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Welcome to Why Catholic?

The Diocese of Springfield in Illinois implemented the Why Catholic? Faith Sharing program from 2008-2012.

The information on these pages was compiled to supplement the Why Catholic? materials and may still be used by parishes and individuals to further their understanding of and appreciation for our Catholic faith. The Office for Catechesis would especially like to thank Deacon Al Laabs allowing us to post the Session Supplements he produced.

If your parish is interested in beginning the Why Catholic? process, contact the Office for Catchesis at or 217-698-8500.

Session Supplements

Deacon Al Laabs from Christ the King Parish in Springfield created these supplements to assist the Why Catholic small group facilitators and participants while they are taking part in the Why Catholic? program.

Why Catholic? Q & A

How does the Eucharist preserve us from future sins?

Sin is forgiven in our celebrating the Eucharist but not in the same way the sacrament of Penance does.  The General Instruction of the Roman Missal, no. 51, on the Act of Penitence/Penitential Rite, reads in part:

"Then the priest invites those present to take part in the Act of Penitence, which, after a brief pause for silence, the entire community carries out through a formula of general confession. The rite concludes with the priest's absolution, which, however, lacks the efficacy of the Sacrament of Penance." 

The Catechism of the Catholic Church, in treating the fruits of Holy Communion, lists these three among many:

  • Holy Communion separates us from sin [CCC, no. 1393];
  • wipes away venial sins [CCC, no. 1394];
  • preserves us from future mortal sins [CCC, no. 1395]. 

I would encourage you to read these sections of the Catechism.

So, how?  Because, as per the first fruit, Holy Communion augments our union with Christ [CCC, nos. 1391-2].  Christ lives in us.  We are united with the risen Christ.

In our group discussion last week, we seemed to have a hard time accepting the idea that anyone other than a Catholic priest can consecrate the host. A woman who we all believe well intentioned had said up north in Minnesota that a group of people or person could "consecrate by desire". Also it was said that in parts of Europe this is done and also, priests have wives.

The Church is very clear that

Only validly ordained priests can preside at the Eucharist and consecrate the bread and the wine so that they become the Body and Blood of the Lord." (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1411)

Priests in the Roman Catholic Church are not permitted to marry; however, this is a discipline, not a doctrine, of the Church. Many priests in the early Church (including St. Peter!) had wives and families. Over the centuries celibacy became the norm and a formal discipline in Church law (in the current Code of Canon Law, canon 277).

Priests of the Eastern Catholic Churches (such as the Chaldean and Maronite Rites, which are in full communion with the pope) are permitted to marry before their ordinations but may not become bishops and may not marry after their ordinations.

Who was Melchizedek? He seems to be an important figure and yet he is mentioned so little in the Bible.

The references in Scripture to Melchizedek can be found in Genesis 14:17-18; Psalm 110:4 and Hebrews 6:20 and 7:1-28.

In Genesis we find out that he was the King of Salem and also a high priest during the time of Abram.  He came bearing gifts of bread and wine and blessed Abram.  Abram in turn gave him a tithe.  Because there is no reference to his lineage or his death in Genesis, he is seen as representing a special and everlasting priesthood.  He is therefore a precursor to Christ, the eternal and unique priest, which Paul explains in his letter to the Hebrews.  His name comes from the Hebrew meaning "King of righteousness."

Question: 1. What is required for the sacrament of the Eucharist to be valid, besides a priest? 2. In an emergency can any thing be used in place of unleavened bread and wine? If so what? Where can I find the church documents/laws on valid Eucharist requirements?

First, it may be helpful to point out the distinction between a valid sacrament and a licit sacrament. A valid sacrament is one that actually does what we believe it to do: i.e., a valid Mass results in the bread and wine becoming the Body and Blood of Christ, while an invalid Mass results only in the same bread and wine.

A licit sacrament is one which fulfills all the legal prescriptions of the Church; for instance, it is illicit (except for a few small exceptions) for a priest to celebrate more than three Masses on a Sunday. However, an illicit sacrament may still be valid if it meets the conditions for validity. So, if a priest celebrates a fourth Mass on a Sunday, it would be valid but illicit.

Obviously, all sacraments should be performed both validly and licitly.

