Join our e-mail list

Catholic FAQs
Dz: Denzinger, The Sources of Catholic Dogma [available from Angelus Press] ST:  Summa Theologica


Must a priest follow certain criteria if he is to refuse Holy Communion to the faithful?

A priest does not have the right to refuse Holy Communion arbitrarily. He must follow the requirements of Canon Law, which prescribes to whom he must refuse Holy Communion, and to whom he must administer it. This law is to be found in Canon 855, §1:

Catholics who are publicly known to be unworthy (for example, those who have been excommunicated or interdicted or who are manifestly of ill repute) must be refused Holy Communion until their repentance and amendment have been established, and satisfaction has been made for the public scandal which they have given.

The essential part of this law is that a Catholic must be a public sinner, or publicly unworthy, to be refused the sacrament of Holy Communion. This is the case, for example, of a person who has publicly performed abortions, or voted for legislation in favor of abortion; or of a father who would have had his children baptized and raised in an heretical sect; or giving membership to the Communist party, or public concubinage; or of persons divorced and remarried outside the Church or convicted of civil crimes such as pedophilia.

However, the Church is very clear that Holy Communion cannot be refused to a person who is not a public sinner, that is if his sin is not sufficiently well known in the community at the present time. For to refuse Holy Communion to a person who is not known to many people as one who publicly breaks the commandments of God would be to defame his good name and destroy his reputation, which a person has a right to in justice, even if he is a hidden sinner. It is only by public sin that he loses this right, for he has lost his reputation. However, if such a hidden sinner were to ask the priest in private to receive Holy Communion, or whether or not he can go to Holy Communion, the priest would be obliged to forbid him to go to Holy Communion, and this even though he could not refuse him Holy Communion if he were to request it publicly at the communion rail. This is explained in the second half of Canon 855: “Occult sinners, who secretly ask for Holy Communion, shall be refused by the minister if he knows that they have not amended; if, however, they seek Communion publicly and the priest cannot pass them by without scandal, he shall not refuse them.” It is truly sad for a priest to be obliged to administer a sacrilegious Communion, but if he cannot convince them privately to abstain from going to Holy Communion, then he must do so.

The question can sometimes arise, not of hidden or occult sins, but of public attitudes that persons might take against the Church, but which are not public sins. There are some people who lack respect for their priests, refuse to follow their advice and counsel, who cause dissension in a parish by gossip and similar means. In general, they are not to be considered as public sinners or publicly unworthy, unless they openly promote teachings that are opposed to Catholic Faith and morality, or unless they incite other parishioners to direct disobedience and disrespect towards their pastors. On occasion, sedevacantists and Feeneyites have fallen into this category.

Also, when parents obstinately refuse their very grave duty of educating their children in the Catholic Faith, as required by canon 1113, and instead educate them in a non-Catholic religion, they must be refused Holy Communion. Canon 2319 (1917 Code of Canon Law) stated that they are to be treated as excommunicated, and consequently refused the sacraments.

What benefits can flow from a visit to a Catholic cemetery?

It must first be recalled that a Catholic cemetery is a holy place, being consecrated ground, especially blessed by the Church to receive the bodies, temples of the Holy Ghost, that will rise up to meet Our Lord, the Supreme Judge, on the last day. It is for this reason that it was always considered obligatory for the bodies of faithful Catholics to be buried in Catholic cemeteries (canon 1205,§1 of the 1917 Code).

A visit to a cemetery is consequently an act of religion, as is the special care of the cemetery and of the tombs of those who are buried there. It inspires a Catholic with reverence, awe for God’s judgments, respect for the souls of those whose bodies are buried there, with an awareness of the brevity of this earthly life, and of the union of the Church militant with the Church suffering in the mystical body of Christ. Special graces are consequently attached to silent and prayerful visits to cemeteries. It can easily be understood why Church law prescribes that each parish have its own cemetery (canon 1208), and why it is the traditional custom for it to be physically adjoining the parish.

