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Question Corner

First slide

Religious practice and parents' concern

Q. I am a cradle Catholic, as are my children. My concern is that, since they reached adulthood, they started going to nondenominational Christian churches instead of to a Catholic church. When they visit me, they go to Mass with me, but otherwise they don't. They are, however, very close to Jesus and read their Bibles regularly. But I can't help being concerned because I always have learned that not going to Mass is a mortal sin.

It breaks my heart that only one of my grandchildren was baptized in the Catholic Church. One was baptized a Lutheran, three were "dedicated" to the Lord, and one was not baptized at all until she became a teenager and chose to be baptized as a Baptist. Most of them are active Christians in adulthood, but there is not a practicing Catholic among them.

I keep wondering what I did wrong and what I can do now, but then again, their faith is strong and active. Are my daughters living in mortal sin because they abandoned the Catholic Church? I am so worried about this and keep praying about it. (Kailua, Hawaii)

A. I, too, am saddened and disappointed that your children are no longer practicing Catholics. I believe that the Catholic Church offers the strongest and surest path to salvation — especially with the strength that comes from regularly receiving the Eucharist — and it bothers me a lot when people abandon that path.

But I think you can be at peace and leave it to the Lord to judge the state of your children's souls. From the circumstances you indicate, I think it's doubtful that they are living in mortal sin. (Remember that for something to be seriously sinful, it demands that the person realize that it is.)

It's much more likely, I would think, that your children are sincere in their faith journey — reading the Bible, praying, attending religious services — and seeking to do what God wants.

Maybe what you might do is ask them sometime, in a quiet conversation, "Do you ever miss receiving Jesus in holy Communion?" But don't be forceful or confrontational, lest you drive them further away. Meanwhile, I will pray for them, too.

Sensitive to incense

Q. I have a daughter who is extremely sensitive to the incense that is used in church on feast days and during certain liturgical seasons. She is a chronic sufferer of migraines, the incense triggers them instantly and she becomes deathly ill.

Would she qualify to have Communion brought to her under these circumstances? If not, is there another solution to her plight? (Winfield, Kan.)

A. Yes, your daughter would qualify to have holy Communion brought to her at home. Her strong allergy to incense is as real as any other disease. But I would look first for a solution that offers your daughter the opportunity to be present at Eucharist with her fellow Catholics.

Does your parish use incense at every Mass or just on certain feasts? Is it possible, by a call to the rectory, to know this in advance? Or is there another Catholic church within reasonable range where incense is used less frequently?

And if none of these solutions is feasible and your daughter finds it necessary to stay home on most Sundays, might she think about going to Mass on a weekday, to experience the eucharistic celebration in person? (I know of almost no parish that uses incense at a weekday Mass.)

What if Eucharist is stolen?

Q. I have recently volunteered to attend adoration of the Blessed Sacrament as a "guardian." I do this twice a week. I have been wondering this: What happens if the monstrance and Eucharist is stolen? The monstrance can be replaced, but I have heard that a priest may have to reconsecrate the church itself. (Baltimore)

A. Because of the church's belief in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, desecration of the host is considered a grave sin. In fact, Canon 1367 of the Code of Canon Law says that a person who takes or retains the consecrated species for a sacrilegious purpose incurs an excommunication that can only be lifted by the Holy See.

Unfortunately, this scenario is not hypothetical. In 2020, at the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Manhattan, a thief took from the parish's adoration chapel a small gold monstrance that contained the Blessed Sacrament. A few days later, an auxiliary bishop of New York led a prayer service at the church that included an act of reparation for the theft.

At the service, Bishop Edmund J. Whalen spoke of the centrality of the Eucharist, saying that "Jesus lives in us through the Eucharist, he nourishes the world with his presence. … This is the realization of our faith."

The parish administrator noted, "We ask for forgiveness from the Lord for the person who has done this."

In 2019, at Holy Spirit Church in El Paso, Texas, intruders broke into the church and stole items including the tabernacle with the Blessed Sacrament. The pastor of the parish, calling the theft "the desecration of the greatest gift possessed by the church," invited parishioners to make reparation by visits to Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament.

With neither of the thefts was there mention of a ceremony to "reconsecrate" the church building, and I am not aware of any canonical mandate to that effect.

Is 'purgatory' in Bible?

Q. Some 50 years ago, I converted to the Catholic Church. But one question has always bothered me: Where will I find the word "purgatory" in the Bible? (Elmer City, Wash.)

A. This is a question I am often asked. The answer is that you won't find the specific word "purgatory" in the Bible. But the concept is surely there — the notion of a period of purification after death before one is worthy to enter heaven.

In fact, even before Christ, the Jewish people recognized that there could be such a need and believed that the prayers of those still living could aid in that cleansing. In the Second Book of Maccabees (12:39-46), Judas Maccabeus prays for his fallen comrades who had died in battle while wearing amulets dedicated to pagan idols.

That Old Testament passage tells us that Judas turned to prayer as an expiatory sacrifice and "thus he made atonement for the dead that they might be absolved from their sin" — showing his belief that the deceased could still be helped by the intercession of the living.

In the New Testament, arguably the clearest reference to purgatory comes in Matthew's Gospel (12:32), where Jesus states that "whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come" — implying that there are at least some sins that can be forgiven in the next life.

Such Scriptural references lead to the church's belief, stated in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, that "all who die in God's grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven" (No. 1030).

Kneel, sit or stand?

Q. After a series of work-related moves, I find myself on my fourth Catholic parish in the last 10 years. At the first one, after receiving Communion, people returned to their pews and knelt until the Communion vessels were cleaned and the priest and deacon had returned to their chairs. Then there followed a few moments of quiet reflection.

At the second church, everyone remained standing until the priest returned to his seat. At the third one, the celebrant told everyone to "please be seated after the last person is served Communion. There's nothing to be gained either by kneeling or standing." My most recent parish is a mix of all of the above; the priest gives no signal at all as to the preferred posture after receiving. Could you comment? (southern Indiana)

A. The common practice in the United States is that the faithful remain standing during the distribution and reception of holy Communion. What happens next is that people have options. Typical is the guideline provided on its website by the Diocese of Cleveland:

"The period of sacred silence should begin as soon as the distribution of holy Communion has been completed. At this point, the faithful may sit or kneel. The faithful should not be required to stand during the purification of the vessels, or until the reposition of the Blessed Sacrament."

I believe that parishes should, within reasonable limits, allow for individual choice. In 2003, in response to a query from the U.S. bishops' conference regarding the posture of the congregation following Communion, the Vatican's Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments said that it was not its intention to "regulate posture rigidly in such a way that those who wish to kneel or sit would no longer be free."

Perhaps the wisest approach, then, is simply to let congregants choose their posture while they make their individual thanksgiving for the gift of the Eucharist.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2021