Welcome to Clergy Query, your trusted source for answers to common questions about the Catholic faith. Whether you’re seeking clarity on sacraments, doctrine, liturgy, or any aspect of Catholicism, our dedicated team of clergy and experts is here to provide you with insightful and accurate responses.
Why Hold Hands?
Why do we hold hands during the Our Father?
The practice of members of the assembly holding hands while praying the Lord’s Prayer during the Mass is a custom that developed organically in the 1970s and 1980s. While some commentators acknowledge that the practice varies from place to place, it is a fairly universal reality in parishes across the United States. For some, this action symbolizes the communion of Christians praying together as one family of believers honoring the Father of All. Critics of the practice sometimes express concern that holding hands can be a distraction from the more significant unity that is experienced when we process to the altar to receive sacramental communion.
And so, we’re left to ask, what is the answer?
The General Instruction of the Roman Missal (the document that offers specific instructions for the celebration of the Mass) is silent on the practice, saying only that “all the faithful say the prayer” with the priest. The website of the US Bishops simply observes that “No position is prescribed in the Roman Missal for an assembly gesture during the Lord’s Prayer.” And so, we’re left to discern within ourselves and within our parish and religious communities what is an authentic gesture of praise during this important point of the Mass. For some, this means continuing to hold hands, while for others, this may mean adopting another posture of prayer.
Saint Vs. Blessed
What is the difference between a “Saint” and a “Blessed”?
The process of proclaiming someone as a saint in the Catholic Church has evolved over the course of many centuries. In the beginning, those honored as saints were almost exclusively biblical figures or martyrs. However, after the legalization of Christianity in the fourth century, new holy women and men came to be honored as saints, and this was often done by popular acclaim or by the local bishop or abbot.
It was Pope Gregory IX (who was pope from 1227 to 1241) who officially proclaimed that only the pope had the authority to add someone to the official list (the “canon”) of saints. This is the meaning of the word “canonization.”
Today, the saint-making process includes several steps, including detailed studies of the person’s life and a recognition that they died as a martyr or lived a life of “heroic virtue.” Once someone is recognized as a martyr or if a miracle is attributed to their intercession, they will be beatified and honored as “Blessed.” This means that they can be celebrated by Catholics in a particular country or region or by the members of certain religious community. If another miracle occurs and is approved, then the “Blessed” is canonized and honored with the title “Saint,” meaning that they are now officially recognized as a universal model of holiness and an intercessor.
Communion & Mortal Sin
I have a friend who receives communion, but who I know for a fact is in a state of mortal sin. Should I tell our priest? Is it my responsibility to say something?
While we may always want to do what is best for our friends and family members, we have a responsibility to respect their privacy and their conscience. In its reflections on the Eighth Commandment (“You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor”), the Catechism of the Catholic Church states, “Respect for the reputation of persons forbids every attitude and word likely to cause them unjust injury [One] becomes guilt: of rash judgment who, even tacitly, assumes as true, without sufficient foundation, the moral fault of a neighbor; of detraction who, without objectively valid reason, discloses another’s faults and failings to persons who do not know them; of calumny who, by remarks contrary to the truth, harms the reputation of others and gives occasion for false judgments concerning them” (no. 2477).
We will never truly know what is in a person’s mind, heart, and soul; only God knows those things. We should, of course, take our concerns to God and entrust the person about whom we are concerned to God’s grace and mercy. If we have concerns about the spiritual wellbeing of someone with whom we are close, we should go to the person themselves and talk about our fears and concerns. Unless it is a case of abuse or endangerment (which we have a moral and even legal responsibility to report to the appropriate authorities), we ultimately do not have the freedom to share another’s persons faults or sins, however good we think our intentions might be.
Wedding Feast & Epiphany
How are the feasts of the baptism of Jesus and the account of the wedding feast of Cana related to the Epiphany celebration?
The Epiphany season focuses on revealing Jesus to the world. Following the Christmas celebration, the liturgical year lays out a series of manifestation points in which Jesus is made publicly known. From its very beginning, the Christian community highlighted three events in the life of Jesus. These are the Epiphany, the Baptism of the Lord and the wedding feast at Cana.
