Wisdom, Understanding, and Knowledge. Counsel and Piety. Fortitude and Fear of the Lord.
The virtues of faith, hope, and charity stably equip our intellects and wills to make supernatural movements of knowing and loving. In the gifts, however, we receive stable supernatural perfections that equip us to be moved in a divine mode, in a way that human reason can neither grasp nor initiate. Our acts remain our own, but they exceed our understanding: God Himself moves us according to His wisdom (ST I-II q. 68). The gifts serve as spiritual instincts for the soul, once it is healed and elevated by grace.
To be sure, anyone who has charity (love) has all seven gifts of the Spirit (ST I-II q. 68, a. 5). And yet God, in His wisdom, activates these gifts differently in the life of each individual saint: “The wind blows where it wills . . . so it is with every one who is born of the Spirit” (John 3:8). The Spirit gave to the martyrs the courage to confess Christ, to St. Dominic an outstanding sensitivity to our fallen condition, to St. Catherine a piercing insight into the truths of faith, and to St. Thomas a sweeping vision of the things of God. Only God, in his provident knowledge, could understand and foreknow the surprising ways that He drew each saint to Himself.
Only someone who grasps the apparently dry truth that the gifts “as to their essence” remain in heaven (ST I-II q. 68, a. 6) could write this book’s finale, which so forcefully conveys the splendor of heavenly glory. All of us are called to this glory.
The gifts of the Spirit, unlike the virtues, are not ours to direct as we will. We wait upon God, Who Himself is the wind who fills our spiritual sails. At the same time, however, we pray for God to activate in us His seven gifts, and the more we know about these gifts individually, the more we can ask for them specifically, according to our daily needs. Thus may the Spirit, as He does for every saint, govern us firmly and sweetly the whole of our lives.
“We often speak of the four marks of the Church: one, holy, catholic, and apostolic. Yet during our apologetical endeavors, it would be a missed opportunity not to bring the argument to a climax by unveiling the Eucharist as the mark of Christ’s Church par excellence. The Eucharist is the ultimate mark of Christ’s Church, for the Eucharist not only is a visible sign of each mark, but has the power to maintain the essence of what each mark of the Church represents.
First, the Church is one through the Eucharist. In October 2004, John Paul II graced the Year of the Eucharist with the apostolic letter Mane Nobiscum Domine. In it, the Holy Father recounted several instances in Scripture where Christ was leading His disciples to an understanding of a Church united in him through the Eucharist. In John 6:55, Jesus says, “My flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed.” This was shocking to those who heard it—so much so that many left. Jesus asked the Twelve if they too would go away. Peter, speaking for the Twelve, said, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” In other words, those who understood, though they were shocked by the reality of the words just spoken, refused to abandon Christ’s teaching because they would be abandoning Christ himself.
St. Cyril of Alexandria understood the Eucharist’s ability to unite us with Christ. He said, “As two pieces of wax fused together make one, so he who receives Holy Communion is so united with Christ that Christ is in him and he is in Christ.”
The Eucharist is, therefore, the sign and cause of unity because the Eucharist is Christ. It was instituted by Christ as a means of drawing us to himself. The Eucharist expresses our unity and also brings it about when we receive him worthily. The fact that we share the same body and blood makes us sisters and brothers in Christ. Even at the natural level we realize that sharing the same blood forms a family bond. Those who are too ill to participate in the Eucharistic celebration are often brought the Eucharist both as a sign of unity and to provide them with spiritual food. Blessed Theophane Venard wrote of the Eucharist, “When the body is deprived of food it languishes and dies; and it is the same with the soul, without the Bread that sustains life.”
By receiving this spiritual nourishment, we, Christ’s body, are equipped to give of ourselves to each other and to him in a more perfect way. The visible structure of the Church maintains the succession of priests who can offer the sacrifice of the Mass and consecrate bread and wine into Christ’s body and blood. “Just as the Church ‘makes the Eucharist’ so the Eucharist builds up the Church” (Dominicae Cenae 4).
The Eucharist also unites heaven and earth. Many who have lost a loved one may experience closeness to that person after receiving Communion or while in adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. These feelings may be a result of a deep theological awareness that those who died in grace are alive in Christ; thus, our nearness to Christ in the Eucharist brings us nearer to them as well.
Another way of seeing this fusion of heaven and earth is to realize that when Christ instituted the Eucharist at the Last Supper, its sacrificial dimension was revealed. Throughout history, Christ offers himself for the salvation of all mankind—but why? So we can live with him eternally. As one family, we, who share the same divine body and blood, will share in the heavenly banquet together—perfected in love and united in that love.
Augustine said of the Eucharist, “O sacrament of love! O sign of unity! O bond of charity! He who would have life finds here indeed a life to live and a life to live by.”
Second, the Church is holy through the Eucharist. The greatest commandments are to love God and neighbor, and the greatest expression of this love is found in the Eucharist. The Eucharist is Christ, and it recalls the love he has for us—a love so great that he was willing to become one of us, suffer incredible physical and spiritual pain, and die a human death. Consuming Christ in the Eucharist has the capacity to make us more like him—and thus more holy. “For the partaking of the body and blood of Christ has no less an effect than to change us into what we receive” (Eucharisticum Mysterium 7).
Such thoughts help us to understand St. Teresa of Avila’s words that “Christ has no body on earth but yours, no hands but yours, no feet but yours. Yours are the eyes through which Christ’s compassion for the world is to look out, yours are the feet with which he is to go about doing good, and yours are the hands with which he is to bless us now.”
Third, the Church is catholic through the Eucharist. Christ’s presence in the Church makes it catholic, or universal. He is wherever the Church is, and wherever the Church is, there is the Eucharist.
As a universal Church, we have the responsibility of being Christ to others. This means that not only must we say what he said, but we also must do what he did. Jesus admonished sinners, showed mercy, asked for repentance, and demonstrated compassion and forgiveness. He also fed the hungry, healed the sick, and encouraged the poor. He did not deny anyone because of race, sex, age, or state in life. Just as we are to be Christ to others, so we must see Christ in others. He can be found in everyone. When we see Christ in others, we find ourselves. In this way, the Church is also universal.
By participating in the Eucharistic celebration, we are reminded that the loving sacrifice that he made for us, he also made for everyone. All activities of the Church to spread the kingdom of God are linked with the Eucharist and are directed back to it. St. Peter Chrysologus said, “The Eucharist is the link that binds the Christian family together. Take away the Eucharist and you have no brotherliness left.”
Fourth, the Church is apostolic through the Eucharist. The Church is apostolic because her mission in and to the world is a continuation of the work of the first apostles, a mission given to them by Christ. Because this mission will go on until the end of time, the apostles had to make provisions for others to succeed them. Guided by the Holy Spirit, the bishops, who are the successors to the apostles, continue to teach and guide the Church today. All the members of the mystical body of Christ share in this mission and are called to activities that further God’s kingdom. This means they are to spread the gospel of Christ through works of love in their state of life. “But charity, drawn from the Eucharist above all, is always ‘as it were, the soul of the whole apostolate’” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 864).
The Church is governed by spiritual fathers representing God. Throughout the Old Testament, genealogies had great importance because they identified individuals as part of a succession of people who shared the same blood and, thus, were part of the same family. Christ continued this linkage by appointing apostles to succeed him, and he gave us the Eucharist so we could all share in the same blood that our brothers and sisters in faith also shared.
So you see how Christ’s body and blood factor into each mark of the Church. The Eucharist both symbolizes the oneness of Christ’s Church and causes and sustains it. Christ is God, who alone is perfectly holy. Christ is present within the Church for which he dies, making it holy. The Church has been entrusted with the Eucharist, and therefore it has the means to make men holy by partaking in Christ. Christ’s Church is universal because he died for each and every one of us wherever we are, whoever we are, and whenever we lived.
St. John de Brebeuf, a Jesuit who was martyred bringing the Catholic faith to the natives of North America, contemplated the mystery of the Eucharist’s universality, saying,
The only external sign of our holy religion that we have is the Blessed Sacrament of the altar. . . . It seems, moreover, that God supplies what we lack and rewards us with grace for having transported the holy sacrament beyond so many seas and having found an abode for it in these poor cabins.
By bringing the Eucharist to the New World, continents were spiritually united. The Eucharist is a memorial of Christ’s sacrifice for all men, and it keeps in our mind the dignity of all men because of Christ’s love for them. The Church’s ability to trace its roots to the apostles assures us that the successors to Peter are part of our family tree and that it is the true Church. The power to consecrate bread and wine has been passed on within the family as our spiritual treasure that keeps each mark of the Church present and its identity authentic.
The reason, therefore, why the Eucharist is the ultimate mark of the Church, the mark par excellence, is that the Eucharist is Christ, Who remains in the Church; sustains it; and, through its members, draws others to himself. Because of the Eucharist, the Church maintains its marks and grows in unity, holiness, catholicity, and apostolic works. The Eucharist was instituted because of the Church, and the Church is sustained and grows because of the Eucharist.
Articulating this truth to non-Catholic Christians would resonate in many hearts and draw them into this great mystery of our faith: Christ’s real presence among us. St. John Henry Newman said, “A true Christian may almost be defined as one who has a ruling sense of God’s presence within him.” How much more within us can he be than through the partaking of the Eucharist?”
“Christians sometimes find themselves discussing their experiences in confession—especially if they had an unpleasant or confusing experience. They trade stories—some humorous, others jaw-dropping, some of them exaggerations, others misunderstandings. The words and personality of the confessor are always the center of the story—to which, by the way, he can never respond, since he is forbidden by the seal to defend himself from your complaints!
What makes a good confessor? How can we evaluate a confessor as “good” or “bad”? To answer, we need to know what confession is all about. We may be surprised at what we do not know, even if we have gone to confession habitually our whole lives.
First off, going to confession is not about having a conversation. Yes, that’s what I said. It’s not about the penitent’s talking, nor about the priest’s talking. It’s not about asking for advice or giving advice. Neither one is a requirement for the sacrament.
Notice the word sacrament. We call confession the sacrament of penance or the sacrament of absolution or the sacrament of reconciliation. If we understand what a sacrament is, we will go a long way in understanding confession and confessors correctly.
A sacrament is a sign of a particular grace established by Christ in order to convey the saving graces of His holy passion and resurrection. The grace of a particular sacrament corresponds to the different stages and circumstances and relationships of life. The sacrament of penance or confession corresponds to the circumstance of having sinned, especially mortally, after baptism and needing a new cleansing after our first one.
Each sacramental sign is made up of its matter and the form, which clarifies the meaning of the matter, as water and the baptismal words in baptism, or bread and wine and the words of consecration in the holy Eucharist, or the laying on of hands and the appropriate words in ordinations.
So when the priest who celebrates the sacrament of penance with you prepares, what is the matter, and what is the form? The matter is not precisely your sins! A sacrament is an act of divine worship, and we do not offer things that are evil in worship, and our sins are evil. We bring matter that is good, like water, wine, bread, oil, and chrism. The precise matter of the sacrament is contrition for sin, not sin. It is a loving and complete sorrow, not just felt, but willed, for grave sin committed after baptism.
So what is the job of the confessor? It is to determine and ensure as much as possible that the penitent has true contrition—that is, is sorry out of love, and sorry universally.
