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How can I explain transubstantiation to others?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Wednesday 03, July 2024 Categories: Doctrines & Beliefs,Liturgy,Sacraments
Catholic Communion
Caption Here

First, you can say that we believe that the bread and wine at Mass become the body and blood of Christ. Then add your own experience of encountering Real Presence, because, frankly, theological terms never get to the heart of the matter. No one comes to Jesus by means of a word like this.

Why do we have this word? Medieval theologians sought to explain why our eyes see bread and wine, yet we claim Christ truly present. Peter Lombard described how the physical elements are transformed and only the “appearance” of bread and wine remain.

During the Protestant Reformation, Eucharist was hotly contested. Most Reformers viewed Eucharist as a memorial meal. In response, the Council of Trent defended an actual substantial change—transubstantiation—using Lombard’s interpretation. In other words: best not to define a mystery precisely, but allow God to work.

Twentieth-century theologians introduced two more words to the conversation. Transignification emphasizes changes in meanings rather than in form. Bread and wine normally mean nourishment. Consecrated bread and wine signify nourishment with Christ's life.

Transfinalization focuses on ultimate purpose or “finality.” Food and drink for the body gain a new goal as food for the spirit. Still, the most vital change remains what happens to us who receive it.

• Matthew 26:26-29Mark 14:22-25Luke 22:14-20John 6:22-591 Corinthians 11:23-26

• Mysterium Fidei, Encyclical of Pope Paul VI on the Holy Eucharist
• World Council of Churches, Unity: The Church and Its Mission, with links to documents including Baptism, Eucharist, and Ministry
• "Why do Christians believe Jesus is God incarnate?" by Alice Camille

• 101 Questions & Answers on the Eucharist by Giles Dimock, O.P. (Paulist Press, 2006)
• The Eucharist: A Mystery of Faith, by Joseph M. Champlain (Paulist Press, 2005)

• The Eucharist and the Hunger of the World
 by Monika K. Hellwig (Paulist Press, 1976)

What does it mean to repent?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Monday 20, November 2023 Categories: Prayer and Spirituality,Sacraments,Scripture,Church History,Doctrines & Beliefs

(Photo: Pickpik)Love is willing to share the journey toward reunion and reconciliation. (Photo: Pickpik)

We’re not served well in our appreciation of the word repent by the many films featuring some be-frocked priest or Puritan shaking a cross in people’s faces and demanding, “Sinner, repent!” Repentance doesn’t necessarily require falling on our knees and beating our breasts, though sometimes that may be the appropriate response—as it was for skeptical Thomas, when the resurrected Lord whom he'd doubted stood before him. Basically, to repent means to change course. That can mean movement if we’ve been standing still, or stopping if we’ve been in frantic motion. It can mean changing our minds or our hearts, our direction or our behavior.

The word has several important root meanings. The earliest is the Hebrew word t’shuvah, meaning "return." It’s a crucial concept to prophets like Amos, Hosea, and Jeremiah. Their fellow citizens have wandered far from God's ways, and it’s time for them to return home. The rabbis tell a story of a young man who falls in with a bad crowd and winds up far from home, destitute and ashamed. His father sends word for the son to return. “I cannot,” the young man replies, “It is too far.” Too far in distance, surely, but also in moral stature. His father responds: “Come as far as you can, and I will come the rest of the way.”

This story reminds us how our failures put us at a distance from those whom we love, from the community of faith to which we belong. Yet love is willing to share the journey toward reunion and reconciliation. We return to God, and God returns to us.

If t’shuvah is the Old Testament word for repentance, metanoia is the New Testament Greek term that carries a similar meaning. John the Baptist first issues the call to change direction, signaled by baptism in the Jordan. Jesus uses this term when he invites his listeners to change their dispositions—to turn their hearts and lives around—in response to his teaching. Our word repentance carries the additional meaning of expressing regret for past actions and attitudes—along with the expectation that real change is forthcoming. In addition, the word conversion means turning around, implying a reorientation of intentions and actions. In the sacrament of reconciliation, we include the stipulation of “making reparation” for what we’ve done or failed to do that has caused harm.


Amos 4:6-11; Hosea 5:15—6:3; Jeremiah 3:12-22; Mark 1:4, 14-15; Matthew 3:1-2; 4:17; Luke 3:3; 13:1-5; Acts 2:37-39; 3:19; 26:17-20; 2 Peter 3:9


The Forgiveness Book – Alice Camille and Paul Boudreau (Chicago, IL: ACTA Publications, 2008)

Radical Forgiveness – Antoinette Bosco (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2009)

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How should we prepare for holy communion? Is fasting still necessary?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Tuesday 26, September 2023 Categories: Sacraments,Liturgy
In Canon Law, seven regulations apply to proper reception of communion.

Liturgical practices have changed in the last generation. It's fair to wonder what's going on with communion these days. In parishes around the country, I see everything from the reconstruction of altar railings to people falling on their knees at the front of the communion line. Folks cup their hands in the throne-like gesture taught in communion prep classes these days, or perform casual host grabs that seem almost unconsidered.

So here's the present teaching. Yes, the communion fast is still in force. Details are important here: 1) Water never breaks the fast, so don't dehydrate to prove your devotion. 2) The fast from food and drink besides water is one hour before reception of the Eucharist. 3) Sick and elderly people only need fast for fifteen minutes before communion. Caregivers accompanying such people may follow the same guidelines. 4) Sick persons may take medicine and non-alcoholic liquids unrestrictedly.

In Canon Law, seven regulations apply to proper reception of communion. The fast as outlined above is one. Anyone who's received First Eucharist is obliged to receive at least once annually, preferably during the Easter Season—the so-called "Easter duty." Receiving in the context of Mass is "most strongly recommended"—again, with exceptions for the sick and homebound, or communities with no access to a priest. 

A fourth regulation concerns those conscious of having committed grave sin. Such a person should seek the Sacrament of Reconciliation before receiving communion. If this isn't possible, making an act of perfect contrition suffices so long as the person resolves to go to confession as soon as it is possible.

Frequency of reception is a concern for many older Catholics. Current rules are that as long as you receive during Mass, you can go to communion more than once daily. The only exception is in the instance of viaticum (literally, "on the way with you"). Someone in danger of death should receive communion outside the context of Mass even if they've already gone to Mass and received earlier that day.

The seventh regulation is the least well known. A Catholic may receive Eucharist from a non-Catholic minister in whose congregation Eucharist is valid when it's "physically or morally impossible" to do otherwise. Such occasions include danger of death or other "serious need"; persons who are "unable to approach their own minister"; "persons in prison or under persecution"; "persons who live at some distance from their own communion." The canon ends with the significant words: "this is not an exhaustive indication of such cases."

Scriptures: Mark 14:22-24; Matthew 5:23-24; 26:26-28; Luke 22:14-20; Acts 2:42-47; 1 Corinthians 10:16-17; 11:17-29; Revelation 19:9 // See also Canon Law 844, 912-923

Books: The Spirituality of Fasting: Rediscovering a Christian Practice, by Charles Murphy (Ave Maria Press, 2010)

101 Questions and Answers on the Eucharist, by Giles Dimock, O.P. (Paulist Press, 2006)

Why are Catholics so focused on the Eucharist?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Tuesday 26, September 2023 Categories: Sacraments,Liturgy,Church History,Doctrines & Beliefs
The Second Vatican Council sought to restore "full, conscious, and active" participation in the Eucharist so that the people of God might again remember that the "why" of Eucharist is more vital than the "how."

