Question of the Week
Question of the Week – 10/26/2012
When faced with decisions, how can I tell whether my choices are selfish or not? Sometimes when I do what I want to do and not what others want me to do, I feel guilty. I question whether this is ok. I realize there needs to be a balance of doing things for others and pleasing them and sometimes needing to take care of myself. I would appreciate any advice on the topic of selfishness.
Answer from Fr. Tom Sieg – 10/31/2012
When we human beings make decisions, our motives are often mixed. We may have several reasons for choosing one thing over another. Sometimes we can even mix motives that are selfless with motives that have a selfish element as well. We cannot expect to be certain about the goodness and generosity of every decision we make. Living with the desire to please God & living with the fact that we may not be doing so, is part of being human. Thomas Merton (a Trappist monk and mystic) once wrote that he believed that the desire to please God does, in fact, please God. If we do have the desire to please God – then God is pleased, even when we make a mistake.
We also need to remember that “feeling guilty” is not the same as “being guilty.” If our “feelings” tell us one thing but our “rational judgment” tells us another, we should normally go with the “rational judgment.”
Fr. Tom Sieg,
Question of the Week Archive
Baptism of Jesus
The Baptism of John the Baptist and the Sacrament of Baptism are not the same thing. Jesus did undergo the baptism of John but it would make no sense for him to receive any sacrament (since every sacrament is an encounter with Jesus).
This distinction is clearly expressed in The Acts of the Apostles, chapter 19, verses 1 – 8. In that passage we hear of St. Paul’s trip to Ephesus where he found some disciples of John the Baptist who had received John’s baptism. Paul explained that John’s baptism was “a baptism of repentance”, leading people “to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, Jesus.” Paul proceeded to baptize these disciples “in the name of the Lord Jesus” and laid his hands on them to receive the Holy Spirit.
Jesus received the Baptism of John, which did not forgive sins but did demonstrate a person’s desire to repent and turn from sin. Even in this, Jesus would have no need to “turn from sin.” The gospel records that even John considered it strange that Jesus would undergo his baptism. In Matthew 3:14 & 15 John tells Jesus: “I need to be baptized by you, and yet you are coming to me?” Jesus responds that it should be done “to fulfill all righteousness.”
To understand this we must remember that Jesus is truly human and that he is, in St. Paul’s words, the “New Adam.” Jesus is the destiny and the ultimate expression of humanity. (This is the basic meaning of the term “The Son of Man” that is often used by Jesus in referring to himself.) We can say that Jesus received John’s Baptism as the perfect symbol, or representative, of all humanity. His baptism by John showed the need that human beings will always have for repentance and redemption.
Fr. Tom Sieg
June 18, 2012
What is the proper understanding on the 40 days of Lent? My understanding is that Sundays are not part of Lent (i.e. the 40 days)…Therefore, if a person gives something up during Lent, they are free from the obligation on the Sundays in Lent.
I cannot remember a time when people did not question how there can be forty days of Lent in the 46 days from Ash Wednesday to (and including) Holy Saturday. I cannot claim to have the definitive answer. I can only point out some things that will leave the numbers a mystery.
I have heard the idea that the Sundays during Lent “do not count” since every Sunday is a “Little Easter” for Christians. That does help with the numbers but these Sundays are clearly “Sundays OF LENT.” The prayers, readings, vestments, rituals & music all reflect the Season of Lent. When I was growing up my mother insisted that my Lenten resolutions had to be kept on Sundays too. My mother knew a lot.
Liturgical theologians always point out that the days of the Triduum–Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday–are separate from the season of Lent. They constitute their own special season. Some call them a single three-day Feast. They are, in a sense, the culmination of Lent, although there is some disagreement on whether they are still part of Lent or something completely distinct.
Finally, we must remember that the FORTY DAYS of Lent are primarily symbolic. They are intended to remind us of the forty days that Jesus spent in the desert to fast and pray. These days were completed when Jesus overcame the temptations of Satan. They remind us of the forty days and forty nights, in the time of Noah, when the earth was cleansed of its sin by the flood. They remind us for the forty years that the Hebrews wandered in the desert before they were ready to enter the Promised Land. In fact, the exact number of days is not as important as the change in life and the growth in faith that they symbolize.
In your answer concerning free will in Heaven you stated that “in heaven, however, we will see clearly all that is ‘True’ and ‘Good.’ There will be nothing to deceive or confuse our judgment.” Please explain the fallen angels.
Christians use the word ‘Heaven” in a rather specific way. For us, “heaven” means the dwelling place of God, along with the angels and saints who dwell in God’s presence.
However, Jesus says that “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away” (Luke 21:33). Yet, he certainly is not suggesting that heaven, as the dwelling place of God, can pass away. Paul speaks of a person “who, fourteen years ago … was caught up to the third heaven” (II Corinthians 12:2). Without examining all the Jewish legends of the time, we can clearly say that “Heaven” had a meaning for Paul that differed from what most of us have today.