This is all from the teaching of St. Thomas Aquinas, by the way. Aquinas teaches that confessing our sins out loud is a super-prudent way of ensuring our contrition. This is so true that Aquinas advises that if we are dying and no priest is available, we may confess to any lay person just to establish our sorrow for sin. This extreme case (or maybe not so extreme in this age) reveals the basic reason for speaking our sins in confession.
Thus, the reason for talking at all is just to signify (sacraments are signs!) our sorrowing love. If we must ask questions, it is to know what to be sorry for. Any other discussion in confession is not part of the sacrament.
The sacrament of confession is not spiritual direction or counseling. Those things may conveniently take place, but they may well, and even best, be accomplished outside the sacrament, if there are other opportunities. Sometimes they may even be a hindrance, filling the sacrament with lots of non-sacramental discussion.
Ironically, too much talk, even pious talk, may undermine the penitential and loving purpose of our verbal confession, dissipating our attention from the experience of confessing our love of God. So the priest may need gently to correct us if we talk outside the purpose of the sacrament we are celebrating. If the penitent is uncomfortable and needs to be encouraged, the priest may talk a little more as well, but that is only to make it easy for the sinner to be sorry out of love, and not nervous or afraid of the priest or the circumstances.
All talk should point to loving contrition. This is true of almost everything we say at Mass, from the Kyrie to the “Lord I am not worthy.” This means that the priest also should not talk too much or ask too many questions or dwell on any details beyond what is necessary to clarify what sin was committed and whether the penitent intends to struggle against it. This is especially important regarding sins against chastity.
Sometimes a priest may be a little chatty. If he is, and it is not to the point, don’t encourage him. Just ask him for penance and absolution as sweetly as you can, and make room for the next penitent.
Often one hears the complaint, usually legitimate, from a devout penitent that a confessor will tell him he comes to confession too often, that he has only venial sins to confess. This is nonsense and an insult to the freedom of the faithful in approaching the sacrament. Even so, it is an opportunity to point out that venial sins never have to be confessed, and they do not all have to be confessed in any case. So if there is a long line, and you intend to confess many venial sins, you might be so kind as to limit your confession to the ones that threaten your love the most. There is no obligation to be complete when there is no question of mortal sin.
In fact, the best thing to do, better than confessing venial sins, is to renew your confession of some mortal sin already confessed for which you are especially sorry and which makes you especially aware of how you have offended our loving Lord. Renew your sorrow and confess past sins of adultery, theft, violence, abortion, the things that have wrecked your life and hurt others the most. Some priests do not understand that you are free to confess past sins already confessed. Just tuck it in after some venial sin you are also sorry for, and ignore Father if his lack of instruction makes him wonder at your devout practice.
After all, the form, the absolution, works off the matter, and in confession, the closer the matter is to the form—that is, the more intense the loving sorrow—the greater the effect of the form. The sorrier you are, the more you get out of confession. So if you have reached a point in life when you no longer commit many new sins, that does not mean that you cannot have confessions more contrite than when you were a fresh, young sinner. It is love that counts, and we can become more and more grateful and loving as the years go on.
So imagine if the priest is unkind to you, even cruel. Recognize that none of the sacrament depends on his priestly ministry in the strict sense for anything but that he can pray the words of absolution over you. If you come to confession with a sincere, loving, and universal contrition, nothing else matters except the words “I absolve you from your sins . . .”
To be sure, talk is important, and instruction is important, and our feelings are important, but “love endures,” and any experience of the priest, good or bad, is nothing in comparison with the amazing power of the instant when our loving sorrow meets the power of absolution.
Think of it. At your last confession, you may be unconscious, and the priest may not even know you, and there will be no talk, but only this: that he was told you are a Christian who desires the forgiveness of the Savior. Your confessor will recite the words of absolution over you, in obedience to the institution of Christ, and this will usher you into eternal life.
Then it will not matter whether he was a good or a bad confessor, and it will not matter how good or bad you were in life. As St. John of the Cross says in a way so perfectly in line with the matter of this sacrament: “In the evening of this life we will be judged on love.” You will be safe in the loving embrace of the Savior, Who will continue to purify, perfect, and delight you forevermore. Amen.”
“It is necessary to confess our sins to those to whom the dispensation of God’s mysteries is entrusted. Those doing penance of old are found to have done it before the saints. It is written in the Gospel that they confessed their sins to John the Baptist [Matt. 3:6], but in Acts [19:18] they confessed to the apostles.” –St Basil the Great (Rules Briefly Treated, 288 [A.D. 374])
Love, pray for priests! Our Lady, Queen of Priests, pray for priests, and us, too!!!!
“Purity is the fruit of prayer.” — Saint Teresa of Calcutta, quoted from the book Purity 365
Chastity as a Virtue
“The Catholic Church wants YOU to have AWESOME SEX!!!!”
Chastity is not a teeth-gritting ability to avoid violating the sexual rules. Rather, chastity is a habit of reverence for oneself and others that enables us to use our sexual powers intelligently in the pursuit of human flourishing and happiness.
“Those who are chaste are fully at peace with their bodies and their sexuality. Chastity is not best seen as the ability to keep oneself from violating the sexual “rules”; rather, it is “a dynamic principle enabling one to use one’s sexual powers intelligently in the pursuit of human flourishing and happiness.”
If chastity is a virtue, it is an aspect of character that a person can aspire to, achieve, stray from, regain. Notice that when the virtue at the top of this spectrum is chastity, there are three different ways of being unchaste—continence, incontinence and the vice of lustfulness.”
-Caroline J. Simon
“The virtue of chastity calls us, as sexual beings, to revere ourselves as creatures made in the image of God and made to honor God through our actions—through how we do have sex and do not have sex,” Matt Fradd writes. “And it calls us to revere other persons for the sake of the other person’s good and ultimate happiness. When we think about it, this loving reverence for ourselves and others is what we deeply desire.”
However, these truths about the virtue of chastity are easily forgotten today. There are some reasons for our amnesia.
We are unfamiliar with the language of “virtue.” Caroline Simon notes above that chastity (like other virtues that temper human desire for pleasure) is actually an ideal trait, a settled and comfortable “peace” with our well-ordered desires and pleasures—in this case, our desires for and pleasures regarding sex. Chastity is neither mere continence (a difficult, but successful struggle against disordered desires) nor incontinence (a losing struggle); chastity is not a struggle at all. Of course, many of us continue to struggle with wayward sexual desires. But this suggests that we are not yet chaste and not yet at peace with proper sexual desire, as we want to be.
We experience some resentment toward morality generally and toward specific ideals like chastity. The emotion-stance of resentment “involves disparaging and rejecting what is good and strong because we feel unable to attain it,” Fradd explains. We long to be at peace with sexual desire in relationships that “accord with our human dignity and…weave into the happiness that God intends for us in this life.” But this ideal seems unattainable. “All around us we see marriages that are impermanent, personal loyalties that are problematically divided, and spouses and friends who are unfaithful. Sexuality is misused, within marriages and in singleness, in ways that are selfish, in ways that are abusive, and in ways that do not honor God,” he notes. “So, we end up despising the ideal. We call chastity ‘oppressive’; we call it ‘naïve.’Lacking the strength in ourselves and having little community support to obtain the ideal we desire, we end up resenting it.”
We mistakenly think chastity revolves around not having sex. Yes, during singleness and at times in marriage it is appropriate to not have sex. But abstinence is not the heart of this virtue. “Simply put, chastity is a sort of reverence: a chaste person reveres and respects the other person by making sure that before they have sex, both are united in a common aim—namely, a marriage commitment whose mutual goal is the gift of self to the other,” Fradd writes. “When people will the good for one another in this way, they do not act solely on passing desires and feelings, but rather on their commitment to help the other person attain the good and honor God.”
We mistakenly think chastity revolves around repressing sexual desire and not thinking about sex. This is “almost exactly backwards,” Fradd notes. Chastity has no interest
in eliminating true sexual desire, which says, “This is my body given for you,” but it would like to rid our lives of the lust that says, “This is your body taken for me.” Furthermore, chastity has no interest in stopping our thinking about sex, but it would like for us to think carefully and well about sex. Fradd says, “The place to start is with the telos for which God created us, and why God made the other creatures and us sexual beings: ‘Be fruitful and multiply’ (Genesis 1:22, 28). This tells us that sex, sexual desire, and orgasms are good. Chastity wants us to think about what good it is that they were created for. How do they fit within God’s plan for us to love one another and honor God?”
“Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” — Mt 22:36-39
“By the eleventh century, the Church found itself in great need of reform, especially the clergy, and the Holy Spirit provided a series of reform-minded popes. These popes began their ecclesial careers as monks, and many of them had spent time at the famous reformed Benedictine monastery at Cluny in France. When Bruno of Alsace was elected pope in 1049, taking the name Leo IX, he initiated one of the most comprehensive reforms in Church history.
Leo (r. 1049-1054) recognized that simply issuing reform decrees from Rome would not change clerical behavior and restore the Church, so he decided to go on one of the most important road trips in papal history. During his five-year pontificate, he spent only six months in Rome, taking his reform road show to France, Italy, and Germany. Wherever he went, Leo deposed immoral bishops and punished clerics who were guilty of simony. Although those actions were necessary, the pope recognized that the major problem with clerical behavior was infidelity to the promise of celibacy.
In the first three centuries of Church history, there was no law prohibiting the ordination of married men, and many priests were married; however, marriage was never permitted after ordination. Moreover, all priests—married, single, or widowed—practiced sexual abstinence after ordination. The first recorded Church legislation concerning clerical celibacy in the West was decreed at the Synod of Elvira in Spain around the year 300, and in 385, Pope Siricius (r. 384-399) mandated celibacy for all clergy in the West.
But despite the longstanding practice of the Church, clergy in the early medieval Church often did not live celibacy faithfully. Many priests were not properly trained or formed, and they flouted their vow of celibacy, taking mistresses and concubines who bore them children, causing great scandal. Other priests engaged in homosexual acts. All the while, bishops and abbots seemed hesitant to act and restore virtue to the priesthood and monasteries.
But one monk was not afraid, and he wrote a book in which he called for Leo IX to remove this stain of clerical immorality. His name was Peter Damian, and today (Feb 21) is his feast day.
Peter was born in Ravenna seven years into the eleventh century. His early life was marked by suffering; both his parents died when he was an infant. An older, abusive brother and his concubine took Peter into their home, where he was beaten, starved, and sent to work as a swineherd. In the midst of this tribulation, Peter took solace in Christ and developed deep piety. When he found a gold coin in the mud while tending the pigs, for example, instead of spending it on himself, Peter ran to the parish priest and paid a stipend for a Mass to be celebrated for the repose of his father’s soul.
Eventually, Peter was rescued from his horrible conditions by another brother who recognized Peter’s intellectual gifts and ensured he received an education in the liberal arts. This brother’s love and generosity influenced Peter to add his brother’s name, Damian, to his own and he henceforth was known as Peter Damian.
Peter’s devoted his life to growing closer to God, and he performed many acts of mortification to drive away temptations of the flesh. His spirituality was focused on the Cross, and he wrote, “Those who do not love the Cross of Christ do not love Christ” (Sermo XVIII, 11). He incorporated this focus into his life to such a degree that he came to describe himself as “Peter, servant of the servants of the Cross of Christ.”