However, if Catholics love to visit cemeteries, it is especially out of a motive of charity. We long to assist the suffering souls in purgatory by our prayers, sacrifices, and Masses, given that we are united as members of the same mystical body. A physical visit to a cemetery is a great help in inciting us to this duty of charity. It is for this reason that the Church has generously enriched with her indulgences visits to cemeteries. During the eight days from November 1-8, any of the faithful can, simply by visiting a cemetery and praying for the poor souls, obtain a plenary indulgence, applicable to the poor souls in purgatory, under the usual conditions. At other times of the year this is a partial indulgence. The gaining of a plenary indulgence does not mean that one soul is freed from Purgatory, but that the power of the Church’s suffrages is added to the personal prayers and applied to the poor souls, by manner of intercession. How could we refuse to take advantage of the unlocking of the Church’s treasury, which simply depends on our visits and prayers.

Let us consequently be generous and regular with our visits to Catholic cemeteries, and let us never pass one by without stopping to recite a short prayer for the poor souls there, or at least reciting such a prayer as we go by.  [Answered by Fr. Peter R. Scott]

Is anything more to be gained by hearing two or more Masses at the same time, rather than just one?

The multiplication of Masses is of great benefit to the Church and to souls, for each one is a true, propitiatory sacrifice, an unbloody reactualization of the sacrifice of the Cross. Consequently, there can be no doubt that a soul has much to gain spiritually by assisting at different Masses successively, even though he can receive Holy Communion at only one of those Masses, since each sacrifice will contribute to the purification of his soul and growth in the love of the Cross, by union with the divine Victim.

However, it often happens in large churches or monasteries that several priests will offer the holy sacrifice of the Mass on different altars at the same time. The question of whether or not anything can be gained by assisting at more than one Mass at the same time depends upon whether or not it is really possible to do this. For the assistance of Mass, as for example, when satisfying one’s Sunday obligation, the Church does not just require physical presence. It also requires the intention of worshipping God by assisting at the Mass, and at least some attention as to what is going on. This attention is not just external, by the fact of not doing anything else at the same time. There must also be some internal attention, by thinking of the essential elements of the Mass. However, it is in no way necessary to think of everything, which is why involuntary distractions do not destroy one’s attention to the Mass.

Now, it is manifestly possible for a person to have the intention of assisting at more than one Mass at the same time. It is also possible to have the necessary attention, for the attention to one Mass does not exclude the attention to what is going on at another altar, at least in the general lines. Consequently, a person who has the intention of assisting at two Masses and who pays attention to two Masses at the same time, truly does assist at two Masses, provided that he assists in this manner at all the essential parts of each Mass, or at least the moments of Consecration and Communion. It must be remembered that a person cannot combine different parts of different Masses together to make up the assistance at one Mass, for this is a condemned, laxist proposition (Dz. 1203).

Consequently, a person who had promised to assist at two Masses, would truly fulfill his promise by assisting at two Masses being celebrated simultaneously. However, it seems to me that he would not receive as much grace as if he assisted at two Masses successively, on account of the weakness and limitations of our human nature, on account of which we would be better disposed to receiving graces by assisting at two Masses successively, given the additional time for reflection that this would allow.

The other question that could be raised in this regard is whether a person could satisfy the penance of hearing two Masses, received in the confessional, by assisting at two Masses at the same time. Since it is possible to assist at two Masses at the same time, this would seem possible. However, it will depend upon the mind and intention of the confessor who imposed the penance. If the confessor intended to impose two successive Masses, and made this clear, then the penitent would commit a serious sin by omitting this additional circumstance of the succession of the Masses, thus making his penance much lighter. However, if the confessor did not make it clear, then the penance could be interpreted in the same way as other ecclesiastical laws, and in a narrow sense. (canons 18 & 19; 1917 Code of Canon Law). Since all admit that it is perfectly possible to satisfy two obligations at the same time, for example that of one’s penance of assisting at Mass by the same Mass that is the Mass at which one satisfies one’s Sunday obligation, or one’s family Rosary can also be one’s sacramental penance, then it follows that a person could satisfy the penance of assisting at two Masses, by assisting at both at the same time.  [Answered by Fr. Peter R. Scott]

If intention is necessary for the validity of the sacraments, how can we ever be sure that the sacraments we receive are valid?

There can be no doubt as to the necessity of the correct intention for the valid reception of the sacraments. This is explicitly declared by the Catechism of the Council of Trent, when it states that the ministers of the Sacraments:

...validly perform and confer the Sacraments, provided they make use of the matter and form always observed in the Catholic Church according to the institution of Christ, and provided they intend to do what the Church does in their administration (p. 155).

