Liturgy & Sacraments

Q: Why do altar servers carry candles?

A: Did you know that the carrying of candles at the celebration of the Mass goes back to the earliest days of our church? The servers who carry candles are part of a tradition, which spans over a thousand years, which is much older than the modern English language you and I speak.

The purpose behind carrying a candle goes back even further, for it was not uncommon to have candles at the head of a procession in ancient times in order to “light the way” for a very important entourage or group of people, or a very special person. The candles also inform everyone that something is happening that is very important. Many families light candles for dinner on special occasions, like birthdays or holidays. All the more reason for us to have candles at the celebration of the holy Eucharist, Jesus’ presence with us in his body and blood, not to mention in his word as well.

To be a server carrying a candle is to have a very important role at Mass, for the server is declaring to all that the priest is beginning a celebration which is unique to all celebrations human beings have. At this celebration or gathering, Jesus is making himself present through the priest at the altar and wishes for us to receive him at the Communion time.

Q: What’s the youngest age you can get first holy Communion?

A: This is a good transition topic from the first question.

Did you know that for years it was normal for children not to receive first holy Communion until they were 10 or 11 years old? Don’t worry, that idea is not crossing my mind for further discussion, but it is a historical fact. The Catholic Church is quite clear that children who have received the proper instruction, know the difference between right and wrong, and have “sufficient knowledge” of the mystery of Jesus Christ are able to receive the body of Christ. Our faith further instructs that we receive Jesus both “with faith and devotion.” 

Your pastor, the parish catechists and parents all possess a vital role in properly preparing the parish’s children for first holy Communion. As a family in faith we are obligated to work together so that all children in the parish have received sufficient instruction to be ready to receive Jesus in the holy Eucharist. 

While a child receiving his or her first holy Communion is the pivotal moment in their continued growth in his or her relationship with our Lord and God and in their Catholic faith, it should not overshadow or draw attention away from the most important moment at the Mass celebration, for Jesus’ real presence in the holy Eucharist is primary. 

May we together pray for our pastors and their co-workers in the vineyard, including all of the moms and dads, to instruct our young ones preparing for first holy Communion. This is not an easy age to provide instruction on the mystery of the holy Eucharist when many in our culture take the narrow view of “seeing is believing.”

As a bishop, I cherish every moment when I give first holy Communion, especially at the Easter Vigil, for I also remember as a parish pastor the bonds of a parish are strengthened every time the children come together to receive the body and blood of Christ the very first time.

Q: Why can’t everyone have Communion at church?

A: Very good question, for we live in a culture that overly promotes the question, “What do we have the ‘right’ to do?” Our faith teaches us that we first must be “right” with God. What does this mean? From the earliest times of our Church, the question has been asked who is “right” to receive the Eucharist. We even have records of writings which come from a time less than 100 years after which the first disciples of Jesus Christ walked the earth.

ne of the great saints of the early Church is St. Justin Martyr (see Catechism of the Catholic Church). The term martyr means that this particular person gave his life for the Church so that you and I may live it in 2013. According to St. Justin, we must have first received Baptism and to live a life in keeping with all of what Jesus Christ has taught. While in my previous “Ask the Bishop” I indicated that there were requirements our Church has set forth, which are consistent with what St. Justin instructed, we also must remember that, as I mentioned in the previous article, the person must believe in the real presence of Jesus in the mystery of the Eucharist. Jesus’ Body and Blood is present in what we seem to see as just bread and wine. As fellow Catholics, this is part of our Creed and so we have assented to the belief that Jesus is in the Eucharist by sharing our word, “Amen.” 

I indicated at the beginning that we live in a world where people question whether we have the “right” to do something, but I wish to utilize a different and more relevant definition of “right” in this answer. As your chief shepherd, I encourage us all to exercise our lives not simply by do we possess a right to do something, but more importantly, what is the “right” thing to do.

Q: If God gives you forgiveness in confession and it’s done again, will you be forgiven again if it was an accident?

A: Most of us have learned in school or in parish school of religion that Jesus Christ gave us seven “ultimate gifts of grace” or sacraments of which the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation is one. In confession, we do not just have our “souls marked clean of sin,” but Jesus fills that vacant space with grace, enabling us to be better people, in other words, to be more like him. This sacrament cannot be replicated by anything we human beings craft or conjure in our words and action. While it is always good each day to reflect on the events of our day and to ask God to forgive us for the times when we have misbehaved through our words and actions, this still cannot replace the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation.

You had mentioned, of course, in your question, what if we do the sin again, which I believe many of us know is not terribly uncommon! While I will not get into my own sins or transgressions, please know that yes, even your bishop goes to confession to a priest.