In his late twenties, Peter joined a monastery, where he committed himself to personal reform and to pursuing reform within his community. He knew that reform in the larger Church and even in secular society was impossible without first focusing on the individual. Peter was appalled by the immoral behavior of the diocesan clergy and monks and endeavored to return his brother priests to virtuous living. During the time of Leo’s reign, he composed a book critical of clerical sexual immorality.
Addressed to the pope, the book (given the title The Book of Gomorrah centuries later) was not just a diatribe against sin but was also an exhortation to personal penance and a return to virtue and was written in a firm yet compassionate tone. He exhorted fellow priests who were tempted by the devil toward carnal pleasures to orient “your mind to the grave.” Even as he offered a chapter on “a weeping lamentation over souls surrendered to the dregs of impurity,” he provided also “an exhortation to the man who has fallen into sin, that he might rise again.”
He also noted that the “cancer of sodomitic impurity” was raging through the clergy “like a cruel beast,” decrying that “degenerate men do not fear to perpetuate an act that even brute animals abhor.”
Pope Leo IX favorably responded to Peter’s book and adopted many of his recommendations. Over time this work became an important part of the eleventh-century reform movement.
A few years after completing his manuscript, Peter was ordained a bishop and later created a cardinal. Peter wrote extensive letters, sometimes signing them as “Peter the Sinner” or “Peter the Sinner-Monk,” which provide a window into the soul of this important saint in the life of the Church. The life of St. Peter Damian is a model of virtue to Catholic clergy, and his words provide an exhortation and a warning for all Catholics not to let sexual vice taint the life and mission of the Church.”
“Real friendship with Christ is only possible with the Eucharist. It was at the Last Supper, at the institution of the Eucharist, that Jesus said, “I no longer call you servants… but I call you friends” (Jn 15:15). In the Eucharist, therefore, the gift of Christ’s friendship is given, and His friendship is concentrated in it. All who befriend the Eucharist, befriend Christ; all who would wish to advance from servanthood to friendship with Christ must befriend the Eucharist, and all friendship involves ‘time spent with’. Quantity of time is important, and ought not to be neglected, but quality time is what matters most.
Find a friend of the Eucharist and you will find a true friend of Jesus.
What about those Protestant brothers and sisters of ours who’ve never received the Eucharist? We must remember that they are baptized like us into the one life of Christ. But for one, they have not been brought ordinarily into a certain depth of communion with Christ, which is alone possible through reception of this Sacrament. This distinction between the ‘field’ of communion entered into through Baptism and entered uniquely, more deeply through the Eucharist, is brought out by Pope St. John Paul II in Ecclesia de Eucharistia. He writes, “Incorporation into Christ, which is brought about by Baptism, is constantly renewed and consolidated by sharing in the Eucharistic Sacrifice, especially by that full sharing which takes place in sacramental communion” (22).
Secondly, for those Protestants who have a relationship with Christ this relationship is indeed real, but it is only possible because of the gift of the Eucharist, and their relationship with Him, unbeknownst to them, flows from the Body of Christ, both mystically as visibly manifest in the Catholic Church, and sacramentally in the Eucharist. Any genuine relationship with Christ must necessarily flow from the Church and the Eucharist, even if only in a hidden and invisible way due to a lack of full communion with Christ’s Body. Catholics are privileged to be in full communion, direct touch, with Christ’s Mystic, and Sacramental Body.
As for the nature of the Protestant relationship with Christ, no doubt some Protestants are closer to Christ than many Catholics who frequent Holy Communion, but at the same time, keeping in mind the “full sharing” of communion in Christ uniquely accessed and partaken in the Eucharist, there is a certain character to the depth of this communion with Christ objectively lacking, and this is made manifest in the comparison of the caliber of those who would quality as “saints,” post-reformation, from a protestant point of view, and those who are Catholic Saints. The difference is startling. The Catholic Saints exemplify, and are living fruits, of good and perfect Holy Communion with Christ in the Eucharist. In the Saints, we see friends of Christ par excellence, and if we dig deep into their lives the Eucharist is always the bedrock of their life. An encouragement to make it the bedrock of our own.
To make our First Holy Communion is to be initiated into closer friendship with Christ. It is to be brought into the holy of holies of communion with Christ, the inner sanctuary of divine intimacy with Him, and in Him with the Father, in the Holy Spirit.
Those who receive their first and/or subsequent Holy Communion without basic awareness of this mystery into which they’ve been brought into, and without communing in reciprocity with He who is communing with their soul, are like senseless men stumbling around in a room, not knowing where they’ve been brought to, or who they’re with, and anything that is going on, just like drunkards in a holding cell, stumbling about. For the fact is, those who’ve received Communion have been brought into the inner sanctuary by virtue of their Holy Communion, since the Sacrament is efficacious, the Communion on the part of Christ is efficacious, but without the proper dispositions the reciprocal communing on the part of the soul is absent, and thus the gift of the friendship of Christ cannot open, cannot blossom in the soul. The friendship becomes one-sided on the part of Christ who calls such a soul “friend” who acts the part of a Judas.
It is quite the opposite for those aware of who they are receiving, and who open their hearts to Him. These receive the gift of Christ’s friendship in the Eucharist, and it is allowed to unfurl within their hearts, involving communion with the Trinity. This communion with the Trinity is experienced as friendship in Christ, in whom, and through whom communion with the Father expands, and the friendship and communion is itself the third person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit who draws souls to Christ, to the Eucharist, and in and through Christ, in and through the Eucharist, to the Father.
To taste the Eucharist is to taste the friendship of Christ. It is to be nourished in communion with Him. To sit with Jesus in the Eucharist, in adoration, is to sit with Christ and spend time with Him. This is the time when friendship with Christ, received in the Eucharist, and nourished by its reception, is brought to maturation.
“I am the resurrection and the life” (Jn 11:25). To spend time before Jesus in the Eucharist is to enter the presence of “the Resurrection and the Life,” and here one is brought to life, one is raised spiritually into heights and depths of communion with Jesus. In Eucharistic adoration friendship with Christ matures, and really, it is here that such friendship is really discovered on the part of the soul. This should not surprise us because the friendship of Christ as gift, is concentrated in the Eucharist, and remains in the consecrated species of bread reposed in the tabernacle and exposed in the monstrance.
It is true, this friendship is alive in us, and so too is Christ who dwells within our hearts, but friendships only deepen by means of the ‘going-out’ of oneself to meet and encounter the other. Friendships deepen by means of renewed and continued selfless processions of person to person. In coming before Jesus in the Eucharist, in the places wherein he is reposed and exposed, we sacramentally—tangibly, as signifying our interior movement toward Christ— ‘go out’ of ourselves, and show ourselves as wanting Christ. This is why there is no substitute for time spent before Jesus in the Eucharist, because although Jesus is forever ‘going out’ to be with us, being ever present with us, expressing His desire and love for us, we struggle to do so, and nothing helps us to do so better than when we must really ‘go out’ of ourselves, by visiting Jesus to simply be with Him as a friend.
Those who become friends with Christ, become friends of the Eucharist. Those who become friends of the Eucharist, become friends with Christ; and those who become better friends of the Eucharist, become better friends with Christ.”
“Take note of those who hold heterodox opinions on the grace of Jesus Christ which has come to us, and see how contrary their opinions are to the mind of God. . . . They abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer because they do not confess that the Eucharist is the flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ. . . . They who deny the gift of God are perishing in their disputes.” –St Ignatius of Antioch (Letter to the Smyrnaeans 6:2-7:1 [A.D. 110]).
“We call this food Eucharist. . . . For not as common bread nor common drink do we receive these; but since Jesus Christ our Savior was made incarnate by the word of God and had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so too, as we have been taught, the food which has been made into the Eucharist by the eucharistic prayer set down by him, and by the change of which our blood and flesh is nurtured, is both the flesh and the blood of that incarnated Jesus.” –St Justin Maryr (First Apology 66 [A.D. 151]).
“Protestant Fundamentalists don’t believe that sacraments exist, even though they have two: baptism and matrimony. Many of them use the term “ordinances” for baptism and their analog of the Eucharist, which they call “the Lord’s Supper.” The isn’t just a matter of nomenclature. Not only do they use different words than we do, but they mean different things.
To them, baptism is a sign and nothing more. To us, it is the sacrament that first brings sanctifying grace to the soul. To them, the Lord’s Supper is a mere memorial of Holy Thursday. To us, it is the re-presentation of the actual sacrifice on Calvary, but in an unbloody manner. To them, matrimony is a high state but not a permanent one. To us, it is a permanent and grace-filled union.
We all, Catholics and Fundamentalists, know that Fundamentalists reject sacraments, at least in the Catholic understanding of them, but they reject much more. They have a hearty dislike for distinctive Catholic practices and for what we call sacramentals.
Sacramentals are defined by the Catechism of the Catholic Church as”
“. . . sacred signs which bear a resemblance to the sacraments. They signify effects, particularly of a spiritual nature, which are obtained through the intercession of the Church. By them men are disposed to receive the chief effect of the sacraments, and various occasions in life are rendered holy (CCC 1667)”.
Pesky sacramentals can pop up all over the place, not just inside Catholic churches but even inside Fundamentalist churches. Consider the Fundamentalist wedding ceremony. The bride wears white and, perhaps, a veil. She carries a bouquet. She and the groom exchange vows and rings. Each of these actions and things has a religious significance: purity in the white garments, fidelity in the vows, for instance. Each is a sign of the holiness of matrimony. Each is a sacramental if the word is used in a wide sense.
If spoken to gently, Fundamentalists can come to accept the fact that they too use sacramentals, even if they dislike the word. They are especially uncomfortable, though, when told many of these sacramentals originated in pagan religions. After all, a standard Fundamentalist charge against Catholicism is that its distinctive customs and beliefs are of pagan origin.
Fundamentalists don’t want to admit that they too have borrowed from paganism, but that is exactly what they have done. After all, their churches are offshoots of offshoots from the Catholic Church, even if they won’t admit the fact. (Fundamentalists believe their brand of Christianity goes straight back to New Testament times. It actually goes back only to the nineteenth century.)
Let’s look at three Catholic practices (they can be considered sacramentals) that irk Fundamentalists. We’ll look at additional ones in the next blog post.
When they pass the Blessed Sacrament, Catholics go down on one knee to honor the Real Presence. This posture of subservience makes perfect sense since Christ is really present in the tabernacle. Fundamentalists don’t believe he’s there, of course (they believe instead in a Real Absence), but they can be made to acknowledge the sensibleness of genuflecting through analogy.
Ask them to imagine themselves at Buckingham Palace, at an audience with the Queen of England. She enters the room and walks up to a woman. Under court protocol, what is the woman supposed to do? She is supposed to curtsy as a sign of respect for the queen.
Another analogy. A soldier meets an officer on the street. What does the soldier do? He salutes. Again, a sign of respect and an acknowledgment of a superior.
Who is more superior to us than God? Which Fundamentalist, transported back to first century Palestine, would not throw himself prostrate at the sight of Jesus? If that would be proper, then why not genuflect where Jesus is sacramentally present?
Similarly, at Mass we stand when the Gospel is read, out of respect for the very words of Jesus, and we sit to listen attentively to the other scriptural readings. At the consecration we kneel, kneeling being the posture of adoration. What we are doing is praying with our bodies, not just with our minds, and praying that way makes perfect sense for a creature composed of both body and soul.
