Last year as I was taking down my Christmas tree,
I began to wonder: What does it represent, anyway? When
I asked friends and relatives the same question, nobody
had a very clear answer. Many of them simply said that this
is a tradition. But not all religions put up Christmas trees.
Why do Catholics and other Christians?
Actually, decorating evergreen trees
with lights at Christmastime is not a universal Christian
custom. It began in northern Europe and spread from there.
There are no evergreen trees on South Pacific islands or
in equatorial Africa. Other trees can, of course, be decorated
but that changes the original symbolism. Even if you decorate
an evergreen tree in Australia in December, that is their
Placing lights on evergreen trees in December
originated among pagan groups in northern Europe because
they considered these trees to be symbols of unending life.
They saw lights as symbolizing hope—a virtue much needed
during the long hours of darkness that the winter solstice
(December 21/22) brings to that region.
Christian missionaries in northern Europe decided
that, instead of trying to stamp out evergreens and lights
as pagan customs, they could retain these elements but change
Missionaries encouraged new Christians to see
evergreens as symbolizing God’s eternal love for all creation
and to associate light with Jesus, the light to the nations
(Isaiah 49:6) and the light of the world (John 9:5).
A few Christian groups continue to regard customs
such as Christmas trees as flirting with idolatry and, therefore,
things to be avoided. Catholics and most other Christians
see them as legitimate symbols of a God whose love is so
great that the Son of God became a human being in Jesus,
while remaining fully divine.
a deacon from another part of the country was "incardinated"
into our diocese. I’ve been a Catholic for 40 years, but
I have never previously heard that term. What does it mean?
Is it a step toward ordaining married deacons to the priesthood?
A: "Incardination" is a legal
term meaning that a priest or deacon has formally joined
the priests or deacons of a particular diocese. This practice
dates back to the Council of Nicea (325 A.D.) and emphasizes
that a person cannot be ordained except for service to a
local Church or to a religious congregation. This also applies
to a married Protestant minister who becomes a Catholic
and then is ordained as a Catholic priest.
Incardination establishes to whom a diocesan
priest or deacon promises obedience, one of the pledges
made at ordination. Members of religious congregations cannot
be ordained deacons or priests until they have made their
permanent profession in that congregation. They likewise
cannot exercise a public ministry in any diocese unless
they have obtained "faculties" from that local bishop.
If a diocesan priest transfers to another diocese,
his incardination normally takes five years. The bishop
of the previous diocese must agree to the transfer. Canons
#265-272 of the Code of Canon Law give the requirements
for excardination (transferring permanently out of a diocese)
and incardination. By agreement between two local bishops,
a priest could remain incardinated in his original diocese
while working in another one.
Deacons follow the same excardination/incardination
process. Canon #267 allows for this to happen without a
waiting period, but that option is becoming less common
Q: I am trying to figure out when
Lent and Easter fall in 2004. I have tried several search
engines but have found no luck.
A: In 2004, Ash Wednesday is February 25
and Easter is April 11. Most yearly pocket calendars have
these dates for the current year and the following year.
The yearly liturgical calendar, available in December at
most parishes, also contains this information. I encourage
you to obtain one.
you can find the general 2004 liturgical calendar for the
United States. A local diocese, parish or religious community
may celebrate some additional day with added solemnity because
it is the feast of their patron, their title (for example,
the Visitation) or their founder.
If you need to know these dates several years
in advance, there is a multiyear calendar in the front of
most editions of the Lectionary (the book of Scripture readings
Q: In trying to explain the idea
of Original Sin to a non-Catholic friend, I began to wonder:
Where did this idea come from? Is it based on the Bible?
Is it a specifically Catholic belief?
A: The Catholic Church’s teaching
about Original Sin is a way of saying that all people are
in need of salvation—even before they have committed any
personal sin. No one living presently enjoys the complete
harmony with God that we were originally intended to have.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church
teaches, "The doctrine of original sin is, so to speak,
the ‘reverse side’ of the Good News that Jesus is the Savior
of all [people], that all need salvation, and that salvation
is offered to all through Christ. The Church, which has
the mind of Christ, knows very well that we cannot tamper
with the revelation of original sin without undermining
the mystery of Christ" (#389).
The term Original Sin describes what
the New Testament calls the human family’s universal need
of redemption (Jesus’ constant call to conversion, as well
as John 1:29, Romans 5:12-19, Ephesians 2:3, 1 John 5:19
and 1 Peter 5:8, for example).
In the fifth century, St. Augustine of Hippo
explained that the Church baptizes infants not because of
sins they have committed but because they have already inherited
a human condition stained by sin, polluted by the sin of
Adam and Eve.
Without an idea of Original Sin, evil must result
from a defect in God’s creation or a conflict between two
equally strong gods. The authors of the two creation accounts
in the Book of Genesis (1:1—3:24) vehemently reject the
sin-as-defect explanation. Although the first account does
not address the issue of sin, the second one clearly identifies
it as coming from a misuse of human freedom.
If you agree, as all mainline Christians do,
that all people are wounded by sin, then you are really
accepting the basic concept of Original Sin, by whatever
Q: I am getting conflicting
information about Sunday weddings. Can you have a Sunday
wedding that is a complete Mass? I have been told that the
readings must be the ones set for that Sunday, and that
concelebration is not permitted at wedding Masses. Are there
different rules for different parishes?
A: The General Instruction of the Roman
Missal (#372) and the Rite of Marriage (#11)
establish the basic rules for celebrating the Ritual Mass
for Weddings (with its unique prayers and readings). A local
bishop can make additional regulations.
There are 45 days in the Church’s universal
calendar when the Ritual Mass for Weddings can never be
used (for example, Sundays in Advent, Lent and Easter, plus
Holy Week, Easter Week, Ash Wednesday and solemnities of
Jesus, Mary and several saints in the worldwide calendar).
Although a Ritual Mass for Weddings is not permitted
at parish Masses on Sundays, a wedding can occur
within most Sunday Masses, using the prayers and readings
for that Sunday. The nuptial blessing after the Lord’s Prayer
may always be used.
Most U.S. dioceses and parishes highly discourage
weddings on Sundays because they are concentrating all their
energies on the Sunday Mass. That celebration is a "little
Easter" and forms the basis of the Church’s liturgical year.
Also, the interests of the parish community
and of the couple getting married can conflict in a major
way (reserved pews, placement of flowers, time needed for
Even so, Sunday weddings are common in some
countries. Concelebration is always permitted at wedding
If you have a question for Father Pat, please submit it here.
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