Q. It always puzzles me when minors take a drink of wine at Communion. Isn’t that sort of unlawful? I know in some states it is. — A.N., Oregon.
A. First of all, don’t forget that what looks and tastes like wine is really the Precious Blood of Jesus, so it shouldn’t be called wine after the consecration. While it might be unlawful for minors to drink wine in some states, we are sure that those laws have to do with consuming large quantities of alcohol, which is not the case at Mass. It is up to parents to decide if their minor children can receive the Precious Blood at Mass, but the quantity received is so small that parents we have observed have no qualms about having their children receive Jesus under both Species.
Q. I have three questions I would like to submit to you. 1) What miracles have been attributed to Pope St. John Paul II and Pope St. John XXIII? 2) Does the Catholic Church still teach there is a Purgatory? I heard a priest say that the Church no longer believes in Purgatory. 3) If the Church does believe in Purgatory, does a funeral Mass meet the requirements to remove a soul from Purgatory to Heaven? — S.W.F., Florida.
A. 1) Of many miracles attributed to the intercession of John Paul II, the Church recognized two of them leading to his canonization. The first was the healing of a French nun, Sr. Marie Simon-Pierre, who recovered from Parkinson’s disease with no medical explanation after praying to the late Holy Father shortly after his death in 2005. The second was the cure of a Costa Rican woman, Floribeth Mora Diaz, from a brain aneurysm in 2011. After being told by doctors she had only one month to live, Mrs. Mora was healed after holding a magazine with a cover photograph of John Paul and praying to him.
As for John XXIII, the Church has recognized as miraculous the healing of an Italian nun, Sr. Caterina Capitani, in 1966. She had undergone an operation to remove a cancerous tumor in her stomach, but her condition was deteriorating when she suddenly recovered after praying to the Pope who had died only three years earlier. Pope Francis waived the required second miracle for John XXIII when he announced his plans to canonize his Predecessor along with John Paul II.
However, there was another miraculous event associated with John XXIII. When his grave was opened in 2001, his body looked as if he had “died yesterday,” said one observer. It had not decayed despite having been buried for 38 years.
2) The Church’s teaching on the existence of Purgatory has remained constant from the beginning, and any priest who denies this teaching is guilty of heresy. In the words of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (n. 1030-1031):
“All who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven.
“The Church gives the name Purgatory to this final purification of the elect, which is entirely different from the punishment of the damned.”
The Catechism says that this teaching is found in Scripture (e.g., 2 Macc. 12:46 and 1 Cor. 3:15) and was affirmed at the Councils of Florence (1438-1445) and Trent (1545-1563).
3) It is possible that a funeral Mass could provide the final purifying graces necessary for the deceased to go from Purgatory to Heaven, but it is more likely that additional prayers and suffrages will be needed to get the person to Heaven.
Q. Our diocesan newspaper contained an article by Catholic News Service reporting on recent statements by Virginia’s two bishops, Paul Loverde and Francis X. DiLorenzo. While I appreciate the bishops’ intentions, I question their reasoning. The bishops were urging the Virginia legislature to expand health insurance coverage in the commonwealth to 400,000 poor and vulnerable persons who are currently uninsured.
Their advocacy, according to the article, is “…informed by the Church’s teaching, first, everyone has a right to life, and second, health care is a right — not a privilege — that flows from the right to life itself. This understanding transcends the categories of left and right, liberal and conservative, Democrat and Republican. It applies to all members of the human family — born and unborn, affluent and poor, insured and uninsured.”
Just because something is a right, does it follow that the government must provide it? For example, we have a right to practice our faith, but does the government have an obligation to provide places of worship and clergy? To carry the bishops’ thinking a bit further, food, clothing, and shelter are necessary to maintain life; therefore it could follow that they are a right stemming from the right to life. Should government also provide them? Of course, governments are not created to provide charity, but if something is an absolute right that the government is obligated to provide, then it isn’t charity, is it? Do you think the bishops are on firm ground on this issue? Isn’t this really a matter of prudential judgment, not an absolute right? — D.M., Virginia.
A. It’s one thing to call for assistance to the poor and the needy; that’s an obligation imposed on us by Christ Himself (cf. Matt. 24:34-40). The question then becomes, what is the most efficient way to provide this assistance? Up until the 1960s, help came mostly from private charities and local agencies and was influenced by the principle of subsidiarity, that is, the aid was provided at the local level, where there was the most reliable information about who was truly in need.
Since then, federal and state governments have spent many trillions of dollars allegedly to combat poverty. But the problem has only gotten worse, not only in terms of millions of people who are still struggling to get by despite the vast amounts of dollars spent, but also in terms of many billions of dollars wasted or unaccounted for and in terms of creating a culture of dependence on government, where there is no longer any incentive to work for a living when one can do as well, if not better, economically and financially by signing up for a government program.
We, too, can appreciate the good intentions of the bishops of Virginia, but what happens when the well of economic assistance runs dry? Common sense suggests that as the number of those getting some kind of assistance goes over 50 percent of the population (and it may already have reached that percentage), the number of those being taxed to provide this assistance will continue to diminish until many of the providers find themselves in difficult economic circumstances, too. You can’t build up one segment of the population by tearing down another.
As you suggest, trying to solve this problem demands prudential judgment as to the best course of action. But we should have learned over the past half-century that automatically turning this situation over to the federal government only makes the situation worse because many of those in charge of the programs are either well-meaning but naive, incompetent, or corrupt.
Of course, one who says such things is immediately accused of wanting to throw all the poor and needy into the streets. But if something prudential is not done soon, there will be a lot more people in the streets, including those who were bankrupted paying for government programs that did not work.
Q. I try to clip your columns, but I lose track of them. Is there a collection of columns that would make it easier? — D.H., Massachusetts.
A. Funny you should ask. Yes, there are two books with a combined total of 1,600 questions answered. They are entitled Catholic Replies and Catholic Replies 2. Both have extensive indexes so you can find information easily. You can purchase the books for $17.95 each, or both of them for $30, plus $5 for shipping for one book or $8 for two books. Send check or money order to the address at the bottom of this column.