Sign of the cross
Every Fundamentalist knows Catholics cross themselves when praying in church, when hiding in foxholes, and when walking up to the plate to bat. They don’t, as a rule, know that Eastern Orthodox Christians also cross themselves (although they do it “backward”), so they think the sign of the cross is something that immediately distinguishes Catholics from “real” Christians.
But they don’t know that “real” Christians began making the sign of the cross at a very early date. The theologian Tertullian, writing in A.D.211, said, “We furrow our forehead with the sign [of the cross].” Making the sign was already an old custom when he wrote. It may have been common even when the apostles were alive.
True, the practice is not mentioned in the New Testament, but neither are peculiarly Fundamentalist practices such as the altar call, in which people march to the front of a church to announce publicly that, because of the preaching, they have just decided to “make a commitment to Christ.”
The sign of the cross signifies two things at once: our redemption through the death of Jesus on the cross and the Trinity as the central truth of Christianity. When we make the sign we trace the cross on ourselves, and we recite the holy invocation: “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”
Not used as often in our liturgies as it once was, incense symbolizes the pleasant odor of Christian virtue and our prayers rising to God. It is the first half of the “smells and bells,” and most Fundamentalists think only Catholics use incense. But incense is not peculiar to Catholics. The ancient Jews used it: incense accompanied prayers at the Temple (Luke 1:10). And one of the gifts given to the Christ Child by the Magi was frankincense (Matt. 2:11).
But all that was before Christianity began, say Fundamentalists. Maybe so, but the Book of Revelation deals with what happens afterward, and there we find that “the smoke of the incense along with the prayers of the holy ones went up before God from the hands of an angel” (Rev. 8:4). If there’s incense in heaven, why not in churches here below?
Our church towers commonly have bells, often consisting of large sets, known as carillons, that can be rung from a keyboard. Small handbells are rung during Mass. Large bells have been used for centuries to call people to Mass and to sanctify certain times of the day—for instance, it once was the custom, in Catholic countries, to ring church bells at noon so workers in the fields could pause and recite the Angelus. During Mass bells are rung at the consecration, partly to focus our attention, partly to mimic the hosannas of the heavenly choirs.
Fundamentalists disapprove of bells being used in Christian worship. Why they disapprove isn’t precisely clear. Some say bells are of pagan origin and thus should be forbidden, but pagans also sang hymns, and no Fundamentalist thinks Christian hymns should be forbidden. Other Fundamentalists are more straightforward: They don’t like bells simply because bells are identified with the Catholic Church in their minds. Of course, Protestant churches often have bell towers, but that’s overlooked by these Fundamentalists. For them opposition to bells is largely a matter of prejudice.
The usual complaint about the rosary is that it violates Matthew 6:7, which reads this way in the King James Version: “But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do.”
“See,” say Fundamentalists, “you Catholics repeat prayers, and Jesus told us not to!” Did he really? Then how does one account for what happened in the Garden of Gethsemane? There Jesus prayed the same prayer three times—that is, he repeated the prayer. Did he violate his own injunction? Was he a hypocrite? No, that’s impossible, which means Fundamentalists are wrong when they claim Jesus condemned repeated prayers.
Read Matthew 6:7 again. The operative word isn’t “repetitions.” It’s “vain.” Jesus condemned vain prayers, such as those to nonexistent pagan gods.
What’s more, the rosary is an intensely biblical prayer. It contains not just the Our Father, which Jesus himself taught us, but also the Hail Mary, which is built of verses lifted from the Bible: “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee” (Luke 1:28) and “blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb” (Luke 1:42). The meditations associated with each decade (Catholics usually call them “mysteries”) are also straight out of the Bible.
But most Fundamentalists don’t realize this. They think Catholics just rattle off Hail Marys without giving a thought to what they’re doing. But when we pray the rosary we meditate on incidents in salvation history, such as the Annunciation, the Nativity, the Crucifixion, the Resurrection.
What are uniforms for? To single out people for a particular function. The soldier’s uniform tells us his vocation, the police officer’s uniform helps him be identified by someone looking for help, and the Roman collar marks the priest. Vestments—a sacred “uniform”—are used at Mass. In this the Church follows the example of the Old Testament liturgy, in which the priests were dressed in special clothes (see Exodus 40:13-14, Leviticus 8:7-9), and of the New Testament, which tells us that John the Baptist “wore clothing made of camel’s hair and had a leather belt around his waist” (Matt. 3:4).
Water covers most of the Earth, and it is absolutely necessary for life. No wonder this marvelous liquid is used in sacraments and sacramentals. Sacred uses of water are found throughout the Old Testament: the saving of the Israelites by the parting of the Red Sea (see Exodus 14:15–22), the miraculous flow from the rock touched by Moses’ staff (Exodus 17:6–7), the crossing of the Jordan into the Promised Land (Joshua 3:14–17), Ezekiel’s vision of life-giving water flowing from the Temple (Ezekiel 47:1–12).
In the New Testament we find the baptism of Jesus (Matthew 3:13–17), the healing water of the pool of Bethesda (John 5:1–9), and the water brought forth from Jesus’ side by the spear thrust (John 19:34). We’re told by our Lord that to enter the kingdom of God we must be born of water and the Holy Spirit (John 3:5).
With all these holy uses of water, is it any wonder the Church promotes the use of holy water? We find it at baptisms, in exorcisms, and in the stoups at the door of churches. With it we bless ourselves (there’s the sign of the cross again!), not because the water itself has any special powers—it’s ordinary tap water with a pinch of salt added—but because its pious use brings to mind the truths of our faith.
If we take the time, we can help Fundamentalists see that “smells and bells” flow naturally from the Incarnation, but it takes work. Many Fundamentalists are what might be termed hereditary anti-Catholics. If something is Catholic, they don’t like it, period. They operate from prejudice, not from dispassionate thinking. But even the most prejudiced can come to appreciate the sensibleness of sacramentals if they have sacramentals explained to them by a patient Catholic. And patience works: Some Fundamentalists now even pray the rosary!”
-by Shaun McAfee, was raised Protestant, Southern Baptist/Non-denominational, but at 24, he experienced a profound conversion to the Catholic Church with the writings of James Cardinal Gibbons and modern apologists. He holds a Masters in Dogmatic Theology. As a profession, Shaun is a veteran and warranted Contracting Officer for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and has served in Afghanistan and other overseas locations.
“All sacramentals share a dignity that commands our conscience to treat them with great reverence and respect. Certainly not limited to any of the rules or precautions included in this article, Catholics must be vigilant and responsible with them. The Code of Canon Law states that “sacred objects, which are designated for divine worship by dedication or blessing, are to be treated reverently and are not to be employed for profane or inappropriate use even if they are owned by private persons” (1171).
The physical sacramentals are not playthings, fashion accoutrements, or ordinary decoration for our homes. A child handling rosary beads may be harmless and for sure could become a thing of joy and faith, but caution must be taken to ensure that the beads and crucifix are not carelessly broken, thrown, chewed and swallowed, or tossed in the trash. Although it might be popular and perceived as a means of acknowledging the Faith, adults should maintain their reverence by not dangling a rosary from the neck, tossing holy water in the kitchen junk drawer, or allowing blessed medals to be scattered around like loose change. All sacramentals must be handled with care and a sense of purpose.
One might object, stating that wearing a rosary is a method of sharing the Faith. This may be a good intention, but it is more effective to demonstrate devotion than to display a static signal of one’s own beliefs. Catholics must be careful not to trivialize or exaggerate devotion with practices that may become a stumbling block to the use of sacramentals for other Catholics and non-Catholics, too.
We must also be conscious of our behavior and intentions with the non-physical sacramentals of blessing and exorcism. The sign of the cross must clearly be made as a true sign of faith and piety—made intentionally, prayerfully, and uniformly when with others, rather than quickly, sloppily, or chaotically. Blessings at mealtime—hopefully not the only time families pray together—should be sincere. Genuflections and bows, also raised to the dignity of being sacramentals, should be made with the same inner sense of reverence.
These are the basics to handling and using sacramentals in a dignified way, but the Church has established other rules of which every Catholic should be aware. Also, in making or administering sacramentals, the Church’s law dictates that the rites and formulas approved by the authority of the Church be observed carefully (CIC 1167, §2).
The preference of the Church is to bless sacramentals, ordinarily through a cleric. This should be promoted and welcomed. Since the sacramental’s power is though the Church’s intercession, the proper blessing naturally adds to the sanctification of the object. Truly, the primary reason for blessing any sacramental is to set it aside for holy purposes, but an accompanying motive is to ensure that it is freed from any demonic possession and otherwise remove the effects of profane use.
No matter what, no blessed sacramental should ever be sold or purchased. Simply put, after a blessing, the Church does not condone the trafficking of spiritual things. Nor does it allow the sale of blessings themselves, or exorcisms: although we might offer a priest a stipend for an exorcism or the blessing of a house, this is not done for profit. Sacramentals that are useful but no longer desirable should be given away to a parish, person, or place where they may be returned to use.
Eventually, sacramentals wear down. Crucifixes break, as do rosaries. Candles burn out, and scapulars tear. If a sacramental reaches a state where it is beyond repair or its effective use, the object should be disposed of properly. Even in a tattered state, the object has been blessed by the Church and should be treated correctly, even in private possession.
The proper way to dispose of a sacramental is to burn it or bury it. Not only do these methods of disposal show the correct reverence, but they prevent the sacramental from falling into the wrong hands and from desecration—the loss of a particular quality of sacredness. Sacramentals are desecrated by abusive behavior, crude use, or destruction to the point of being unusable. Even desecrated sacramentals, to maintain the reverence due to them, should be disposed of in the ways laid out above.”
On Wednesday, 17 November , at the General Audience in St Peter’s Square, the Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI commented on St Juliana of Cornillon, better known as Juliana of Liege, who lived in the 12th century. The following is a translation of the Pope’s Catechesis, which was given in Italian.
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
This morning too I would like to introduce a female figure to you. She is little known but the Church is deeply indebted to her, not only because of the holiness of her life but also because, with her great fervour, she contributed to the institution of one of the most important solemn Liturgies of the year: Corpus Christi.
She is St Juliana de Cornillon, also known as St Juliana of Liège. We know several facts about her life, mainly from a Biography that was probably written by a contemporary cleric; it is a collection of various testimonies of people who were directly acquainted with the Saint.
Juliana was born near Liège, Belgium between 1191 and 1192. It is important to emphasize this place because at that time the Diocese of Liège was, so to speak, a true “Eucharistic Upper Room”. Before Juliana, eminent theologians had illustrated the supreme value of the Sacrament of the Eucharist and, again in Liège, there were groups of women generously dedicated to Eucharistic worship and to fervent communion. Guided by exemplary priests, they lived together, devoting themselves to prayer and to charitable works.
Orphaned at the age of five, Juliana, together with her sister Agnes, was entrusted to the care of the Augustinian nuns at the convent and leprosarium of Mont-Cornillon.
She was taught mainly by a sister called “Sapienza” [wisdom], who was in charge of her spiritual development to the time Juliana received the religious habit and thus became an Augustinian nun.
She became so learned that she could read the words of the Church Fathers, of St Augustine and St Bernard in particular, in Latin. In addition to a keen intelligence, Juliana showed a special propensity for contemplation from the outset. She had a profound sense of Christ’s presence, which she experienced by living the Sacrament of the Eucharist especially intensely and by pausing frequently to meditate upon Jesus’ words: “And lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age” (Mt 28:20).
