Asked Questions About Catholicism
by Fr. Peter Scott
Question: How can I get my four
year old to participate in our daily Rosary?
The prayer of little children is a very delicate thing. Not unlike
the disciples, who rebuked those who brought little children to
be blessed by Our Lord, we find it difficult to understand that
children can do what we find so difficult ourselves, namely prayer.
Yet Our Lord was clear: “Suffer the little children, and
forbid them not to come to me: for the kingdom of heaven is for
such” (Mt 19:14).
indeed pray, but only within the limits of their capacities, namely
their understanding, concentration and attention span. Moreover,
their prayer must retain childlike simplicity to be genuine, that
is spontaneity in asking for what they need, in praying for Mommy
and Daddy, in telling Jesus they are sorry for their faults etc.
Mary Reed Newland’s article Teaching children to Pray
in Raising Your Children (available from Angelus Press)
has some practical suggestions: “Children have such simple
faith in the efficacy of prayer that it is easy for them to form
the habit of praying on all sorts of occasions…occasions of
minor crises during the day…They will voice their prayer aloud,
matter of factly, and with the simplicity of the faith that is as
a grain of mustard, they wait for the mountain to be moved….It
is very easy to plant the habit, and their world is so much more
secure, because of this faith that God is ready and willing to help
them on every hand, that calling on Him is second nature to them.”
(pp. 137 – 138)
If the family
Rosary is not to become an interminable chore for little children,
these principles must be applied. It must first be recognized that
every family and every child is different. There are some families
and some children, used to a more strict discipline, who will kneel
or sit quietly during the recitation of the Rosary. There are others
who find it impossible to stay still. The discipline required for
the Rosary must be in proportion to the discipline required for
the rest of their lives. If family life as a whole is disciplined,
little Johnny will know how to sit still and be quiet during the
sacred time of prayer. However, flexibility needs to be shown on
the exterior details, depending upon the individual circumstances
for each child (e.g. age, temperament and maturity) and each family.
unless they be malicious disruptions, distractions and lack of concentration
should not be punished, lest prayer become onerous and painful.
The emphasis should rather be given to positive rewards for good
efforts, such as a fun activity or a treat after the recitation
of the Rosary. The active involvement of the children, according
to their age level, is crucial. This does not just mean saying the
Our Fathers and Hail Marys, when they are able to do so. Each decade
could be preceded by a very brief discussion of the mystery, and
the children could be asked their intentions for each particular
decade. A special virtue can be asked for, as well as sorrow for
a fault. In this way the spontaneity can be renewed at the beginning
of every decade.
help to profiting from the daily Rosary is to take advantage of
children’s ease in praying always, as Our Lord suggested.
Their trust in Providence can be so profound, their sense of right
and wrong so acute, that it can bring on a spontaneous prayer for
God’s help or forgiveness. Very short but fervent prayers
can punctuate the day. A parent can do well to take advantage of
this and spread out the mysteries of the Rosary during the day.
all else in importance is the example of the parents themselves.
If the parents are bored and distracted during the recitation of
the Rosary, irritable and picky towards their children, and if they
recite the Rosary in a mechanical and routine manner, without unction
or fervor, then the same will be found in their children. However,
if they are recollected and fervent, able to verbalize the object
of their meditation and the graces to be obtained, and if the parents
find this an enjoyable time in God’s presence, rising above
the million and one interruptions of fidgety children, then their
children will strive to follow their example.
a marriage valid if a couple agrees beforehand to limit the number
of children by artificial birth control or natural family planning?
The Church’s teaching is summarized in Canon 1013 of the 1917
Code of Canon Law, which states that “the primary end
of marriage is the procreation and education of children”.
The intention of having children, provided that this is possible,
is consequently essential to the very substance of the matrimonial
contract, which is for “acts which are in themselves capable
of engendering children”. Cf. Canon 1081 (1917 Code).
of children as the primary end of marriage was again stressed by
the Holy Office under Pope Pius XII: “To the question:
‘Whether the views of certain recent writers can be admitted,
who either deny that the primary end of marriage is the procreation
and education of children, or teach that the secondary ends are
not necessarily subordinate to the primary end, but are equally
principal and independent’ the reply was: In the negative”
(Quoted in Bouscaren & Ellis, Canon Law, p. 400).