The Epiphany discloses Jesus to the world of the Gentiles, represented by the magi from the East. The accounts of Jesus’s baptism reveal his identity and mission, along with exposing him to those to whom he was sent to minister. The miracle of turning water to wine at the wedding feast of Cana, unique to John’s Gospel, is the first public sign that Jesus performs, thus manifesting his public identity and his powers.
Today in the Roman Church, these are usually celebrated on three successive Sundays: Epiphany, the Baptism of the Lord which is usually the next Sunday, and the wedding feast of Cana, which is proclaimed on the 2nd Sunday of Ordinary Time in lectionary year C.
These feasts connect around the concept of epiphany, public manifestation of Jesus to the world. They help us get to know more intimately who Jesus is and what he is about. Spend some time delving more deeply into your understanding of who Jesus is. Continue to cultivate these “epiphany” moments in your life.
The Sign of Peace
Why do Catholics give the sign of peace to one another at Mass?
The sign of peace is a part of the Mass that takes place immediately after we offer the Lord’s Prayer. Inspired by the Jesus’ words to his first followers, we stand together in a spirit of communion to pray as Jesus taught us: “Our Father who art in heaven…” In this prayer, we call for the coming of God’s kingdom in all its fullness and ask that God provides for our needs — “Give us, this day, our daily bread” — to forgive our sins and to bring us to the joy of heaven.
It is almost natural, then, that the rite of peace would follow. As the celebrant prays that Christ’s peace will fill our hearts, our communities, the Church, and the whole world, we extend to those around us a sign of peace (usually a hug or a handshake) as a symbol of the communion that we experience now and will experience forever in the fullness of the reign of God.
We are also reminded of Jesus’ teachings that if we are at prayer and remember that a brother or sister is holding something against us, then we are to go and seek reconciliation with them before we continue our prayer (see Matthew 5:23). And so, the sign of peace also reminds us of the need to truly be in communion — united in love and peace — with God and one another before we approach the altar to receive the Eucharist.
So, the next time you’re at Mass and the time comes for the sign of peace, remember that this is a moment to celebrate the gift of Christ’s peace that each of us has received from God and to pass that peace along to those around us. We need this moment to practice, because this is also the same peace of Christ that we are instructed to carry out into the world at the end of Mass when the priest or deacon says to us, “Go, in peace, glorifying the Lord by your life.”
Can Catholics Gamble?
The Bible says that Jesus condemned gambling, but I notice that so many
parishes have them at festivals and other events. What’s correct?
Although Jesus speaks of our relationship with material wealth and the very human struggle with greed, the gospels do not include any specific instructions related to gambling. At the same time, the Church is very sensitive to the needs of those who might struggle with an addiction to gambling, and pastoral care should always be offered to those who struggle with this reality in their life.
While it is true that many parish or school communities include gambling or games of chance in festivals and fundraisers (e.g. bingo, roulette, ring tossing, dunking booths, etc.), there is nothing inherently wrong these sorts of events, given they are played fairly and within the limits of reason are not morally objectionable. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us: “Games of chance (card games, etc.) or wagers are not in themselves contrary to justice. They become morally unacceptable when they deprive someone of what is necessary to provide for his needs and those of others” (no. 2413).
As in all things, moderation and a sense of healthy limits should be applied to gambling and games of chance. For those who find themselves living with addiction to gambling, help is available in various 12-step and addiction recovery programs.
Why haven’t Catholic Churches gone the way of disposable cups for wine distribution?
If a Catholic has ever attended a Protestant worship service and saw the communion service that was offered for that community, one of the things that might have stood out was the use of small, disposable cups for distributing the wine or grape juice. This is in stark contrast to the precious metal chalices used in Catholic churches during the Mass.