The Baltimore Catechism explains what the expression "intending to do what the Church does" really means, namely:

the intention of doing what Christ intended when He instituted the Sacrament and what the Church intends when it administers the Sacrament.

As a consequence, it follows that if a priest has a positive intention against what the Church does, namely of specifically not intending what Christ intends and what the Church intends, then one of the three elements necessary for the validity of the Mass is absent, and the Mass is invalid.

This is effectively stated by Pope Alexander VIII when he condemned the contrary proposition as Jansenist, namely that baptism is valid when administered by a minister who resolves within his heart not to intend what the Church does (Dz, 1318).

Since none of us can read the innermost intentions of a minister’s heart how, then, does any one of us know whether or not the sacraments we have received were valid. In effect, Saint Robert Bellarmine points out that we can never have a certitude of Faith concerning the reception of a true sacrament, since no-one can see the intention of another. However, in truth we can never have such a certitude concerning human events. The greatest certitude that we can have is a moral certitude, which is also the certitude that we can have about any contingent, singular reality.

However, it is perfectly possible to have a moral certitude. In the traditional rites of the sacraments and of Mass the guarantee of this moral certitude is contained in the rites themselves. For the traditional rites for Mass and the sacraments express the intentions of the Church in a very explicit manner, leaving no room for doubt whatsoever. The same is not the case for the new rites, framed explicitly to be ambiguous, and to be just as compatible with a Protestant intention as with a Catholic one. Since they do not express the intention of doing what the Church does, the intention of the priest cannot be explicitly known. Consequently there is always a doubt as to the intention of the priest in the celebration of the New Mass and sacraments, which does not in any way exist in the traditional rite. The only way to have moral certitude of valid sacraments is to assist at the traditional rite of Mass. Although theoretically it would be possible for a priest to celebrate sacrilegiously in the traditional rite by having a positive counter intention, it is hardly likely, given that the correct intention is repeated several times, which is not the case in the new rite. To the contrary, it is very likely that a Novus Ordo priest celebrate invalidly through lack of intention, since the full and correct intention is not included in the texts of the New Mass.

Note that the Faith is not required for an adequate intention, and that heretics can confer the sacraments validly, provided that they have the intention of doing what the Church does, even though they might not know what that is. This was clear from the third century, when Pope St. Stephen I condemned St. Cyprian’s contention that the baptism of the heretical Novatians had to be repeated.  [Answered by Fr. Peter R. Scott]

When in confession, should a Catholic mention that he is a member of a third order, or that he has made the total consecration to Our Lady?

When we confess our sins we are bound to mention the nature of the sin, nor are we bound to go into any other further details. However, frequently circumstances are involved that increase the gravity of the sin. Such circumstances must be mentioned if they seriously affect the morality of a mortal sin; e.g., stealing from a church, speaking badly against a priest, or sinning against the sixth commandment with a person who is consecrated to God.

Circumstances that modify the morality of a venial sin, or that do not greatly worsen the gravity of the sin, do not have to be mentioned. However, in confessing our venial sins, it is always helpful to confess any additional circumstances, that make the sin more culpable. It helps us to humble ourselves, and to know the wretchedness of our selfish wills. Consequently, we should mention such circumstances e.g., that it was a child that I mocked, or that it was my wife that I was verbally abusive towards. In this category also fall extra spiritual obligations that I have taken upon myself, and that make more clear to the confessor my refusal to respond to God’s graces. In this way, it is desirable to mention that I am a third order member or that I have made the total consecration to Jesus through Mary. This humble avowal will help our confessions to be more profitable for our soul, and help us to take seriously the obligations that we have bound ourselves to.  [Answered by Fr. Peter R. Scott]

Before Vatican II, did the Church accept Protestant baptisms?

Already in the 3rd century, the Church defined that the fact that it is a heretic who administers the sacrament of baptism does not make it invalid (Dz, 110). The baptisms of Protestants are consequently to be considered valid, unless a reasonable and prudent doubt occurs as to a defect of the required matter, form or intention (cf. Roman Ritual, Titulus II, Caput 3, §11 & 12). If there is certitude about the validity of the Protestant baptism, then there is no need to repeat the administration of the sacrament. The ceremonies are to be supplied, the convert makes a general confession, a profession of Faith and abjuration of heresy, and the excommunication incurred is lifted.

