Q. I saw a letter-to-the-editor recently that asked why, if a member of the Mafia is to be excommunicated for cooperating with murder, then why isn’t a member of any group that murders unborn children (or enables the killing, e.g., politicians who vote for abortion bills) also excommunicated? The editor made no comment, but how would you respond to this question? — R.A.C., Massachusetts.
A. First of all, it was Pope Francis who said in Italy on June 21 that members of the Mafia, because they are involved in “adoration of evil and contempt for the common good,” are “not in communion with God. They are ‘excommunicated’.” He said that their evil “must be fought, must be expelled. It must be told no.”
Second, canon 1398 of the Code of Canon Law says that “a person who procures a completed abortion incurs an automatic . . . excommunication.” In his 1995 encyclical Evangelium Vitae, Pope John Paul II said that “the excommunication affects all those who commit this crime with knowledge of the penalty attached and thus includes those accomplices without whose help the crime would not have been committed” (n. 62). This means the woman, the doctor, and family members, friends, and counselors who advised the abortion, provided that each of these persons knew the Church’s penalty for this crime, but went ahead with it anyway.
According to canons 1323 and 1324, excommunication would not be automatically incurred if a person was truly ignorant of the penalty attached to procuring an abortion, was under the age of 16, thought that the law only applied to the person having the abortion and not to her accomplices, acted out of serious fear about parental or societal reaction to the pregnancy, or erroneously believed that the abortion was necessary to preserve the mother’s life.
As for Catholic politicians who lobby and vote for abortion, they are not subject to automatic excommunication, according to the late moral theologian Msgr. William B. Smith. He said in the August/September 2000 issue of Homiletic & Pastoral Review that it may well be that the number of abortions performed would not have occurred without the votes of Catholic legislators, “but since it ‘may be’ so and is not patently clear causal participation in an actual abortion, then it seems to me that this is outside the scope of canon 1329 §2 and does not engage the penalty of excommunication.”
This does not mean that pro-abortion lawmakers are off the hook, the monsignor said, adding that “we must never forget that abortion is the direct killing of a moral innocent (i.e., morally, it’s murder). By every moral standard, every direct and deliberate act of that kind (murder) is an objective offense against the natural law and divine positive law, from which no one on this planet is exempt. By definition, this is grave scandal and incompatible with being a practicing Catholic. Those who promote, sustain, and expand abortion cannot disentangle themselves completely from this grave sin and objective injustice.”
We hope that Pope Francis will soon proclaim excommunication against those pro-abortion Catholics who are just as surely involved in “adoration of evil and contempt for the common good” as any member of the Mafia.
Q. Granted that subjective dispositions could make a difference, objectively speaking, does a priest give as much honor and glory to God and accrue as much benefit for the good of the Church when he concelebrates Mass as when he celebrates Mass individually? When I was in the seminary, the tremendous value and benefit accruing to the Church from each Mass was stressed.
I have often wondered if at least a partial explanation for the Church’s present difficulties isn’t simply due to the fact that with the widespread practice of concelebration there are fewer Masses being offered. It is my understanding that when ten priests concelebrate a Mass, that means that day there are nine fewer Masses offered.
The present practice seems to go beyond what Sacrosanctum Concilium [Vatican II’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy] envisioned. Canon 803 in the 1917 Code of Canon Law forbade concelebration except in the Ordination rite of priests and the consecration of bishops.
I know that canon 902 in the 1983 Code still gives every priest the right to offer Mass every day individually, but often peer pressure or lack of faculties make it difficult. There is a further development, at least in my opinion, among so many priests not considering daily celebration of Mass very important. That is possibly a different issue. — Name and State Withheld.
A. Taking your last point first, priests were not mandated to celebrate Mass daily by the 1917 Code of Canon Law, nor are they mandated to do so by the 1983 Code. However, it is “strongly recommended” that they say Mass every day. Here is canon 904 of the 1983 Code:
“Remembering that the work of redemption is continually accomplished in the mystery of the Eucharistic Sacrifice, priests are to celebrate frequently; indeed, daily celebration is strongly recommended since, even if the faithful cannot be present, it is the act of Christ and the Church in which priests fulfill their principal function.”
This canon is taken almost word for word from n. 13 of Vatican II’s Decree on the Ministry and Life of Priests (Presbyterorum Ordinis).
As for concelebrated Masses, the General Instruction of the Roman Missal says that they are a way “by which the unity of the Priesthood, of the Sacrifice, and also of the whole People of God is appropriately expressed” (n. 199). While once limited to priestly Ordinations and episcopal consecrations, the GIRM recommends that concelebration take place at the Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday; at Masses during councils, synods, and gatherings of bishops; at Conventual Masses and the principal Mass in churches and oratories; and at Masses where priests, either secular or religious, are gathered.
The same paragraph says that “every Priest, however, is allowed to celebrate the Eucharist individually, though not at the same time as a concelebration is taking place in the same church or oratory. However, on Holy Thursday, and for the Mass of the Easter Vigil, it is not permitted to celebrate Mass individually.”
On the question of whether a priest gives as much honor and glory to God when he concelebrates Mass as when he celebrates Mass individually, we don’t know the answer. Perhaps one of our readers could offer some insight into this question.
Q. Enclosed is some information on the “Prayer Wrap” in my parish, where the priest blesses a shawl that is then put over the shoulders of the person in need of physical or emotional healing. Are these shawls sacramentals once they have been blessed? — J.B.N., Texas.
A. According to the information sent to us, “the Prayer Wrap is a symbol of a faith-sharing community wrapping the individual who receives it in prayer, and they are sewn with love and given to those in need of comfort. The very threads become interwoven with pleas for healing on behalf of the recipient. The sewing volunteers will commit their time and talent as they fulfill their part in the construction of these fleece shoulder wraps.
“After the wraps are completed, they are blessed by a priest or a deacon. These beautiful acts truly transform the fabric into a ‘Prayer Wrap,’ which brings comfort to the suffering and peace to the fearful. When a recipient sees and touches these wraps, they know they are not alone, that they are lifted in healing prayer and there are those who do care about them.”
Sacramentals are certain rites or objects, such as blessings, exorcisms, scapulars, medals, or holy water, which are used to win God’s help by reason of our own devotion plus the prayers of the Church on our behalf. Unlike the sacraments, which confer grace directly, sacramentals give grace by virtue of the devotion of the person using them, and also by virtue of the official prayers and intercession of the Church. They have the power to obtain pardon for venial sins, to obtain health of body and mind and material blessings, and to give special protection against the Devil.
Since priests and deacons have the authority to bless objects, we would say that once these Prayer Wraps are blessed, they would qualify as sacramentals.