A Eucharistic spirituality is ground-level for life as a Catholic. It's built on the three gospel accounts of the Last Supper, in which Jesus urges his friends to "do this in memory of me." While John's gospel doesn't recount the Last Supper meal narrative, John does have an extended teaching on Jesus as the bread of life in chapter six. Saint Paul also reiterates the Last Supper instruction in his First Letter to the Corinthians: "For I received from the Lord what I also handed onto you."

Jesus employed one or perhaps two well-known forms of Jewish prayer from lifelong ritual practice. One is the berakah or prayer of thanksgiving to God commonly prayed over the bread and the cup. Another is the todah or sacrifice of praise in which leavened bread was used along with prayers of praise. Christians use the word Eucharistthanksgivingfor our communion liturgy as a whole.

How Eucharist was celebrated developed over time and was distinctive geographically from Jerusalem to Rome to Carthage, and from East to West. But early teachers like Justin Martyr, Tertullian, Cyril, Ambrose, and Augustine agreed that Eucharist had several significant meanings. One was the impact of the Passion of Christ for human history. Another was the unity in which all Christians shared as the Body of Christ. A third meaning was that engaging this sacrament had profound moral implications for those who did.

The medieval church made a swing away from this "symbolic" thinking about the Eucharist to an "instrumental" focus. That is, we went from reflecting on WHY Jesus makes this self-offering to HOW it's accomplished ritually and theologically. This impoverished the church's communion in many ways. The complicated rhetoric was harder to teach to the uneducated, and so fewer understood what was being celebrated. As a result, reception of the sacrament declined. Passive piety and miraculous stories about the Host replaced an active embrace of a moral life formed by an incorporation into Christ's Body. Believers sought to adore the Host than to live a life of thanksgiving and praise.

In the early 20th century, Pope Pius X advocated frequent reception of the Eucharist and to younger-aged children. Pius XII added to those reforms. The Second Vatican Council sought to restore "full, conscious, and active" participation in the Eucharist so that the people of God might again remember that the "why" of Eucharist is more vital than the "how."

Scriptures: Exodus 24:5-8; Jeremiah 31:31-34; Mark 14:22-25; Matthew 26:26-29; Luke 22:14-20; John 6:1-15, 22-65; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26; (see also Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, Vatican II documents, 1963)

Books: Pope Francis on Eucharist: 100 Daily Meditations for Adoration, Prayer, and Reflection, by Pope Francis, with foreward by Cardinal Blase Cupich (Liturgical Press, 2023)

Communion Ecclesiology: Vision and Versions, by Dennis M. Doyle (Orbis Books, 2000)

What is grace?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Sunday 13, August 2023 Categories: Sacraments,Scripture,Doctrines & Beliefs
Like any present offered in love and presented in grand style, grace comes to us free of charge.

A big question to address in a small space! The simple definition of grace is God's favor. But what it means to receive such benevolence is demonstrated in boundless ways. As a child in religion class, I remember imagining grace as a birthday present in a brightly wrapped box with a big bow on top. That's because Sister told us grace is a gift, and the only gifts I'd ever seen looked like this.

The Old Testament describes God's favor differently. It's expressed in the act of creation, as well as the covenant with Israel, and the liberating force of Exodus. In the New Testament, Saint Paul rightly calls Jesus Christ the grace of God, using the Greek word charis, from which also comes charisma, the empowering gifts of the Spirit. 

So how do we "get" grace, or know it when we see it operating? Divine grace comes to us through the mercy, forgiveness, and rescue of God at work in our lives. The classic definition of a sacrament is that of a sign rooted in Christ which provides grace. So add the sacraments of the Church to the ways in which we receive this gift. The Eastern Fathers went so far as to say that sacraments "divinize" us: God becomes flesh so that flesh can share in the divine life, including God's immortality.

In the West, Saint Augustine argued that grace heals and liberates our sin-inclined wills so that we can do the will of God. Without grace, we're literally lost. Saint Thomas Aquinas envisioned grace as elevating us to a higher level in closer union with God. Thomas Merton saw grace as the antidote to the "death dance" in our blood. The bottom line on all of these approaches to understanding grace—life-giving force, bonded relationship, liberating power, incarnation and participation in divine gifts, healing, uplifting, unifying, detoxifying—is that it comes to us free and unmerited. We can't earn it by obeying laws or racking up spiritual points. God doesn't "owe" us grace even if we're saintly every moment of the day. In a sense, my childhood notion of grace still applies. Like any present offered in love and presented in grand style, grace comes to us free of charge.

But just like any gift that comes in a pretty package, grace is hardly received if we don't open the box and actually make use of it.

Scriptures: Isaiah 55:1-3; John 1:14-17; 14:23; Acts 6:8; 11:23; 13:43; 14:3, 26; 15:11, 40; 18:27; 20:24; Romans 1:5-7; 3:24-26; 5:1-2, 15-21; 6:1-23; 11:5-6; 12:3-8; 15:15-16; 1 Corinthians 1:4-9; 3:10-17; 4:7; 15:10; 2 Corinthians 1:12; 4:15; 6:1-2; 8:1-2; 9:8; 12:9-10; Galatians 1:6, 15; 2:19-21; 5:4, 22-23; Ephesians 1:3-14; 2:4-10; 3:2-12; 4:7; Philippians 1:7; 2 Timothy 1:9; Titus 2:11-14; Hebrews 2:9; 4:16; 13:9; James 4:6; 2 Peter 1:4-10

Books: The Experience and Language of Grace, by Roger Haight, SJ (Paulist Press, 1979)

Idol and Grace: On Transitioning and Subversive Hope, by Orlando O. Espin (Orbis Books, 2014)

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My mom asked me to promise her a Christian burial. What does that involve?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Saturday 10, June 2023 Categories: Sacraments

Your mother is asking for her departure from this world to be accompanied by the rituals of the church.

Good news: it no longer involves descending into a catacomb, which was the normative way Christians were buried for the first five centuries. Unlike most earlier societies, Christians weren't buried in these underground vaults with valuable objects they might require in the afterlife—a disappointment to grave robbers. But at my dad's viewing before the casket was closed, his small grandson saw fit to tuck a Hot Wheels car in beside Grandpap. That sort of generous gesture is entirely okay.

Your mother is asking for her departure from this world to be accompanied by the rituals of the church. Christians share with Jews and other ancient religions a respect for the dead and how their bodies are treated posthumously. This included washing and dressing the bodies with care. What distinguishes the Christian response to death is that we rejoice and give thanks for those who have "gone before us marked with the sign of faith." So no need to hire a band of mourners, though it's natural to shed a tear at the loss of our dear ones.

As early as the seventh century, a believer near death was given the Eucharist along with a reading from Scripture. After death, the body was delivered to the church, psalms were prayed, followed by a procession to the place of burial. Catholics still follow a similar format. Calling the priest to administer "last rites" when a person is expected to die is proper, a ritual known as viaticum ("on the way with you"). Even if your mother is unconscious, it's possible to perform this rite. 

