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How Many Times Could
They Change?


    What Would the Holy See Allow?

    Q: I'd like to propose a hypothetical case. A priest decides he chose the wrong course in life. He asks to be freed from the obligations of the priesthood. The Holy See dispenses him and he returns to life to live like a layman.

    Similarly, a religious sister asks for a dispensation from vows. It is granted. The two meet, marry and raise a family. Their children grown, they now feel a desire to return to the active ministry of the priesthood and religious life.

    Would it be possible for the man to return to exercising his priesthood and the woman to be readmitted?

    A: I've read two commentaries on canon law, talked to a religious major superior of men and a canonist experienced in handling the cases for dispensations from the obligations of religious vows and the priesthood.

    My canonist friend immediately wanted to know the period of time involved. Before the first (1917) Code of law, canonists used to speak of the possibility of a married couple, without other family responsibilities, separating and joining religious orders.

    In that era the possibility of one having earlier been a priest would be most unlikely, since dispensations from the obligations of priesthood would have been very rare.

    After the turmoil of World War II, under the 1917 Code, Pope Pius XII began dispensing a few priests from the obligations of the priesthood and, in effect, reducing them (as they said) to the lay state.

    Over the years the number of dispensations greatly increased. Norms, criteria and practices changed. After John Paul II became pope, he was alarmed by the number of petitions and petitioners who seemed to be acting hastily or in a time of personal crisis. He felt they were acting before they had time to think and work their way through a situation. For a period all action on such petitions was halted.

    Finally, according to John E. Lynch in the Canon Law Society's Commentary on Canon Law (from which much of this information is taken), the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued guidelines for the consideration and granting of dispensations.

    The Holy See would accept for consideration those who should not have received priestly ordination for one of two reasons: the necessary aspect of freedom or responsibility was lacking, or the competent superiors were not able within an appropriate time to judge in a prudent and fitting way whether the candidate was really suited to leading a life of celibacy.

    Lynch goes on to say that a cleric dispensed after the 1980 norms went into effect is not likely to be eligible for a return to active ministry. He says that is because the dispensation was granted on the grounds the man was unsuited for ministry. And in speaking of cases before 1980, Lynch observes, "Certainly the situation is quite different in the case of a petitioner who has contracted a valid marriage."

    When I talked to the major religious superior, he was not nearly so sure the Holy See would not accept a petition of a priest who left after 1980. He could give no certain answers. But an existing valid marriage would certainly complicate matters. My canonist friend said a bishop or religious superior could submit a petition in the case you propose, but it's anyone's guess as to the decision.

    The religious superior thought the granting of such a petition might depend on the bishop who submitted it. Is his judgment particularly respected by the Holy See? The canonist also thought the grounds for reinstatement would have to be the need of the Church—not the man's personal good. And the Holy See would have to be assured this man would be placed in a ministry where he would be acceptable to the People of God. The way to return would certainly not be made easy.

    I'm not going to speculate further on whether a former sister, married to an inactive priest, would be allowed to return to religious life. I think the superior of a sisters' religious order could speak to that better than I can. But I do not think it too likely if the priest is still alive.

    Who Consecrates?

    Q: An excerpt from the prayers at the beginning of the consecration states, "And so, Father, we bring you these gifts. We ask you to make them holy by the power of your Spirit, that they may become the body and blood of your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, at whose command we celebrate this Eucharist" (Eucharistic Prayer III). Since Jesus gave the apostles and their successors the power to change the bread and wine into his body and blood, why do we ask God to make them holy and become the body and blood of Jesus Christ?

    A: The Liturgical Press's book The Mass, by Lucien Deiss, C.S.Sp., asks the question, "Who consecrates?" after speaking of traditions in the East and West concerning the epiclesis or invocation of the Holy Spirit.

    Father Deiss answers his own question: "The epiclesis underlines with superb precision the humility of the priestly ministry. Sometimes it is said that the priest consecrates. Strictly speaking, the affirmation does not hold up. In any case the epiclesis reveals exactly what the priest does: He says the prayer through which the celebrating community asks the Father to send his Holy Spirit over the bread and wine so that they may become the body and blood of Jesus.

    "Eucharistic Prayer III says explicitly: '...Father, we bring you these gifts. We ask you to make them holy by the power of your Spirit, that they may become the body and blood of your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ,...' Therefore it is the Father who consecrates through his Spirit. The priest merely says the prayer, in the name of the community."

    The consecration is not a kind of magic. It is God who works the change, though only an ordained priest may validly lead the congregation.

    Organ Donation and Funeral Costs

    Q: I carry a donor card for my organs, tissue and eye corneas. Why can't the hospital handle the burial or cremation business and expense? I am on Social Security and my allocation for cremation is only $600, which is not enough—thereby placing a burden on survivors. I do not care if I become a numbered metal plaque on a grave lot but prefer cremation.

    A: I'm not sure I understand your question. But if you are asking what I think, you're talking to the wrong person. I have no control over doctors, hospitals or funeral directors.

    The gift of body organs and parts, however, is just that, a gift. It is not intended as a quid pro quo—I give you my kidney and in exchange you take care of my burial or cremation costs.

    I can only encourage you to find reward and satisfaction in the good you may be doing another human person rather than thinking it should be a way of avoiding burial costs.

    How Old Was Mary at Death?

    Q: I read somewhere that the Blessed Mother lived to be 70. Was she always a virgin or did she have other children? Did she marry St. Joseph?

    A: I don't know if anyone really knows the age of the Blessed Virgin when she died. In fact, theologians argue whether Mary actually died. Most say yes, others that she is just sleeping. The Church has never defined this.

    Those who pray the Franciscan Crown, however, always add two Hail Marys to the seven decades of the crown because of a Western "tradition" that Mary died at age 72.

    It is Catholic dogma—faith—that Mary was a virgin when Jesus was born and remained ever afterward a virgin.

    I think that Luke and Matthew mak e it quite clear that before Jesus was born St. Joseph had taken Mary into his home as his wife.

    Because of references in the Gospels to the brothers and sisters of Jesus, some Protestants maintain that Mary had other children.

    Catholics say such references are either ways of speaking of kinsmen—cousins, etc.—or that the brothers are Joseph's children by an earlier marriage.

    How to Become a Catholic

    Q: Just one question: How can I become a Catholic?

    A: It isn't all that difficult to become a Catholic. The usual way is through the process we call the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA).

    If you have a Catholic friend or relative, I suggest you ask him or her to accompany you to the nearest (or most inviting) Catholic parish or mission. With the friend's support, explain your interest in learning more about the life and faith of Catholics and possibly joining the Church.

    In response the priest or pastor probably will help you join the RCIA program. The friend who accompanies you may also become your sponsor or companion through the steps of the program. If not, the program directors will help you find such a mentor who may learn nearly as much as you.

    May God continue to bless you in your efforts to deepen your life in him. (There is a Catholic Update on the RCIA.)




    The Wise Man welcomes your questions. If you have a question, please submit it here. Include your street address for personal replies enclosing a stamped, self-addressed envelope, please. Some answer material must be mailed since it is not available in digital form. You can still send questions to: Wise Man, 28 W. Liberty Street, Cincinnati, OH 45202.

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