A Message to Members of Catholic Answers Forum

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

Whenever there are a large amount of people gathered together, disagreement is an inevitable result of differing opinions and perspectives. As a society can only run smoothly when people are tolerant toward other human beings, discussions can remain civil and be more fruitful if the participants genuinely try to understand the opinions of others. There is a way to remain respectful without having to endorse or even agree with the views of others! We all understand this concept in theory, yet in practice, it is very difficult because our human nature is broken, and therefore we tend to get annoyed whenever someone is not in agreement with us. We are all subject to the effects of Original Sin after the Fall occurred, but this does not mean we should not continue trying to overcome these obstacles, all with the help of God of course.
There are many controversial topics that are being discussed on this forum, but generally speaking, the most explosive topics seem to deal with the liturgy, especially in relation to the changes brought about by the Second Vatican Council. My intention in mentioning this is not to voice my own opinions on the Council or on the Mass of Paul VI versus the Tridentine mass. I accept whatever the Church teaches on the validity and liceity of the promulgation of Missale Romanum, and when Rome has spoken, the case is closed, in my opinion. The Church teaches that the Second Vatican Council is a valid Council, and to refuse to accept it is to remove oneself from full communion with the Church. The majority of Catholics appear to agree with this, as radical traditionalists — by far — do not make up a large percentage of the Catholic population at all.
While most Catholics here can agree on these fundamental principles, we tend to get caught up in the weeds and bicker about issues of lesser importance, such as what music is used in the liturgy, whether mass should be ad orientem, whether the mass should be said in Latin or in the vernacular. As beauty is created when opposites are reconciled with each other, part of the beauty of the Catholic Church is the potentiality of having unity and diversity come together as one, as St. Paul says, we are members of one body (1 Corinthians 12). Of course, different people in the Church will have different preferences and opinions, and the Church has tried to accommodate everyone. However, God is not subject to our merely human whims, and we cannot bicker on and on about matters of lesser importance, especially in regard to both the ordinary and extraordinary forms of the mass, while missing the greater point. Christ is present in every valid Eucharist, and while people may have different opinions on the “aesthetics” of how mass is celebrated, we need to remember that every Eucharistic celebration is inherently beautiful in and of itself not because of the music or anything else, but because God is present. If we spend all our time and energy concerning ourselves with less important issues, and miss the bigger picture, then are we any better that the Pharisees?

The most important points, as the gospel demonstrates, are to love God first and foremost, and to love your neighbor as yourself. We need to remember this whenever we post, and think of this when we are tempted to judge others or even call them “heretics” because they disagree with our opinions.

The question now becomes: there is certainly a difference between heresy and harmless disagreement, but where should the line be drawn?
We need to understand that there are two types of law: ecclesiastical law and divine law. Ecclesiastical law is man-made, while divine law comes from God Himself. Ecclesiastical law, which includes liturgical directives can be changed by the appropriate authority if he deems it to be appropriate. On the other hand, divine law, or dogma, comes from God Himself and cannot be changed, not even by the highest authority of the Church, the Supreme Pontiff. Keeping these distinctions in mind, it should come as no surprise to us that throughout the history of the Church, it is clear that practices and disciplines have changed and developed considerably over time. The liturgy itself has changed over time as well. Provided that the substance of the liturgy is retained, and the dogmatic teachings in regard to the mass, in particular the Eucharist, are retained, practices and disciplines regarding the celebration of the mass are certainly subject to change if the competent authority judges revision to be appropriate and prudent. From this, it becomes clear that to contradict dogmatic teachings, with full knowledge about the particular error in question, and done with full consent of the will, is most certainly heresy, a grave sin that warrants excommunication latae sententiae as well; but is also is evident that a Catholic may, in good conscience, disagree with the Church on matters of ecclesiastical law and still remain in good standing. So if a person wishes to express opinion on disagreement with a practice of the Church, other Catholics may not unjustly label him a “heretic.”