After death, the body may be brought for a church viewing, though this vigil service popularly known as a wake or rosary is often held at a funeral parlor. A priest may be present, or the vigil can be led by anyone. It typically includes a Liturgy of the Word: a song, prayer, Scripture reading, psalm, gospel, short reflection, and prayers of intercession, concluding with the Lord's Prayer. That's the standard vigil; however, many wakes involve little formal prayer, since many attendees aren't Catholic. While the church’s preference is that the body be present for the vigil and funeral Masses, some families choose cremation. "In all, pastors are encouraged to show pastoral sensitivity.” (Appendix #415 Order of Christian Funerals.) 

The final part of fulfilling your mother's request is the funeral and committal rituals. Her pastor will know what's required for these rites at the church and gravesite. These four moments of passage together–the dying time, vigil, funeral, and burial—are marked by simple rites acknowledging a life is ending, yet life continues.

Scripture: Genesis 23:1-9; 49:29—50:14, 24-26; Exodus 13:19; Deuteronomy 34:5-8; Joshua 24:29-33; 2 Samuel 21:13-14; 1 Kings 2:10; 11:43; Tobit 1:16-20; 2:3-8; Sirach 38:16; Mark 15:42-46; Luke 23:50-56; John 19:38-42; 1 Corinthians 15:55

Books: Planning the Catholic Funeral, by Terence Curley (Liturgical Press, 2005)

Now and at the Hour of Our Death: Instructions for My Medical Treatment, Finances, and Funeral, by Victoria Tufano et. al. (Liturgy Training Publications, 2022)

Who invented the sacraments?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Sunday 19, March 2023 Categories: Doctrines & Beliefs,Church History,Scripture,Sacraments
Sacrament is "an outward and visible sign of an inward and invisible grace."
(photo: Pixabay)

The classic definition of a sacrament is that it's an outward sign instituted by Christ to give grace. "Instituted by Christ" is a curious phrase. It clearly does not mean that Jesus, in his lifetime on earth, listed seven and only seven actions that will forever be known as sacraments. In fact, Jesus never uses the word.

The definition derives from fifth-century Saint Augustine, who taught that a sacrament is "an outward and visible sign of an inward and invisible grace." He left out the part about where they came from. Third-century theologian Tertullian seems to have begun calling the initiating rituals of the church by the term sacramentum, which at the time was used for the oath of loyalty a Roman soldier vowed to the emperor. This Latin root word for sacrament means hidden or secret, similar to the Greek word for mystery.

Augustine advances the understanding of a sacrament by linking it to efficacy: that is, it effects what it signifies, does what it says. So baptism's waters bring death to sin and new life to us. Bread and wine become Christ's body and blood. However, Augustine fails to supply a definitive list of which actions do this. Nor does he limit sacraments to rituals but also includes objects. Across his writings, some 300 actions and elements are deemed signs of sacred realities; it's unclear that Augustine doesn't intend them all to be sacraments.

The church over time limits sacraments to ritual acts. Things—like holy water, ashes, palms—can be "sacramentals": elements that derive meaning from the sacraments. The Fourth Lateran Council in 1215 delineated the list of seven sacraments Catholics celebrate today.

In the New Testament, the ritual acts routinely practiced by the early church were baptism of new members and the breaking of the bread on the first day of the week. The Letter of James recommends anointing the sick, in imitation of Jesus who frequently touched those he healed. The practice of laying hands on those chosen for leadership is attested in the Acts of the Apostles. Both Jesus and Saint Paul rigorously support faithful marriages and forgiveness of sins in their teaching. Communicating the Holy Spirit as a seal of mature faith is also demonstrated by Jesus and later the apostles. Theologian Mark R. Francis implies that God "invents" sacraments as they exist to save us. It's the whole reason we have them—and the church.

Scriptures: Mark 1:9-10; 6:41-44; 8:23; 10:2-12; 14:22-24; Matthew 18:18; 19:1-9; 28:19; Luke 22:19-20; John 2:1-11; John 20:22-23; Acts 2:38, 41-42; 6:3-6; 8:14-17; 1 Corinthians 7:10-16; James 5:14-16

Books: Shape a Circle Ever Wider: Liturgical Inculturation in the United States - Mark R. Francis (Chicago: Liturgy Training Publications, 2007)

The Sacraments: Historical Foundations and Liturgical Theology - Kevin Irwin (Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 2016)

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Why does the Catholic church place so much importance on sacraments?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Monday 08, August 2022 Categories: Sacraments

What sacraments reveal best of all is the conviction that God's loving intention is to save humanity, not to judge or condemn us.

There are plenty of ways to talk about the significance of sacraments. Among the most compelling is that they are actions which reveal and conceal God. This doesn't imply that seven, and only seven, actions have this sacred power. Quite the opposite: the sacraments listed by the church (Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist, Reconciliation, Anointing of the Sick, Matrimony, and Holy Orders) remind us how many ways God seeks to be known to us. 

So we find God at work in welcome and in mission and at meals. We experience God in hours of forgiveness and healing. We anticipate God in loving relationships and the call to service. As theologian Mark Francis says, what sacraments reveal best of all is the conviction that God's loving intention is to save humanity, not to judge or condemn us. This intention isn't just the basis for sacraments, but for the church's existence altogether.

How did so many of us manage to miss this beautiful idea? Chances are we learned our lessons about sacraments without ever appreciating their meaning. The traditional definition of a sacrament we were taught is that it's an outward sign instituted by Christ to give grace. This formula, popularized at the Council of Trent (1545-1563), was an outgrowth of an era that loved classifying things—especially since the Protestant Reformation was in the process of challenging every practice of the institutional church. Numbering the sacraments and explaining how they impart grace (by imprinting an indelible character or seal on the soul, for one) became the lesson plan. Reciting lists and formulas became more important than understanding what these symbolic actions communicate.

A sacrament is an event emerging from mystery: it bears a hidden component of divine love and power manifesting in space and time. Saint Augustine preferred to describe a sacrament rather than to define it. He called it a "visible word." This fits more with contemporary theology, which names the incarnation of Jesus as the first sacrament, and the church as the second. If Jesus is the sacrament of God—revealing and concealing the "visible word"– and the church is the sacrament of Jesus, you and I might be rightly called sacraments of the church. We begin to understand why thoughtful participation in seven sacramental moments of church life is so significant. They train our vision to see where God is concealed, and seeks to be revealed, everywhere life takes us.

Scriptures: Proverbs 8:22-36; Wisdom 6:22; Matthew 11:25; 13:10-17; John 1:1-5, 14; Romans 16:25-27; 2 Corinthians 1:21-22; Ephesians 1:7-14; 4:11-16; Revelation 7:2-8

Books: The Sacraments: An Interdisciplinary and Interactive Study, by Joseph Martos (Liturgical Press, 2009). The Sacraments and Justice, Doris Donnelly, ed. (Liturgical Press, 2014).

What are sacramentals?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Monday 08, August 2022 Categories: Sacraments
There's no set list of these sacramentals because there can be no limit to the ways in which people through history experience grace.

Let's start with the more familiar word from which this term is obviously derived. A sacrament is formally defined as an outward sign instituted by Christ to give grace. By definition, these three stipulations limit the number of signs that can be considered sacraments to those connected in some way with an action or command from the life of Jesus. The early church had no set list of sacraments, and local customs celebrated as many as a dozen, including, for example, the office of widowhood. The Council of Trent (1545-1563) recognized seven moments in the life of the church as sacraments, and Eastern Orthodox churches agreed on these: Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist, Reconciliation, the Anointing of the Sick, Matrimony, and Holy Orders.