However, the usual situation is that it is practically impossible to prove the validity of the Protestant baptism. Since the investigation is very difficult to do and the validity of the Protestant baptism practically impossible to establish, the custom before Vatican II was to baptize conditionally practically every convert being received into the Church. This is still the practice of traditional priests, who are aware of their obligation to guarantee with certainty the validity of the sacrament. This does not mean that the validity of Protestant baptisms is denied, but simply that they do not have the certitude.  [Answered by Fr. Peter R. Scott]

Is it true that a heretic, who does not believe in the Real Presence, can have the intention of doing what the Church does, and celebrate a valid Mass?

It is certainly true, as St. Thomas Aquinas explains, that faith is not required of necessity in the minister for the sacraments he administers to be valid (ST, IIIa, Q. 64, a. 9). In the same way that a heretic can validly administer the sacrament of baptism (e.g., a Protestant), and even the fact that he does not believe in original sin does not invalidate this sacrament, so also can a heretic celebrate a valid Mass. He does not have to intend what the Church intends, but only what the Church does, which latter is possible even when he has a gross misunderstanding of what the Church really does.

However, this being the case, the existence of heresy can certainly place a shadow of doubt over the intention of the minister giving a sacrament. Before Vatican II it was always the practice to baptize under condition any adult converts from Protestantism. There were several reasons to doubt to some degree Protestant baptisms, one of which is a defective intention of the minister. If the minister had an explicitly contrary intention, namely if he had explicitly formulated the intention of not doing what the Catholic Church has always done, then the sacrament would be invalid. It is not the fact that he does not believe in original sin that could make the sacrament of baptism invalid, but the fact that his explicit intention is just to give an outward sign, and not to administer a sacrament that removes original sin and infuses sanctifying grace.

The same can be the case with the New Mass, and this even if the priest still believes in the Real Presence. He could have a contrary intention to that of the Church. This would be the case if his intention explicitly refuses offering a true sacrifice, the unbloody renewal of Calvary, and explicitly considers that it is to be only a meal and a commemoration of the Last Supper. Such an intention would be directly contrary to the intention of doing what the Church does. We do not know how often this happens, but it is very reasonable to believe that it is a common occurrence. Consequently, there are probably many celebrations of the New Mass, by priests who are convinced of modernist theories, that are invalid.

This is one reason that we cannot have anything to do with the New Mass. However, the more universal reason is that it is insulting and injurious to Almighty God and to Our Lord Jesus Christ, even if it happens to be valid.  [Answered by Fr. Peter R. Scott]

Since I cannot easily get to a traditional church, could you change the requirements for gaining indulgences, so that I can gain them?

The commutation to other good works for the gaining of Indulgences is authorized by canon 935 of the 1917 Code of Canon Law, but only to confessors. It is consequently only the priest who hears your confession who can authorize indulgences to be attached to other good works that you can do (e.g., kissing a crucifix), in the place of others that you cannot do (e.g., visiting a church). Consequently, I could only grant you that favor if I were to hear your confession.

However, Pope Paul VI made changes in the rules for gaining indulgences in 1968. These enable you to gain partial indulgences as many times a day as you will it. Any little sacrifice that you make can have indulgences attached to it, and is automatically indulgenced, if you have the intention of gaining indulgences, and if you pray for the intentions of the Sovereign Pontiff. Consequently, it is important to have the intention of gaining as many indulgences as you can through the day, both by your prayers, and also by bearing willingly and joyfully the hardships and sacrifices that you make.  [Answered by Fr. Peter R. Scott]

What is the infamous canon 844 of the 1983 Code of Canon Law?

This is the canon of the 1983 Code of Canon Law which authorizes sacramental sharing with heretics and schismatics. It is the practical application of the new ecclesiology of Vatican II, particularly the decree On Ecumenism (Unitatis Redintegratio) and of the new definition of the Church as the People of God, that is without clear boundaries. The pope explains this in the Apostolic Constitution Sacrae disciplinae leges which precedes the 1983 Code of Canon Law. It follows from the fact that the Church does not have clear boundaries, that there are varying degrees of communion with it. Consequently, this canon speaks of giving the sacraments to those who do not have full communion with the Catholic Church, as if it were possible for there to be an intermediary state. This is in direct opposition to the traditional teaching, according to which one is either in communion with the pope and the Catholic Church, or one is not at all in communion.