We are all free to state our opinions on various issues, but we all must humbly submit to the legitimate authority of the Church not only when it comes to issues of divine law, but also issues of ecclesiastical law as well. Divine law, coming directly from God, cannot be questioned, but ecclesiastical law can be changed by the competent authority to better suit the needs of the faithful in a specific time and place. While it is impossible for changes in, say, liturgical directives, to please everyone, we need to trust that God will protect His Church, and that the Church desires first and foremost what is most beneficial her people, and that the Supreme Law of the Church is the salvation of souls. That — the salvation of souls — is the ultimate end and the entire purpose of all the Church’s ecclesiastical laws, and as Catholics we need to trust that the Holy Spirit guides the Church not only in defining and clarifying Christian truths, but also in giving those in authority the grace to make prudent decisions directed at this ultimate end, namely, the salvation of souls.
My conclusion is that the beauty of the Church comes from the integration of both unity (as we are one Body of Christ) and diversity (as we are different members). This is also applicable when it comes to disagreements on controversial subjects, liturgical practices in particular, as it can be observed through this forum. By understanding the distinction between divine and ecclesiastical law, we will be able to tell when someone is truly in error in regard to Christian truths and be able to correct them in charity, and we will also realize when our disagreement with another person is on opinions only, and be able to agree to disagree if necessary. Hopefully, by making this distinction, we can avoid a lot of unintended hostility that may arise — as it inevitably does from time to time — when we are discussing difficult subjects on a public forum. By focusing less on disagreements over small details concerning practices, we should focus more on seeking Truth and living in accordance with it, and through this, fulfilling Christ’s two greatest commandments, love God and love your neighbor.

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No, the Veil is not Obligatory

Q. Are women still required to wear veils or cover their heads in church?

A. This is an extremely frustrating issue. Some have challenged me to try to find an official statement from the Vatican declaring that the requirement for women to cover their heads has been abrogated. These people, however, either do not understand the Code of Canon Law, or are deliberately misinterpreting it.

The Vatican does not need to make an official statement on the matter specifically in order to get their point across — namely, that the requirement was abrogated in 1983. Many advertisements for veils say “canon 1262 still in force”, which is, of course, referring to canon 1262 of the old 1917 Pio-Benedictine Code.

Canon 1262 §2 of the 1917 Code states: “…mulieres autem, capite cooperto et modeste vestitae, maxime cum ad mensam Dominicam accedunt.” (My translation: “…women should have their heads covered and be dressed in modest clothing, especially when they approach the table of the Lord.”)

Now, this canon is not repeated in any way, shape, or form in the 1983 Code of Canon Law. Well, one would assume, just because it is not mentioned, doesn’t mean it’s no longer required. However, Canon 6§1 clearly states that the Code of Canon Law promulgated in 1917 has been completely abrogated, meaning there is absolutely no requirement for women to cover their heads in church.

As for whether women would still choose to wear a veil is another matter. Most of the radical feminists have left the Catholic Church long ago, so if a few brave women came out and began to wear veils, perhaps others will soon join in. However, this does not mean it is required by ecclesiastical law.

Are Catholic marriage annulments infallible?

Q. I already knew that in the Catholic Church marriage is forever, but I only recently learned that that also includes in instances of infidelity. I’m aware there’s such a thing as annulment declaring the marriage as not valid in the first place but only some are “granted” this. What I’m curious about is are these annulment decisions infallible or not. Are they the same in every country and reproducible; are they objective[ly] based or are they decided according to each priest’s/tribunal member’s individual perception and thoughts? For example, in a court of criminal law, which these days is not Christian but “secular”, an individual’s sentence may vary widely according to which judge he/she receives. So I’m wondering if it the same for annulment “proceedings” or whether rather it is led by the Holy Spirit to avoid errors?

A. The question asked here is, if summarized succinctly, whether Catholic marriage annulments are infallible. The simple answer is no, they are not, but let’s get some context here from what the Catholic Church’s Code of Canon Law states first. First of all, marriage in the Church “possesses the favor of the law” (canon 1060), and so marriages are presumed to be valid until is it proven beyond reasonable doubt that they were invalid due to some kind of defect.

If someone is in a completely happy, conflict-free marriage, they should not seek a declaration of nullity even if they have a suspicion that their marriage was somehow not valid. (The only exception to this is when they can establish with full certainty that their marriage was invalid, such as when it is later revealed that one of the spouses was intoxicated and unable to give full consent at the time. In those cases, either private or public convalidation is necessary.) The point of a diocesan tribunal which investigates the case is to grant annulments, when possible based on the evidence presented, to people in troubled marriages whose only other option is divorce. People in conflict-free marriages should never seek annulments even if they have doubts about validity, because the law presumes that sacraments are valid until the contrary is proven.