Other holy acts and practices do not appear on this list. There's no set list of these sacramentals because there can be no limit to the ways in which people through history experience grace. For this reason, sacramentals are difficult to define. Making the sign of the cross is a sacramental, and so is the holy water that may accompany this self-blessing. Praying the Stations of the Cross, saying the rosary, or washing feet on Holy Thursday are actions considered as sacramental. Wearing a medal or scapular as an act of faith is sacramental. But the items themselves—Stations and rosaries, medals and scapulars—are also called sacramentals. Ashes received at the start of Lent and blessed palms from Holy Week are on the list, as are candles, icons, or other images used in prayer. 

According to the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, the prayers and rites used in administering the actual sacraments are sacramental. Funerals, exorcisms, and blessings of catechumens and candidates are too. But not all moments in which we receive or impart grace come in church settings. The annual blessing of the home in January counts, as well as the blessings parents give to their children at bedtime. Some cultures practice a blessing of new cars. Other folks are glad to have their businesses or places of work consecrated to God's purposes.

Having worked in a rectory, I can vouch that nearly anything can and has been blessed by believers seeking God's grace for the user: skateboards and tricycles, new prayer books and saints' statues, pets and trees. If we seek the church's intercession and hope to make holy some occasion of human life, there's something of a "sacrament" in that.

Scriptures: Matthew 6:3-4, 17-18; 9:20-21; 19:13-15; 21:8; 26:6-13; 27:57-60; Mark 7:32-35; 8:22-25; 9:14-29; Luke 7:36-50; 23:50-56; John 9:1-7; 12:1-8

Books: Liturgical Inculturation: Sacramentals, Religiosity, and Catechesis, by Ansgar Chupungco, OSB (Liturgical Press, 1995). Shape a Circle Ever Wider: Liturgical Inculturation in the United States, by Mark R. Francis, CSV (Liturgy Training Publications, 2000).

What's the purpose of a wake service?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Tuesday 30, November 2021 Categories: Sacraments

In the United States, the wake service is typically held at a funeral home rather than an individual's home, followed by a funeral Mass and cemetery committal service.

Officially known as the Vigil for the Deceased, the wake service is part of a sequence of funeral rites conducted according to local custom and clergy accessibility—and nowadays, with Covid protocols in place. In the revised Rites of the Catholic Church, these rites all share a dual purpose: to commend the dead to God and to support Christian hope among the living.

The stations of the funeral rite in their fullest expression recognize significant times and places surrounding the death of a loved one. They include a vigil in the home at the time of death, the laying out of the body, the gathering of relatives and friends for a consoling Liturgy of the Word, the life-affirming sharing of the Eucharist at the church, and the final commendation and burial at the cemetery. These rites presume that spiritual preparation of the sick and dying, and their families, was pastorally administered. In this way, the deceased and the mourners are accompanied through the process of loss and consolation comprehensively.

These three stations of the funeral rite—in the home, in church, and at the cemetery—aren't always geographically possible or culturally appropriate. A second option with two stations is therefore recommended: at the chapel and the gravesite. A third plan has one station: at the home of the deceased. In the United States, the wake service is typically held at a funeral home rather than an individual's home, followed by a funeral Mass and cemetery committal service.

The rites are uncommonly delicate in their recommendations, especially regarding the wake. Family traditions, local customs, and "anything that is good may be used freely" ("Funerals," 2). Some families may want to pray the rosary together or sit in silence; others may include singing and telling stories. Only that which is "alien to the gospel" is discouraged. The central concern is that those gathered have sufficient opportunity to pray and profess their faith.

Whether the vigil takes place in the home or at church, the body of the deceased may be available for viewing or in a closed casket. Cremains may also be placed in a position of respect. Typically a greeting, psalm, Scripture reading, brief homily, general intercessions, and the Lord's Prayer comprise the formal parts of a wake. While a priest or deacon may lead the service, it's also permissible that a lay person do this—and the other funeral rites, too, save the Eucharist itself, when no priest is available.

Scripture: Genesis 23:1-20; 47:28-31; 49:28–50:14; Deuteronomy 34:5-8; 1 Samuel 31:8-13; 2 Samuel 1:11-12, 17-27; Tobit 1:16-20; 2:1-8; 4:4; Sirach 38:9-23; Mark 15:42—16:1; Matthew 26:6-13; Luke 7:11-17; John 11:17-44; 19:38-42

Books: Planning the Catholic Funeral, by Terence P. Curley (Liturgical Press, 2005)

After the Funeral, by Jane Winsch (Paulist Press, 1995)

What are the Last Rites?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Thursday 16, September 2021 Categories: Sacraments
Death isn't typically an event we can schedule on a calendar and organize liturgically, like other sacramental occasions.

Just as the church welcomes us at the start of life in the sacrament of Baptism, the church prepares us with sacramental rites and prayers to strengthen us for the final journey. These rites are known by various names: extreme unction, last rites, viaticum. Last rites aren't a discreet eighth sacrament, but incorporate aspects of three familiar ones: Reconciliation, Anointing, and Holy Communion (called in this hour viaticum, Latin for "on the way with you"). Included in these rites are prayers commending the dying person to the protection of God.

Death isn't typically an event we can schedule on a calendar and organize liturgically, like other sacramental occasions. The moment of death is far from uniform, and may not be predicted much in advance. This makes what happens in the Last Rites highly flexible to the nearness of death as well as the coherence and ability of the dying person. 

When the person receiving the sacraments is capable, the Last Rites are celebrated in their fullness. The priest is the typical minister of these rites, but it's appropriate that family is present whether in a home or hospital setting. The private sacrament of Reconciliation is followed by the communal Anointing of the Sick. This sacrament may take place even if there's been a previous anointing earlier in the illness. Silence, the laying on of hands, prayer, and the blessing with oils are signs that remind us of the healing authority of Christ. (The term extreme unction was formerly used to express the urgency of this final "unction," or anointing.)

The Anointing of the Sick imparts many graces. Gifts of the Spirit—peace, strength, and courage—are made available to the dying. We're united with the passion of Christ in our suffering. The faith of the dying person strengthens the church as it "contributes to the good of the People of God" in this powerful witness. (Lumen Gentium 11:2) Lastly, the anointing prepares the traveler for the final journey into life everlasting.

The Catechism notes: "As the sacrament of Christ's Passover the Eucharist should always be the last sacrament of the earthly journey, the 'viaticum' for 'passing over' to eternal life." (CCC 1517) Jesus says, "The one who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise you up on the last day." When time is short, viaticum, along with the prayer of commendation, is sufficient for the entire rite.

Scriptures: Mark 2:17; Matthew 10:37-39; John 6:54; Romans 8:16-17; Colossians 1:24; 2 Timothy 2:11-12; James 5:14-16; 1 Peter 4:13

Books: The Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick, by Lizette Larson-Miller (Liturgical Press, 2005)

A Ritual for Laypersons: Rites for Holy Communion and the Pastoral Care of the Sick and Dying (Liturgical Press, 2019)

The New Testament doesn't mention seven gifts of the Holy Spirit. So why was I taught about them at Confirmation?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Friday 14, May 2021 Categories: Doctrines & Beliefs,Sacraments
We have to become "docile" to the work of the Spirit, to make ourselves habitually open to the Spirit's influence.

