The following answer some of the most commonly asked questions about the seven sacraments. Questions were compiled with the help of parish catechists across Arkansas. Answers were provided by Father Greg Luyet, pastor of St. Michael Church in West Memphis.
Q. Why do we baptize infants?
A. The Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church states, "The Church baptizes infants because they are born with original sin; they need to be freed from the power of the Evil One and brought into that realm of freedom which belongs to the children of God." (no. 258)
When parents have their children baptized they deepen their commitment to protect and nurture the infant. Through baptism, we are cleansed from original sin and become part of the Body of Christ, the Church.
Salvation is a gift from God. We can never "earn" the gift which is freely given. However, we are called to respond to the gift through the lives we live. The baptism of an adult emphasizes our response; while the baptism of an infant reveals the "sheer gratuitousness of the grace of salvation." (catechism, no. 1250)
Q. How soon after birth do I need to have my baby baptized?
A. In Spanish, an expression for "giving birth" is "dar la luz." Literally, "dar la luz" means "to give light." As a parent you have cooperated with God to bring new life into the world. When you bring a child to be baptized you bring him or her to Christ who is the Light of the World.
In fact, in the baptismal ceremony, the minister tells the parents and godparents: "Receive the Light of Christ." Why would anyone want to wait to share this gift with their newborn child?
You need to get your baby baptized as soon as possible after the baby is born. Ideally, you should contact your pastor prior to the baby being born to participate in pre-baptismal formation sessions. (Code of Canon Law, no. 867§1)
Understandably, no parent wants to think of a child dying; however, should your baby be in danger of death anyone may baptize the child should a priest, deacon or bishop not be available.
Q. Who can be a godparent for baptism?
A. In order to serve as a godparent, a person must be a Catholic in good standing who is at least 16 years old. The godparent must have been confirmed and received the Eucharist and live a "life of faith in keeping with the function to be taken on." Parents may not serve as godparents. A baptized non-Catholic may serve as a Christian witness along with a Catholic sponsor. (canon 874)
Q. Do I have to attend Mass regularly to have my baby baptized in the Church?
A. An important question for you to ask yourself is, why are not attending Mass? Is it because of work schedules? Illness of yourself or someone you love? Is it indifference or negligence? If you are not attending Mass and not living your faith, the question surfaces: Why do you want to have your child baptized?
You have a right to have your child baptized whether or not you attend Mass regularly. (Canon 843) However, the minister of baptism (bishop, priest or deacon) has the responsibility to ensure that parents and sponsors are properly prepared and that there exists a well founded hope that the child will be baptized and raised Catholic.
Though a priest can not deny your child baptism, he can delay the baptism until he is certain that there is a well founded hope that the child will be raised Catholic.
With that said, you are at an important place in your life. Frequently, it is the birth of a child that brings parents back to the Church that they may have drifted away from for whatever reason.
I encourage you to speak with your pastor. He can help you come back to church. Even though you may not attend Mass regularly that does not mean you cannot come home.
Q. Why does sin prevent me from receiving Communion?
A. What is sin? The catechism states: "Sin is 'a word, an act or a desire contrary to the eternal Law.' (St. Augustine) It is an offense against God in disobedience to his love. It wounds human nature and injures human solidarity. Christ in his passion fully revealed the seriousness of sin and overcame it with his mercy." (Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 392)
In other words, when we consciously sin we chose to sever our relationship with God. One of the insidious tragedies of sin is that when it becomes a habit for individuals (personal) or the community (social sin) our sense of right and wrong is eroded.
Receiving Communion means far more than we often think about. When we approach the altar to receive the Blessed Sacrament, we are stating that we are in communion both externally as a member of the Church and in the absence of any serious sin. Should we be aware of any mortal sin, we need to go to reconciliation before receiving Communion.
Q. Why can't non-Catholics receive Communion?
A. Canon 205 clarifies who are in full communion with the Catholic Church: "Those baptized are fully in the communion of the Catholic Church on this earth who are joined with Christ in its visible structure by the bonds of the profession of faith, the sacraments and ecclesiastical governance."