Yet the 1983
Code of Canon Law embraces the personalist conception condemned
less than 40 years earlier by not only placing the two ends of marriage
on an equal and independent level, but even listing first the secondary
end (i.e. mutual support, or the personal good of the spouses):
“The matrimonial covenant, by which a man and a woman establish
between themselves a partnership of the whole of life, is by its
nature ordered towards the good of the spouses and the procreation
and education of offspring” (Canon1055, §1, 1983
It is ultimately
this new concept of marriage, as being for the couple themselves,
and not so much for children, which has resulted in the refusal
of Catholics since Vatican II to have large families. Artificial
birth control, which is the destruction of Catholic families, is
no longer condemned as a mortal sin, for marriage is now considered
in a selfish way, as being for the couple itself, rather than an
outpouring of love desiring to participate in God’s work of
creation and sanctification of His children. The so-called practice
of Natural Family Planning, propagated in the post-conciliar church
as a “catholic” method of contraception, derives also
from the same contraceptive mentality. Since marriage is considered
primarily for the couple itself, they consider themselves free to
determine the number of children and their spacing. This can be
a mortal sin if NFP is employed without sufficient reason, as approved
by the Church (e.g. serious eugenic, social or medical reasons,
such as danger to the life of the mother through additional children).
Whether it be through artificial or natural means that the first
purpose of marriage is frustrated, such couples who are not willing
to accept all the children God sends them do indeed fail to live
up to their marriage vows.
does not mean the marriage vows of couples who limit children by
artificial contraception or natural family planning are necessarily
invalid. The exclusion of children is certainly a grounds for a
declaration of nullity, but only when there is an explicit, provable
and positive act of the will to avoid children, that is only when
the obligation of having children, as being the fulfillment of the
first purpose of marriage, is explicitly excluded. For this is an
intention contrary to the substance of marriage itself. The difficulty
in such cases is to determine whether it is the obligation of having
children which is refused, or whether it is simply the fulfillment
of this obligation. (Cf. Bouscaren, Canon Law Digest, I, pp. 532,
who accept the obligation of having children are certainly validly
married, even if they do not always fulfill this obligation, e.g.
by limiting the number of their children. This is the case of those
selfish couples, without Faith in Divine Providence, who are determined
to limit the size of their family for reasons of convenience or
simply because they prefer it that way. They commit a grave sin,
even if it is by NFP that they presume to do this. They are truly
married, but they will never be able to communicate to their children
generosity, the spirit of sacrifice, the love of the Cross, of souls
and the Church.
if a couple deliberately excludes all children, the Church always
presumes, until proven otherwise, that it is the fulfillment of
the duty that is excluded, and not the obligation of having children
itself, and that consequently the marriage is valid.
Why is sterilization immoral, and is a reversal
procedure ever necessary?
Sterilization is a particular form of artificial birth control,
characterized by the additional evil intent that the frustration
of the marriage act is meant to be permanent. It is surgically accomplished
in a man by a double vasectomy, preventing the sperm from having
access to the prostate and the seminal fluids. It is done in a woman
by tubal ligation, preventing the fertilization of the ovum by the
sperm from taking place.
It is a mortal
sin, and is forbidden by the Church’s law precisely because
it is against the natural law. The natural law is man’s participation
in the Eternal law of God, and through it every rational creature
recognizes in his conscience his own goal and the right means to
attain it. It is a secondary but clear precept of the natural law
that “the primary end of matrimony is the procreation
and the education of children”, as is defined by Canon
1013, §1 of the 1917 Code of Canon Law. Sins that frustrate
this end, inscribed by the natural law in every man’s conscience,
are called sins against nature because they are a willful perversion
of the order of nature.
Pope Pius XI
has this to say about all such forms of artificial birth control:
“No reason, however grave may be put forward by which anything
intrinsically against nature may become conformable to nature and
morally good. Since, therefore, the conjugal act is destined primarily
by nature for the begetting of children, those who in exercising
it deliberately frustrate its natural power and purpose sin against
nature and commit a deed which is shameful and intrinsically vicious.