We read in the Book of Revelation (12:7-9) that “War broke out in heaven; Michael and his angels battled against the dragon. The dragon and his angels fought back.” This is certainly not the “Heaven” later described in the same Book of Revelation (21:1-4): “I saw a new heaven and a new earth. The former heaven and the former earth had passed away. … God will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain.” Indeed, the concept of a “Former Heaven” and a “New Heaven” is hard to understand, if we think of heaven as the place where God dwells eternally.
The ways in which people have understood heaven and imagined heaven have changed and developed over many centuries. This is why it is hard for us today to understand the scene described in the Book of Job (2:1): “One day the heavenly beings came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came among them to present himself before the Lord”).
The fact that the word “Heaven” has been used in different ways, at different times and situations can be confusing. If we think of heaven as the Presence of God, the Beatific Vision of God by God’s creatures and the very presence of Love itself, then it is impossible for evil to coexist in the same “place.” Evil can only exist where God’s kingdom and God’s will and God’s love have been rejected. Exactly how the “fallen angels” and the “war in heaven” (mentioned in Revelation) fit into this conviction is something about which we can speculate, but it is not something we can clearly explain.
Why is Holy Water removed from the fonts at St. Michael’s during lent? The Congregation for Divine Worship says this is not to be permitted.
In March of 2000, the Congregation for Divine Worship issued a response to a question regarding the practice of removing holy water from church fonts during Lent. In their response they made three important points.
First, they stated that there is no law in the Church that covers this issue. It cannot be considered as an act that violates any Church law. They did add that, in their opinion, it was not appropriate.
Second, they reiterated the Church’s position that the “sacramentals” of the Church, including holy water, should always be available to the faithful. It appears that they were concerned about Churches that did not even make holy water available to people during Lent. That has never been the case at St. Michael. Holy water continues to be used at all funerals and for the blessing of objects that people bring to the sacristy or parish office during Lent. We are always happy to bless any container of water that people might bring to the church for use at home.
Finally, the congregation affirmed the tradition of emptying holy water fonts during the Sacred Triduum “in preparation for the blessing of the water at the Easter Vigil.” Since so many Catholics do not attend the liturgies of the Triduum, they would never experience that special sense of preparing for the Easter Vigil that comes with the empty fonts, unless we observed that practice before the Triduum. This is what we do.
I have heard it said that many souls are lifted out of purgatory on Christmas and Easter. How do we know this is true?
I have never heard that “many souls are lifted out of purgatory on Christmas and Easter.” I am certain that there is no official teaching of the Church regarding this. I would agree that we cannot know with any certainty how many souls may be released from purgatory on any particular day. I would guess that such a saying might have originated from the fact that so many more people do worship on those two days than on any other particular days of the Church Year.
Catholic Churches always display the crucifix. Why do other religions only display the cross?
I am certainly able to explain why Catholic Churches display a crucifix. The General Instruction of the Roman Missal, published in English in 2003, explains the importance of the crucifix. In paragraph #308 it states: “There is also to be a cross, with the figure of Christ crucified upon it, either on the altar or near it, where it is clearly visible to the assembled congregation. It is appropriate that such a cross, which calls to mind for the faithful the saving Passion of the Lord, remains near the altar even outside of liturgical celebrations.” Notice that the ‘Instruction’ does not require a large crucifix in the center of the sanctuary such as we have at St. Michael. It only requires that a crucifix, that is visible to the congregation, must be near the altar. There are Catholic Churches that display a large “glorified cross” as well as a smaller crucifix near the altar. The use of the crucifix has been a tradition in the Catholic Church for many centuries since we believe that at every Mass the one saving sacrifice of Christ is made present for those who gather in worship.
During the Reformation there was some misunderstanding about the one sacrifice of Christ being made present at the Mass. Some came to think that Catholics believe that Jesus is crucified again and again at every Mass. Such misunderstandings led many non-Catholic Christians to use an empty cross to emphasize that Christ died only once, for all people. The empty cross is also considered to be a symbol of the resurrection. Over the years, some came to believe that Catholics emphasize Christ’s death, while other Christians emphasize Christ’s resurrection. The presence of the crucifix in Catholic churches and the empty cross in other churches tended to support this misunderstanding. In fact, both Catholics and non-Catholic Christians believe that Jesus died once and rose to new life to bring salvation to the world.
I am wondering why we do not ring the bell during the consecration.
According to the General Instruction of the Roman Missal that was implemented in March of 2003, “a little before the consecration, when appropriate, a server rings a bell as a signal to the faithful; according to local custom, the server also rings the bell as the priest shows the host and then the chalice” (paragraph 150).
