Ask a Priest: July 2017

July 18, 2017

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Q. I have a question I would like you to explain. Is God a Catholic and was Mary one, too? When did Jesus become a Catholic?

A. Well you were wrong about not seeing it in The Catholic Mirror! We know that God is neither male nor female. God is above all things. You might be disappointed to know that Mary, the mother of Jesus was not a Catholic, nor was Jesus himself. They were both faithful Jews. The early believers referred to their religious practice as “the Way.” Early on, the disciples continued to go to the Temple for the regular prayers of Judaism, and then they gathered in their homes for “the breaking of the bread” – what we know as the Eucharist or the Mass. It was at Antioch that the followers of the way were first called “Christians” (Acts 11:26). The term “Catholic” means “universal” and came to refer to the Church wherever believers took it.

Q. (Edited for length) I have been concerned for some time about the increase in how often priests and/or deacons "ad-lib" the readings at Mass. For example, during the Eucharistic Prayer at the consecration, the line that says "...which will be poured out for MANY for the forgiveness of sins," is frequently changed to "...which will be poured out for ALL..." While I realize that this wording had been altered a long time ago, it was clearly changed back to the original wording. That one word, MANY or ALL, changes the meaning completely. A deacon at our church routinely changes the pronouns in the Gospel readings to be gender inclusive. I need to know the truth, not someone's arbitrary "version" of the truth. That's why I can hardly watch the news on TV anymore!

 A. Well now, I learned long ago that our words and our concepts can never capture the immensity of God or of our faith. Words can only try to do that. The new edition of the Roman Missal has a number of prayers and instructions that can at best be called clumsy. Some are almost incomprehensible. I’m sure that your priest or your deacon is trying to make things more understandable. Regarding the word MANY and the word ALL, I watched the Holy Father celebrating Mass recently in Italian. When it came to that part of the Mass, he used the phrase “per tutti” for all. The German missal also uses “for all”. We have to remember that all of these missals are translations that try to approximate the mystery that we celebrate. When some words are substituted, it should be for a good reason and not carelessly. Many priests and deacons try to assist the faithful in praying well. If they sometimes use a different expression, it doesn’t change the faith. If anything, it might help us to navigate through what many have called a very flawed translation.

Q. I’ve often wondered why we baptize infants. Can you shed some light on this common practice?

A. We baptize infants in the hope that the children will grow up surrounded by a family and a community of faith. There is nothing magic about any of the sacraments. Rather, they point to the goodness of God and our inclusion in the family of faith. Those familiar with the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults realize that people come to faith and religious practice at different times in their lives. Some adults who are baptized as adults become active and enthusiastic members of the Church. Others drift away for some reason or no reason. It can be the same with infants. Nothing guarantees lifelong practice. We believe that baptism marks us as followers of Jesus. When we live up to that call, we can make a huge difference in the lives of others. When we fail to live up to that call, we lose a wonderful opportunity. But the door is always open – both to children who fail to practice their faith and to adults who fail to practice their faith. The sacrament of Penance can be a way for individuals to “re-enter” the family of the Church.

Q. I’ve noticed that some parishes celebrate Baptisms during Mass while others celebrate them after Mass. Is there a right way or a wrong way here?

A. Baptism serves as a welcome into the community of believers. Parents and godparents (sponsors) represent the whole Church. It is fitting to celebrate the sacrament at a weekend Mass because a large number of parishioners can participate. The Easter Vigil and the Sundays of the Easter Season are especially appropriate times for Baptism during Mass. If a parish has several weekend Masses, there is no way that the whole community can be at a given Baptism. Also, priests and deacons are aware that having Baptisms at Mass for several Sundays in a row can be somewhat imposing on the faithful. So the answer to your question is this: both during Mass and after Mass are appropriate times for the sacrament. Most important is that those who are present for any Baptism grow in their faith.

Send your questions to Ask a Priest, 601 Grand Ave., Des Moines, IA 50309. Answers are published in The Catholic Mirror, which is published the third Friday of each month.