Small wonder, therefore, if Holy Writ bears witness that the Divine
Majesty regards with greatest detestation this horrible crime and
at times has punished it with death….the Catholic Church…through
Our mouth proclaims anew: any use whatsoever of matrimony exercised
in such a way that the act is deliberately frustrated in its natural
power to generate life is an offense against t6he law of God and
of nature, and those who indulge in such are branded with the guilt
of a grave sin”. (Casti connubii, Pauline Books, pp.
28 & 29). All artificial birth control is consequently against
the Church’s positive law, as well as against the natural
Pius XI has
this to say in particular about sterilization: “Furthermore
Christian doctrine establishes, and the light of human reason makes
it most clear, that private individuals have no power over the members
of their bodies than that which pertains to their natural ends;
and they are not free to destroy or mutilate their members, or in
any other way render themselves unfit for their natural functions,
except when no other provision can be made for the good of the whole
body”. (Ib. pp. 35 & 36). The theologians (e.g. Prummer,
Manuale theologiae moralis, II, §6) further explain that a
person does not have an absolute dominion or right over his body.
He simply has control over its use, as a steward over his master’s
property. He must consequently always use it according to the will
and law of God. Sterilization is a form of self-mutilation, like
the cutting off of a hand, and is a grave insult to God who gave
the faculty to engender children.
involved in sterilization is that it is a procedure which is never
done for the health of the whole body, but only and simply to frustrate
procreation. Even in the case of a mother who already has many children,
and who is too sick to bear any further children, sterilization
(i.e. tubal ligation) is immoral and a mortal sin, for it is only
through the frustration of the natural end of the marriage act that
her health is helped, that is only through a perversion of nature.
The ends does not justify the means. One cannot do evil that good
may come of it. In such an instance a couple must practice abstinence.
It may be objected
that sterilization is not such a grave sin as it once was, since
this aspect of the natural law has been obscured. It cannot be denied
that the modern personalist vision of marriage, namely that it is
primarily “ordered towards the good of the spouses”
(Canon 1055, §1of the 1983 Code of Canon Law and C.C.C. §1601)
and only thereafter towards the procreation and education of children,
has caused a radical and unnatural change in the manner of thinking.
According to this new conception artificial birth control, and in
particular sterilization, are seen to be a right, instead of a radical
perversion of God’s plan, and the method of periodic continence
is even praised. Although it is true that sterilization is still
technically condemned by the post-conciliar church (C.C.C. 2297),
it is only in passing, and in an ineffective and watered down manner.
The consequence is obvious. Catholics everywhere have lost the sense
of the moral law, and feel that they have a “right”
to sterilization if they judge that they have had enough children,
and it is for their personal good to stop now. Although this may
diminish somewhat the subjective culpability of the couples involved,
it does not change the fact that these procedures are an objective
mortal sin and a perversion.
of reversal frequently arises, especially in the cases of couples
who have become traditional after having had such a sterilization
procedure performed. Fortunately it is frequently possible to reverse
such sterilization procedures. The success of such procedures will
depend upon the methods originally used, and upon the time that
has evolved since. A simple ligation (e.g. of the fallopian tube
or of the vas deferens) can be repaired. However, the tubes can
be destroyed in the procedure, so that reversal is much more difficult.
The passage of ten or more years makes the success rate markedly
lower, particular with vasectomy reversal, on account of the slow
down in sperm production which is the consequence of the vasectomy,
and of the build up of antibodies against the sperm, due to blowout
of the epididymis.
there is only one way to remedy the defect caused by sterilization,
only one means to make restitution for the offense caused to Almighty
God; it is the reversal of the procedure. Any Catholic couple that
is still of child-bearing age, who would maintain that they are
sorry for having the procedure done, but would refuse to have it
reversed, would be manifestly guilty of hypocrisy, and would have
no firm purpose of amendment. This is why the confessor will necessarily
impose as a condition to the granting of absolution that the penitent
accept to have the reversal of the sterilization performed, if it
is at all possible. If the urologist or the gynecologist insists
that it is not possible to reverse the sterilization, or if he maintains
that the chances of success in this particular case, are extremely
low, then the couple is no longer bound in conscience to have the
reversal done. Since reversal procedures are expensive and generally
not covered by health insurance, it often happens that a couple
does not have the funds for a reversal procedure. They should do
all in their power to borrow or save up the funds to have the reversal
done, but if this truly is not possible and for as long as it is
not possible, then they are not bound to do what they cannot do.