When the Mass was celebrated in Latin and the priest had his back to the people, the bell was considered necessary so that the people would know when the consecration was taking place. When the celebration of the Mass changed, the use of bells was still permitted, but was not considered “necessary.” The present Instruction states that a bell should be used “when appropriate” and “according to local custom.”
Today in this Archdiocese there are parishes which have continually maintained the custom of ringing bells during the Mass. There are also parishes that have not carried on that practice for decades. I do not believe that it would be appropriate for a pastor to arbitrarily change the custom of any particular parish. St. Michael has not followed that practice for decades and this fact needs to be respected, since the use of bells is not necessary for the proper celebration of Mass.
I had a question about Sunday being a day of rest. I had heard that you are sinning if you go out shopping or go out to eat. What about cleaning or doing wash on Sunday? I try to do most of this during the week but am I sinning if I also do this on Sunday?
The commandment to “Keep the Sabbath Holy” is found in both the Book of Exodus (20:10&11) and the Book of Deuteronomy (5:12-15). The term “Holy” means (in Jewish tradition) to be “set apart,” to be “unique” and “unlike others.” For the Sabbath to be “holy,” therefore, it must not be like the other days in the week.
The passage in Exodus emphasizes the specialness of the Sabbath, based on God’s rest after creation. The passage in Deuteronomy emphasizes the specialness of the Sabbath, based on the freedom from slavery granted by God to the Hebrews through Moses. As “Lord of the Sabbath” Jesus declared: “My Father is at work until now, so I am at work” (John 5:17), thus modifying the understanding of God’s rest. For Christians, Easter Sunday marked the beginning of God’s New Creation and established, for Christians, a New Sabbath (or Day of the Lord). Jesus also cured on the Sabbath, often describing it as “setting people free from bondage” (cf. Luke 13:10-17). Thus he expanded the image of the Sabbath as a memorial of the Hebrews’ freedom from slavery in Egypt.
Today, our challenge is to determine how we can make the Lord’s Day special, unlike the other days of the week. How can we make the Sabbath a time when we are set free from those things that “enslave” us and how can we set others free from these things? Traditionally, observance of the Sabbath by Christians involves making it a day for Worship (slaves had no time for worship) and a day for rest from anything that would make us “slaves” to the desires and materialism of this world. I believe it is more helpful for us to focus on how we can accomplish these things on the Sabbath, rather than focusing on particular acts that may, or may not, be wrong to do on the Sabbath.
I am wondering why the Lutherans do not believe in Jesus’ presence in the Eucharist when Jesus himself states in the bible that the bread is his body. This seems to be a major difference amongst Catholics and Lutherans.
I have never been trained on the teachings of the Lutheran Church regarding Holy Communion. There are many different teachings within different Protestant denominations about this. I can only share what I have come to understand as the traditional Lutheran teaching. I cannot say that I am sure that my understanding is correct.
I understand that Lutherans generally do hold that believers who receive Holy Communion within a worship service do receive the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. Unlike Catholics, however, the belief of the one receiving communion is the most significant factor in Christ’s “real presence.” I think that Lutherans hold that if a person receives communion and believes in the words of Jesus at the Last Supper, then that person does receive Christ’s Body and Blood. If a person receives without faith, however, then they simply receive bread and wine.
Catholics believe that the true and deepest reality of the bread and wine actually change into the reality of the Body and Blood of Christ – although the appearance of bread and wine remain. Whether or not the person receiving Holy Communion is a believer, that person receives the Body and Blood of Christ. For the believer this reception leads to an increase of grace and growth in their relationship with Jesus. For the unbeliever it does not. If a person were to receive Holy Communion with a sacrilegious purpose, that reception would be sinful.
Because Catholics believe that the reality of bread and wine are truly and permanently changed, the elements used at communion continue to be treated as the Body and Blood of Christ, even after the Mass is ended. Because Lutherans believe that the bread and wine change only for the believer receiving communion, the elements remaining after the Service are considered to be ordinary bread and wine.
Again, I must state that my understanding may be wrong, in total or in part. I would be glad to hear from a Lutheran (or former Lutheran) who could correct me.
A former Lutheran’s response:
I recently saw the question of the week regarding the Lutheran teaching regarding the Eucharist. You invited input from former Lutherans so I thought I would throw in my two cents worth.
First – there are many different Lutheran denominations. I was raised in the Missouri Synod Lutheran church, there is the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA), and there are others. There is a difference in teaching between the Missouri Synod and the ELCA.
I dug out my copy of Luther’s Small Catechism to review the teaching on the Eucharist for the Missouri Synod Lutheran church.