How did the church arrive at the idea that we receive seven divine gifts at Confirmation? We memorized them once—wisdom, understanding, knowledge, counsel, fortitude, piety, and fear of the Lord—in case the bishop quizzed us before the sacrament. While Acts of the Apostles and Saint Paul's writings say a lot about the Holy Spirit's activity, bestowing these seven particular gifts never comes up.

The prophet Isaiah lists the gifts as we know them (see Isa 11:1-2). The Hebrew translation of this passage lists only six; the seventh, piety, derives from the Septuagint translation from which the Catholic Bible emerges. Isaiah foretells that these special characteristics will be revealed in the one who comes "from the stump of Jesse"—that is, the promised king of David's lineage who will come to rescue the people. This future king is often identified as the Messiah (Hebrew for "anointed one").

When Jesus arrives, born of David's line eight centuries after the time of Isaiah, he's recognized as the possessor of such divine gifts and therefore the fulfillment of the prophecy. He's acknowledged as the Christ (Greek for "anointed one"). In turn, Jesus promises to send the same Spirit that dwells in him to his disciples. In the upper room at Pentecost, his promise is fulfilled. So when you and I are anointed with the oil of chrism at Confirmation, it follows that we "anointed ones" are recipients of these divine gifts.

Perhaps you don't feel wise or courageous. I'm not the best specimen of piety either. Manifesting these gifts isn't something we do automatically after we're confirmed, the way superheroes suddenly manifest their superpowers. As theologians say, we have to become "docile" to the work of the Spirit, to make ourselves habitually open to the Spirit's influence. That means putting the ego aside—something we don't do without a great deal of practice.

At the same time, we understand that we are granted genuine spiritual superpowers known as charisms. These special favors bestowed by the Spirit are provided for the benefit of the church. Saint Paul recites a litany of such charisms including wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, mighty deeds, prophecy, discernment, and the gift of tongues. Paul later lists teaching, service, and administration as additional spiritual gifts. These aren't meant to override Isaiah's list of seven. On the contrary, they suggest that the Holy Spirit is ready to provide whatever gifts the church requires.

Scripture: Isaiah 11:1-3; Psalm 143:10; John 14:15-17, 25-26; 16:7-15; 20:22-23; Acts of the Apostles 2:1-4; Romans 8:14-17; 1 Corinthians 12:4-31

Books: Fire of Love: Encountering the Holy Spirit, by Donald Goergen, OP (Paulist Press, 2006)

The Holy Spirit: Setting the World on Fire, edited Richard Lennan and Nancy Pineda-Madrid (Paulist Press, 2017)

I thought scrupulosity was a good thing. My confessor tells me it’s not.

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Wednesday 17, February 2021 Categories: Sacraments
Self-absorption is always a sign that the focus needs to be restored to God, and not to one’s own state of purity.

As an adjective, being scrupulous describes a person who’s extremely attentive to details. Those who are scrupulous get the job done diligently and meticulously. When it comes to moral matters, the scrupulous are known for high-minded principles. If you hire a scrupulous employee, s/he can be trusted not to cut corners, cook the books, or take inkjet cartridges home from the office.

Pathological scrupulosity, however, manifests as a form of anxiety disorder. Then scrupulosity becomes a morbid fear of being in a sinful state. This condition isn’t about having a sensitive conscience: it would be terrific if more people did. The scrupulous person begins to manufacture occasions of sin, seeing the mirage of wrongdoing even where there isn’t any. The scrupulous start to worry that they’re about to sin; or have sinned without knowing it. 

“Don’t be a ‘scrupe,’” a confessor cautioned me when I was a somewhat pious teenager, already convinced that going to confession repetitively was a ladder to greater holiness. This priest was warning me that the road to spiritual scrupulosity often leads, not to the echelons of sanctity of medieval saints I secretly hoped to reach, but to an inability to judge the morality of any action with clarity. When the goal becomes rooting out every speck of potential personal sinfulness, the genuine ideal—of seeking the way of holy living—is obscured. Self-absorption is always a sign that the focus needs to be restored to God, and not to one’s own state of purity. In my case, the early warning got me off a road that could have led to great suffering.

Those who suffer from the mental illness of scrupulosity express anxiety about not going to confession often enough, not confessing adequately, or not performing their penance with sufficient contrition. They confess the same sins over and over, or repeat their penances trying to perfect their remorse. Even so, the scrupulous lose faith in the ability of absolution to do its work. They may come to believe they can’t be forgiven because the evil in them is too great. This, ironically, IS a matter of sin: to doubt the efficacy of divine forgiveness. It’s like saying that Jesus died on the cross in vain when it comes to you, since you personally are too bad to be saved. Those afflicted with scrupulosity should seek professional counseling, in addition to qualified spiritual direction.

Scripture: Joshua 1:9; 2 Chronicles 20:20; Psalms 9:10-11; 46:11; 56:3-5; 103:8-10; Proverbs 3:5; Isaiah 43:25; Matthew 21:22; Luke 1:37; 24:32; John 8:12; Ephesians 3:11-12; Philippians 4:13; Hebrews 13:8; Revelation 3:20-21


Books: Understanding Scrupulosity: Questions and Encouragement, by Thomas M. Santa, SSsR (Liguori Publications, 2017)

A Worrier’s Guide to the Bible: 50 Verses to Ease Anxieties, by Gary Zimak (Liguori Publications, 2012)

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Where did the idea of a Pre-Cana program come from?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Wednesday 17, February 2021 Categories: Church History,Vocation and Discernment,Sacraments
The Cana approach was to discuss real marital situations in the context of a life of faith.

It’s a real boon to the lay church that we have the whole Cana movement. Before the Second Vatican Council, the notion of having a vocation to marriage was not well developed. Although great preparation surrounded the choice for vowed religious life or priesthood, virtually no formation was undergone for the Sacrament of Marriage. When a Jesuit priest John P. Delaney gave a retreat for married couples in New York in 1943, the concept was novel enough for a write-up in America magazine. 

This gave some Catholics in St. Louis the desire to try something similar, asking Jesuit Edward Dowling to create a program for them. Dowling’s retreat in 1944 was first called a Cana Conference—a reference to the wedding feast in John’s gospel at which Jesus performs his first miracle. These retreats quickly took on the aspect of a movement, became formalized into a program in Chicago under diocesan priest and justice activist John Egan. Egan also promoted Pre-Cana Conferences for engaged couples preparing for marriage.

What made these conferences unusual is that they didn’t stick to the narrow lane of an average retreat: all spiritual talk with little practical application. The Cana approach was to discuss real marital situations in the context of a life of faith. The atmosphere was relaxed and friendly, unlike the severe lecture style of most retreats of the period. Laypeople appreciated attention being paid to the all-important vocations of marriage, child-rearing, and community-building by their church. Before long, the Cana movement went nationwide, and diocesan offices to promote the ministry were assembled.

The success of Cana and Pre-Cana led to experiments with the format for other formerly unrecognized groups in the church. Those who’d lost a spouse could attend Naim Conferences: so-called after the story of the widowed woman of Naim who elicits the compassion of Jesus in Luke’s gospel.  Bethany Conferences, named for the presumably unmarried biblical siblings Martha, Mary, and Lazarus, were developed for single Catholics. These programs were all popular in the 1950s and 60s, but the Pre-Cana movement alone left an endurable mark on marriage formation preparation in the United States. Engaged Encounter, Marriage Encounter, and Second Marriage Preparation programs today owe some debt to Cana for focusing pastoral attention on the needs of families to be prepared for their great and singular work in the church and society.