Can a couple,
of whom one is sterilized, request and render the marriage debt?
If it is through no fault of their own that the reversal cannot
be done, or if they have the intention to have the reversal performed
as soon as it is possible, then it is permissible for both parties
to request and render the marriage debt, after having accomplished
a suitable penance and made reparation for any scandal that they
have caused. A guilty party who would refuse to have the reversal
procedure performed (presuming that it is possible), would lose
his right to request the marriage debt, and would have to be refused
absolution if he did.
often happens that an innocent party never consented to his or her
spouse’s sterilization procedure. Again Pius XI gives us the
principle to know what to do: “Holy Church knows well
that not infrequently one of the parties is sinned against rather
than sinning, when for a grave cause he or she reluctantly allows
the perversion of the right order. In such a case, there is no sin,
provided that, mindful of the law of charity, he or she does not
neglect to seek to dissuade and to deter the partner from sin”.
(Ib. p. 30) Consequently it is permissible for the innocent party
to request or render the marriage debt to his or her sterilized
spouse, in order that the secondary purposes of marriage be fulfilled,
namely mutual help and affection and the calming of the concupiscence.
A further objection
is made that the vasectomized man is technically permanently impotent,
being unable to provide sperm, and that consequently he cannot enter
marriage and has no right to the marriage act if he is married,
since he will never be able to fully accomplish it. This was the
opinion of the older moral theologians, but theologians from the
first half of the 20th century taught that the marriage act is substantially
complete even without true sperm, since the other seminal fluids
are present and suffice for the accomplishment of the secondary
end of marriage (Bouscaren & Ellis, Canon Law, 1946, p. 470).
This opinion was confirmed by decree of the Sacred Congregation
for the Faith dated May 13, 1977. Consequently, if a reversal procedure
should prove impossible, the vasectomized man does not lose the
right to the marriage debt.
Question: Is it a mortal sin to refuse one’s husband or
wife the marital debt?
relations are rightly called the "marriage debt", which each spouse
owes the other in justice the relations that are apt to engender
children. It is this very particular right over one’s body that
is given up to one’s spouse by marriage vows. St. Paul is very explicit
about this: "Let the husband render the debt to his wife, and
the wife also in like manner to the husband. The wife hath not power
of her own body, but the husband. And in like manner the husband
also hath not power of his own body, but the wife." (I Cor.
7:3 & 4) A debt in justice obliges under pain when a serious
matter or quantity is owed. However, marriage relationships are
a serious matter and of great importance. Furthermore, the refusal
of the marriage debt may cause a danger of incontinence. Consequently,
it is a mortal sin to deprive one’s spouse of these relationships.
The typical example of this is when a wife feels that she is justified
in withholding the marriage debt because her feelings are hurt,
or she is not appreciated enough. However, there is no excuse for
the husband to withhold the affection and care for his wife’s feelings,
for is responsible for them as head of the family.
is possible for the couple to agree, by mutual consent, to abstain
for a short period of time, for example for penance, during Lent.
However, it must be by mutual consent, and on the understanding
that either spouse can withdraw it at any time. St. Paul speaks
of this also: "Defraud not one another, except, perhaps, by consent,
for a time, that you may give yourselves to prayer" (I Cor 7:5).
however, be good reasons that excuse a husband or wife from rendering
this marriage debt, such as adultery of the other spouse, or unreasonable
demands (e.g. frequency, intoxication) or grave danger to health
or life (e.g. by the possible communication of infectious diseases),
or a husband who refuses to perform his duty of supporting his family
(Jone, Moral Theology, pp. 557 & 558). There can also be special
circumstances that reduce the culpability of refusing the marriage
debt, so that it is only a venial sin, for example "if the petitioner
will readily renounce his right, or if rendering it is only briefly
postponed, or when the use of the marriage right is frequent and
its refusal is only rare" (Ib.).
a person with Celiac disease be protected by transubstantiation
from being harmed by gluten in the host?
