Ask Father Shawn

Ask Father Shawn

The pope/bishops are entrusted with great responsibility in shepherding the Church. They are called to live an authentic witness to holiness and to proclaim the truths of the Gospel “in season and out of season” (2 Tim 4:2). Often, the Church must teach truths that go against the erratic whims of the culture. However, bishops are fallen humans like the rest of us, and the spiritual attacks against them can be intense. Some bishops exercise their ministry well; others do not. We must pray fervently for our bishops because they play such an important role in the mission of the Church.

Except in rare occasions, the pope does not interfere with the bishop’s ministry within their diocese. Bishops are the chief shepherd of their diocese, and they are given a lot of autonomy. Sometimes we might wish the pope would do more, or that bishops would make different decisions. However, we must remember that the pope and bishops are not accountable to us; they are accountable to Jesus Christ.

It is best if Catholics do not get fixated on the failings of some of our shepherds; that can be discouraging and unhealthy spiritually. The enemy wants nothing more than to turn us against each other and against the Church. We should keep our focus on the power of the Holy Spirit in the Church. That reality is far more important, and that focus will keep our faith and our parishes strong.

We have no way of knowing who is in purgatory nor how many prayers an individual would need to complete their purification. The length of time a person is in purgatory and the intensity of their purification would depend on the amount of temporal punishment the person had when they left this world. Some could be there for only a few moments, while others could spend centuries there; we just don’t know. Time itself is probably different in purgatory, but purgatory is temporal in the sense that everyone there will eventually reach heaven.
It is best to continue to pray for our deceased loved ones throughout our entire lives. If they are in purgatory, those prayers will be a great assistance to them. If they are not in purgatory, God will use those prayers for some other good purpose.
It is also helpful to apply indulgences to a soul in purgatory. The effect of an indulgence in purgatory is not the same as the effect here in this life. For example, a plenary indulgence in this life removes all temporal punishment. A plenary indulgence applied to a person in purgatory will do much good, but it will not necessarily remove all punishment. The Church has jurisdiction to bind and loose with indulgences here in this life, but not in Purgatory. The application of prayers and indulgences to souls in purgatory belongs to Jesus Christ.

Penance is an important part of the spiritual life. Jesus said in Mark 2:20, ‘The days will come, when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast in that day.’ By historical standards, and in comparison to many Eastern Rite Catholics, the requirements for fasting for Roman Catholics are extremely minimal. We are encouraged to do more than the minimum to build self-discipline and detachment from self-indulgence.

Fasting on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday and abstaining from eating meat on Fridays of Lent is a ‘serious obligation,’ which means it is a mortal sin to completely disregard these requirements. It is not a sin to accidentally eat meat on one of those days, but care should be taken to prevent that. It would be a venial sin to generally follow the requirements but to deliberately violate the law in a specific case.

Canons 1249-1253 of the Code of Canon Law require Catholics 14 and older to abstain from meat every Friday of the year (unless it is a solemnity, like Christmas). National bishop conferences have a right to adapt this requirement, which the US bishops have done. Outside of Lent, the US bishops maintain Friday as being a day of penance, and they urge Catholics to abstain from meat on Fridays or do some other suitable penance. However, Friday penance outside of Lent is not mandated under penalty of sin.

If we strive for spiritual growth and perfection, we will do well to heed the bishop’s request to abstain from meat, or do some other suitable penance, on Fridays throughout the year. We should go beyond the minimum required, but not to extremes that would jeopardize our health.

The custom of servers bowing to the Priest is an ancient tradition. It is a physical gesture done to show reverence towards the Priest, who is acting in the person of Jesus Christ in offering the sacrifice of the Mass. Jesus Christ truly acts through the Priest as a living instrument in the Mass. The General Instructions to the Roman Missal #275 say, “A bow signifies reverence and honor shown to the persons themselves or to the signs that represent them.”

     The consecration of bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ is not visible to our senses, but small acts of reverence convey to parishioners a sense of the Sacred that can help them enter into the invisible realities. No single ritual action can even begin to capture the true realities present in the Mass. However, the Church gives us rubrics to follow and various customs that have proved helpful throughout time in helping people to enter more deeply into the worship and adoration of God.