When Juliana was 16 she had her first vision which recurred subsequently several times during her Eucharistic adoration. Her vision presented the moon in its full splendour, crossed diametrically by a dark stripe. The Lord made her understand the meaning of what had appeared to her. The moon symbolized the life of the Church on earth, the opaque line, on the other hand, represented the absence of a liturgical feast for whose institution Juliana was asked to plead effectively: namely, a feast in which believers would be able to adore the Eucharist so as to increase in faith, to advance in the practice of the virtues and to make reparation for offences to the Most Holy Sacrament.
Juliana, who in the meantime had become Prioress of the convent, kept this revelation that had filled her heart with joy a secret for about 20 years. She then confided it to two other fervent adorers of the Eucharist, Blessed Eva, who lived as a hermit, and Isabella, who had joined her at the Monastery of Mont-Cornillon. The three women established a sort of “spiritual alliance” for the purpose of glorifying the Most Holy Sacrament.
They also chose to involve a highly regarded Priest, John of Lausanne, who was a canon of the Church of St Martin in Liège. They asked him to consult theologians and clerics on what was important to them. Their affirmative response was encouraging.
What happened to Juliana of Cornillon occurs frequently in the lives of Saints. To have confirmation that an inspiration comes from God it is always necessary to be immersed in prayer to wait patiently, to seek friendship and exchanges with other good souls and to submit all things to the judgement of the Pastors of the Church.
It was in fact Bishop Robert Torote, Liège who, after initial hesitation, accepted the proposal of Juliana and her companions and first introduced the Solemnity of Corpus Christi in his diocese. Later other Bishops following his example instituted this Feast in the territories entrusted to their pastoral care.
However, to increase their faith the Lord often asks Saints to sustain trials. This also happened to Juliana who had to bear the harsh opposition of certain members of the clergy and even of the superior on whom her monastery depended.
Of her own free will, therefore, Juliana left the Convent of Mont-Cornillon with several companions. For 10 years — from 1248 to 1258 —she stayed as a guest at various monasteries of Cistercian sisters.
She edified all with her humility, she had no words of criticism or reproach for her adversaries and continued zealously to spread Eucharistic worship.
She died at Fosses-La-Ville, Belgium, in 1258. In the cell where she lay the Blessed Sacrament was exposed and, according to her biographer’s account, Juliana died contemplating with a last effusion to love Jesus in the Eucharist whom she had always loved, honoured and adored. Jacques Pantaléon of Troyes was also won over to the good cause of the Feast of Corpus Christi during his ministry as Archdeacon in Lièges. It was he who, having become Pope with the name of Urban IV in 1264, instituted the Solemnity of Corpus Christi on the Thursday after Pentecost as a feast of precept for the universal Church.
In the Bull of its institution, entitled Transiturus de hoc mundo, (11 Aug. 1264), Pope Urban even referred discreetly to Juliana’s mystical experiences, corroborating their authenticity. He wrote: “Although the Eucharist is celebrated solemnly every day, we deem it fitting that at least once a year it be celebrated with greater honour and a solemn commemoration.
“Indeed we grasp the other things we commemorate with our spirit and our mind, but this does not mean that we obtain their real presence. On the contrary, in this sacramental commemoration of Christ, even though in a different form, Jesus Christ is present with us in his own substance. While he was about to ascend into Heaven he said ‘And lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age’ (Matthew 28:20) “.
The Pontiff made a point of setting an example by celebrating the solemnity of Corpus Christi in Orvieto, the town where he was then residing. Indeed, he ordered that the famous Corporal with the traces of the Eucharistic miracle which had occurred in Bolsena the previous year, 1263 , be kept in Orvieto Cathedral — where it still is today.
While a priest was consecrating the bread and the wine he was overcome by strong doubts about the Real Presence of the Body and Blood of Christ in the sacrament of the Eucharist. A few drops of blood began miraculously to ooze from the consecrated Host, thereby confirming what our faith professes.
Urban IV asked one of the greatest theologians of history, St Thomas Aquinas — who at that time was accompanying the Pope and was in Orvieto — to compose the texts of the Liturgical Office for this great feast. They are masterpieces, still in use in the Church today, in which theology and poetry are fuse. These texts pluck at the heartstrings in an expression of praise and gratitude to the Most Holy Sacrament, while the mind, penetrating the mystery with wonder, recognizes in the Eucharist the Living and Real Presence of Jesus, of his Sacrifice of love that reconciles us with the Father, and gives us salvation.
Although after the death of Urban IV the celebration of the Feast of Corpus Christi was limited to certain regions of France, Germany, Hungary and Northern Italy, it was another Pontiff, John XXII, who in 1317 reestablished it for the universal Church. Since then the Feast experienced a wonderful development and is still deeply appreciated by the Christian people.
I would like to affirm with joy that today there is a “Eucharistic springtime” in the Church: How many people pause in silence before the Tabernacle to engage in a loving conversation with Jesus! It is comforting to know that many groups of young people have rediscovered the beauty of praying in adoration before the Most Blessed Sacrament.
I am thinking, for example, of our Eucharistic adoration in Hyde Park, London. I pray that this Eucharistic “springtime” may spread increasingly in every parish and in particular in Belgium, St Juliana’s homeland.
Venerable John Paul II said in his Encyclical Ecclesia de Eucharistia: “In many places, adoration of the Blessed Sacrament is also an important daily practice and becomes an inexhaustible source of holiness. The devout participation of the faithful in the Eucharistic procession on the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ is a grace from the Lord which yearly brings joy to those who take part in it. Other positive signs of Eucharistic faith and love might also be mentioned” (n. 10).
In remembering St Juliana of Cornillon let us also renew our faith in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. As we are taught by the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “Jesus Christ is present in the Eucharist in a unique and incomparable way. He is present in a true, real and substantial way, with his Body and his Blood, with his Soul and his Divinity. In the Eucharist, therefore, there is present in a sacramental way, that is, under the Eucharistic Species of bread and wine, Christ whole and entire, God and Man” (n. 282).
Dear friends, fidelity to the encounter with the Christ in the Eucharist in Holy Mass on Sunday is essential for the journey of faith, but let us also seek to pay frequent visits to the Lord present in the Tabernacle! In gazing in adoration at the consecrated Host, we discover the gift of God’s love, we discover Jesus’ Passion and Cross and likewise his Resurrection. It is precisely through our gazing in adoration that the Lord draws us towards him into his mystery in order to transform us as he transforms the bread and the wine.
The Saints never failed to find strength, consolation and joy in the Eucharistic encounter. Let us repeat before the Lord present in the Most Blessed Sacrament the words of the Eucharistic hymn “Adoro te devote”: [Devoutly I adore Thee]: Make me believe ever more in you, “Draw me deeply into faith, / Into Your hope, into Your love”.
Pope Benedict XVI
Weekly Edition in English
24 November 2010, page 18
(Opusculum 57, in festo Corporis Christi, lect. 1-4)
“O precious and wonderful banquet!
Since it was the will of God’s only-begotten Son that men should share in his divinity, he assumed our nature in order that by becoming man he might make men gods. Moreover, when he took our flesh he dedicated the whole of its substance to our salvation. He offered his body to God the Father on the altar of the cross as a sacrifice for our reconciliation. He shed his blood for our ransom and purification, so that we might be redeemed from our wretched state of bondage and cleansed from all sin. But to ensure that the memory of so great a gift would abide with us for ever, he left his body as food and his blood as drink for the faithful to consume in the form of bread and wine.
O precious and wonderful banquet, that brings us salvation and contains all sweetness! Could anything be of more intrinsic value? Under the old law it was the flesh of calves and goats that was offered, but here Christ himself, the true God, is set before us as our food. What could be more wonderful than this? No other sacrament has greater healing power; through it sins are purged away, virtues are increased, and the soul is enriched with an abundance of every spiritual gift. It is offered in the Church for the living and the dead, so that what was instituted for the salvation of all may be for the benefit of all. Yet, in the end, no one can fully express the sweetness of this sacrament, in which spiritual delight is tasted at its very source, and in which we renew the memory of that surpassing love for us which Christ revealed in his passion.
It was to impress the vastness of this love more firmly upon the hearts of the faithful that our Lord instituted this sacrament at the Last Supper. As he was on the point of leaving the world to go to the Father, after celebrating the Passover with his disciples, he left it as a perpetual memorial of his passion. It was the fulfilment of ancient figures and the greatest of all his miracles, while for those who were to experience the sorrow of his departure, it was destined to be a unique and abiding consolation.”
-Beethoven, Symphony 7, Allegretto
iuncta sint gaudia,
et ex praecordiis
nova sint omnia,
corda, voces, et opera.
qua Christus creditur
agnum et azyma
priscis indulta patribus.
Post agnum typicum,
sic totum omnibus,
quod totum singulis,
eius fatemur manibus.
dedit et tristibus
quod trado vasculum;
omnes ex eo bibite.
quibus sic congruit,
ut sumant, et dent ceteris.
fit panis hominum;
dat panis caelicus
O res mirabilis:
pauper, servus et humilis.
Te, trina Deitas
sic nos tu visita,
sicut te colimus;
per tuas semitas
duc nos quo tendimus,
ad lucem quam inhabitas.
At this our solemn feast
let holy joys abound,
and from the inmost breast
let songs of praise resound;
let ancient rites depart,
and all be new around,
in every act, and voice, and heart.
Remember we that eve,
when, the Last Supper spread,
Christ, as we all believe,
the Lamb, with leavenless bread,
among His brethren shared,
and thus the Law obeyed,
of all unto their sire declared.
The typic Lamb consumed,
the legal Feast complete,
the Lord unto the Twelve
His Body gave to eat;
the whole to all, no less
the whole to each did mete
with His own hands, as we confess.
He gave them, weak and frail,
His Flesh, their Food to be;
on them, downcast and sad,
His Blood bestowed He:
and thus to them He spake,
“Receive this Cup from Me,
and all of you of this partake.”
So He this Sacrifice
to institute did will,
and charged His priests alone
that office to fulfill:
to them He did confide:
to whom it pertains still
to take, and the rest divide.
Thus Angels’ Bread is made
the Bread of man today:
the Living Bread from heaven
with figures dost away:
O wondrous gift indeed!
the poor and lowly may
upon their Lord and Master feed.
Thee, therefore, we implore,
O Godhead, One in Three,
so may Thou visit us
as we now worship Thee;
and lead us on Thy way,
That we at last may see
the light wherein Thou dwellest aye.
Adóro te devóte, látens Déitas,
Quæ sub his figúris, vere látitas:
Tibi se cor meum totum súbjicit,
Quia, te contémplans, totum déficit.
Visus, tactus, gustus, in te fállitur,
Sed audítu solo tuto créditur:
Credo quidquid díxit Dei Fílius;
Nil hoc verbo veritátis vérius.
In cruce latébat sola Déitas,
At hic látet simul et humánitas:
Ambo támen crédens átque cónfitens,
Peto quod petívit latro pœnitens.
Plagas, sicut Thomas, non intúeor,
Deum támen meum te confíteor.
Fac me tibi sémper mágis crédere,
In te spem habére, te dilígere.
