Editor’s Note: Regarding a recent reply about talking in church, D.B. of Pennsylvania sent along comments from Jacinta Marto shortly before the death of the Fatima visionary in 1920. One day, after observing the irreverence of some people visiting the chapel where she often prayed, Jacinta told the mother superior of the orphanage:
“My dear Mother, don’t allow that. They must act before the Blessed Sacrament as it is proper. Everyone must be quiet in church; they must not speak. If these poor people knew what is waiting for them! I went downstairs to speak to the people who were misbehaving in the chapel, but I did not always have success. When I returned, she [Mother] said, ‘What happened?’ I told her they would not listen. ‘Patience,’ she replied, her face showing her sorrow over the irreverence of the people. ‘Our Lady is pleased with you. Will you not tell the cardinal? Yes, our Lady does not want us to talk in church’.”
Q. Since the church allows married Protestant ministers to become priests, why not allow married Catholic deacons to become priests? My arguments would include they are mostly lifelong Catholics and they could be even further pre-selected by education, tests, and further background evaluations of one type or another. Poof, no more priest shortage. I guess this simple solution would go against the all-men thinking. Remember, St. Peter had a mother-in-law. Also, there was a time when we had married priests. With all respect, it will come to pass or we will continue this hypocrisy. — D.H., Iowa.
A. While the Gospels say that St. Peter had a mother-in-law, they do not say that Peter’s wife was still in the picture when Jesus chose him as one of the apostles. Yes, there were married priests in the early Church, but priestly celibacy has been practiced in the Church since early in the fourth century (cf. The Apostolic Origins of Priestly Celibacy by Christian Cochini). Recent Popes have reaffirmed this ancient tradition of the Church for these reasons:
First, it follows the example of Christ Himself, who promised great rewards to those who have “given up house or wife or brothers or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God” (Luke 18:29).
Second, it allows priests to focus exclusively on serving Christ and the Church, without at the same time worrying about wives or children. They are called to a higher fatherhood and have many more “spiritual children” than in an ordinary family. Married clergy in other religions, torn between their families and their congregations, have expressed appreciation for the celibacy required of Catholic priests.
Third, it provides space and time for serious prayer and development of a deep bond with Christ, whom the priest is called to share with the world.
Fourth, it is a foreshadowing of Heaven, where there will be no marriage.
And fifth, it is wonderful example of commitment and sacrifice under sometimes difficult circumstances, and it gives credibility to priests when they ask their people to make great sacrifices for God.
We agree that many married deacons are qualified to become priests (they go through four or five years of training for the diaconate), but for the reasons just mentioned they are not eligible for the priesthood. As for this solving the alleged priest shortage, we would note two things: One, there is a minister shortage among Protestants even though they can get married, and they have tried to fill this shortage by ordaining women. Second, the priest shortage in the Catholic Church is exaggerated. Yes, there are some parts of the country where priestly vocations are scarce, but there are other places where vocations are plentiful.
Reserving the priesthood to unmarried men is not “hypocrisy.” It reflects the will of Christ and makes good practical sense.
Q. I completely agree with your recent explanation as to why women cannot be ordained to the priesthood, but can you explain Romans 16:1, where St. Paul says, “I commend to you our sister Phoebe, who is a deaconess of the Church at Cenchreae”? Isn’t diaconate one step down from priesthood? — C.G.D., Maryland.
A. St. Paul was referring to those holy women who without being ordained served the early Church by assisting the clergy in charitable works and in their sacramental ministry when appropriate, for example, in the Baptism of female catechumens. This is confirmed in canon 19 of the Council of Nicaea in 325, which said that “we have made mention of deaconesses, who have been enrolled in this position, although, not having been in any way ordained, they are certainly to be numbered among the laity.”
Some 50 years later, Epiphanius wrote in his Panacea Against All Heresies:
“It is true that in the Church there is an order of deaconesses, but not for being a priestess nor for any kind of work of administration, but for the sake of the dignity of the female sex, either at the time of Baptism or of examining the sick or suffering, so that the naked body of a female may not be seen by men administering sacred rites, but by the deaconess.”
In 2001, three Vatican congregations issued a statement saying that because the Catholic Church “does not foresee the possibility” of ordaining women deacons, “it is not licit to undertake initiatives which in some way aim at preparing female candidates for diaconal ordination.”
Noting that Vatican agencies have received “several signals regarding the planning or offering of courses directly or indirectly aimed at diaconal ordination of women,” the heads of the Congregations for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Clergy, and the Sacraments said that such courses must be discontinued because they could “give rise to expectations lacking solid doctrinal soundness and could, therefore, generate pastoral disorientation.”
Q. If you don’t believe in what the Catholic Church teaches, are you in heresy? – M.G., Alabama.
A. As in so many other matters, Fr. John A. Hardon, SJ, offers an excellent explanation of heresy in his Modern Catholic Dictionary:
“In the Roman Catholic Church, heresy has a very specific meaning. Anyone who, after receiving Baptism, while remaining nominally a Christian, pertinaciously denies or doubts any of the truths that must be believed with divine and Catholic faith is considered a heretic. Accordingly, four elements must be verified to constitute formal heresy: previous valid Baptism, which need not have been in the Catholic Church; external profession of still being a Christian, otherwise a person becomes an apostate; outright denial or positive doubt regarding a truth that the Catholic Church has actually proposed as revealed by God; and the disbelief must be morally culpable, where a nominal Christian refuses to accept what he knows is a doctrinal imperative.
“Objectively, therefore, to become a heretic in the strict canonical sense and be excommunicated from the faithful, one must deny or question a truth that is taught not merely on the authority of the Church but on the word of God revealed in the Scriptures or Sacred Tradition. Subjectively, a person must recognize his obligation to believe. If he acts in good faith, as with most persons brought up in non-Catholic surroundings, the heresy is only material and implies neither guilt nor sin against faith” (p. 247).
Q. When does Lent officially end? — F.P., Illinois.
A. Lent officially ends on Holy Thursday, with the Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper beginning the Sacred Triduum. The other two parts of the Triduum are the Celebration of the Lord’s Passion on Good Friday and the Easter Vigil on Holy Saturday.