in the monstrance or is “hidden” in the tabernacle?

A.                 “Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament” simply means offering prayer and worship to God before the Blessed Sacrament, whether in the monstrance or in the tabernacle. We should always remember that neither of these ways of adoration is better than the other. When we pray quietly in Church before or after Mass, we should have the same spirit of reverent adoration as we would in our Blessed Seelos Chapel when the Eucharist is exposed in the monstrance.

                     The Church has come to recognize that looking upon the Blessed Sacrament is a way for our faith to be strengthen. This is why, for example, the priest elevates the Host and the Chalice immediately following consecration - so that the assembly can look upon our Lord Jesus Christ who is Present under the appearance of bread and wine. Looking upon our Lord who is Present in the monstrance can strengthen our faith in the Eucharist; but we should in no way downplay the value of praying before the Eucharist when it is hidden from our gaze in the Tabernacle.

 

January 19, 2014

Q.                 Can I receive Holy Communion more than once in the same day?

A.                  The short answer: In ordinary circumstances, a Catholic is permitted to receive Holy Communion twice in the same day, provided he participates in the Sacrifice of the Mass at which he receives Holy Communion for the second time.

This is a question that I have been asked many times, even in these few short months of being ordained a priest. I think one reason that this question is asked so often is because the Church’s discipline has changed relatively recently. Under the old Code of Canon Law (from 1917), a person was only permitted to receive Holy Communion once in a single day, except in danger of death.

When the most recent Code of Canon Law was released in 1983, the Church’s discipline about receiving Communion a second time was changed. The new law (which is found in Canon 917) says: “A person who has already received the Most Holy Eucharist can receive it a second time on the same day only within the eucharistic celebration in which the person participates, without prejudice to the prescript of can. 921, §2.”

This means that, if a person has already received Holy Communion once in a day, he can only receive Communion again if he attends another Mass and participates at that Mass. A person would not be permitted to receive Holy Communion a third time, even if he participates in a third Mass.

There are a couple of exceptions to this rule: 1.) A person who is in danger of death can receive Viaticum (Holy Communion which is given to a person at the hour of death) regardless of whether they have received Holy Communion once, or even twice, already that day. 2.) Since a priest must receive Holy Communion when he offers the Mass, a priest may receive Communion more than twice in a day if he offers more than two Masses that day.

We must be properly disposed to receive Holy Communion

It is important to remember that we must always be properly disposed to receive Holy Communion, whether we are receiving for the first or the second time in a single day. This means that we must be in the state of grace. In other words, we must not be aware of having committed a grave sin which has not yet been confessed in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Being properly disposed also means that we must have observed the Communion fast of not eating or drinking anything except water or medicine for one hour before receiving Holy Communion.

Once again, there are a couple of exceptions to this Communion fast: 1.) The elderly, the infirm, and those who care for them are not bound to the Communion fast. 2.) A priest is only bound to the Communion fast before his first Mass of the day; he is permitted to eat or drink something before his second or third Masses.

The reason for the Church’s precepts regarding Holy Communion is to help us to remember the most sacred nature of the Blessed Sacrament - the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ that we receive in Holy Communion.

The limit of receiving Holy Communion no more than twice a day helps us to avoid the dangers of approaching the Eucharist with motives of superstition, ignorance, or misguided devotion.

The Church reminds us of the sanctity of the Eucharist by calling us to only receive Holy Communion when we are properly disposed - that is, when we are in the state of grace and when we have observed the Communion fast.

Our attentiveness to these precepts of the Church regarding Holy Communion is a sign of our devotion and adoration of our Lord Jesus Christ, whose Body and Blood we receive in the Most Holy Eucharist.