It also must be clarified immediately that an annulment is not the Catholic equivalent of a civil divorce; it is a declaration that the marriage in question was never valid to begin with. Since the Sacrament of Matrimony is not conferred by the ordained minister, but conferred by the spouses onto each other (canon 1108 §2), it is far more likely for a marriage to be invalid than with other sacraments by the mere fact that two people, instead of just one, need to have proper understanding of Christian marriage and be able to give consent properly.

Two prevalent reasons why a marriage may be proven to have never been contracted validly are 1) defective consent, and 2) lack of proper canonical form. Defective consent usually occurs when one or both spouse(s) do not fully understand what a Catholic marriage entails, and are not able to fully consent to the marriage. A common example of failure to adhere to canonical form would be a Catholic marrying in a non-Catholic ceremony without dispensation. However, there are many more things that can potentially invalidate a marriage, such as impediments and irregularities (see Can. 1055 – 1165).

Now onto your specific question. In general, no, declarations of nullity are not infallible. Infallibility as a term is often overused and abused since many people, including Catholics, lack the proper understanding of it. Papal infallibility, for example, only applies when a Pope pronounces a dogmatic teaching ex cathedra. Only divine law, or dogmatic teachings, which are revealed by God Himself to the Church and must be believed by all Christians unconditionally, no matter what, have any guarantee of infallibility.

Ecclesiastical laws, however, refer to the practices and disciplines of the Church. A good example would be priestly celibacy; it is not a defined dogma, and if the Pope wanted to get rid of this requirement, he could. Another example: the abrogated 1917 Code of Canon Law states that a priest needed to be 30 to become a bishop, but this was changed to 35 when the 1983 Code was promulgated. Ecclesiastical laws can not only be changed, they can also be dispensed by the appropriate and competent authority in an individual circumstance. For example, if the Pope felt that a man under the age of 35 is capable of becoming a bishop, or the only one qualified in a specific circumstance, he can dispense from this law and appoint the man a bishop despite the age requirement.

Ecclesiastical laws are not Articles of Faith, but affect them nonetheless. Canon Law must follow theology, and bad theology can lead to bad application of Canon Law. While the annulment process is a “legal proceeding” and can be changed, the theology on marriage cannot be changed. So while annulments never have any degree of infallibility, it is to be assumed that the correct application of the theology on marriage and the correct examinations of the evidence will generally result in the correct conclusion as to whether the marriage was invalid or not.

Naturally, however, people can have different interpretations, so the Church is very vigilant about this in order to bring about the correct and truthful result. When one applies for an annulment, one will go to the tribunal of their diocese. When a decision is made saying a marriage is null, it is automatically appealed and sent to the tribunal of another diocese to review (canon 1682 §1). In fact, every diocese already has agreements with another diocese specifically for annulment cases. If the two tribunals agree, the case is finished (canon 1682 §2). If the two tribunals do not agree, then the case is immediately sent to the Roman Rota, the highest court in the Church (Can. 1444 §1). In any case, if the Pope himself declares whether the marriage is valid or not, the case cannot be appealed again because the Pope’s decision is final and the First See is judged by none.

As we can conclude, the Church has thoroughly provided all these canonical procedures in order to maximize the chances of getting the right conclusion on the validity of the marriage. In fact, just like there is a “devil’s advocate” arguing against a person’s canonization to minimize errors, there is always someone at the tribunal arguing against a declaration of nullity as well. So while there is no guarantee of infallibility when it comes to marriage annulments, the procedures are certainly enough to minimize potential errors, and having multiple tribunals review the case will usually prevent any possible bias.

For those who are wondering why Catholic marriage annulments can take a long time, the appeal system is the reason. Without this, there are more likely to be errors in determining the validity of a marriage in a given case. Since there is no guarantee of infallibility, it is important for the Church to take the necessary precautions in determining the truth.

Does my fiancé need to be confirmed in the Catholic Church before we get married?

Q. When my fiancé was a baby, he was baptized in the Catholic Church, but when it was time to get confirmed and have his first communion, he went to a Episcopal church and received his first communion there, but was never confirmed. Does he need to get confirmed in the Catholic Church before we can marry?

A. In general, yes, he needs to be confirmed, but this entire situation is complicated enough to merit a more in-depth response. For starters, canon 1065 §1 states: “Catholics who have not yet received the sacrament of confirmation are to receive it before they are admitted to marriage if it can be done without grave inconvenience.” Therefore, unless there is a serious enough reason for confirmation for be postponed until after marriage, any Catholic wishing to be married in the Church must be confirmed first.

