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March 24, 2023 Our Catholic Faith No Comments

Editor’s Note: One of our readers is willing to donate to any person or institution the large theological library that belonged to her late husband. The collection includes a 20-volume series entitled Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture. If anyone is interested, please contact us and we will put you in touch with the donor.

Q. Since Ash Wednesday, I noticed that all the holy water has been removed from the church. There was no mention of this in the church bulletin. Is my pastor correct in removing holy water during Lent? — R.B., Wisconsin.
A. We had thought that this fad had gone the way of other liturgical abuses, but apparently not. In any case, here is what the Vatican’s Congregation for Divine Worship said back on March 14, 2000:
“(1) The liturgical legislation in force does not foresee this innovation, which in addition to being praeter legem [contrary to law], is contrary to a balanced understanding of the season of Lent, which though truly being a season of penance is also a season rich in the symbolism of water and Baptism, constantly evoked in liturgical texts.
“(2) The encouragement of the Church that the faithful avail themselves frequently of…her sacraments and sacramentals is to be understood to apply also to the season of Lent. The ‘fast’ and ‘abstinence’ which the faithful embrace in this season does not extend to abstaining from the sacraments or sacramentals of the Church. The practice of the Church has been to empty the holy water fonts on the days of the Sacred Triduum in preparation of the blessing of the water at the Easter Vigil, and it corresponds to those days on which the Eucharist is not celebrated (i.e., Good Friday and Holy Saturday).”

Q. Is it true that Catholics abstain from meat on Fridays because some of the apostles were fishermen and the Church has always sought to promote the eating of fish? — D.C., via e-mail.
A. No, that’s not true. The reason why we abstain from meat on Fridays is to honor the death of Jesus on the Cross on Friday by not eating a popular food like meat. In his book Why Do Catholics Eat Fish on Friday, Michael P. Foley explained:
“For centuries Roman Catholics have abstained from eating ‘flesh meat,’ such as beef, pork, or poultry, on Friday. Moving beyond the somewhat far-fetched theory that Friday abstinence was a medieval invention designed to help the fishing industry of the time, this weekly abstinence is, according to canon law, a sign of penance on the day of Our Lord’s Crucifixion. It also aptly symbolizes a rejection of ‘carnality.’ There is a certain theological appropriateness to abstaining from the meat of an animal whose blood has been shed on the day on which the blood of the God-man was shed, the absence of the former reminding us paradoxically of the latter. Fish would be an exception to this rule because of its symbolic association with Christ and the Eucharist” (p. 29).
He said that “because Friday abstinence from flesh meat was mandatory for most Roman Catholics prior to the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965), restaurants were quick to offer fare for the day. Even McDonald’s added the Fillet-o-Fish sandwich to its menus in 1962 after Louis Groen, owner of the chain’s Cincinnati franchises, noticed that his restaurants experienced a sharp drop in sales every Friday. And even today, restaurant menus on any given Friday in the United States continue to be influenced by the old custom. For example, it is still common on Friday to see a seafood dish as the special of the day or clam chowder as the soup du jour ” (pp. 29-30).
Foley also noted that “technically speaking, Roman Catholics are still required to abstain from meat on Fridays unless they replace it with some other act of penance or good work (such as the Stations of the Cross), or unless their local bishop has officially decreed an alternative. Most Catholics, clergy as well as laity, are oddly unaware of this obligation, though they do at least know that the Fridays during Lent are days of abstinence” (p. 30).

Q. A friend of mine has always been skeptical about death-bed conversions. He doesn’t think it’s fair that a person should enjoy the pleasures of an immoral life and then have God bail him out at the end. How can I answer him? — G.S., via e-mail.
A. You could start by pointing him to the book of the Prophet Ezekiel. In that book, God tells Ezekiel that “if a wicked man, turning from the wickedness he has committed, does what is right and just, he shall preserve his life; since he has turned away from all the sins which he committed, he shall surely live, he shall not die. And yet the house of Israel says, ‘The Lord’s way is not fair!’ Is it my way that is not fair, house of Israel, or rather, is it not that your ways are not fair” (Ezek. 18:27-29)?
Looking at this situation from a human perspective, it doesn’t seem right that some persons spend their whole lives fighting temptations and repenting from their sins in order to get to Heaven only to meet persons there who came in through the back door, so to speak, at the last moment. But from the divine perspective we see how merciful God is to those who finally repent, like the Good Thief on the cross. Instead of being jealous of them, we should be happy, admitting the truth of what God said elsewhere:
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, / nor are my ways your ways, says the Lord. / As high as the heavens are above the earth, / so high are my ways above your ways / and my thoughts above your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9).
In her book Deathbed Conversions, which chronicles the lives and deaths of thirteen persons, including Oscar Wilde, Buffalo Bill Cody, Dutch Schultz, John Wayne, Patricia Neal, and Gary Cooper, Karen Edmisten admits that “deathbed conversions sound suspiciously like loopholes, like unfair, unaccounted for, last-minute ducks inside the pearly gates.” She has found two reactions to these stories. “Some people relish the idea of last-minute U-turns,” she says, while others “don’t believe people can authentically change, or they suspect duplicitous, mercenary motives. Some chafe at the unfairness factor. Why should the rest of us kill ourselves being ‘good’ all our lives when those lifelong slackers get a final-hour ticket into Heaven? Who let them cut into line anyway” (p. 11)?
Edmisten, who converted from atheism to Catholicism at the age of thirty, goes on to say that “living one’s entire life without God, though, is hardly a free ticket. A true deathbed convert doesn’t rub his hands together at the final hour, snickering, ‘Hey, I pulled a fast one on the Big Guy!’ Rather, he sees the tragedy of a wasted lifetime, the pain of his prolonged denial, and the foolishness of his stubborn Non Serviam. The only glee is the relief and gratitude that God’s mercy is offered and poured out to us until the final and bitter end” (pp. 11-12).
Rather than resentment, she says, “we Christians might discover a host of other feelings when we take a long, hard look: pity for people’s squandered lives, compassion for their black holes of despair, sorrow for the chances they missed, and the happiness that could have been theirs had they submitted to God sooner. . . . If we are present at such a genuine moment, we will know without a doubt that a deathbed conversion is not a loophole, or an unfair advantage for the other team. It is the mercy of God at work” (pp. 14, 21).

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