Well, spring is almost here—though from the sub-freezing temperatures you’d never know it—and that can only mean one thing: Daylight Savings Time. Last fall I wrote about “Daylight Savings Time and other fallacies we agree to agree upon” in the National Catholic Register. So in honor, or horror, of “springing ahead” here are nine more fallacies many Catholics struggle with:
1. Deacons are members of the laity: The term “lay deacon” is perhaps the ultimate misnomer: there is simply no such thing. Deacons are full members of the clergy. They are not laymen. True, for the most part they live and work among the laity, but after ordination to the diaconate they are clerics. Period.
2. Monks take a Vow of Silence: Monks—Carthusian, Trappist, Benedictine, Camaldolese, Carmelite, Brigittine, Cistercian—all take vows of poverty, chastity, obedience, and stability (that is, fidelity to one’s order and abbey/monastery). However, no order of monks takes a “vow” of “silence”. Silence is observed in many, almost all, monasteries to the point where many have a sort of “sign-language” to avoid unnecessary conversation. However, this is not a “vow”, neither in its “simple” or “solemn” form. It is simply a form of living that monks have agreed to abide by, to differing degrees.
3. There were 12 Apostles: Strictly speaking, this was true in that Jesus began with twelve apostles. However, if we take that Jesus’ public ministry lasted three years, there were only twelve apostles for that short period of time. With the betrayal and death of Judas, that number dropped to eleven. The apostles restored the original number, twelve, with the election of St. Matthias. But Jesus Himself appeared to St. Paul—“The Apostle To The Gentiles”—swelling the number of Apostles to thirteen. Further, St. Barnabas (Acts 14: 14) is called an Apostle and is celebrated as such according to the Roman Rite on June 11. This brings the total number of Apostles to 14. Or if someone is still counting Judas, fifteen. Regardless, it’s not twelve.
4. Ash Wednesday is a Holy Day of Obligation: Though you’d never know it from the crowds that show up for Mass and/or the distribution of Ashes, Ash Wednesday is not a Holy Day of Obligation. It is, however, one of the busiest days on the Church calendar. And one of the few days you can be guaranteed it will be hard to find a seat at church.
5. Pope John Paul I’s was the shortest papacy in history: Given that he was pope for only 33 days, the popular media has termed Pope John Paul I’s reign “the shortest papacy in history”. This is not true: the shortest papacy in history belongs to Urban VII who died after only 12 days in office. Celestine IV lasted just 17 days. After that there are, incredibly, eighteen popes whose reigns lasted two months or less, with the most recent—before John Paul I—being Leo XI, who was pope for only twenty-six days in 1605.
6. There’s an age-limit on Mass: Perhaps there was a time when old age and infirmity caused people over the age of 65 not to attend Mass after retirement. However, there’s no ruling on this aside from common sense (that is, you are so aged or ill or infirm or can’t drive due to old age that you can’t get to Mass). And since we are all living—and working—longer we should still be attending Mass if we are well enough to do so.
7. Priests are required to say Mass every day: as my brother and sister (both lawyers) might say: this is “Black-letter-law”: Canon 904 “earnestly recommends” that priests say Daily Mass, but it stops short of requiring it. However as a sort of rejoinder to this…
8. Clerics no longer have to recite the Divine Office daily: What has changed here is that it is no longer a mortal sin if a cleric or religious fails to say the Divine Office (now The Liturgy of the Hours) every day. That said: all priests, deacons, bishops and consecrated religious still must recite the Divine Office whether in choir (monks and cloistered religious) or individually (parish priests, deacons, and Jesuits).
9. Limbo doesn’t exist anymore: This one seemed to be settled in 2007 by the International Theological Commission’s The Hope of Salvation for Infants Who Die Without Being Baptised and the headlines which read “Pope Ends State of Limbo after 800 years”. However, this is far from the most air-tight rejection of limbo. For instance, the document claims that “Limbo is not defined in the Catechism”, but the Catechism does include “Limbo” in the Index, which refers the reader to no. 1261: “Children who have died without Baptism.” Further the ITC’s own document contains this confusing remark: “Therefore, besides the theory of Limbo (which remains a possible theological opinion), there can be other ways to integrate and safeguard the principles of the faith grounded in Scripture” (emphases added). Finally, in the 2010—three years after the ITC pronouncement—Henrich Denzinger Compendium of Creeds, Definitions, and Declarations on Matters of Faith and Morals (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 43rd ed., 2010 translation) does include a “Theory of Limbo” on page 1343, although this refers the reader back to Pope Benedict XII’s “Libellus to the Armenians” (August 1341), a teaching that would seem abrogated by the 2007 ITC document. Still, for a place that does not exist anymore, a lot of ink has been spilt on the subject.