The Lutheran teaching is that the bread and wine are the real presence of Christ. “In, with, and under the bread Christ gives us His true body; in, with, and under the wine He gives us His true blood”. It goes on to say that the basis for this belief is:
- Jesus says “This is My body, which is given for you”; This is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for you”
- The Bible states that the cup is the communion of the blood of Christ and that the bread is the communion of the body of Christ. 1 Cor. 10:16
- The Bible states that unworthy communicants are guilty, not of the bread and wine, but of the body and blood of Christ. 1 Cor. 11:27
So far this seems consistent with Catholic teaching. Where things start to differ is that Catholics believe that the bread and wine are actually changed into the Body and Blood of Christ. The Lutheran church does not share that belief. The Lutheran catechism goes on to say:
“Bread and wine are not changed into the body and blood of Christ; for the Bible expressly declares that the bread and wine are still present in the Sacrament”.
For this reason, the elements remaining after the service has completed are considered ordinary bread and wine.
–Dan Ulmer, parishioner
Can you please address whether or not it is okay to to take pictures during Mass? Are there times when one would want to refrain from taking photos out of respect for the sacredness of the moment?
There are no parts of Mass that are too sacred to be photographed. The entire Mass is recorded for television often – even at the Vatican. The potential problem with photographs is the distraction they can cause. This is what we need to avoid as much as possible.
At times like First Communion, we purposely set a time apart for parents to take pictures. This way they are not causing a distraction for other worshippers during Mass.
At weddings we make it clear to photographers that no flash can be used once the service (or the Mass) has begun. This usually works just fine.
Sometimes people will just take pictures and there is nothing we can do about it then. At wedding anniversaries or when a child is serving for the first time we encourage pictures before or after Mass but sometimes we are not asked and do not know who might want to do this. Generally the main problem is the flash (which really does not help at a significant distance anyway).
Again, taking pictures is not a problem. Using a flash or making yourself a distraction to other people is a real problem.
Often I see people make the Sign of The Cross immediately after recieving communion. I have never been taught to do this. Is this possibly a cultural practice?
I am not sure if the practice of making the sign of the cross after receiving communion is unique to any particular culture. I was never taught to do this when I was young but I have seen other people doing it for as long as I can remember. I would consider it a “pious practice” that is perfectly appropriate but not required and therefore not taught in all places.
Is there free will in Heaven?
Yes, absolutely. Our “Free Will” is a part of what makes us human beings. Human beings always choose what they believe is good – at least, for them.
However, on earth we can easily be deceived. We can mistake something that only appears to be “Good” for something that is truly “Good.” We can fail to see that one thing is only a temporary “Good” while another is eternally “Good.” We can be ignorant of many things; this can result is judgments that are faulty. Our reasoning can become clouded because of any number of factors that may be influencing our lives at a particular time.
In heaven, however, we will see clearly all that is “True” and “Good.” There will be nothing to deceive us or confuse our judgment. What is “Good” will shine forth brightly and we will be free to choose it or not. However, with nothing to cloud our choice or to mislead us – we will always want to choose what is truly “Good” for us and was established as “Good” by God.
When does the new Roman Missal come out?
The new Roman Missal in English will be implemented (begin to be used) in the United States on the First Sunday of Advent, November 27, 2011. Several modifications have been made in the Order of Mass since its original approval in 2008, some of which may affect musical settings of the Order of Mass and other catechetical resources already in print:
–the words of absolution in the Penitential Act have been modified (so that the text of the current Sacramentary is maintained);
–the addition of “I believe” at three points in the Profession of faith;
–several slight modifications to the texts of the Eucharistic Prayers;
–the final doxology of the Eucharistic Prayer has been slightly altered.
For more information, please visit the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ website at http://www.nccbuscc.org/romanmissal/
During the Mass, should we be bowing after the Gospel is read and the readings are placed back on the stand, and should we be bowing when the Eucharist reenters the tabernacle?
Whether a priest or deacon proclaims the Gospel, he kisses the book at the conclusion of the reading. This is not a bow but a kiss. The people in the congregation are obviously not able to do this. The deacon or priest bows when the Book of the Gospels has been placed on its “throne.” The rubrics do not require a bow at this time but it is customary. The priest normally bows with the deacon when it is a deacon who is placing the book in its place. If people in the congregation wish to follow suit, they may do so but it is not a formal part of the ritual for Mass.
It is a part of the ritual for the priest or deacon to bow toward the tabernacle after the consecrated hosts have been placed in it. Again, the ritual does not say that the people must do this also, since they would normally be kneeling at that time. It is worth noting that the General Instruction on the Mass states clearly that no minister is to genuflect to the tabernacle during the celebration of the Mass itself. A genuflection toward the tabernacle is appropriate before Mass begins and after it is ended but never during the celebration of Mass. The celebration of the Eucharist always takes priority over the reservation of the Eucharist.
Have a question for the priest or deacon? Submit it and you might see it as a future “question of the week!”