O memoriále mortis Dómini,
Panis vivus, vitam præstans hómini,
Præsta meæ menti de te vívere,
Et te illi semper dulce sápere.
Pie pellicáne, Jesu Dómine,
Me immúndum munda tuo sánguine,
Cujus una stilla salvum fácere,
Totum mundum quit ab ómni scélere.
Jesu, quem velátum nunc aspício,
Oro fíat illud, quod tam sítio:
Ut, te reveláta cernens fácie,
Visu sim beátus tuæ glóriæ. Amen.
I devoutly adore you, O hidden Deity,
Truly hidden beneath these appearances.
My whole heart submits to you,
And in contemplating you, It surrenders itself completely.
Sight, touch, taste are all deceived in their judgment of you,
But hearing suffices firmly to believe.
I believe all that the Son of God has spoken;
There is nothing truer than this word of truth.
On the cross only the divinity was hidden,
But here the humanity is also hidden.
Yet believing and confessing both,
I ask for what the repentant thief asked.
I do not see the wounds as Thomas did,
But I confess that you are my God.
Make me believe more and more in you,
Hope in you, and love you.
O memorial of our Lord’s death!
Living bread that gives life to man,
Grant my soul to live on you,
And always to savor your sweetness.
Lord Jesus, Good Pelican,
wash my filthiness and clean me with your blood,
One drop of which can free
the entire world of all its sins.
Jesus, whom now I see hidden,
I ask you to fulfill what I so desire:
That the sight of your face being unveiled
I may have the happiness of seeing your glory. Amen.
Pange, lingua, gloriósi
Quem in mundi prétium
Fructus ventris generósi
Rex effúdit géntium.
Nobis datus, nobis natus
Ex intácta Vírgine,
Et in mundo conversátus,
Sparso verbi sémine,
Sui moras incolátus
Miro clausit órdine.
In suprémæ nocte coenæ
Recúmbens cum frátribus
Observáta lege plene
Cibis in legálibus,
Cibum turbæ duodénæ
Se dat suis mánibus.
Verbum caro, panem verum
Verbo carnem éfficit:
Fitque sanguis Christi merum,
Et si sensus déficit,
Ad firmándum cor sincérum
Sola fides súfficit.
Tantum ergo sacraméntum
Et antíquum documéntum
Novo cedat rítui:
Præstet fides suppleméntum
Laus et jubilátio,
Salus, honor, virtus quoque
Sit et benedíctio:
Procedénti ab utróque
Compar sit laudátio.
Sing, my tongue, the Saviour’s glory,
Of His Flesh, the mystery sing;
Of the Blood, all price exceeding,
Shed by our Immortal King,
Destined, for the world’s redemption,
From a noble Womb to spring.
Of a pure and spotless Virgin
Born for us on earth below,
He, as Man, with man conversing,
Stayed, the seeds of truth to sow;
Then He closed in solemn order
Wondrously His Life of woe.
On the night of that Last Supper,
Seated with His chosen band,
He, the Paschal Victim eating,
First fulfils the Law’s command;
Then as Food to all his brethren
Gives Himself with His own Hand.
Word-made-Flesh, the bread of nature
By His Word to Flesh He turns;
Wine into His Blood He changes:
What though sense no change discerns.
Only be the heart in earnest,
Faith her lesson quickly learns.
Down in adoration falling,
Lo, the sacred Host we hail,
Lo, o’er ancient forms departing
Newer rites of grace prevail:
Faith for all defects supplying,
When the feeble senses fail.
To the Everlasting Father
And the Son who comes on high
With the Holy Ghost proceeding
Forth from each eternally,
Be salvation, honor, blessing,
Might and endless majesty.
Verbum supernum prodiens,
Nec Patris linquens dexteram,
Ad opus suum exiens,
Venit ad vitæ vesperam.
In mortem a discipulo
Suis tradendus æmulis,
Prius in vitæ ferculo
Se tradidit discipulis.
Quibus sub bina specie
Carnem dedit et sanguinem;
Ut duplicis substantiæ
Totum cibaret hominem.
Se nascens dedit socium,
Convescens in edulium,
Se moriens in pretium,
Se regnans dat in præmium.
O salutaris hostia,
Quæ cæli pandis ostium,
Bella premunt hostilia;
Da robur, fer auxilium.
Uni trinoque Domino
Sit sempiterna gloria:
Qui vitam sine termino
Nobis donet in patria.
The heavenly Word proceeding forth,
Yet leaving not his Father’s side,
And going to His work on Earth,
Has reached at length life’s eventide.
By false disciple to be given
To foemen for His blood athirst,
Himself, the living bread from heaven,
He gave to his disciples first.
In twofold form of sacrament,
He gave His flesh, He gave His blood,
That man, of soul and body blent,
Might wholly feed on mystic food.
In birth man’s fellow-man was He,
His meat while sitting at the board;
He died, our ransomer to be,
He reigns to be our great reward.
O saving Victim, opening wide
The gate of heaven to man below;
Our foes press hard on every side,
Thine aid supply, Thy strength bestow.
All praise and thanks to thee ascend
For evermore, blessed One in Three;
O grant us life that shall not end,
In our true native land with Thee.
“Take note of those who hold heterodox opinions on the grace of Jesus Christ which has come to us, and see how contrary their opinions are to the mind of God. . . . They abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer because they do not confess that the Eucharist is the flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ. . . . They who deny the gift of God are perishing in their disputes.” –St Ignatius of Antioch (Letter to the Smyrnaeans 6:2-7:1 [A.D. 110]).
“We call this food Eucharist. . . . For not as common bread nor common drink do we receive these; but since Jesus Christ our Savior was made incarnate by the word of God and had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so too, as we have been taught, the food which has been made into the Eucharist by the eucharistic prayer set down by him, and by the change of which our blood and flesh is nurtured, is both the flesh and the blood of that incarnated Jesus.” –St Justin Maryr (First Apology 66 [A.D. 151]).
“Without illusions, without ideological utopias, we walk the streets of the world, bringing with us the body of the Lord, like the Virgin Mary in the mystery of the visitation.” – Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI
“Prior to April 2007, many Catholics had probably never heard of the International Theological Commission (ITC), a group of thirty theologians from around the world chosen by the Pope as a kind of advisory committee. But the most recent document by the ITC, published with papal approval on April 19, 2007, got a lot of attention—as well it should. Its subject is a tender one: “The Hope of Salvation for Infants Who Die Without Being Baptized.” To Catholic parents who have lost a child to miscarriage, stillbirth, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, or some other tragedy prior to baptism, such hope is a healing balm for a wounded heart.
Interest in this recent document is understandable, and most people have learned of it through the news media. While many articles written since the document’s publication summarize its contents accurately, many do not. A Google news search reveals headlines such as, “Pope Changes Church Teaching on Limbo,” and “The Church Abandons Limbo.” Such headlines can easily give the impression that 1) Limbo was a defined doctrine of the Church, and 2) the Pope has the authority to change—even to reverse—defined doctrine. A May 4 Washington Post article by Alan Cooperman included the statement “limbo is a ‘problematic’ concept that Catholics are free to reject.”
Beyond the headlines you encounter even larger problems. An April 21 Associated Press article by Nicole Winfield quotes Fr. Richard McBrien (professor of theology at Notre Dame and noted dissenter) as saying, “If there’s no limbo and we’re not going to revert to St. Augustine’s teaching that unbaptized infants go to hell, we’re left with only one option, namely, that everyone is born in the state of grace . . . Baptism does not exist to wipe away the ‘stain’ of original sin, but to initiate one into the Church.” On the other end of the spectrum, Kenneth Wolfe, columnist for The Remnant, was quoted in Cooperman’s article as saying, “The Vatican is suggesting that salvation is possible without baptism. That is heresy.”
These characterizations notwithstanding, the ITC makes no rulings (and does not have the authority to do so). “The Hope of Salvation” in fact reiterates and builds upon the Catholic tradition. It neither categorically rejects Limbo nor denies the necessity of baptism. Rather, it offers reasons to hope that God may provide a way of salvation to those little ones whose lives ended before baptism was possible.
Augustine: No Middle Ground
Debate regarding the fate of infants who die before baptism dates back to the late fourth century, and the famous conflict between Pelagius and St. Augustine. Pelagius asserted that man is capable of living a perfect moral life by virtue of his natural reason and will alone and is not wounded by original sin.
In opposition to Pelagius, St. Augustine successfully defended the reality of original sin using Scripture and the Tradition of the Church. The Apostolic practice of infant baptism was evidence of the Church’s belief that even these youngest ones stood in need of a Savior. Without original sin, baptism could only affect the forgiveness of our personal sins. Infant baptism makes no sense without original sin. In his teaching against the Pelagian heresy, Augustine affirmed the necessity of this ancient practice. If an infant died unbaptized, he died in a state of sin, and was therefore destined to eternal damnation. He denied the existence, “between damnation and the kingdom of heaven [of] some middle place of rest and happiness . . . For this is what the heresy of Pelagius promised them” (On the Soul and its Origin 1.9).
Augustine’s position is not quite as harsh as it seems. In Contra Julianum 5.11, he writes, “Who can doubt that non-baptized infants, having only original sin and no burden of personal sins, will suffer the lightest condemnation of all? I cannot define the amount and kind of their punishment, but I dare not say it were better for them never to have existed than to exist there” (qtd. in John Randolph Willis, The Teachings of the Church Fathers, 245).
Aquinas: Privation, not Punishment
Later theologians developed Augustine’s thoughts, defining damnation as essentially the deprivation of the Beatific Vision, which does not necessarily involve any positive punishment. Distinctions were made between the pain of sense, describing the torments suffered by condemned sinners, and the pain of loss, which is sorrow over being absent from God’s presence.
By the thirteenth century, the dominant view was that unbaptized infants would suffer only the pain of loss. In 1201 Pope Innocent III expressed this opinion in a letter to the archbishop of Arles. Actual sin, the Holy Father asserted, is punished by the eternal torment of hell; original sin, however, is punished by the loss of the vision of God.
This line of thinking was explored thoroughly by St. Thomas Aquinas. The Angelic Doctor consigned infants who died without baptism to the outermost borders of hell, which he called the “limbo of children.” They died without the grace of God, and would spend eternity without it, but they were not worthy of punishment. St. Thomas insisted that these little ones would know no pain or remorse. He explained this opinion in various ways. In his commentary on Peter Lombard’s Sentences, he stated that no one regrets the lack of something which he is totally unequipped to have (II Sent. , d.33, q.2, a.2). Ten years later (in De Malo, q.5, a.3) he suggested that infants would not be distraught over their loss because they simply would have no knowledge of what they were missing.
Eventually limbo ceased to be spoken of as a “border region” of hell. Hell came to be understood as a place of punishment. Limbo was not. And since it has never been a defined dogma of the Church, various theologians have understood limbo in different ways. Most views, however, would include these common characteristics: Unbaptized infants die in a state of sin and enter neither heaven nor hell but limbo, which is a state of damnation not involving pain of sense or grief of exile; indeed, a measure of natural happiness is possible, with some suggesting that the denizens of limbo enjoy a perfect state of natural happiness.
Trust in the Mercy of God
Although limbo has long been the prevailing theory, some theologians have imagined ways in which God may provide for the salvation of unbaptized infants. St. Gregory of Nyssa, in the fourth century, called the fate of these souls “something much greater than the human mind can g.asp” and found solace in the fact that “the One who has done everything well, with wisdom, is able to bring good out of evil” (qtd. in HS 12).