Scripture: Cana John 2:1-11; Naim Luke 7: 11-17; Bethany Luke 10:38-42; John 11:1-44; 12:1-8

Books: The Cana Movement in the United States, by A. H. Clemens (Catholic University, 1953)

The Mission of Love: A Sacramental Journey to Marital Success, by John Curtis, Michael Day, (Dominican New Priory Press, 2018)

What exactly is the Easter duty?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Saturday 15, June 2019 Categories: Doctrines & Beliefs,Church History,Sacraments

The Easter duty

The Easter duty is again viewed properly as a minimal requirement rather than a recommendation.

The Easter duty has seen some flux in church tradition. The Eucharistic Precept, as it’s formally called in the list of Church Precepts, was conceived in the 6th century as a way to ensure that the Sacrament of Holy Communion wouldn’t be neglected by the faithful. Early church councils enforced regional versions of the precept, which in one form mandated receiving communion three times annually: at Christmas, Easter, and Pentecost.

The Fourth Lateran Council (1215) reduced the mandate to once annually at Easter time, widening its application to the whole church. The Council of Trent and the Code of Canon Law restated this obligation. Ironically, the attempt to safeguard reception of the Eucharist by insisting on minimal participation had the opposite effect. Clergy preached on the evils of taking communion in a sinful state a little too effectively. Churchgoers developed a fear of receiving the Eucharist “unworthily.” Many were convinced they could never be in the proper state of grace to merit the privilege. Add to that the phenomenon of what we might call “mortal-sin creep”: in the hands of a number of confessors, venial sins got an automatic upgrade to fatal status.

It wasn’t until the 20th-century arrival of Pope Pius X, “the pope of frequent communion,” that Catholics returned to the sacrament more regularly. The Easter duty is again viewed properly as a minimal requirement rather than a recommendation.

What hasn’t always been clear in the Easter duty is the definition of Easter. Technically Easter is not a day on the church calendar so much as an Octave (eight-days-long feast) contained within a seven-week celebration. The latest Code of Canon Law (1983) defines the fulfillment of the Easter duty to the time from Palm Sunday to Pentecost Sunday. This period, from Holy Week through the Easter Season, offers an eight-week window to meet the obligation.

However, in the United States, the Eucharistic Precept can be fulfilled from the First Sunday of Lent until Trinity Sunday. Lent adds an additional five weeks; the time from Pentecost to Trinity Sunday, another week. Altogether, this opens 14 weeks of the church year to fulfillment of the Easter duty.

Many Catholics are under the impression that the Easter duty also requires going to Confession. While receiving the Sacrament of Reconciliation annually is certainly a good idea, it’s not part of the requirement.

Scripture: Psalm 119 (In praise of precepts and instructions); Proverbs 1:2-7; 4:13; 8:33; 10:17; 23:23; Mark 14:22-24; Matthew 26:26-28; Luke 22:14-20; John 6:27, 34- 35, 48-59; Romans 15:4; 1 Corinthians 11:23-27; 14:26; 1 Timothy 1:5

Books: 101 Questions & Answers on the Eucharist, by Giles Dimock, OP (Paulist Press, 2006)

The General Councils: A History of the Twenty-One Church Councils from Nicaea to Vatican II, by Christopher Bellitto (Paulist Press, 2002)

What is the Catholic teaching regarding marriage? Does it say a marriage must be between a baptized man and a baptized woman?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Monday 05, November 2018 Categories: Sacraments
Catholic marriage
The unbaptized person must be made aware of the Catholic person’s obligation to practice his or her faith, as well as to raise any children under the same obligation.

Not quite. The church teaches that a marriage between a baptized man and a baptized woman is a SACRAMENT. When a person who’s baptized marries another who is not, the Church recognizes the marriage. But it doesn’t consider the marriage a sacramental union.

Please understand this teaching doesn’t pronounce judgment on the quality of a relationship. It simply defines what a sacramental marriage is. If you inhabit a realm outside the sacramental orbit, the marriage doesn’t fit the criteria.

Because sacramental living is central to Catholic identity, official church teaching prohibits the marriage of a baptized Catholic to an unbaptized (non-Christian) person. (Canon 1086) Obviously, in our modern interconnected world, many such marriages take place. This impediment to marriage can be—and generally is—dispensed by the local bishop who issues a “dispensation from the impediment of disparity of worship.” In order to receive this dispensation, the unbaptized person must be made aware of the Catholic person’s obligation to practice the faith, as well as to raise any children under the same obligation. The unbaptized person must agree not to object to the Catholic spouse’s obligations, nor to impede the fulfillment of them. The marriage may then be celebrated in a Catholic ceremony—however, not in the context of a Mass (Eucharist being a sacrament). In fulfilling these stipulations, the couple is considered married by the Catholic Church. But not sacramentally.

Canon Law offers requirements for a Catholic sacramental marriage as follows:

- The couple must be a male and a female.
- The proposed marriage must be legal in the state where it is celebrated.
- The couple must produce a valid marriage license issued by the local civic authority.
- The couple must produce proofs of baptism by certificate or affidavit.
- Neither party can be bound to a previous marriage.
- Both parties must be capable of natural intercourse.
- The couple must be aware, or be made aware, of Church teaching regarding marriage as a bond broken only by death, and open to welcoming children. The couple must agree to these teachings.
- Neither party can be ordained or under the vow of religious profession.
- The couple must complete the preparation requirements of the parish or the diocese.

As with any teaching, church law regarding marriage continues to evolve. A fair amount of local discretion can be exercised pastorally for the good of the couple.

Scripture: Genesis 2:18-24; Tobit 8:5-7; Matthew 19:3-12; Mark 10:2-12; 1 Corinthians 6:16; 7:1-16; Ephesians 5:21-33

Books: 101 Questions and Answers on Catholic Marriage Preparation, by Rebecca Nappi (Paulist Press, 2004); A Christian Theology of Marriage and Family, by Julie Hanlon Rubio (Paulist Press, 2003)

What do Catholics believe about the Eucharist?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Wednesday 31, January 2018 Categories: Doctrines & Beliefs,Sacraments
Our participation in this supper transforms us into the Body of Christ for the world right now.

The centrality of Eucharist to Catholic life can’t be overemphasized. It’s “the source and summit” of Christian life. (Lumen Gentium, no.11) This means our life as disciples begins at the Table of the Lord and always returns here.

Eucharist means thanksgiving. Eucharist refers to the ritual of the Mass as a whole, or is shorthand for the Body and Blood of Christ we share in communion. The term reminds us that what brings us together is gratitude. What are we grateful for? The mystery of Christ who has died, is risen, and will come again in glory. This past/present/future reality of Christ includes us in its magnificent unfolding. We’re not bystanders at a miracle, but participants in a never-ending feast.

Like many of our Protestant sisters and brothers, Catholics celebrate Eucharist as a memorial of the last supper Jesus shared with his friends. However, we also believe this sacrament renews the sacrifice Jesus makes of his life expressed in his words: “Take this, all of you, and eat of it, for this is my Body… Take this, all of you, and drink from it, for this is the chalice of my Blood….” What was, now is. Our participation in this supper transforms us into the Body of Christ for the world right now.