The laws governing the sacraments may be found in the Code of Canon Law, Book IV. For a valid Eucharistic celebration, there must be a validly ordained priest, bread, wine and water. The bread is to be made of wheat and nothing else; the wine must be made from grapes. Alcoholic priests may receive permission from their bishop to use mustum (grape juice). If such a priest presides at a Mass, a separate chalice with wine should be provided for the rest of the participants. Nothing else may be substituted, even in an emergency.

Unleavened bread is the licit matter for the Eucharist; leavened bread is illicit but still valid. In fact, the early Church used leavened bread in the Mass until the 8th century. Leavened bread is still used by many of the Eastern Catholic churches.

My group was discussing receiving communion. When was the option given to take the host in the hand? We thought in the 70's, but, each of us has different recollections. Did different diocese change at different times? Also, when was the option of face to face confession began? We thought around the same time.

The option to receive Communion in the hand was extended to local Episcopal Conferences by the Vatican in 1977; the U.S. Bishops introduced the practice on the Feast of Christ the King (November 20), 1977, although the actual date and manner of implementation was left up to local bishops. The Bishops' Committee on the Liturgy released a document entitled "The Body of Christ" in 1977 which covered a number of questions concerning the Eucharist, including reception in the hand.

Restrictions on confession "face-to-face" were eased following the Second Vatican Council; before that a confessional screen was required except in exceptional cases (while on a pilgrimage, when the penitent was gravely ill, etc.)

We had a question about what are all the occasions where the Chrism Oil is used?

Chrism is used in the Sacraments of Holy Orders, Baptism and Confirmation; in each, the person receiving the sacrament is anointed with the oil. Chrism is also used in the consecration of churches and altars.

This year's Chrism Mass, in which Bishop Lucas consecrated the oil for use in the diocese's parishes for the coming year, was held on April 6 at St. Agnes church in Springfield.

Can the Anointing of the Sick still be performed for Alzheimer patients when they are unable to respond? Can this sacrament still be performed if the person has just died?

The Anointing of the Sick may be administered to someone who is unconscious or mentally impaired; it imparts the same grace and unites the recipient to Christ whether conscious or not. The only requirements for reception of the sacrament are that the recipient must be of the age of reason (7 years old) and in danger due to illness (Code of Canon Law 1004). The Anointing of the Sick may be repeated if the person becomes sick again or if the present condition worsens.

The sacrament may not be administered to one who has already died; however, if it is uncertain if the person is dead or not, the sacrament may be administered (Code of Canon Law, 1005).

As we were discussing the sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick, someone asked if the others had heard of the concept of a death angel appearing to a dying person to lead them to heaven. Is there any scriptural reference to this, or is it more of a cultural belief?

There is a tradition that St. Michael the Archangel rescues the souls of the faithful from Satan at the hour of their death. This tradition arose from Jude 9, which relates a tradition in which the archangel argued with Satan over the body of Moses.

What happened to people who died before Christ died on the cross? Where did their souls go?

In a nutshell: the righteous who preceded Christ in death waited for him to triumph over death and deliver them to Heaven. While, like the unrighteous, they were deprived of the vision of God, they did not suffer the same torments (c.f. Lk 16:22-26) and were taken with Christ after his death on the Cross.

Through their trust in God's plan of salvation they are saved, even if in life they did not have a perfect knowledge of the Savior who was to come -- e.g., Paul tells us that Abraham's belief in God was "reckoned to him as righteousness" (Rom 4:3) and the Letter to the Hebrews describes the great "cloud of witnesses" from the Old Testament who, through faith, found favor with God (Heb 11:1-12:2).

The Catechism (no. 633-634) offers a fuller explanation:

Scripture calls the abode of the dead, to which the dead Christ went down, "hell" -- Sheol in Hebrew or Hades in Greek - because those who are there are deprived of the vision of God. Such is the case for all the dead, whether evil or righteous, while they await the Redeemer: which does not mean that their lot is identical, as Jesus shows through the parable of the poor man Lazarus who was received into "Abraham's bosom": "It is precisely these holy souls, who awaited their Savior in Abraham's bosom, whom Christ the Lord delivered when he descended into hell."

"The gospel was preached even to the dead." The descent into hell brings the Gospel message of salvation to complete fulfillment. This is the last phase of Jesus' messianic mission, a phase which is condensed in time but vast in its real significance: the spread of     Christ's redemptive work to all men of all times and all places, for all who are saved have been made sharers in the redemption.

