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Chapter 3: Charity, the Eucharist, and Church Membership

Question C: What Other Forms of Worship Are Appropriate for Catholics?

While the Mass is a Catholic’s primary and central act of worship, by no means does it replace or devalue other elements of the spiritual life. Rather, it calls for them, perfects them by uniting them with Jesus’ death and resurrection, and integrates them into the living whole of divine-human communion. 45 Under certain conditions, one may even share with due care in the worship of those who are not Catholic.

1. The Liturgy’s Other Elements Are Necessary or Very Worthwhile

The other sacraments, the liturgy of the hours, and the sacramentals are closely linked with the Eucharist and directed toward it (see PO 5).

a) The other sacraments are to be received when appropriate. Like the Eucharist, to which each is related in its own way, the other sacraments establish or deepen communion with God and so build up the body of Jesus. Every sacrament is a form of divine worship (see SC 59), and one should receive each of them whenever appropriate.

Insofar as possible, the recipient of any sacrament and all involved in its administration and reception (for example, baptismal sponsors, witnesses to matrimony) should be attentive and play an appropriately active role. As with the Eucharist, this is more a matter of inward acts than of outward behavior.

b) The Church calls all the faithful to the liturgy of the hours. By the liturgy of the hours, the Church extends her worship, centered in the Eucharist, throughout the day (see CMP, 33.G). Sharing in this prayer thus helps integrate all one does with the Eucharist, and so to perfect it as spiritual worship. The liturgy of the hours also is a fine framework for individual and family prayer and devotions, and for examination of conscience.

The Church invites all the faithful to participate in the hours (see SC 84 and 100). Many easily could, at least by adopting one or two of the hours, preferably morning and/or evening prayer, as a regular form of household prayer.46

c) Sacramentals extend the sacraments into daily life. The sacramentals are significant acts variously related to the sacraments. For example, blessing oneself with holy water recalls one’s baptism, while using it in blessing other things extends baptism, as it were, to objects which in various ways extend one’s body. While not essential to divine worship, the sacramentals are practices of the Church which are effective by her prayer.47 Central to all is the intercession of the Church, and some simply are prayers which the Church provides for particular benefits. Of these, some are incorporated in the rites of the sacraments, while others stand apart from the sacraments.

Any prayer or blessing offered by the Church responsive to some need of an individual, family, or other group should be sought and used.48 In this way, private devotion is more clearly and fruitfully linked with God’s saving work in Jesus.

2. Individuals and Families Should Develop Their Own Devotional Style

The activity of the Church as a whole is not limited to the liturgy, and the spiritual life of her members is not limited to liturgical participation.49 Each individual and family require other devotions and prayers which bring God’s manifold gifts and mediate between the eucharistic center of communion with God in Jesus and day-to-day life transformed into “a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God” (Rom 12.1; cf. CMP, 29.F–H). Thus, every Catholic individual and family has the right and responsibility to develop and follow a singular form of spiritual life, provided it is in harmony both with the Church’s teaching and with full participation in the liturgy.50

The requirements to read Scripture, pray, meditate, and examine conscience are dealt with elsewhere (especially 1.J.2, 2.B.1, 4.B.2.a–b, 4.C.2, 4.D.1.b–c, and 4.D.2). These things are fundamental to every individual’s and family’s spirituality. The present treatment summarizes only the Church’s more important, current, specific recommendations concerning certain devotions, some liturgical and others not, which can hardly be omitted from anyone’s spirituality.

a) Eucharistic adoration outside Mass often is appropriate. Since Jesus remains present as long as the consecrated species remain what they are, Catholics rightly adore him in the Blessed Sacrament, not only during but outside Mass (see DS 1656/888). This worship should be shown by genuflecting (or in some situations bowing) toward the tabernacle when entering and leaving church before and after Mass, or when visiting (even as a tourist) any place where the Blessed Sacrament is reserved, and by showing due reverence whenever the Sacrament is exposed, for example, in a public procession or in a sickroom where a patient is receiving Holy Communion.

