First Amendment Right

I have been following the discussion surrounding the Department of Health and Human Services contraceptive mandate. Those who support the mandate argue that it is about freedom of choice and health care. Unfortunately, they either fail to fully understand the issue or are deliberately obfuscating the discussion.

This issue is about freedom of religion: a right that is given to us by God and guaranteed by the First Amendment of the Constitution. We need to make sure that everyone understands that this is the crux of the issue.

To help explain this, I have prepared the following questionnaire for my eighth-grade faith-formation class at St. Francis Xavier Church in Hyannis, Mass. It should be sent to the administration, as well as every member of Congress and the judiciary.

As people of faith and citizens of the United States, we have a right to know where they stand on the freedom of religion and whether or not they are willing to uphold their oath of office.

1. The Catholic Church teaches that human life is sacred and holy. Does the Catholic Church have the right to practice and promote this belief: Yes or No?

2. The Catholic Church teaches that at the moment of conception God endows each of us with an immortal and divine soul, creating a sacred and holy human life. Does the Catholic Church have the right to practice and promote this belief: Yes or No?

3. The Catholic Church teaches that abortion is immoral and wrong because it terminates a sacred and holy human life. Does the Catholic Church have the right to practice and promote this belief: Yes or No?

4. Does the federal government have the authority to mandate that the Catholic Church pay for an abortion: Yes or No?

5. Does the federal government have the authority to prosecute or punish the Catholic Church for refusing to comply with a federal mandate that violates the principles and tenets of its faith: Yes or No?

Stephen Thompson

Yarmouthport, Massachusetts

Blessing at Communion

Regarding “Breaking Bad Liturgical Habits” (In Depth, Jan. 15), George Weigel lists several examples of bad liturgical practices, in fact abuses, which ought to be corrected now that the new translation of the third edition of the Roman Missal has taken effect.

I heartily agree. I disagree, however, with one of his examples. He states, “For now, pastors must make it clear that no one blesses children during the Communion procession except bishops, priests and deacons, i.e. those in holy orders.”

It would seem that even clerics are prohibited from giving such blessings while distributing the holy Eucharist. According to the general introduction to the Book of Blessings, whose liturgical rubrics apply universally, Rubric 28
reads: “Because some blessings have a special relationship to the sacraments, they may sometimes be joined with the celebration of Mass. This book specifies what such blessings are and the part or rite with which they are to be joined; it also provides ritual norms that may not be disregarded. No blessings except those so specified may be joined with the Eucharistic celebration.”

An example of a specific blessing which has a special relationship to the sacraments and is joined with the Mass is the nuptial blessing of the bride and groom. This blessing takes place after the Our Father is prayed at a nuptial Mass. It would seem, however, that it is never appropriate for any cleric, whether he be a deacon, priest or bishop, to bless any person, child or adult, who is in the Communion procession, because it is meant for only one purpose — and that is to receive holy Communion.

Responding to a question about giving blessings to people who come forward in the Communion line but who are not receiving Communion, the Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments responded in the form of a letter (Protocol No. 930/081L), dated Nov. 22, 2008, and signed by Father Anthony Ward, undersecretary of the congregation.

Two pertinent parts of that letter state that “the liturgical blessing of the holy Mass is properly given to each and to all at the conclusion of Mass, just a few moments subsequent to the distribution of holy Communion,” and “the laying on of a hand or hands — which has its own sacramental significance, inappropriate here — by those distributing holy Communion, in substitution for its reception, is to be explicitly discouraged.”

The letter from CDW also states that “the apostolic exhortation Familiaris Consortio (84) ‘forbids any pastor, for whatever reason to pretext even of a pastoral nature, to perform ceremonies of any kind for divorced people who remarry.’ To be feared is that any form of blessing in substitution for Communion would give the impression that the divorced and remarried have been returned, in some sense, to the status of Catholics in good standing.”

Msgr. Patrick E. Dempsey

Bowie, Maryland

Liturgical Music

Regarding “Breaking Bad Liturgical Habits” by George Weigel (In Depth, Jan. 15):

Weigel asks that bad habits be broken and makes a number of very commendable suggestions with which I fully agree. However, I fear he is recommending the introduction of a bad habit in those (few) places where they are currently not prevalent. I refer to his recommendations concerning hymns.