Can someone suggest an Examination of Conscience tool/document/etc. that one can use to prepare for the sacrament of Reconciliation? The second question generated by the group is more of a curiosity, but we were wondering how a priest determines the type of penance given to a person. As we discussed the sacrament and shared experiences, we came to the conclusion that all of us in our lives had only been giving prayer penances (like 3 Our Fathers and 3 Hail Marys), and wondered if there is ever variation in penances, especially for severe sins.

There are a number of resources available for an examination of conscience; the Archdiocese of St. Louis has a very thorough tool on their web site, as does catholic-pages.com; many Catholic prayer books include a guide to Confession that has similar tools (I personally use Handbook of Prayers, published by the Midwest Theological Forum). Your local parish may have guides available; check with your pastor.

In the past, many clergy relied on published manuals of moral theology which contained lists of sins and corresponding penances. Today there are no longer such strict guidelines; the Rite of Penance says:

Next, the priest imposes an act of penance or expiation on the penitent; this should serve not only as atonement for past sins but also as an aid to a new life and an antidote for weakness.  As far as possible, therefore, the penance should correspond to the seriousness and nature of their sins.  This act of penance may suitably take the form of prayer, self-denial, and especially service to neighbor and works of mercy.  These will underline the fact that sin and its forgiveness have a social aspect. (Rite of Penance, 18)

Is missing Sunday Mass a Mortal Sin? Is eating Meat on Friday durning Lent a Mortal Sin?

The short answer is: it depends.

When determining whether an action is a mortal sin, we must keep in mind the three criteria of mortal sins:

  • it must concern serious (grave) matter;
  • it must be committed with full knowledge of the severity of the sin;
  • it must be committed freely and deliberately.

Both missing Sunday Mass and eating meat on a Lenten Friday involve grave matter; so, to rise to the level of a mortal sin, they must be intentional decisions to violate the divine law (in the case of missing Mass) or disobey the Church's regulations (in the case of eating meat on Fridays).

For instance, if you can't make it to Mass because of a snow storm, you are not culpable (the Church never requires the impossible). On the other hand, if you intentionally grill up hamburgers on Ash Wednesday in defiance of the requirement for abstinence, your manifest disobedience probably rises to the level of a mortal sin, assuming you are aware of the requirement.

Why do we wear ashes on our foreheads on Ash Wednesday?

Lent is a season of penance during which we embark on a spiritual journey with Jesus during his 40 days in the desert. We begin Lent with Ash Wednesday. In the Old Testament ashes were used as a sign of penance and mourning; wearing ashes expressed sorrow for sin and a desire for reconciliation (cf Job 42:3-6; Numbers 19:9; Jonah 3:6; Matthew 11:21).

Today, when the priest imposes ashes, he says either "Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return" (Genesis 3:19) or "Turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel" (Mark 1:15), again reminding us that we are called to give up our sinful ways and follow Christ.

What is the Catholic Church’s stance on the "Rapture"?

The Church does not believe in a "Rapture" as commonly understood by many fundamentalist Christians -- that is, an event in which a select group of believers will be taken to heaven before a time of "tribulation" preceding Christ's Second Coming. This idea is commonly traced to John Nelson Darby, a fundamentalist preacher, in 1830.

The term "Rapture" comes from the Latin version of 1 Thessalonians 4:16–17, which states:

"For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first; then we who are alive, who are left, shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air; and so we shall always be with the Lord."

Catholics tend to interpret this passage as describing our share in Christ's Resurrection and joining with him in the Kingdom of God.

For a more detailed explanation, I recommend these two web sites:

http://www.americancatholic.org/Newsletters/CU/ac1005.asp

http://www.catholic.com/library/Rapture.asp

Retreat Videos

March 2012 Why Catholic? Retreat - Sitting by the Well: Meeting Jesus in Prayer

Engages participants in an experience of reflecting on the gospel passage of the Samaritan Woman – using imagination, heart, mind, and action – enabling the participants to hear the Good News at ever deeper levels.

April 2011 Why Catholic? Retreat - Walking with Christ/Living the Beatitudes

This free retreat, part of our ongoing Why Catholic? program, focused on Jesus’ teaching of the Beatitudes. Sister Honora Nolty, OP, guided participants in reflecting on the Face of Christ in the Beatitudes and how they are connected with our call to be Christ for others in our own day and culture.

Finding God in the Ordinary (August 2009)

Part One

Part Two

Eucharist: Bread for the Journey (May 2009)

Part One

Part Two

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