When the early church gathered for what they called “the breaking of the bread” or “the Supper of the Lord,” they did more than eat and drink. They also listened to instruction from local leaders, prayed, supported each other, shared financial resources with those in need, and received teachings from the apostles—whether in person, delivered by an eyewitness, or by means of a letter passed among the communities. The gathering also served in a variety of ministries as the Spirit inspired the members to do. We preserve these elements of Eucharist in the prayers, Scripture readings, homily, and collection, as well as opportunities for faith formation and service practiced in various ways by each parish community.

Recent Catholic theology also directs our attention to the “dangerous memory” contained in our Eucharist. Christ’s passion points to the reality of unjust suffering, the need for its redress, and the hope of transcendence from a world marred by sin and death. Our Eucharist reminds us that the call to justice sounds every time we “proclaim the death of the Lord, until he comes.”


Mark 14:22-25; Matthew 26:26-29; Luke 22:14-20; John 6:34-59; Acts of the Apostles 2:42; 4:32-35; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26


The Eucharist: A Mystery of Faith, by Joseph M. Champlain (Paulist Press, 2005)

The Eucharist and Social Justice, by Margaret Scott (Paulist Press, 2009)

Do all Christians basically agree on the purpose of baptism, Eucharist, and ministry?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Monday 06, February 2017 Categories: Doctrines & Beliefs,Sacraments
Christian unity
The bishops see much that’s mutual, but not enough for Christians to share Eucharist together.

Such agreement is crucial to hope for Christian unity. Many find hope in the 1982 documents, “Baptism, Eucharist, and Ministry.” BEM, for short, was produced in Lima by the World Council of Churches—a 348-member organization including most denominations you’ve heard of: Orthodox, Anglican, Lutheran, Methodist, Presbyterian, Pentecostal, Mennonite, and Quaker. The Roman Catholic Church doesn’t belong to the WCC, the rationale being that the Church of Rome IS the Church. Joining an organization that renders us one “church” among equals sends the wrong message.

BEM was a work in progress since 1928. The resulting documents have been closely studied by the U.S. bishops. Here’s a short summary of their assessment. BEM on Baptism has much to be admired. Its teaching on Baptism as a cleansing from sin, gift of the Spirit, incorporation into the Body of Christ, all in the name of the Trinity, is sound. BEM recognizes Baptism’s “unrepealable” nature. It describes it as the foundation of, but no substitution for, a life of faith—a nod to both infant and adult baptism.

The bishops’ takeaway: BEM needs work in treating the Spirit’s and the church’s role in Baptism. The unity of all sacraments of initiation (Baptism, Confirmation, and Eucharist) should be clarified. The BEM distinction drawn between infant baptism and “believer’s baptism” (for adults) is an “unfortunate” phrase. But a movement toward a formal mutual recognition of Christian baptisms is plausible.

Regarding Eucharist, BEM calls it a “thanksgiving, memorial, invocation, communion, and meal of the kingdom.” BEM churches agree with Rome that frequent celebration of Eucharist is desirable. They concur that the entire Eucharistic celebration, not a single “moment of consecration,” makes Christ really present. BEM rightly stresses the social and ethical dimensions that travel with us from the Table to the world.

The bishops would like to see more about how the nature of the church is a direct result of our Eucharist; clarification of how Christ is present as spiritual food; how Christ remains present even when the sacrament is reserved, as in the Tabernacle. The bishops see much that’s mutual, but not enough for Christians to share Eucharist together.

BEM views Ministry as the vocation of all Christians, while holding a distinct place for the ordained kind. It acknowledges the apostolic origins of bishop, presbyter, and deacon. U.S. bishops agree on “interdependence and reciprocity” between the laity and the ordained. They await more clarity on the uniqueness of ordination, its relationship to sacramental ministry, particularly in the forgiveness of sins. Finally, the ordination of women remains a sticking point between BEM and Rome. Reason to hope for unity? Yes. But not for holding your breath.


Mark 6:34-44; 14:22-25; Matthew 16:18-19; 28:19-20; John 6:22-58; Romans 6:3-11; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26; 12:1-31; 1 Timothy 3:1-13


World Council of Churches site for entire BEM text:

USCCB site for bishops’ statements regarding BEM:

Where can Mass be celebrated?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Tuesday 05, July 2016 Categories: Sacraments,Liturgy,Doctrines & Beliefs
Saint Ita Catholic Church in Chicago

The Eucharistic celebration is called “the source and summit” of our faith—both the origin and epitome of what we believe—in church documents. The Table of the Lord, AKA the altar, is at the center of our lives as Catholic Christians. Everything we do emanates from that starting point.

So where that celebration takes place is of no small consideration. According to the General Instructions for the Roman Missal (GIRM 288), the People of God normally gather in a church. When the local building is too small for the assembly, as for a papal Mass, another “respectable” setting (auditorium or stadium) can be employed. Another lovely provision is this: “sacred buildings and requisites for divine worship should be truly worthy and beautiful and be signs and symbols of heavenly realities.” So all that floor polishing and statue dusting my mother does in her home parish with her friends is canonically approved.

Canon Law (n. 932) specifies that Mass is to be celebrated on a dedicated or blessed altar, as well as in a sacred place—unless “necessity requires otherwise.” Necessity has made the hood of a Jeep into an altar in wartime; wooden pallets or crates can be fashioned into a vineyard altar for farm workers; a hut can serve as a chapel in mission lands. In lands where Mass is prohibited, the celebration can be held in hidden places like mines, caves, or tents. Leading youth groups on hikes, Archbishop Karol Wojtyla (Saint John Paul II) celebrated Eucharist on a flat boulder in the woods. In any setting, the traditional cloth and corporal should be used to designate the table or surface commandeered for divine service.

Here’s a surprise: When the cause is just and with proper approvals, a priest can also celebrate Mass in an ecclesial community or church structure that is not in full communion with the Catholic Church “so long as there is no scandal.” (n. 933) The aforementioned scandal might include the confusion that results if some did not appreciate the difference between, say, the Lutheran host church and the Roman Catholic liturgy being offered. Such time-shares are often necessary when a Catholic church has been damaged or destroyed by natural disaster, terrorist attack, or military forces. The bottom line is that sacred space with an attention to beauty and respectful worship is the norm for Mass. But even more important than the venue is the necessity to make the Eucharist available to all under every circumstance.

Scripture: Mark 14:22-24; Luke 21:5-6; 2 Corinthians 4:7-11; 5:1; 1 Peter 2:4-6

Books: The General Instruction of the Roman Missal (Washington, DC: United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2011); The Liturgical Environment: What the Documents Say – Mark G. Boyer (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2015); The Ministry of Liturgical Environment – Joyce Ann Zimmerman (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2016)

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Settle an argument for me. Was Jesus baptized in Jordan?

Posted by: Jennifer Tomshack   🕔 Monday 19, October 2015 Categories: Sacraments,Church History
Pope Francis visited Bethany Beyond the Jordan in 2014.
Pope Francis visited Bethany Beyond the Jordan in 2014.

Fittingly, there is quite a backstory to the location of Jesus’ baptism.