     Bows are used at other times during the liturgy. The Priest and servers should bow to the altar when passing the center of the sanctuary. The Priest bows his head slightly at the name of Jesus, Mary, or the saint of the day. We bow during the Creed at the words, “…and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and became man.”

While the Catholic Church prefers burial of the body, the Church has allowed cremation since 1963. Ashes are not to be scattered, thrown away, or kept in a non-sacred place. The remains should be kept together and laid to rest in a sacred place. Usually, the resting place is marked with the person’s name, highlighting the unique identity of the person. This practice relates to our faith in the resurrection. We believe in life after death and that we will be reunited with our bodies at the general resurrection. The idea of scattering ashes can overlap with non-Christian ideas that in death a person is reunited back to nature, liberated from the body, or reincarnated. Christian practices related to death and burial should reflect what we believe about the resurrection.
When it comes to relics, Catholics honor relics because the Lord often chooses to work miracles or to pour forth grace through the intercession of His saints. The use or relics does not give the impression that the deceased has been liberated from the body or is ‘returning to nature.’ To the contrary, the honoring of relics shows that the deceased is very much alive in the glory of Heaven. Relics honor the saint and affirm our beliefs in life after death and the sacredness of the body.

The sacrament of confession is the remedy the Lord gives to His Church for mortal sin. A person in a state of mortal sin should repent of the sin and be reconciled to God in the sacrament of confession before receiving communion.
The gift of the Eucharist does not forgive mortal sin; the Eucharist is meant to bring about an intimate sharing in the life of Jesus Christ for those who are already in a state of grace (friendship with God). The unbaptized must be baptized before receiving communion. Mortal sin (mentioned in 1 John 5:16-17) causes a person to lose the life of grace first received in baptism. Those in mortal sin are not in a state of friendship with God and therefore cannot enter into communion with Jesus Christ through reception of communion. In fact, a person would be desecrating the Eucharist by receiving Our Lord unworthily. That is why Saint Paul says in 1 Cor 11:29 that those who receive the Eucharist unworthily are eating and drinking judgment upon themselves.
Unfortunately, when people disregard the requirements for proper reception of communion, it causes great spiritual harm. For example, it can weaken one’s faith in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist. As we celebrate the Eucharistic Revival across our county, we should all respect the greatest gift Jesus gave to His Church by receiving the Eucharist with great love and only when we are properly disposed.

Not every word used in Catholic Theology is in the Bible, but the concepts are there. For example,
‘Trinity’ is not used in the Bible, but God is revealed as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Regarding Purgatory,
2 Maccabees 12 describes a group of men that had committed a sin before they died. Judas Maccabees took up a collection of silver for the temple and prayed to expiate their sins (after they had died), and in doing so, acted in a ‘very excellent and noble way insomuch as he had the resurrection of the dead in view.’ This is clear Biblical evidence of sins that need to be purified/expiated after death.
2 Maccabees not only speaks about prayer for the dead, but also the resurrection. This is an important
theological development in light of the Resurrection of Jesus. Unfortunately, Martin Luther removed the book of 2 Maccabees from the Bible (along with other books). Protestant Bibles either do not include this book or include it in an appendix. This raises major questions not only about Protestant theology, but also the authority upon which they would justify removing books from the Bible.
In 1 Cor 3:11-15, St. Paul speaks about those who are saved, ‘but only as through fire.’ An analysis of this
passage would require a longer article, but Protestant theology does not allow the possibility of someone being saved through fire.
Underlying the debate over Purgatory is a deeper issue. Catholic anthropology teaches that we are fallen, but we can be purified and become holy. Purgatory plays an important role in purification after death. Protestant anthropology teaches that a person is permanently corrupted by sin, and we are saved by faith alone. People either have faith and go to Heaven or they don’t have faith and go to Hell; there is no process of becoming holy. Catholics believe the saints in Heaven are truly holy; Protestant theology teaches that they are covered over by grace, but still corrupted on the inside for all eternity.