When we receive Communion we express our belief in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, the absence of any grave sin on our conscience and our union with others in communion with the Catholic Church throughout the world.
Those who are not Catholic do not share with us a fullness of communion. For them to receive Communion would indicate a unity that does not exist.
Q. Can I receive Communion if I am divorced?
A. Divorce does not exclude a person from Communion; nor does it dissolve the sacramental bond that exists between a husband and wife.
It is remarriage without a declaration of invalidity (an annulment) or being involved in a physically intimate relationship with a person outside marriage that makes a person unable to receive the Eucharist. In both circumstances, a person opts to live in an objectively sinful situation and should not receive Communion.
Q. I am Catholic but didn't marry in the Church. Can I receive Communion?
A. Should a person marry outside the Catholic Church without the permission of the Church then one has chosen to place oneself in an invalid marriage. Persons in invalid marriages may not receive Communion.
There are exceptions: It is possible for a couple to have a good reason to be marry "outside the Church." When that happens, the couple needs to explain their reasons to the one preparing them for the sacrament of marriage.
It is possible to receive a dispensation from canonical form. What does that mean? A dispensation is a relaxation of a Church law for the spiritual welfare of the individual seeking the permission.
The law that a Catholic be wed before an official witness (bishop, priest or deacon) is of human origin.
Q. When am I required to go to confession?
A. When we sin, we turn our back on our relationship with God. Through mortal sin, we sever that relationship. Venial sin strains the relationship, but doesn't destroy it as mortal sin does.
We are obliged to confess all mortal sins before receiving Communion or celebrating any other sacrament -- or celebrating Mass if one is a priest.
At a minimum we must confess "grave sins at least once a year" (canon 989) after we have reached the age of discretion.
Also, all who have been baptized must confess their sins before receiving first Communion. The Church encourages those who are aware of venial sins to confess their sins, as well.
Q. Why do we confess sins to a priest?
A. One of the tasks Jesus assigned to the Church was that of reconciliation. After he rose from the dead, Jesus entered the place where the fearful Apostles were gathered. He told them to "Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained." (John 20:23)
The sacrament of reconciliation is the means by which the Church continues the work of Christ to reconcile all creation to himself. We confess our sins to receive absolution and restore the relationships we have wounded by our sins. (canon 959)
When we sin, we harm our relationship with God and the Church. No sin is "private." Even if no one knows about it, except us, sin wounds our relationship with God and the Church.
Reconciliation is the sacrament in which the priest acts in the person of Christ and the Church. He never acts on his own authority, but only after receiving the "faculty of hearing confessions" from the bishop who is the successor to the Apostles. It is Jesus who forgives sins, not the priest.
Q. Is confirmation required?
A. Yes. Confirmation is one of the sacraments of initiation. The Code of Canon Law puts it this way: "the faithful are bound to receive this sacrament at the proper time." (canon 890)
Parents and parish priests have the responsibility to ensure young people are properly prepared to receive the sacrament. Like baptism, confirmation can not be repeated because it confers on us a special character.
The only sacrament of initiation which is repeatable is the Eucharist. Confirmation passes on to us the gift of Pentecost when the disciples received the Holy Spirit to go out into the world and spread the Gospel by word and deed.
Until one has received confirmation, his or her initiation into the Church is incomplete. Normally, a person should be confirmed before marriage, holy orders or professing vows in a religious institute.
The diocesan bishop determines the age of confirmation. In the Diocese of Little Rock, anyone above the age of 14 may receive the sacrament. However, a person may receive the sacrament beginning at the age of discretion (about seven). An infant or child in danger of death who has not been confirmed should be confirmed. (canon 891)
Q. My child has been confirmed. Does he need to keep going to PRE class?
A. In the seminary, I recall our rector telling us just before our first Christmas vacation: "Gentlemen, there is no such thing as a vacation from a vocation." Therefore, one could say there is no such thing as "graduation" from religious formation.
