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.”