It also is good to participate in such processions and in other optional devotions: eucharistic benediction, prayer before the Blessed Sacrament exposed, special services on the solemnity of Corpus Christi, eucharistic congresses, and so on.51

b) The Church recommends devotion to Jesus’ sacred heart. Devotion to Jesus’ sacred heart is rooted both in adoration of his living human body, insofar as it is the divine Word’s flesh, and in the natural symbolism by which his living heart is a sign of his divine and human love. This love led Jesus to offer himself in redemptive self-sacrifice, which resulted in his death and the piercing of his heart, from which blood and water flowed. Raised to life again, he shares divine love with his followers through the “water” of the Holy Spirit and eucharistic Communion in his body and blood. Thus, devotion to Jesus’ sacred heart embodies central truths of faith, focuses on God’s love, makes amends for acts which answer Jesus’ love with offenses, expresses adoration, thanks God for his mercy, and confirms the baptismal commitment to follow Jesus’ way of the cross to heavenly glory.52

To implement this devotion liturgically, the Church celebrates the solemnity of the Sacred Heart on the Friday following the second Sunday after Pentecost. It is also recommended that all Catholics consecrate themselves to Jesus’ sacred heart, observe the first Friday of each month by participating in Mass and receiving Holy Communion, display an image of the sacred heart in their homes and honor it by living under Jesus’ lordship, and use approved prayers including the morning (or daily) offering and the litany of the sacred heart.53

Historically distinct in its origins but theologically closely related is the penitential practice of the way (or stations) of the cross, which consists in prayer and meditation on Jesus’ suffering. The Church encourages this devotion by indulgences and by authorizing the formal erection of the stations.54

c) The Church recommends veneration of Mary and all the saints. Because the Church is a communion of love among created persons united with God, faithful Catholics always have venerated the Blessed Virgin Mary, the holy angels, the apostles, the martyrs, and other outstanding disciples of Jesus (see LG 50–51). This veneration involves several things: honoring their holiness, asking them to pray to God as one’s intercessors, remembering their fellowship as one adores God, and rejoicing with them in his friendship. The saints’ virtues should be imitated, and the help and protection of the angels should be sought. Still, it is possible to overdo such veneration, focusing devotion more on Mary or other saints than on God himself. The Church forbids such abuses and excesses, and Catholics not only should avoid them themselves but try to help others to correct them.55

d) Mary should be honored in an altogether special way. As mother of God, Mary was raised by his grace above every other created person; she was Jesus’ first and best disciple; she maternally cooperates with him in his redemptive work; and she is the Church’s heavenly mother, most splendidly fulfilled in that communion with God in which all the faithful hope one day to join her. Individuals and families should seek to imitate her fiat accepting her role in God’s saving work, and should ask her intercession, confident that her motherly understanding and affection will lead her to act as mediatrix. Catholics can trust and love God more perfectly because of their affection for Mary and the encouragement which comes from the glory God has given her, a human person like themselves.56

e) The Church recommends the meditative recitation of the rosary. While outwardly emphasizing veneration of Mary, the rosary in reality leads through her to Jesus. The complete rosary essentially consists in reciting fifteen decades and meditating on the topic (the “mystery”) assigned to each. Both the prayers and the topics of meditation have scriptural sources.

Someone correctly praying the rosary pays less attention to the framework of vocal prayer than the topics proposed for meditation. These include all the chief aspects of God’s redemptive work: the Incarnation, Jesus’ suffering and death, his resurrection and ascension, the sending of the Holy Spirit, and the first fruit (in Mary’s glorification) of what God is doing through Jesus by the Spirit’s sanctifying work. This meditative content sums up the eucharistic liturgy and the annual cycle of the Church’s worship, and so the rosary can extend and prepare for the Eucharist much as the liturgy of the hours does.

Although the rosary lacks the richness of the liturgy of the hours, it has the advantage of simplicity. It is readily used by Catholics of all sorts in their individual, family, and communal prayer. The Church warmly recommends the rosary, and it is especially appropriate as a framework for the daily prayer of those unable to participate in the liturgy of the hours.

