Editor’s Note: Regarding giving Communion to a non-Catholic, D.O. of Maryland illustrates beautifully why this is not a good idea by recounting a conversation that she had with a Jewish friend who was in the habit of going to Communion every time she went to Mass:
Because my friend was Jewish, I told her that I intended to go to a Saturday morning service at a synagogue and to speak from the Torah to the congregation. She told me that I could not do that.
“Why not?” I asked.
“Because you don’t know Hebrew,” she said.
“You can coach me on the verse that I choose,” I answered.
“You can’t,” she replied.
“Why not?” I kept asking.
“Because you’re not Jewish.”
“I’ll convert today.”
“You can’t,” she insisted.
“Why not?” I asked.
“Because you haven’t studied.”
“Next week, then. I’ll study this week.”
“You’re not part of the community.”
“What do I have to do to become part of the community?”
“You have to convert.”
“Really? I have to study the language and the Torah and the culture and then convert my entire philosophy and practice to conform to this one? Then, after doing all of that, I still have to make a commitment to become an active member of the Jewish community?”
“Yes,” she said.
We now had a common ground on which we could agree. Religions and organizations expect full understanding and commitment about their core beliefs before accepting members. The same applies to receiving Holy Communion at a Catholic Mass.
My friend eventually converted through RCIA. She was surprised that she knew nothing about what she had been doing for the past 20 years. She is very happy with being Catholic, being part of a community, taking part in its programs, and participating actively, with love and knowledge, in receiving the Holy Eucharist with great respect.
Q. Our pastor once said, “All souls in Purgatory will be there until the end of the world.” I’ve also heard this from other people. I know there is no “time” in Purgatory, as we know it here, but if all souls must stay there until the end of the world, how can some of them be freed and taken to Heaven when their debt is paid? What is the point of praying for them if they have to stay there anyway? — T.S., via e-mail.
A. Your point is well taken. In the words of Fr. John Hardon, SJ, “Purgatory will not continue after the general judgment, but its duration for any particular soul continues until it is free from all guilt and punishment. Immediately on purification, the soul is assumed into Heaven” (Modern Catholic Dictionary, p. 452).
This is in accord with the doctrine of indulgences, which has to do with the removal of all punishment attached to forgiven sins (a plenary indulgence) or with the removal of only some punishment (a partial indulgence). The Church teaches that indulgences can be applied not only to the person seeking the indulgence, but also to those who may be in Purgatory. In the Enchiridion [Handbook] on Indulgences, it says that “Holy Mother Church, extremely solicitous for the faithful departed, has decided to supply suffrages to them as abundantly as possible in every Sacrifice of the Mass” (n. 21).
So if one can, through certain prayers and devotions, and after sacramental Confession, reception of Holy Communion, and prayers for the intentions of the Holy Father, obtain a plenary indulgence for oneself, one can also obtain a plenary indulgence for a deceased loved one. If this plenary indulgence is perfectly accomplished and lovingly applied to a soul in Purgatory, then all temporal punishment will be removed from that soul and he or she will be taken directly to Heaven.
In his 2007 encyclical on Christian hope (Spe Salvi), Pope Benedict XVI said that “the belief that love can reach into the afterlife, that reciprocal giving and receiving are possible in which our affection for one another continues beyond the limits of death, this has been a fundamental conviction of Christianity throughout the ages, and it remains a source of comfort today. Who would not feel the need to convey to their departed loved ones a sign of kindness, a gesture of gratitude, or even a request for pardon” (n. 48)?
Regarding the fire associated with Purgatory, the Holy Father said that “some recent theologians are of the opinion that the fire which both burns and saves is Christ Himself, the Judge and Savior. The encounter with Him is the decisive act of judgment. Before His gaze all falsehood melts away. This encounter with Him, as it burns us, transforms and frees us, allowing us to become truly ourselves. All that we build during our lives can prove to be mere straw, pure bluster, and it collapses.”
He said that “in the pain of this encounter, when the impurity and sickness of our lives becomes evident to us, there lies salvation. His gaze, the touch of His heart, heals us through an undeniably painful transformation ‘as through fire’ [1 Cor. 3:15]. But it is a blessed pain, in which the holy power of His love sears through us like a flame, enabling us to become totally ourselves and thus totally of God” (n. 47).
Q. Thank you for addressing my question in a recent issue of The Wanderer. Your answer was excellent and causes me to ask just one more question (if I may?). When I mentioned a Saturday eucharistic service, I was not making reference to the Saturday Vigil Mass, but was referring to a eucharistic service in lieu of a Saturday daily Mass. At our parish, there is no Saturday morning Mass, despite our having a full-time pastor and three weekend associates who help by saying the Vigil Mass and/or one of the three Sunday Masses. The eucharistic service was initiated several years ago (by the former pastor) not only to provide a break for the pastor, but to allow each of the three deacons the time to “gain experience.” Is this Saturday eucharistic service an acceptable substitute for a Mass? — J.O., New Jersey.
A. No, it is not. As we pointed out previously, a Communion service may not be celebrated on a weekday if there is a celebration of Mass on the preceding or following Sunday (cf. Redemptionis Sacramentum, n. 166). It seems to us that your current pastor, who has plenty of help for weekend Masses, ought to celebrate a Mass on Saturday morning.
Q. Why does our Catholic religion have two creeds: the Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed? Is one official and the other not? — J.G., Minnesota.
A. Both creeds are official summaries of Catholic teaching — the Catechism of the Catholic Church is based on the Apostles’ Creed and every Sunday Mass includes the Nicene Creed, although the Apostles’ Creed may be substituted. The compilation of the creeds was based on the need for a statement of Catholic beliefs, less so in the first century (the Apostles’ Creed is only 105 words) and more so in the fourth century (the Nicene Creed is 224 words) when there was doubt about Jesus’ equality with the Father due to the Arian heresy.
Because there was much confusion and distortion of Catholic teaching in the 20th century, Pope Paul VI in 1968 issued another creed known as the Credo of the People of God, which is more than 2,500 words long. “In making this profession,” said the Holy Father, “we are aware of the disquiet which agitates certain modern quarters with regard to the faith. They do not escape the influence of a world being profoundly changed, in which so many certainties are being disputed or discussed. We see even Catholics allowing themselves to be seized by a kind of passion for change and novelty.”