What is the rationale behind this law? The answer may be found in looking at the general context in which this law was created. First, any marriage involving at least one Catholic is subject to Canon Law. Marriage in the Catholic Church is a complicated process, since it is the only sacrament that is not administered by the officiating cleric but conferred by the spouses to each other. As canon 1108 §2 states, the officiating cleric (or layperson in certain circumstances) only “asks for the manifestation of the consent of the contracting parties, and receives it in the name of the Church.” That person does not administer a sacrament.

Therefore, it logically follows that Catholics who are going to get married in the Church must be educated and knowledgeable enough about their faith to understand the meaning of Christian marriage, particularly on the topic of consent. This is extremely important because since each spouse is conferring the Sacrament on the other, their understanding of Christian marriage and their ability to give full consent to what it entails affects the validity of the Sacrament itself.

Most Catholics have gone through some sort of religious education program growing up, or through the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults if they converted at a later age. Therefore, if a Catholic is not yet confirmed, his/her pastor has every right to question whether they are truly knowledgeable enough in their faith in order to give proper consent to contract a marriage validly! Therefore, the requirement of confirmation before marriage exists to safeguard the validity of a marriage involving a Catholic party. However, the Church recognizes that there are certain extraordinary circumstances that may arise, as demonstrated by the wording of canon 1065 §1.

However, it appears that the central issue here is not whether there is an extraordinary circumstance that would justify the postponing of your fiancé’s confirmation. Simply having plans to marry as soon as possible is not a sufficient reason to delay confirmation. The question here is whether your fiancé has been properly educated in the faith, and whether he understands the meaning of Christian marriage and its implications. The fact that he has not been confirmed because he did not go through religious education as a child is the troubling point. If one does not understand what marriage entails, one cannot give full consent to the marriage. If this is the case here, he should first be properly educated in the faith to prepare for Confirmation and for Matrimony. This would inevitably lead to the ideal situation: that he is confirmed before married.

The other troubling aspect of your question was the fact that your fiancé received his First Holy Communion in an Episcopal Church. The Catholic Church believes that since Henry VIII’s son Edward VI revised the liturgical books for the Anglican Church illicitly and without consent from the Apostolic See, the Anglican/Episcopal rite of ordination is invalid. To put it simply, the Episcopal Church has broken the line of Apostolic Succession through the invalid rite of ordination, and therefore their priests aren’t valid priests who can actually confect the Eucharist. Therefore, receiving communion in an Episcopal Church is the equivalent of eating a piece of bread; no transubstantiation can occur because the “priests” there aren’t actually priests – and Catholics shouldn’t be receiving communion there anyway.

From what I can tell from the provided information, the best course of action is to get married later rather than sooner. If you want to get married very soon, complications are more likely to arise due to defective consent, and if there is no extraordinary circumstance, your fiancé must be confirmed first. The best way to proceed is to have your fiancé properly catechized if it is needed, then to solve the irregular situation with his First Holy Communion, then for him to be confirmed, and finally to get married. This may not sound like an ideal solution, especially if wedding plans have already been made. However, it inevitably will be simpler if everything, including marital consent, goes perfectly and smoothly the first time around, rather than, say, having to go through convalidation later on.

Random Ramblings #2: Modern-Day Pharisees

In the modern world, we often hear people describing themselves as “liberals”, “conservative,” and others things when it comes to their political views. What is less obvious is that this kind of “labeling” is also adversely affecting the Church, and if these divisions aren’t addressed promptly, more and more people will be led astray by the wolves who disguise themselves in sheep’s clothing. It is becoming more and more evident that a new Protestant Reformation is beginning in the Church, and the lack of adequate response to these issues will soon lead to large-scale heresy and schism, just like in the 16th century.

The issue I am referring to here is the “traditionalist” movement that began after the Second Vatican Council and has gained more and more popularity in recent years. Before anyone accuses me of being judgmental, it should be clarified that here I am only referring to the type of traditionalism that is not in full communion with the teachings of the Catholic Church.

It is perfectly fine to identify as a “traditionalist” Catholic, but there is a fine line between orthodoxy and schism here that needs to be pointed out. There are Church-approved groups that identify themselves as more “traditional” than the majority of Catholics, and this is perfectly okay. (For anyone who identifies as a traditionalist but is in full communion with the Church, the rest of this “rant” doesn’t apply to you, but you should really consider whether it’s time for Catholics to stop labeling themselves).