The Jordan River runs along the border between Jordan and Israel. (The width of the river, the distance between the two countries, is about 20 feet.) On the Jordan side of the Jordan River is a place called, then and now, Bethany Beyond the Jordan. There is strong biblical and archaeological evidence, as well as support from Byzantine and medieval texts, that this is where John the Baptist baptized Jesus of Nazareth in the river.

Bethany Beyond the Jordan has two distinct areas. The first is Tell Mar Elias (“Elijah’s Hill”), and the second is a cluster of remains of churches dedicated to Saint John the Baptist, a monastery, caves used by hermits, and baptismal pools. It has been a place of Christian pilgrimage for millennia.

According to 2 Kings, Elijah parted the waters of the Jordan River and crossed over, and then ascended to heaven on a chariot of fire, it is believed, at Tell Mar Elias.

Elijah and John the Baptist shared many similarities. Both were fiery men, who preached repentance and announced the coming of the Messiah. In fact, some believed John was Elijah, which John specifically denied. Still, it makes sense that John would conduct his ministry from a place associated with Elijah. Also, John’s preaching wasn’t popular with authorities and doing it on the other side of the river was probably more prudent.

When Jesus went to John for baptism, John initially objected, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and yet you are coming to me?” (Matthew 3:14). But when Jesus insisted, John complied. And so began Jesus’ public ministry. He gathered his first disciples there: Peter, Andrew, Philip, and Nathanael. Multiple times, Jesus went to Jordan, and specifically Bethany Beyond the Jordan, where he taught and healed.

In keeping with the solemnity of the site, it has been restored to look much like it probably did 2,000 years ago. There are no signs marking the dirt path that leads to the rock and stone steps down to the water’s edge.

Bethany Beyond the Jordan is considered a national treasure by Jordanians. Its restoration and preservation is funded by the Jordanian government. John the Baptist is the patron saint of Jordan.

Pope John Paul II visited Bethany Beyond the Jordan during his 2000 pilgrimage to Jordan and the Holy Land, and it was designated as a Jubilee Year 2000 pilgrimage site by the Catholic Church, along with Mount Nebo, where Moses viewed the Promised Land before dying. Pope Francis visited Bethany Beyond the Jordan in 2014.

Scripture: 2 Kings 2; John 1:21, 28, 35-51, 10:40; Matthew 3:5-6, 13-17; Luke 3:21-22

What is Baptism?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Wednesday 08, January 2014 Categories: Sacraments,Doctrines & Beliefs
Catholic Baptism (Gianni/Flickr)

Let's start with a misconception about Baptism: that it's some sort of "blessed insurance" for the afterlife. For the record, the church doesn't teach that baptism gets you into heaven any more than it says it definitively slams the door on those who are not baptized. So, if it doesn't guarantee salvation, what does it do?

Since the earliest generation of the church, baptism was regarded as the rite of membership in the Body of Christ. According to Saint Paul, it makes us one with Christ as surely as it provides us with the indwelling Holy Spirit. The third aspect, in Paul's theology, is that it makes us church. The deep respect the church holds for this sacrament is illustrated most profoundly in the fact that the Catholic Church doesn't re-baptize Protestants who later join in full communion. Once a Christian, you're already "in Christ.”

The sign of water as purifying and healing is older than the New Testament era. In bathing rituals of ancient times, lepers are cleansed (see General Naaman's story in the Book of Numbers) and impurities reversed (after touching the dead or being in contact with blood). Just before the gospel era, Gentile converts were received into Judaism through a process involving circumcision, baptism, and Temple sacrifice. The Jewish sect at Qumran, which we know as the Dead Sea Scrolls gang today, was already insisting that the interior disposition of a person had to change or the ritual was meaningless.

The baptism of John—which John himself admitted awaited a greater "baptism by fire" from "one who is to come"—explicitly added the dimension of repentance to the rite. John's baptism was available to Gentile soldiers as well as Jewish citizens and wasn't intended to make anyone Jewish, much less Christian.

Jesus accepts baptism from John, but not because he needs to repent. Jesus identifies himself with the sin of humanity which John is so anxious to wash away. Just as Jesus embraces human weakness by his baptism, we gain a share in divine strength through this same action. We repent sin and its ancient claim on us (“original sin”). Adults are instructed in the way of faith before receiving the sacrament (through the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults), just as children are instructed (catechized) after receiving infant baptism. In both instances the conversion of heart, mind, and life are imperative. Baptism inaugurates the journey. The close identification with Christ it anticipates remains the work of a lifetime.

Leviticus 14:8-9; Numbers 19:17-21; Isaiah 1:16-18; Matthew 3:11; Mark 1:4; Acts 1:5; 19:1-6; Romans 6:3-11; 1 Corinthians 12:13; Galatians 3:27-29

"Baptism in the New Testament: Origins, Formulas, and Metaphors" by Arland J. Hultgren in Word & World

Baptism (Understanding the Sacraments series) by Lawrence E. Mick (Liturgical Press, 2007)
To Live in Christ—Baptism (Growing in Daily Spirituality series) by Richard Reichert (Paulist Press, 2006)

Why do we have a Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Monday 24, March 2014 Categories: Sacraments,Doctrines & Beliefs,Liturgy
 RCIA symbols
To those who recall a time before 1988—the year when the church mandated the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults for every parish—the RCIA feels like a new thing Catholics are doing. Actually it's a very old thing the church ceased to do long ago and decided to revive for good reasons.

These days we number seven discreet sacraments: Baptism, Eucharist, Penance, Confirmation, Matrimony, Holy Orders, and the Anointing of the Sick. This list was codified at the 16th-century Council of Trent, when many church practices were enshrined to define Catholicism against its rivals during the Protestant Reformation. Inadvertently that led to a loss of the interconnectedness of all sacramental actions: the relationship between the “healing sacraments,” for example, or the mutual dignity of the “vocation sacraments.” Above all, parsing distinct sacramental theologies broke the integrity of the “initiating sacraments”: Baptism, Confirmation, and Eucharist. These were originally inseparable events which the RCIA process seeks to restore in the Catholic consciousness.

From the time of the early church it was understood that Baptism confers the Holy Spirit on the recipient, as the New Testament frequently attests. The activity of the Spirit is the "confirmation" the initiate now shares with the whole church. To withhold that sign for years, as we routinely do with children who receive Confirmation a decade or more after Baptism, creates a chasm in understanding this sacramental pairing. It's why some theologians call Confirmation "a sacrament in search of a meaning."

Similarly, once a person is baptized and confirmed, he or she is eligible for full participation in the life of the church–including a place at the Table of the Lord. The early church rightly understood the three initiating rites as a single event to be celebrated together after the proper season of preparation. What the modern RCIA process does is restore the period of preparation and the natural integrity of these sacramental actions. It gives us all a richer understanding of what these sacraments mean, even if we didn't receive them in a threefold way ourselves.

The modern church has yet to figure out how all this should work in light of infant baptism, practiced with urgency since the 4th-century development of the doctrine of original sin. Right now children receive slivers of membership until maturity, as the church "supplies" their faith by proxy until they're fully catechized.

Acts 2:41-47; 19:1-6; Romans 6:3-11; 1 Corinthians 12:13; Galatians 3:27-29

Explanation of the RCIA from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops

The Heart of Faith: A Field Guide for Catechumens and Candidates by Nick Wagner (Twenty-Third Publications, 2010)
Invitation to Catholicism by Alice Camille (ACTA Publications)


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