Confirmation is not some form of graduation from religious education programs. In fact, confirmation requires us to continue growing and deepening our formation in the faith in accord with our own unique circumstances. (see canons 217; 229; 774)
Look at what happened to the Apostles after Pentecost, they went out to preach and teach. In the second chapter of Acts in verse 42 we read how the early Christians "devoted themselves to the teaching of the Apostles and to the communal life, to the breaking of the bread and to the prayers."
Life is challenging. By developing our knowledge of our faith, we are better able to meet the challenges we encounter. Once we understand, we can share that faith with others. Ongoing formation is the antidote to the "shyness" some Catholics have when it comes to discussing their faith with others.
Q. Why can't Catholic weddings be outside?
A. The parish church is the place where the Catholic community gathers to celebrate sacraments. Marriage is a communal act of worship in which two people enter into a Catholic marriage.
A couple might seek a dispensation from canonical form in order to be wed in a non-Catholic Christian Church. Generally, the permission is given with the understanding that the wedding will be celebrated in the place where an established group meets for worship.
Q. Does a couple have to attend Mass regularly to marry in the Church?
A. If a couple wants to be wed in the Church, it stands to reason that they are living the faith they profess. At least the Catholic party should be attending Mass and participating in the life of the Church.
A non-Catholic person should be attending the services of their faith. Like baptism, marriage is an important point where a person opts to enter into a new stage of life with another person. In the midst of this change, regular attendance at Mass is a great opportunity to enrich one's faith in preparation for marriage.
Q. Does an annulment make my children illegitimate?
A. An annulment does not make your children illegitimate. A declaration of nullity does not mean that a legal civil marriage did not take place. It means that the sacrament of marriage was invalid because of some defect of consent, presence of an impediment or absence or defect in the formalities of marriage.
According to the Church, a child born of a marriage that has received a declaration of invalidity is legitimate (see canons 1137-1140), so long as at least one of the spouses entered the union in good faith.
Q. Why can't I continue receiving the sacraments if my new spouse has been married before?
A. When two people exchange consent, we presume they meant what they promised. All marriages are presumed to be valid until proven otherwise.
When you marry someone who is bound by a previous marriage, you choose to live a life contrary to the teachings of Christ and the Church. Receiving the sacraments implies that we are living that which we profess.
Q. Why does the Catholic Church have ordained clergy?
A. Through baptism, all Christians form part of the priesthood of Christ, known as the "common priesthood." Christ is the source of all ministry of the Church. (catechism, no. 874)
Through ordination, some men are chosen and set apart for service to build up the Church. No one has a right to receive holy orders. It is a call from and for the Church. (see Hebrews 5:4; catechism no. 1578)
The Apostles left bishops as their successors to oversee and pastor the churches they founded. These bishops in communion with the successor of St. Peter, the bishop of Rome (the pope) continue the work Christ entrusted to the Apostles.
The bishop, as a successor of the Apostles possesses the fullness of the priesthood. The second degree of holy orders, the priests serve as "co-workers" to the bishop. They are dependent upon him for the exercise of the ministry. The third degree of holy orders is the deacons who are called to a ministry of service. (catechism, no.1533-1571)
Q. Why can't priests marry?
A. In the Latin Church, priests do not marry. The Church asks its priests to live a celibate life and to "give themselves completely to God" and to the service of others (catechism, no. 1579). Living a life of self-gift is a lifelong opportunity to grow in love and service to Christ and his Church.
Anointing of the Sick
Q. Is anointing of the sick only for the dying?
The anointing of the sick is not only for all who are dying. It is for anyone who has reached the age of reason and is in danger of death because of illness or old age. One may receive the sacrament more than once should the condition worsen. (canon 1004)
To learn more about the seven sacraments, read the Catechism of the Catholic Church: Part Two The Celebration of the Christian Mystery, nos. 1076-1666. Visit it online at www.usccb.org/catechism/text/parttwotoc.shtml.
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