Although practices for Protestant Christians can vary (ranging from large shared chalices, to personal-use cups, to dipping the bread in the wine/grape juice), the norms governing Catholic practices are fairly direct: “Sacred vessels are to be made from precious metal. If they are made from metal that rusts or from a metal less precious than gold, then ordinarily they should be gilded on the inside. In the Dioceses of the United States of America, sacred vessels may also be made from other solid materials that, according to the common estimation in each region, are precious … they are to have bowls of nonabsorbent material” (nos. 328-330). Rather than being a commentary on the beliefs or practices of those other communities, these rules are intended to highlight the reverence that Catholics have for the bread and wine consecrated at Mass, which become the Body and Blood the Lord.
Why are some saints honored as “patron saints”?
Each person is unique and each of us has different gifts, interests, talents, and, yes, even struggles and areas where we need to grow. This is no less true of those holy women, men, and children who have been canonized or beatified.
Because we believe that the saints and blesseds are both models of faith and intercessors, Christians have looked to certain holy people as role models and heavenly protectors for occupations, spiritual charisms, and even places. Although the Church sometimes names a person as a patron saint (e.g. Saint Philip Neri as the patron of Rome, Saint Clare of Assisi as the patroness of television, or Saint Aloysius Gonzaga as the patron of youth and young adults), more often it is popular devotion that inspires lay Christians to turn to a particular saint or blessed for heavenly help and support. This is how, for example, Saint Cecilia came to be honored as the patroness of musicians, Saint Toribio Romo as patron of migrants coming into the United States, and Saint Gertrude of Nivelles as patroness of cat lovers. Although there are official and unofficial lists of patron saints, we should always feel free to ask any and all the saints to give us their patronage and protection in whatever it is that we need.
Anointing of the Sick
If it isn’t only for people who are dying, when should someone receive the Sacrament of Anointing of the
One of the unfortunate realities in the Church today is that so few people understand the meaning and value of the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick, largely because so many people still mistakenly think of this sacrament as “Last Rites” or “Extreme Unction.”
In his life and ministry, Jesus healed the sick. In this sacrament, the Church continues the healing mission of Jesus and, in hope, prays that God will grant healing to the person who is suffering. But even if there is no physical healing, the sacrament offers spiritual healing through the Holy Spirit’s gifts of peace and courage. And so, anyone who is living with serious illness (including emotional or psychological illness) and the elderly are encouraged to celebrate this sacrament when it is needed.
The ritual for Anointing of the Sick does also include special prayers and blessings for those who are facing death, including viaticum (communion given to the dying, trusting that the Lord Jesus will be their companion along the way, as they make their final journey).
Seek and You Shall Find
Where does the money go that is collected each week at Church?
This is a good question! Every parish has financial obligations, including the basic operation of the buildings, salaries, maintenance, and improvements. In addition, there are schools to support, programs to run, charities to be funded, and operational expenses like hosts and wine for Mass, music books, vestments, and so on. In some cases, cemeteries and other buildings need attention. Finally, there is the diocesan assessment that each parish pays to help run the diocese and the support services provided to each parish.
Most parishes manage to get by with the collection, a few fundraisers and endowments. But contrary to popular opinion, cash flow is also a problem, and many parishes operate in the red. The Finance Committee is responsible for assisting the pastor in fiscal management, and good stewardship is the basis
for successful programs.
Sin on the Soul
Why do some sacraments leave a character or mark on the soul? Don’t all sacraments affect the soul?
All sacraments mediate grace and connect us to Christ and to the Church. Some sustain us in our faith journey, while others help us heal from the effects of sin. Each one offers a share in God’s life, giving us what we need to be faithful followers of Jesus. But some sacraments change us in ways that are irreversible. The three sacraments that leave a character are Baptism, Confirmation, and Holy Orders. We are literally different people because of the effect of the grace of those sacraments. We are changed at the core of our being in such a fundamental way that we can not go back to what we once were.
In Baptism, we are freed from original sin, initiated into the Body of Christ as adopted sons and daughters. In Confirmation, we are given the fullness of God’s Spirit, sealed in his grace and gifted with what we need to live a Christian life. In Holy Orders, a priest is marked as an ‘alter Christus,’ another Christ, and is once and forever a priest who offers sacrifice, forgives sin, and acts in the person of Christ. In these three sacraments, we are conformed more closely to Christ, reflecting his love and truth.