This canon explains under what circumstances it is to be considered "licit" to receive the sacraments of Penance, the Blessed Eucharist and Extreme Unction from non-Catholic ministers, and under what circumstances it is to be considered "licit" for Catholic priests to administer these same sacraments "to other Christians who are not in full communion with the Catholic Church." This is of course a sacrilegious betrayal of the unity of the one, true Church, outside of which there is no salvation. This is particularly the case for Penance, for sacramental absolution cannot traditionally be given to any person who refuses to embrace the Catholic Faith by becoming a member of the Catholic Church, and for the Blessed Eucharist, which symbolizes the very unity of the mystical body of Christ which these heretics and schismatics deny.

Of course, there are no circumstances when this can be done, for the heretic or schismatic must first convert to the Catholic Church before receiving Confession and Communion. It is precisely this that the 1983 Code of Canon Law denies, saying that the sacraments can be given in any case..:

...any time that that necessity demands it or true spiritual utility suggests it, and provided that the danger of error or indifferentism be avoided.

Of course we know that necessity or utility can never justify such a betrayal of the unity of the Church, and that in such a case the danger of error or indifferentism could never be avoided.  [Answered by Fr. Peter R. Scott]

Has this canon 844 always been the policy of the Catholic Church?

This canon 844 is a total and radical departure from Catholic law, and even from the Catholic Faith.

According to the Church’s traditional law, any of the faithful who receive the sacraments from, and thus participate in the ceremonies of, non-Catholics, would automatically be suspect of heresy. (cf. canon 2316 of the 1917 Code of Canon Law, which gives the penalty for the communicatio in sacris with non-Catholics which is forbidden by canon 1258 of the same Code.)

The corresponding canon from the traditional 1917 Code of Canon Law which governs the priests’ administration of sacraments to non-Catholics is canon 731 §2, which states:

It is forbidden to administer the sacraments of the Church to heretics or schismatics, even though they err in good faith and ask for them, unless they have first renounced their errors and been reconciled with the Church.

A more direct contradiction with Catholic Faith and law could barely be imagined, and yet it is to this extent that ecumenism led Pope John Paul II in 1983, and ever since.  [Answered by Fr. Peter R. Scott]

Is a marriage valid if a couple agrees beforehand to limit the number of children by artificial birth control or natural family planning?

The Church’s teaching is summarized in canon 1013 of the 1917 Code of Canon Law, which states that "the primary end of marriage is the procreation and education of children". The intention of having children, provided that this is possible, is consequently essential to the very substance of the matrimonial contract, which is for "acts which are in themselves capable of engendering children". Cf. canon 1081 (1917 Code).

The importance of children as the primary end of marriage was against stressed by the Holy Office under Pope Pius XII:

To the question: "Whether the views of certain recent writers can be admitted, who either deny that the primary end of marriage is the procreation and education of children, or teach that the secondary ends are not necessarily subordinate to the primary end, but are equally principal and independent" the reply was: "In the negative" (Quoted in Bouscaren & Ellis, Canon Law, p. 400).

Yet the 1983 Code of Canon Law embraces this concept condemned less than 40 years earlier by not only placing the two ends of marriage on an equal and independent level, but even listing first the secondary end (i.e. mutual support, or the good of the spouses): "The matrimonial covenant, by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of the whole of life, is by its nature ordered towards the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of offspring" (canon 1055, §1, 1983 Code).

It is ultimately this new concept of marriage, as being for the couple themselves, and not so much for children, which has resulted in the refusal of Catholics since Vatican II to have large families. Artificial birth control, which is the destruction of Catholic families, is no longer condemned as a mortal sin, for marriage is now considered in a selfish way, as being for the couple itself, rather than an outpouring of love desiring to participate in God’s work of creation and sanctification of His children. The so-called practice of Natural Family Planning, propagated in the post-Conciliar church as a "catholic" method of contraception, derives also from the same contraceptive mentality. Since marriage is considered primarily for the couple itself, they consider themselves free to determine the number of children and their spacing. This can be a mortal sin if NFP is employed without sufficient reason, as approved by the Church (e.g. serious eugenic, social or medical reasons, such as danger to the life of the mother through additional children). Whether it be through artificial or natural means that the first purpose of marriage is frustrated, such couples who are not willing to accept all the children God sends them do indeed fail to live up to their marriage vows.