Cardinal Cajetan, in the sixteenth century, remarked in his commentary on the Summa Theologica (III:68:11), “that children still within the womb of their mother are able to be saved . . . through the sacrament of baptism that is received, not in reality, but in the desire of the parents.” In our own times, Cardinal Ratzinger echoed Cajetan in a 1985 interview with Vittorio Messori. “One should not hesitate to give up the idea of ‘limbo’ if need be,” the future pontiff advised. “[A]nd it is worth noting that the very theologians who proposed ‘limbo’ also said that parents could spare the child limbo by desiring its baptism and through prayer” (The Ratzinger Report 147-8).
None of these positions has been officially proclaimed by the Magisterium. Catholics are free to have varying opinions on this matter. Our present Catechism makes no mention of limbo at all, but has this to say regarding infants who die without baptism:
“The Church can only entrust them to the mercy of God, as she does in her funeral rites for them. Indeed, the great mercy of God who desires that all men should be saved, and Jesus’ tenderness toward children which caused him to say: “Let the children come to me, do not hinder them,” allows us to hope that there is a way of salvation for children who have died without baptism. (CCC 1261)”
The Ordo Exsequiarum (Order of Christian Funerals) contains a special rite for children who die before baptism, during which the child’s soul is entrusted “to the abundant mercy of God, that our beloved child may find a home in his kingdom.” Option D of the opening prayer begins, “God of all consolation, searcher of mind and heart, the faith of these parents . . . is known to you. Comfort them with the knowledge that the child for whom they grieve is entrusted now to your loving care.” In the Prayer of Commendation B, the priest says, “We pray that you give [the child] happiness for ever.”
Lex orandi, lex credendi: As we pray, so we believe.
ITC: Reasons for Prayerful Hope
The default position of the Church then, as expressed in her liturgy, is that of hope. “Hope of Salvation” begins with a reference to 1 Peter 3:15: “Always be prepared to make a defense to any one who calls you to account for the hope that is in you . . .” This, in essence, is the purpose of the ITC document.
It is worth noting at this point that “Hope of Salvation” is not a Magisterial document. It does not require the assent of the faithful, as would a proclamation from a pope or an ecumenical council. It simply expresses the opinion of a respected group of theologians. The fact that Benedict XVI has given it his approval and has decided to publish it publicly gives some weight to the conclusions drawn by the commission. But those conclusions are not dogmatic.
In an interview published by Inside the Vatican.com on April 27, Sr. Sara Butler, one of the authors of the document, said,
“The commission is trying to say what the Catechism . . . has already said: that we have a right to hope that God will find a way to offer the grace of Christ to infants who have no opportunity for making a personal choice with regard to their salvation. It’s trying to provide a theological rationale for what has already been proposed in several magisterial documents since the Council.”
The first part of “Hope of Salvation” gives a history of Catholic teaching on this subject, and examines the key principles involved, namely: God’s will to save all people; the universal sinfulness of human beings; and the necessity of faith for salvation, along with baptism and the Eucharist (HS 9). After thoroughly examining the issues, the ITC suggests three means by which unbaptized infants who die may be united to Christ (this is not intended to be exhaustive):
“Broadly, we may discern in those infants who themselves suffer and die a saving conformity to Christ in his own death and a companionship with him” (HS 85).
“Some of the infants who suffer and die do so as victims of violence. In their case we may readily refer to the example of the Holy Innocents and discern an analogy in the case of these infants to the baptism of blood which brings salvation . . . Moreover, they are in solidarity with the Christ, who said: ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me’ (Matt. 25:40)” (HS 86).
“It is also possible that God simply acts to give the gift of salvation to unbaptized infants by analogy with the gift of salvation given sacramentally to baptized infants” (HS 87). “God’s power is not restricted to the sacraments” (HS 82).
These are simply some possible ways, proposed by the ITC, in which we may imagine God offering salvation to these little children. There are others. The commission mentions the possibility of baptism of desire (in votum), with the votum offered either by the infant’s parents or the Church. “The Church has never ruled out such a solution,” we are reminded (HS 94).
But while offering these possibilities to us, the commission is careful not to overstep the bounds of Revelation. “It must be clearly acknowledged that the Church does not have sure knowledge about the salvation of unbaptized infants who die . . . [T]he destiny of the generality of infants who die without baptism has not been revealed to us, and the Church teaches and judges only with regard to what has been revealed” (HS 79).
There are some things that have most assuredly been revealed, and these articles of faith must be considered. Original sin is one of them. When contemplating the fate of unbaptized infants who die, one “cannot ignore the tragic consequences of original sin. Original sin implies a state of separation from Christ, and that excludes the possibility of the vision of God for those who die in that state” (HS 3).
“Hope of Salvation” in many places affirms the reality of original sin and the necessity of baptism. “Sacramental baptism is necessary because it is the ordinary means through which a person shares the beneficial affects of Jesus’ death and resurrection” (HS 10). The key phrase is “ordinary means.” In cases of urgency or necessity, God often provides extraordinary means to accomplish his will. Though water baptism is the ordinary means by which God transmits sanctifying grace, the Church teaches that there are other ways. The realities of baptism of blood and baptism of desire are affirmed by the Catechism (CCC 1258). Citing Gaudium et Spes, the Catechism also explains that “Every man who is ignorant of the Gospel of Christ and of his Church, but seeks the truth and does the will of God in accordance with his understanding of it, can be saved” (CCC 1260). It is in this same context that the Catechism offers us the “hope that there is a way of salvation for children who have died without baptism” (CCC 1261).
None of this, however, can be understood to imply that baptism is not necessary, for the Catechism states, “The Church does not know of any means other than baptism that assures entry into eternal beatitude . . . God has bound salvation to the sacrament of baptism, but he himself is not bound by his sacrament” (CCC 1257).
The necessity of baptism is echoed by the ITC. “What has been revealed to us is that the ordinary way of salvation is by the sacrament of baptism. None of the above considerations should be taken as qualifying the necessity of baptism or justifying delay in administering the sacrament” (HS 103). Sr. Butler, in the above-cited interview, puts it bluntly. “If somebody like Fr. Richard McBrien supposes that the ITC document rejects the doctrine of original sin, this is of course a mistake.” Elsewhere in the interview, she comments, “[W]e dare to hope that these infants will be saved by some extra-sacramental gift of Christ . . . We are very clear that the ordinary means of salvation is baptism, and that infants should be baptized; Catholic parents have a serious obligation.”
The conclusions of the ITC are nothing new. The Catechism tells us that it is reasonable to hope that God provides a way of salvation for infants who die without being baptized. It is a hope rooted in Christ, who instructed that we must be like children to enter the kingdom of God and said, “Let the children come to me” (Mark 10:14-15). “Hope of Salvation” simply provides possible theological reasons for this hope. The ITC readily admits that “these are reasons for prayerful hope, rather than grounds for sure knowledge” (HS 102).
What we do know for certain is this: God has a plan. God is perfectly just and perfectly merciful. God is love. We can rest assured that whatever plan God has established for infants who die without baptism, it is more just, more merciful, and more loving than whatever we may imagine, not less.
Hope for Our Simon
It was a Tuesday afternoon in May. I was home from work, watching our three small children while my wife, fifteen weeks pregnant, went for a scheduled doctor’s appointment, then to do some grocery shopping without the kids in tow. I assumed she would be gone for a while, so I was surprised to see her pull into the driveway earlier than expected. As I walked down the driveway to help her bring in the groceries, her gaze met mine. I knew from one look that something was wrong. Really wrong.
She started to cry, so I put my arms around her. That’s when she told me. “They can’t find a heartbeat.” The next several hours were a blur. Lots of tears. Phone calls to our parents. Talking to our kids. More tears. The trip to the hospital. One more ultrasound, just to be sure. The inducement of labor. Lots of prayers. And the final delivery of our small son, whom we named Simon. His umbilical cord had been wrapped multiple times around his neck, depriving his brain of oxygen. “It just sometimes happens,” the nursing staff told us.
We are blessed to have as our pastor a very orthodox and very compassionate priest. He came to the hospital and prayed with us. The doctor who delivered our other children, also a devout Catholic, prayed with us, as well. Of course the subject of baptism came up. There was simply nothing we could do. But I desperately wanted baptism for my son. What bothered me the most about his untimely death was that I never had the opportunity to bring him into the faith, to provide for his salvation.
I knew my catechism. I knew that the Church simply didn’t know what the fate of children like Simon would be. Perhaps because of this, I quickly grew tired of the assurances offered as attempts at consolation. “He’s in heaven now,” we were told by well meaning friends. Sentiments like that rang empty. How can you be so sure of that, I thought, when the Church herself has no such assurances? I cringed whenever I was told that “God needed another angel.” God needs nothing outside of himself. And wherever he is in eternity, my son is a human being, not an angel.
Simon’s funeral Mass was held on that Friday. It was a small service, attended by family and a few friends. Our priest gave a very comforting homily, and he ended by sharing with us that he had been praying his Liturgy of the Hours immediately before the funeral. The antiphon for the midmorning reading that day happened to be adapted from Luke 24:34: “The Lord is risen, alleluia. He has appeared to Simon, alleluia.”
Of course those words were not written in reference to our Simon. Nevertheless, my heart leapt in my chest when I heard them. For our priest expressed the prayer that Christ would somehow make himself present to our little son, in a way known only to him. This is the position of the International Theological Commission: that it is reasonable to “hope that God will save infants when we have not been able to do for them what we would have wished to do, namely, to baptize them into the faith and life of the Church” (HS 103).
Our pastor offered no empty assurances. No, he gave us something much greater than that. He gave us hope.
“The idea of limbo, which the Church has used for many centuries to designate the destiny of infants who die without baptism, has no clear foundation in revelation even though it has long been used in traditional theological teaching. Moreover, the notion that infants who die without baptism are deprived of the beatific vision, which has for so long been regarded as the common doctrine of the Church, gives rise to numerous pastoral problems, so much so that many pastors of souls have asked for a deeper reflection on the ways of salvation.
The necessary reconsideration of the theological issues cannot ignore the tragic consequences of original sin. Original sin implies a state of separation from Christ, and that excludes the possibility of the vision of God for those who die in that state . . .
However, with regard to the salvation of those who die without baptism, the word of God says little or nothing. It is therefore necessary to interpret the reticence of Scripture on this issue in the light of texts concerning the universal plan of salvation and the ways of salvation. In short, the problem both for theology and for pastoral care is how to safeguard and reconcile two sets of biblical affirmations: those concerning God’s universal salvific will (cf. 1 Tim. 2:4) and those regarding the necessity of baptism as the way of being freed from sin and conformed to Christ (cf. Mark 16:16; Matt. 28:18-19).
. . . [W]hile knowing that the normal way to achieve salvation in Christ is by Baptism in re, the Church hopes that there may be other ways to achieve the same end. Because, by his Incarnation, the Son of God “in a certain way united himself” with every human being, and because Christ died for all and all are in fact “called to one and the same destiny, which is divine,” the Church believes that “the Holy Spirit offers to all the possibility of being made partners, in a way known to God, in the paschal mystery.”