Coming Back to Church
I have been away from the Church for a few years and really want to get active again, not so much for me, but for my children. Is this a bad reason to come back to Church?
If you are on your way to the supermarket, and you are forced to detour from your usual route because of road work, does the food you buy taste different? Is the meal less filling? Are the vegetables less tasty? Of course not. In our faith journey, there are many detours called sin. Some are greater than others, some are even a bit longer. But God’s grace comes to us in ways we understand and recognize and need. Your children leading you back to the Church is not as important as the fact that you are back.
This is an opportunity for you to renew, strengthen, and deepen your faith. Regardless of how we get to Church, or what draws us closer to God, the fact is we are there. Do what you need to do to get right with God and the Church. Go to confession, begin good family religious practices, and be involved in the ministries your parish offers. Be more than a lukewarm parishioner. Be the kind of Catholic you want your children to be.
What happens to a consecrated host if it accidentally falls to the ground?
This a very practical question because, as we all know, accidents happen, even during the most careful celebration of the liturgy. The short answer to this question is that nothing happens to the consecrated host. The Real Presence of Jesus remains in the consecrated host or any consecrated wine that might accidentally be spilled.
Another question we might ask is: How should the minsters respond if the Eucharist is dropped or spilled? If this happens, the priest, deacon, or extraordinary minister of holy Communion should immediately pick up the dropped host and consume it. If it is a case of the Precious Blood being spilled, the minister would use the purificator (and additional purificators if needed) to clean the spill and then the area should be reverently washed as soon as the Mass is over and the water poured into the sacrarium (a special sink that is located in church sacristies for reverently disposing of holy water, the water used to clean sacred vessels, etc.).
Priests & Marriage Counseling
How can a priest counsel people about marriage when he has never been married?
If a marriage counselor is in a bad marriage does that mean that he or she will be a bad counselor? If one’s counseling ability depended upon first-hand experience, would that require counselors to be perfect before they can help others? Obviously not. Some of the skills necessary to help others do come out of personal life experience. But you don’t need personal, first-hand experience in order to understand something. We would not think that a doctor, who is an oncologist, would not be able to treat cancer because he himself has never been sick. We also would not expect every doctor to treat cancer. It is the same with priests.
Essentially marriage is a relationship and we’ve all been involved in different kinds of relationships: in our family, with our friends, and with God. And so counseling people about marriage is really helping them to look at the issues that really are part of their relationship,finding ways to better understand themselves in relationship to one another and in relationship to God. In many ways a priest’s training, background, and experience, as well as his personal knowledge of many different relationships in families and couples, gives him a broad background from which to draw upon. Most priests are quite capable of helping couples prepare for marriage and discussing the issues that are important as they begin their life together. And they do not do it alone. With the help of married couples and specially trained counselors, most parishes offer a very good preparation for the sacrament of marriage.
Catholic Vs. Protestant Bibles
Why are Catholic and Protestant Bibles different?
Since the earliest days of the Church, Christians used a Greek translation of the Old Testament known as
the Septuagint. This collection of the texts of the Hebrew Scriptures included 46 books. At the time of
the Protestant Reformation in the 1500s, the Protestant reformers began to create their own
translations of the Bible (into local languages) and some began to question why the Jewish Scriptures
would have included texts that were written in Greek, because, they assumed, the only valid Jewish
Scriptures would have been written in Hebrew. And so, they decided to remove seven books from the
Old Testament: Baruch, Sirach, 1 and 2 Maccabees, Tobit, Judith and Wisdom (as well as portions of the
Books of Daniel and Esther). This means that the Protestant Old Testament only includes 39 books, while
Catholic Bibles continue to include those original 46 books. Both Catholic and Protestant Bibles include
27 books and letters in the New Testament.
Psychics and Mediums
Are Catholics allowed to visit psychics? Why or why not?