He recommends the singing of all verses of a processional or a recessional hymn. Where in the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM) is there a reference to either of these as forming part of the liturgy of the Mass? The GIRM (47-48) states that a chant is to be sung as the priest and ministers enter. “Its purpose is ... to accompany the procession of the priest and ministers.”

It then gives four options for the entrance chant permissible in the United States. There is no mention of a processional hymn among these options. So the breaking of a bad liturgical habit would be achieved by abandoning the all-too-prevalent “processional hymn” and replacing it with one of the four chant options described in the GIRM.

But, allowing that processional hymns are currently all-pervasive in most parishes, the fact that the chant/hymn should “accompany the procession of the priest and ministers” would seem to indicate that it should cease once the procession has been concluded and the priest is ready to commence the Mass.

As for a recessional hymn, there is no reference to such a thing in the GIRM. The GIRM does not indicate that anything should be sung at the end of Mass. In fact, the GIRM gives no instruction for what should happen at the end of Mass, except that the priest and ministers reverence the altar and withdraw.

To my knowledge, there is no tradition in the Roman liturgy for a hymn at the end of Mass. There is, however, a tradition for an organ voluntary or, perhaps, for a brief antiphon (e.g. the Salve Regina, Alma Redemptoris Mater, etc.), in keeping with the season.

The liturgy ends with the dismissal. No further liturgical action takes place (or, if it does — e.g. exposition of the Blessed Sacrament — it is a separate liturgical act from the Mass, even if it follows immediately).

Ideally, Weigel should recommend the abandonment of recessional hymns altogether rather than have the people stand through verses of a hymn after they have been dismissed with the word: “Go.”

If people choose to stay for private prayer, that is a very commendable personal choice that I would do everything to encourage. But the priest and ministers should withdraw and allow the people to stay or go as they feel moved, not detained by a non-liturgical hymn.

“The norms on the manner of singing (at the Offertory) are the same as for the entrance chant” (GIRM 74). Similar indications are given for the Communion chant (GIRM 87).

Weigel is quite right in asserting that music in the liturgy is not a filler, but we should ask first: Is the music we use in the liturgy actually liturgical?

Father John Boyle

Gwinn, Minnesota

Hopeful Thanks

Thank you very much for the articles on each GOP candidate (“Presidential Hopefuls”).

Reading your newspaper is one of the main motivators for me to get educated on each candidate and participate as best I can in this year’s elections. I especially find the articles very clear and easy to understand, without overwhelming me with too much information. I am happy to have a solid media source I can trust in.

Thank you, from a young, 25-year-old voter.

Janelle K.

Naperville, Illinois

Absence of Teaching

Relative to the Register’s coverage of the Health and Human Services abortion mandate:

I’ve been attending holy Mass for 50 years. Added to the Sunday attendances are many years of frequent daily Masses. And, over the past 50 years, I have rarely heard the Church’s teaching explained regarding contraception and family planning. I daresay that I am by no means alone in this experience.

In the absence of any teaching being presented verbally, long ago I turned to the written documents of the Church and discovered that the Church’s teaching on contraception and family planning is not only spectacular, but, by far, the most pro-marriage, pro-family, pro-child and, in fact, the most pro-woman body of intelligentsia on this subject that exists! How could this not be proclaimed? The laity has a right to this knowledge!

It appears, to me, that everyone is assuming Catholics understand what the Church teaches about contraception and family planning. I beg to differ with great, great confidence. I believe there is a massive amount of confusion and misinformation among the laity about the whole matter. At any rate, the laity deserves accurate knowledge, but perhaps this is a topic more effectively learned and assimilated by self study.

Why not provide a complimentary copy of Humanae Vitae (no more than 20 short pages) for every family in every parish, along with a gentle and loving encouragement to the laity to take some time and become a student of this short but exceedingly life-giving portion of Church teaching? What harm could be done by simply studying the Church’s position on this topic?

Why not provide a user-friendly list of additional resources for further study and consideration and perhaps even re-stock the parish gift shop so that laypeople can have easy access to this material? How hard can that be to do?

Maybe it is better that no one preaches about this topic as long as the laity, offered with the materials, are actively encouraged to read up on it.

Perhaps a growing chorus of voices will rise up — not just in protest against the profound, unprecedented and supremely grave injustice this government mandate represents, but also in favor of why we as Catholics should protest this injustice.

Daniel Fioramonti

Loxahatchee, Florida