However, this does not mean the marriage vows with the condition of limiting children by artificial contraception or natural family planning are invalid. The exclusion of children is certainly a grounds for a declaration of nullity, but only when there is an explicit, provable and positive act of the will to avoid all children, for this is an intention contrary to the substance of marriage itself. The difficulty in such cases is to determine whether it is the obligation of having children which is refused, or whether it is simply the fulfillment of this obligation. (Cf. Bouscaren, Canon Law Digest, I, pp. 532, 533). Those couples who accept the obligation of having children are certainly validly married, even if they do not always fulfill this obligation, e.g. by limiting the number of their children. This is the case of those selfish couples who are determined to limit the size of their family from the beginning of their marriage. They are truly married, although their marriage is not pleasing to God, and they will never be able to communicate to their children generosity, the spirit of sacrifice, the love of the Cross, of souls and the Church.

Moreover, even if a couple deliberately excludes all children, the Church always presumes that it is the fulfillment of the duty that is excluded, and not the obligation of having children itself, and that consequently the marriage is valid.  [Answered by Fr. Peter R. Scott]

Would a person with Celiac disease be protected by transubstantiation from being harmed by gluten in the host?

The argument that the accidental qualities of bread cannot harm the intestine of one who suffers from Celiac disease (due to non-tolerance of gluten in wheat bread) is false. It is of course true that the substance of the bread does not remain after the consecration of the sacred species. However, all the accidents remain, which include not just the exterior appearance, but everything that is subject to the senses and that science can investigate, including the chemical composition. The chemical effects of the gluten on the intestinal wall will consequently still remain, just as much as the appearance and texture of bread, for they are just as accidental to the real nature of what is there as the appearance and texture. Here lies the miracle and the mystery of the Blessed Eucharist. It would be a miracle if the accidental qualities of gluten were not to harm the intestine. Although such miracles can happen, we cannot depend upon such an extraordinary intervention of Almighty God. Consequently, a person who suffers from Celiac disease needs to ask the priest to give him or her a very small portion of the host. It is never allowed to manufacture the host out of rice or a non-wheaten material that does not contain gluten. Such hosts are not valid matter for the Holy Eucharist.  [Answered by Fr. Peter R. Scott]

Is a Catholic in mortal sin if he allows more than one year to pass since his last confession?

It is one of the six precepts of the Church, and explicitly stated in canon 906 of the 1917 Code of Canon Law: "All Catholics of either sex who have reached the years of discretion, that is the age of reason, are obliged to confess all their sins accurately at least once a year." Since this is a clear obligation in a serious matter, established by the Church for the salvation of souls, it is clear that it is under pain of mortal sin, and if a person deliberately omits to confess his or her sins, he commits an additional mortal sin.

However, there is a change in the wording of the corresponding canon in the 1983 Code. Instead of all sins, it now says "serious sins" (canon 989).This leaves some ambiguity, but it must be understood as meaning "mortal sins" to use the precise term employed by the traditional Code of Canon Law. This seems to take away all obligation to confess sins if one thinks that one has no "serious" or mortal sins on one’s soul. This is the common practice in the post-Conciliar Church, in which many practicing Catholics go for many years without seeing the need to go to Confession. It is a great tragedy, for their conscience becomes extremely lax. Who are they to judge of themselves that they have not committed any mortal sin? It is hard to understand how one who is familiar with the traditional teachings of the Church could be excused from the sin of presumption.

However, it must be admitted that "strictly speaking, only those are obliged by this precept who have committed a moral sin" (Jone, §395, p.279). This is confirmed by Woywood and Smith’s Practical Commentary on the Code of Canon Law (pp. 512, 513). It is there pointed out that the obligation of confessing one’s mortal sins is of divine law, coming from Our Lord Himself. The time for the confession of sins was specified by the Fourth Lateran Council (1215), but the Council of Trent interpreted this as applying only to those sins that have to be confessed by divine law. The 1917 Code of Canon Law states explicitly (canon 902) that the confession of venial sins is optional, and one canon cannot contradict another. Hence it was never strictly obligatory under pain of mortal sin for a Catholic who was sure that he had no mortal sin to go to confession every year.