Some so-called “traditionalist” groups – such as the Society of St. Pius X, have gone too far. And these so-called “traditionalists” are the ones causing the divisions in the Church in the modern world; their leaders are the wolves that appear as sheep.

Like the Pharisees, they believe they are a small and elite group that holds the Truth apart from Christ’s Church. They fail to draw the distinction between ecclesiastical law and divine law, and as a result, scrupulously follow what they wrongly perceive as God’s irrevocable commands. The Pharisees, too, often blurred the line between moral and ceremonial law, which can be considered the ancient equivalents of divine and ecclesiastical law in the Church.

To put it simply, the problem with so-called “traditionalism” is implied in its name: the making of tradition into an “-ism.” In other words, these people are willing to give up everything, including their proper obedience to the Church’s Magisterium, for the sake of what they wrongly perceive Apostolic Tradition to be.

The SSPX and other schismatic “traditionalist” groups attract many supporters and sympathizers because of their outward appearance of holiness. They manipulate Catholics who are dissatisfied with the Church’s current practices by offering a more “traditional” Catholicism. They persuade people by making it seem like they are leading these Catholics to the Truth, but they are really leading them away from Christ because of their schism with the Church. Instead of encouraging people to obey God’s commands and the rightful authority of the Pope and the Magisterium, they simply cause others to turn away from the Church. Yet Jesus was very clear: whoever rejects Peter rejects Him.

While it seems on the outside that these schismatic “traditionalists” are leading people to God, they actually turn their converts against the Church, and against Christ Himself. Is this ringing any bells here?

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when you have succeeded, you make them twice as much a child of hell as you are” (Matthew 23:15).

Truly, it is clear who the modern-day Pharisees are, it is clear who the wolves disguised as sheep are.

Random Ramblings #1: The Euthyphro Dilemma

Note: While you should not be expecting any full-length, revised, and polished articles​ for quite a long while (see my previous post), I have created a new section on this blog called “Random Ramblings.” I will simply write about anything that comes to mind, especially things that do not fit into other defined categories I already have created. So here we go.

“Is what is morally good commanded by God because it is morally good, or is it morally good because it is commanded by God?”

It appears that this dilemma is a false dilemma, and that the answer is “both.”

Theologians such as St. Thomas Aquinas have stated that God cannot even change moral law because of its nature. Not because moral law exists apart from God, since God is the ultimate and supreme good.

So we can conclude that:

  1. What is morally good IS morally good
  2. Goodness is God’s very nature rather than an accident, and it is logically impossible for God to contradict His own nature, so everything He wills is God

Because God is the supreme good and cannot will anything other than good, and because what is morally good is willed by God because it is morally good, it can be said that both “horns” of the dilemma are true.

But of course, this seems to be incomprehensible from the limited standpoint of human reason. Thus, we can only accept this by faith, trusting that whatever God wills is good, and following His will.

An Update

Hi everyone,

As many of my followers and regular readers have probably noticed, I haven’t written anything in a very long time. In fact, my last post was four months ago, in May! (For your reference, my last serious article at requiemindminor.wordpress.com was from a year ago!) Don’t worry – I have not abandoned writing, and nor do I plan to do so anytime soon. The simple fact is, I’m in high school now and also attending the pre-college at the Manhattan School of Music, and I just don’t have much time for writing.

Of course, I’ll still write from time-to-time, but don’t expect polished articles complete with references that are free from typos! I’ve got a draft at the present moment, which is far from complete – refuting the alleged “heresies” of certain documents from the Second Vatican Council, which I began to write after being attacked by some schismatic “traditionalists” on-line. And another one defending Paul VI’s Missale Romanum – but that one is still in the very beginning stages.

Recently, I’ve begun to wonder about what I’m doing with my life, and what I am going to do in the future. God called me to begin spiritual writing, but this doesn’t mean He’s telling me to do this forever. As for what I’m doing right now (aside from school and music), I’m teaching myself ecclesiastical Latin and reading a lot of Church history as well as looking for a way to begin theology while still in high school. Becoming a canon lawyer is a possibility, and certainly not out of the question!

To sum it up (before I begin rambling about some other topic), I’m probably going to take a long break – perhaps until Advent begins at the very least. Thank you for your consideration.