It’s part of human nature to experience some sense of unease and fear about the future. This can lead some people to seek out the services of psychics or consult horoscopes or turn to other occult practices or resources (e.g. Ouija boards or tarot cards). The Catechism of the Catholic Church is very clear that Catholics should avoid such practices: “Consulting horoscopes, astrology, palm reading, interpretation of omens and lots, the phenomena of clairvoyance, and recourse to mediums all conceal a desire for power over time, history, and, in the last analysis, other human beings, as well as a wish to conciliate hidden powers. They contradict the honor, respect, and loving fear that we owe to God alone” (no. 2116).
Despite the uncertainties we might feel, we are called to have faith and trust in God, confident of God’s desire for what is best for us. This means that we are called to surrender, to pray and to reflect on how we can best move into the future in hope, knowing that God is with us.
Should a Catholic Pursue an Annulment?
After a civil divorce, is a Catholic obligated to pursue an annulment?
Many Catholics are not exactly sure what an annulment does. An annulment does not deny that a marriage took place, nor does it deny that there once was love. It does not mean that people say anything untrue, such as they never loved each other or that everything in their marriage was wrong. An annulment does not negate children, nor make them illegitimate. An annulment addresses the spiritual aspect of marriage. In effect, an annulment says that at the time of the wedding, there was either something present or something absent that prevented the sacrament from taking place. It is a spiritual determination that, if granted in the affirmative, allows a person to marry in the Church.
Annulments have no legal standing and are unable to be used in a civil court. Therefore, a Catholic has no moral obligation to pursue an annulment. However, when the tragedy of divorce occurs, and there is no hope for reconciliation, annulments may help bring some spiritual closure to a person’s life. Some people have found the process to be healing and others have found it to be difficult. Speak to your priest or a member of the Diocesan Tribunal staff to decide what is best for you.
The Giving of Treasure
Why are Catholics required to give money to the Church?
Offering money and other goods to God and the Church is, before all else, a statement of gratitude. We see this when we look at how our spiritual ancestors showed their gratitude to God for the gifts they had received (e.g. Genesis 14:18-20 and Genesis 28:16-22). One of the ways they offered thanks to God was through a practice called “tithing,” in which 10 percent of a person’s goods (crops, livestock, money, etc.) were given back to God.
Today, the practice of tithing — giving 10 percent — is still common in many Protestant communities, but it is not required for Catholics. Instead, the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches us that, “The faithful also have the duty of providing for the material needs of the Church, each according to [their] own abilities” (no. 2043). This means that, although we are not bound to practice “tithing” in the traditional sense, we do share a responsibility to share our money or other resources with our parish communities. Like our spiritual ancestors, we give as a sign of our gratitude for the many gifts that God has given to us. Beyond this, we also share our resources with other Catholic organizations to help them finance their ministries, to continue and grow their outreach to the poor and the needy, and to provide just wages for their employees.
How much we give depends on our individual circumstances, but since we share a responsibility for the programs, outreach, and health of our parish communities and Catholic organizations, this question gives us a wonderful opportunity to ask some important questions about the quality of our giving and what our priorities are. Remember, we are only stewards of our time, talents, and treasures and as the First Letter of Peter reminds us, “As each one of you has received a gift, use it to serve one another as good stewards of God’s varied graces” (4:10).
If we have a separation of church and state, how should faith influence the way we act in society, especially for those who have a role in the government?
No matter who we are, our inner lives affect the way we interact with the world. In the United States, we have freedom of religion. That means there is no official state sanctioned religion. This does not mean that our faith is a private affair with no impact on public life! We have the ability to freely exercise our religious beliefs in accord with our conscience. Not only do we have the option to do so, but we also have the responsibility.
We’re called to imitate Christ in every area of our life, not compartmentalize our faith. This means acting with respect and honoring the common humanity all we encounter. It means recognizing the person behind the politics. It also means standing up for the truth of human life and dignity, and advocating for just policies that serve the common good. The Vatican has produced a “Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church.” It contains more detailed exposition of how our Catholic faith relates to various aspects of public life.
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