However, putting aside this technical and unreal exception, (for who can really pretend to be free of mortal sin when he is so lax as to go to confession only once a year?), it remains that the spirit of the Church is that which is contained in the letter of canon 906 from the traditional code, and not that contained in the new code, namely that every Catholic should consider it his duty to go to confession at least once per year.

In fact, it is not just once a year, but frequently that we should confess our venial sins if we hope not only to stay in the state of grace, but also to advance in virtue. This is what Pope Pius XII had to say on this subject in 1943:

It is true that venial sins may be expiated in many ways which are to be highly commended. But to ensure more rapid progress day by day in the path of virtue, We will that the pious practice of frequent confession, which was introduced into the Church by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, should be earnestly advocated (Mystici Corporis Christi, §88).

Condemning the younger priests who "lessen esteem for frequent confession," the pope described some of the many advantages to the soul of the regular confession of our venial sins.

By it genuine self-knowledge is increased, Christian humility grows, bad habits are corrected, spiritual neglect and tepidity are resisted, the conscience is purified, the will strengthened, a salutary self-control is attained, and grace is increased in virtue of the sacrament itself (Ibid.).

Is it any wonder that the Church requires that we go to confession eight days before or after gaining a plenary indulgence?  [Answered by Fr. Peter R. Scott]

I have a relative in her early 30’s, who has not been baptized. I was taught that anyone can baptize, if no priest is available.

It is certainly true that a lay person is capable of baptizing validly. However, it is only licit for a lay person to baptize when the unbaptized person is in immediate danger of death and when a priest is not available. Furthermore a lay person can only give the matter and form necessary for the validity of the sacrament. He cannot administer the other ceremonies, which can only be separated from the sacramental form in the case of danger of death.

In addition, an adult can only be baptized if he believes and embraces all the articles of the Catholic Faith, if he has studied and learned his catechism, if he is sorry for his sins, and has requested to be received into the Catholic Church. Only a priest can judge if these conditions are fulfilled. If they are not, the baptism could very well not be fruitful, and not give grace.

A case in which a lay person could baptize would be when an unbaptized person is on his death bed, and there is no time to call a priest, and he makes acts of Faith, Hope, Charity and contrition with the dying person, who states that he believes all that the Catholic Church teaches, is sorry for his sins and wants to become a Catholic. However, every effort must be made to find a good traditional priest to judge the dispositions of the catechumen.  [Answered by Fr. Peter R. Scott]

A friend of mine was raised a Catholic, fell away from the Church, and married a non-Catholic person outside the Church. She has now divorced him. Is he free to remarry?

You are perfectly correct in stating that a Catholic is obliged to the canonical form of marriage, and that this is, according to ecclesiastical law, under pain of invalidity of the marriage. Before Vatican II the marriage of a Catholic by a justice of the peace or by a protestant minister was always invalid. The couple was not married in the eyes of God until such time as the marriage was regularized before a Catholic priest.

There are, however, two shamefully liberal exceptions which are permitted by the 1983 Code of Canon Law, and in which cases the marriage would presumably be valid. One case is where the Catholic party formally apostasizes. In the New Code, he is no longer obliged to the canonical form to enter into a valid marriage, as if once a Catholic he is not always obliged to be a Catholic. The other shameful exception is the dispensation from canonical form, which the parish priest can now give, that a person might be married in the church of the non-Catholic party. Such a marriage is valid, but it is founded on indifferentism, and the children suffer, for they have no chance of being raised Catholic in such a case.

Presuming that the marriage was never regularized, and that neither of these two cases applies, your friend’s marriage was invalid.

However, these are quite a few presumptions to make. Consequently a person is not allowed to judge in his own case, and he must seek a decision from an ecclesiastical tribunal, which will consider all the circumstances, and if it truly is the case that the marriage is invalid, will grant an annulment for lack of canonical form.  [Answered by Fr. Peter R. Scott] © 2013                    home                    contact