argument that the accidental qualities of bread cannot harm the
intestine of one who suffers from Celiac disease (non-tolerance
of gluten in wheat bread) is false. It is of course true that the
substance of the bread does not remain after the consecration of
the sacred species. However, all the accidents remain, which includes
not just the exterior appearance, but everything that is subject
to the senses and that science can investigate, including the chemical
composition. The chemical effects of the gluten on the intestinal
wall will consequently still remain, just as much as the appearance
and texture of bread, for they are just as accidental to the real
nature of what is there as the appearance and texture. Here lies
the miracle and the mystery of the Blessed Eucharist. It would be
a miracle if the accidental qualities of gluten were not to harm
the intestine. Although such miracles can happen, we cannot depend
up on such an extraordinary intervention of Almighty God. Consequently,
a person who suffers from Celiac disease needs to ask the priest
to give him or her a very small portion of the host. It is never
forbidden to manufacture the host out of rice or a non-wheaten material
that does not contain gluten. Such hosts are not valid matter for
the Holy Eucharist.
Question: Is a Catholic
in mortal sin if he allows more than one year to pass since his
is one of the six precepts of the Church, and is explicitly stated
in Canon 906 of the 1917 Code of Canon Law: "All Catholics of
either sex who have reached the years of discretion, that is the
age of reason, are obliged to confess all their sins accurately
at least once a year". Since this is a clear obligation in a
serious matter, established by the Church for the salvation of souls,
it is clear that it is under pain of mortal sin, and that if a person
deliberately omits to confess his or her sins, he commits an additional
is a change in the wording of the corresponding canon in the 1983
Code. Instead of all sins, it now says "serious sins" (Canon
989).This leaves some ambiguity, but it must be understood as meaning
"mortal sins" to use the precise term employed by the traditional
code of Canon Law. This seems to take away all obligation to confess
sins if one thinks that one has no "serious" or mortal sins on one’s
soul. This is the common practice in the post-conciliar church,
in which many practicing Catholics go for many years without seeing
the need to go to Confession. It is a great tragedy, for their conscience
becomes extremely lax. Who are they to judge of themselves that
they have not committed any mortal sin? It is hard to understand
how one who is familiar with the traditional teachings of the Church
could be excused from the sin of presumption.
must be admitted that "strictly speaking, only those are obliged
by this precept who have committed a mortal sin" (Jone, §395,
p. 279). This is confirmed by Woywood and Smith’s Practical Commentary
on the Code of Canon Law (pp. 512 & 513). It is there pointed
out that the obligation of confessing one’s mortal sins is of divine
law, coming from Our Lord Himself. The time for the confession of
sins was specified by the Fourth Lateran Council (1215), but the
Council of Trent interpreted this as applying only to those sins
that have to be confessed by divine law. Furthermore the 1917 Code
of Canon Law itself states explicitly (Canon 902) that the confession
of venial sins is optional, and one canon cannot contradict another.
Hence it was never strictly obligatory under pain of mortal sin
for a Catholic who was sure that he had no mortal sin to go to Confession
aside this technical and unreal exception, (for who can really pretend
to be free of mortal sin when he is so lax as to go to Confession
only once a year?), it remains that the spirit of the Church is
that which is contained in the letter of Canon 906 from the traditional
code, and not that contained in the new code, namely that every
Catholic should consider it his duty to go to Confession at least
once per year.
In fact, it
is not just once a year, but frequently that we should confess our
venial sins if we hope not only to stay in the state of grace, but
also to advance in virtue. This is what Pope Pius XII had to say
on this subject in 1943: "It is true that venial sins may be
expiated in many ways which are to be highly commended. But to ensure
more rapid progress day by day in the path of virtue, We will that
the pious practice of frequent confession, which was introduced
into the Church by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, should be
earnestly advocated." (Mystici Corporis Christi, §88)
Condemning the younger priests who "lessen esteem for frequent
confession", the Pope described some of the many advantages
to the soul of the regular confession of our venial sins. "By
it genuine self-knowledge is increased, Christian humility grows,
bad habits are corrected, spiritual neglect and tepidity are resisted,
the conscience is purified, the will strengthened, a salutary self-control
is attained, and grace is increased in virtue of the Sacrament itself."
(Ib.) Is it any wonder that the Church requires that we go to
Confession 8 days before or after gaining a plenary indulgence?
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