Pope Francis entrusted to Jesus' mother the suffering and anguish of millions of people affected…
When the pandemic is over, will I have to return to Mass?
Question: I was always taught that sacraments were a “physical matter.” The priest who taught RCIA taught us that the sacraments all touch the body somehow, either through water, oil, the laying on of hands and so forth. Now I hear a lot about “spiritual communion” and so forth. So how do I understand this, and, once churches open again, can I go on making a spiritual communion, or am I required to physically show up once again?
— Name, location withheld
Answer: Many questions have arisen about receiving sacraments in a time of concern about the coronavirus. In ordinary circumstances, Catholics are expected to actively seek the sacraments in the usual way the Church offers them. However, there are times when the sacraments cannot be given due to extraordinary circumstances such as extreme weather, natural disasters or plague. In some parts of the world, too, priests are not routinely available. In such cases Catholics should be reassured that the desire to receive the sacraments is itself a way to receive their graces.
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God does not ask of us the impossible or the unreasonable. There is a long tradition stretching back to the good thief on the cross of the “baptism of desire.” Jesus assured him of paradise even though he could not, at that moment, receive baptism in the usual way. In these times of pandemic, we have also had to rediscover the tradition of spiritual communion. When the faithful cannot reasonably receive holy Communion, they are encouraged to express their desire for it to the Lord and be assured that, in their desire for holy Communion sincerely expressed, they receive the graces of it.
The faithful should also be assured that, in their desire for the Sacraments of the Anointing of the Sick and Confession, if they cannot reasonably receive them in the ordinary manner, God knows their desire and will surely supply the graces they seek. God knows our hearts and will grant the graces we seek even if the usual ways he has set forth are not possible. May God’s people be at peace in this time of pandemic knowing that their priests continue to offer the Mass on their behalf and that, through their desires, they are united to the Lord who seeks to bless them.
Lifting pontifical secret
Question: I’ve been an avid reader of Our Sunday Visitor for over a decade. I am an inmate in an Idaho prison and a convert to the Catholic faith. I gain a lot of understanding from the paper and share it throughout the prison. I read in Our Sunday Visitor that the pope recently lifted the pontifical secret from cases that involve clergy sexual abuse. Why was there a secret? Is it related to confession?
— Douglas Austin, Boise, Idaho
Answer: The pontifical secret is not related to confession. Rather it is a kind of promise that people make who work with the pope or his representatives, such as nuncios. In effect they promise to maintain absolute confidentiality. This is not a mere secrecy for its own sake, and it does not apply to all of the pope’s business. It is a confidentiality that is expected in dealing especially with personnel matters or when the pope seeks advice on sensitive topics. For example, when a priest is proposed as a candidate for the office of bishop, the pope is required to do background checks into his character and moral fitness. Letters are sent to other priests or laypeople who know him asking about these matters. They are required under the pontifical seal to answer honestly and to tell no one that they were approached about this matter, including the proposed candidate, who is not to know of the inquiry or that he was proposed as a candidate for bishop. Hence the pontifical secret allows the pope to conduct business and protect confidentiality.
As for the application of the pontifical secret to reported sexual abuse by clergy, it is less certain why this was necessary. One possible reason is that a person is entitled to a good name while an accusation is investigated as credible or not. However, it would seem that things can be investigated discreetly without the need for the pontifical secret. That is likely why the protection was lifted on Dec. 17, 2019. There is legitimate concern that the worldwide Church has been too secretive about sexual abuse and that transparency is required to rebuild trust. This was thus a gesture of the pope to assure the world that investigations in the future will be conducted with greater transparency and cooperation with civil officials.