Love, & the glorious mystery of God’s love for each of us,
“The Church teaches that marriage is indissoluble. Thus, the Catechism teaches that while spouses are living, a new marital union “cannot be recognized as valid, if the first marriage was” (1650). Those who attempt civil remarriage after divorce, therefore, “find themselves in a situation that objectively contravenes God’s law.” The Church bases this teaching on Jesus’ words in Mark 10:11-12: “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another, commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”
Many Protestants critique this teaching for not taking into consideration what Jesus says in Matthew 19:9: “Whoever divorces his wife, except for unchastity, and marries another, commits adultery; and he who marries a divorced woman, commits adultery.” Since Jesus inserts the clause “except for unchastity,” it’s argued, a man who divorced his wife and married another wouldn’t be committing adultery if his wife were guilty of infidelity.
Is the Catholic Church contradicting Jesus? It seems the Church is telling divorced people they can’t remarry when Jesus says they can. [There are several points to support the Church’s teaching in light of this Gospel passage.]
One is to point out that porneia/πορνεία—the Greek word for unchastity in this verse—isn’t part of the group of words Matthew uses for adultery in his Gospel.
Porneia/πορνεία, translated as “unchastity” or sometimes “fornication” or “sexual immorality,” is different from the Greek word for adultery (moichaō/μοιχάω). In its broadest sense, porneia/πορνεία means unlawful sexual intercourse, so it can include adultery, but Matthew never uses the word that way in his Gospel. Instead, he uses moichaō and related words. For example, in the same verse of the porneia/πορνεία clause, Matthew uses moichaō/μοιχάω twice to refer specifically to adultery: “Whoever divorces his wife, except for unchastity, and marries another, commits adultery [Gk. moichatai/μοιχάω]; and he who marries a divorced woman, commits adultery [Gk. moichatai/μοιχάω].” In 5:27, Matthew uses moicheuō/μοιχάω to refer to the literal act of adultery, in 5:28 to broaden the concept of adultery to include lust, and in 5:32 in reference to the husband making his wife an “adulteress” by divorcing her.
If Matthew thought Jesus was talking about adultery providing an exception to his teaching on divorce, why didn’t he use the word he always used for adultery? As Bible scholar John P. Meier argues, “If Matthew wishes to name adultery as a reason for divorce, he would be almost forced to employ some form of moicheia/μοιχάω [noun] to express the concept.”
Since Matthew doesn’t use any form of the Greek word that he commonly uses for adultery, it’s reasonable to conclude that Matthew doesn’t think Jesus was referring to spousal infidelity when he spoke of “unchastity.”
A second strategy focuses on the disciples’ reaction to Jesus’ teaching: “If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is not expedient to marry” (Matt. 19:10).
At the time of Jesus, there were two rabbinic schools of thought as to what constituted legitimate grounds for divorce. The Hillel school, which followed the Jewish leader Hillel, believed that practically anything could be grounds for divorce. It could be something as simple as burnt food or a prettier woman. The school of Shammai, on the other hand, believed that only sexual immorality was cause for divorce.
Given this background, the disciples’ reaction that it would be better not to marry would be unintelligible if Jesus were allowing for divorce and remarriage in cases of adultery or sexual immorality. The disciples already were accustomed to divorce and remarriage, as the Hillel and Shammai schools attest. Their strong reaction suggests that they understood Jesus to be giving a new and different teaching.
For our third strategy, we can point to how Jesus’ teaching stands alone amid the thought of the age. His teaching about divorce and remarriage in verse 9 is part of his response to a question posed by the Pharisees: “Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?” (v. 3). Notice the phrase “for any cause.” It seems the Pharisees were testing Jesus to see which school of thought he would side with: Hillel or Shammai.
But Jesus’ response indicates that he sides with neither. He appeals to God’s original design for marriage and says, “What therefore God had joined together, let not man put asunder” (vv. 4-6; see also Gen. 2:24). In other words, it’s not that Moses allowed divorce for any cause, but “from the beginning” (v.8) it was only adultery-justified divorce. Rather, from the beginning there was no divorce: “it [divorce] was not so” (v.8). This proves that he sides with neither the Hillel nor the Shammai view on divorce and remarriage.
This context excludes the interpretation that porneia/πορνεία refers to adultery; in fact, it excludes reference to sexual immorality of any manner within marriage. For if Jesus intended the porneia/πορνεία clause to refer to any of these alternative interpretations, he would have been siding with either the Hillel or Shammai school. Instead, he gave a more radical teaching: that marriage is indissoluble. Therefore, we must conclude that Jesus didn’t intend the porneia/πορνείαclause to refer to sexual immorality within the context of the marriage bond, whether adultery or some other kind of immoral conduct.
Jesus underscores his radical view by saying no man can marry a divorced woman without committing adultery: “He who marries a divorced woman, commits adultery” (v.9; see also Matt. 5:32). This implies that no deed for which the woman is divorced, including adultery, renders her free to marry another man.
One last strategy: There are good reasons to think porneia/πορνεία instead refers to forms of sexual immorality that took place before or at the time of the attempted union, rendering it unlawful (invalid).
The Jews understood that certain sexual relationships rendered a union unlawful, meaning null and void—such as relationships of close consanguinity and affinity (Lev. 18:1-20). Only the Jewish community would know about the Levitical law concerning unlawful unions, and thus only the Jewish community would raise the question about whether these unions are an exception to Jesus’ teaching against divorce and remarriage. And Matthew, who is writing to a Jewish audience, is the only Gospel that records this exception clause.
As for porneia/πορνεία, the word is used twenty-five times in the New Testament. For only two of these do scholars even suggest it’s used for adultery: the passages that include the debated porneia/πορνεία clause concerning divorce and remarriage (Matt. 5:32, 19:9). Every other time, porneia/πορνεία refers to some sort of sexual immorality outside the lawful bounds of marriage: fornication (Matt. 15:19; Mark 7:21; John 8:41; Gal. 5:19; Eph. 5:3; Col. 3:5; Rev. 17:2, 17:4, 19:2), incest (Acts 15:20,29, 21:25; 1 Cor. 5:1;), general sexual immorality (1 Cor. 6:13,18, 7:2; 2 Cor. 12:21; 1 Thess. 4:3; Rev. 2:21, 9:21), and metaphorical impure passions (Rev. 14:8, 18:3).
Since we know from above that porneia/πορνεία can’t refer to adultery in Matthew 19:9, and every time porneia/πορνεία is used in the New Testament, it refers to sexual immorality outside the boundaries of the marital bond, it’s likely that the “porneia/πορνεία exception” in Matthew refers to sexual immorality that took place before and at the time of the attempted union, invalidating it.
We can support this interpretation by considering two things. First, it adequately explains why in these cases a man who “puts away his wife” and marries another doesn’t commit adultery. If he was never in a lawful union to begin with, he would be free to marry. This is the basis for Catholic teaching on annulments: allowing marriage for civilly divorced persons whose first “marriage” was judged not to have been valid.
Matthew’s intention in including the porneia/πορνεία exception is to clarify for his Jewish audience that Jesus was concerned with lawful marriages. His prohibition of divorce didn’t apply to those unions contracted before Christian baptism because they weren’t lawful to begin with. You can’t divorce if you were never married!
The great irony here is that rather than the Catholic Church telling people they can’t remarry when Jesus says they can, the view that the challenge implies tells people they can remarry when Jesus says they can’t. It’s not the Catholic Church that’s contradicting Jesus’ teaching. It’s the view that spousal infidelity dissolves a valid marital bond and gives grounds to divorce and remarry.
Unlike the many Christian groups that have caved to the pressures of modern society, the Catholic Church’s doctrines remain faithful to Jesus’ teaching on marriage, echoing Christ’s words: “What therefore God has joined together, let no man put asunder.”
The seven sacraments: baptism, confession, eucharist, confirmation, holy orders, extreme unction, and…martyrdom. 🙂 I’m in trouble now! Actually, I’m always in trouble, no matter what, cuz I’m a man.
Summa Catechetica, "Neque enim quaero intelligere ut credam, sed credo ut intelligam." – St Anselm, "Let your religion be less of a theory, and more of a love affair." -G.K. Chesterton, "I want a laity, not arrogant, not rash in speech, not disputatious, but men and women who know their religion, who enter into it, who know just where they stand, who know what they hold and what they do not, and who know their creed so well that they can give an account of it."- Bl John Henry Newman, Cong. Orat., "The harm that comes to souls from the lack of reading holy books makes me shudder . . . What power spiritual reading has to lead to a change of course, and to make even worldly people enter into the way of perfection." –St. Padre Pio, "Screens may grab our attention, but books change our lives!" – Word on Fire, "Reading has made many saints!" -St Josemaría Escrivá, "Do you pray? You speak to the Bridegroom. Do you read? He speaks to you." —St. Jerome, from his Letter 22 to Eustochium, "Encounter, not confrontation; attraction, not promotion; dialogue, not debate." -cf Pope Francis, "Without good books and spiritual reading, it will be morally impossible to save our souls." —St. Alphonsus Liguori, "God here speaks to souls through…good books“ – St Teresa of Avila, Interior Castle, "You will not see anyone who is really striving after his advancement who is not given to spiritual reading. And as to him who neglects it, the fact will soon be observed by his progress.” -St Athanasius, "To convert someone, go and take them by the hand and guide them." -St Thomas Aquinas, OP. 1 saint ruins ALL the cynicism in Hell & on Earth. “When we pray we talk to God; when we read God talks to us…All spiritual growth comes from reading and reflection.” -St Isidore of Seville, “Also in some meditations today I earnestly asked our Lord to watch over my compositions that they might do me no harm through the enmity or imprudence of any man or my own; that He would have them as His own and employ or not employ them as He should see fit. And this I believe is heard.” -GM Hopkins, SJ, "Only God knows the good that can come about by reading one good Catholic book." — St. John Bosco, "Why don't you try explaining it to them?" – cf St Peter Canisius, SJ, Doctor of the Church, Doctor of the Catechism, "Already I was coming to appreciate that often apologetics consists of offering theological eye glasses of varying prescriptions to an inquirer. Only one prescription will give him clear sight; all the others will give him at best indistinct sight. What you want him to see—some particular truth of the Faith—will remain fuzzy to him until you come across theological eye glasses that precisely compensate for his particular defect of vision." -Karl Keating, "The more perfectly we know God, the more perfectly we love Him." -St Thomas Aquinas, OP, ST, I-II,67,6 ad 3, “But always when I was without a book, my soul would at once become disturbed, and my thoughts wandered." —St. Teresa of Avila, "Let those who think I have said too little and those who think I have said too much, forgive me; and let those who think I have said just enough thank God with me." –St. Augustine, "Without good books and spiritual reading, it will be morally impossible to save our souls." —St. Alphonsus Liguori "Never read books you aren't sure about. . . even supposing that these bad books are very well written from a literary point of view. Let me ask you this: Would you drink something you knew was poisoned just because it was offered to you in a golden cup?" -St. John Bosco " To teach in order to lead others to faith is the task of every preacher and of each believer." —St. Thomas Aquinas, OP. "Prayer purifies us, reading instructs us. Both are good when both are possible. Otherwise, prayer is better than reading." –St. Isidore of Seville “The aid of spiritual books is for you a necessity.… You, who are in the midst of battle, must protect yourself with the buckler of holy thoughts drawn from good books.” -St. John Chrysostom