Frequently those sins of which we are constantly guilty are a reminder that perhaps we have made these sins a habit in our lives and should be addressed more thoroughly in order that we do not do the sin again. We should never resign ourselves to the misunderstanding that we cannot stop sinning (committing) the same sin. That would be, of course, what the Devil wishes for us to do. Yes, there is a Devil, but that would be for another “ATB” question.

You mentioned performing a sin by accident. Actually, for an action to be a sin, it must be deliberate. That does not disavow us of never doing wrong things by accident. We must ask ourselves if we put ourselves in a situation in which something may go wrong.

How blessed we are to have such a great sacrament which has been handed on to us by 
Jesus Christ and is shared through the priests of our Church. Remember the next time you go to confession you are going to a priest who also is a sinner and needs God’s mercy. All the more reason that God’s mercy and love will be shared with you in the confessional.

Q: If a person confesses their sins to God by themselves, instead of confessing them to God with a priest, does it still count as the Sacrament of Reconciliation or not?

A: As Jesus established the Sacrament of the Eucharist, Our Lord also founded the Sacrament of Reconciliation. The Sacrament of Reconciliation occurs only through the priest, who represents Jesus Christ himself. Therefore, the answer to your question is “no.”

We should pray every day to God, especially at the end of the day. It is also important to share with Jesus that we are sorry for the sins we committed during the day. However, this is not the same as going to the priest for the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

Not to simplify the sacrament, but at the Sacrament of Reconciliation, we have our sins forgiven directly through the priest by Jesus Christ, and, in turn, Jesus fills that void created by sin with his grace. That purifying grace is received through the Sacrament of Reconciliation. In the Sacrament of Reconciliation, Jesus not only forgives us our sins, but through the sacrament repairs the damage we have done. How blessed we are that Jesus always wants to heal us.

Q: Will people who are not baptized still go to heaven?

A: Here is the long answer: Baptism is participation in the life of God. In this gift of the Sacrament of Baptism, we are brought into the Trinitarian life of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. In Baptism, Original Sin is destroyed, and as a result, we more fully realize our potential as human beings made in God’s image and likeness. Unfortunately, this potential was lost by our first parents, Adam and Eve, with Original Sin.

We cannot fully reach our potential outside the reception of Baptism. Here you have raised a grave concern: Can one be received into Heaven having not been baptized? We are fully aware that we live in a world in which not all people have been baptized. We should pray for them. Of course, we do pray for them throughout the year, especially in the Prayers of the Faithful at the Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ on Good Friday. This having being said, we also are confident in God’s Divine Mercy. And so, as many among us will die not having been baptized, we entrust them with Jesus Christ’s Divine Mercy.

How fortunate we are to have this holy gift of the Sacrament of Baptism, for Jesus welcomes us into his life. Baptism is not “becoming a member of a club.” No, the Sacrament of Baptism is so much more, for Jesus gives us a gift of the highest blessing of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, a gift which is with us always. We also know when we sin we fail to remember this beautiful gift. How fortunate we are to have another beautiful gift in the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation, which brings us back to that full embrace of Jesus Christ.

In the meantime, together let us pray for all of our brothers and sisters who have died, all those baptized and those nonbaptized, that we may have opportunity to be together again as one family in Jesus Christ.

QHow old should you be to receive Confirmation?

A: That is a very good question, because the age of reception of the Sacrament of Confirmation varies from diocese to diocese. Still, our Church law instructs that Confirmation is to be received at the age of discretion. In other words, about the age of 7 is the youngest at which one may be “Confirmed.” The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, with the approval of the Holy See, decreed that the Sacrament of Confirmation should be conferred on those from the age of discretion (about 7 years of age) and 16 years of age.

Of course, for pastoral reasons, it is left to the local ordinary (the bishop) to determine the age for reception of the Sacrament. In our case, in the Diocese of Steubenville, I take in consideration the number of parishes, their populations and their proximity to one another, in order to determine the “Confirmation schedule.”  Our pastors and the members of their pastoral teams are a great help in this decision-making process.

QWhy can’t we eat before we go to Mass?

A: Since the earliest days in the Church, there has been the practice of the Eucharistic Fast, that is, to prepare ourselves for the reception of the Holy Eucharist.  Some 1,500 years ago the fast become a universal practice throughout the Catholic Church. While various modifications have occurred over the centuries, the recent fast guidelines are an hour before Mass for the priest and an hour before Communion for the laity. Separate guidelines are in place for the elderly and sick who may not be able to wait the hour.

Nevertheless, we prepare ourselves during the fast for receiving Jesus’ Body and Blood. This waiting time becomes a striking reminder to you and to me that we are going to participate in the saving moment in our lives, Jesus’ complete gift of himself to us in the Holy Eucharist.

Think about it, when you play sports you do not exhaust yourself before a game. No, you prepare your mind and body for the coming event so that you will be at your best at the beginning of the game. So too we prepare ourselves in body, mind and spirit during the fast in order to receive Jesus with all our body, mind and spirit.