The morning, noon, and evening recitation of the Angelus also can be used to sanctify the parts of the day. The Angelus too summarizes God’s saving work, since it recalls the Word’s Incarnation and prays that “we may be brought by his passion and death to the glory of his resurrection.”57

f) Superstition in Catholic spirituality is grave in itself. Genuine worship is based on the truth about God and creatures; it expresses love and reverence. It is superstitious to think God can be tricked or bargained with, that insincere outward religious behavior is sufficient to fulfill responsibilities to worship, or that religious feelings and experiences somehow make up for unrepented sins.

A manipulative attitude underlies the belief (involved, for example, in chain letters) that a certain number of prayers or a special form of religious practices will obtain favors, even apart from God’s freely given mercy and faithfulness. Likewise, practices like lighting votive candles, carrying a rosary, and making the sign of the cross as a mere gesture cannot substitute for prayer. Such outward behavior should accompany prayer, not take its place.

When the Church disapproves alleged miracles and apparitions, continued devotion focusing on them is superstitious. To treat extraliturgical devotions as more important than the Eucharist and to evaluate the eucharistic liturgy by how it makes one feel are both mistaken attitudes, and both are superstitious.

In themselves, all forms of superstition show a false attitude toward God and a lack of genuine love and trust in him. Therefore, if freely chosen with sufficient reflection, superstitious practices are gravely sinful. Still, when their true character is clearly recognized, they are not likely to be very appealing. It seems likely, then, that people who sin in these matters often lack sufficient reflection and need catechesis to help them develop a more adequate understanding of religion.

3. Catholics May Worship with Others within Certain Limits

In general, those who worship together express unity as a worshiping community, common faith, and their specific commitment to their religious community and its form of worship. For this reason, one should never share in acts of worship inconsistent with Catholic faith.

Before Vatican II, the Church did not recognize and take into account the extent to which religious unity exists, especially among Christians, along with religious divisions. But since the religious divisions between Catholics and other believers are not total, under certain conditions it is right to share in others’ worship. Still, legitimate common worship cannot go beyond the unity actually existing between the other religious community and the Catholic Church. Thus, common worship should be avoided whenever it presupposes and expresses greater unity than really exists (see UR 8).

a) In many cases, one may pray in common with others. Although religiously divided in other respects, people who share belief in God often can pray together for common needs without introducing anything specific in which they differ. In praying with Jews or Moslems, for example, common scriptural material can be used. It is appropriate to join in such prayers, provided they involve nothing at odds with Catholic faith. Such authentic interfaith prayer is the work of the Holy Spirit, active in human hearts and moving humankind away from conflict and toward communion.58

As will be explained (in D.4.c), Catholics are encouraged to join in mutually acceptable prayer with Christians not in full communion with the Catholic Church. Moreover, aside from receiving communion (to be considered next), when a Catholic has a good reason to be present at the liturgical worship of other Christians, he or she may join in any of their prayers, hymns, and acts that are consonant with Catholic faith.59

b) One sometimes may seek grace through common worship. The validity of some sacraments requires that they be celebrated by a validly ordained minister. Since the Catholic Church recognizes the validity of orders and the other sacraments in the Eastern churches separated from the Catholic Church (see UR 15), participation in the liturgy of an Eastern church, provided one is welcome there, is encouraged if one otherwise would miss Mass on a Sunday or holy day of obligation. Such liturgical participation also fulfills one’s Mass obligation whenever one has a good reason to be present at the liturgy of an Eastern church.

Moreover, when rightly participating in the eucharistic liturgy of an Eastern church, Catholics may under certain conditions receive Holy Communion.60 The conditions are that the host church does not object, that Communion cannot otherwise be received, that receiving is necessary or would be to one’s spiritual advantage, and that one avoids endorsing any false belief or acting as if existing differences were insignificant.61

c) Mere presence at others’ worship is not sharing in it. Worship requires active participation of mind and will. Someone can be present without sharing in the worship of others. This is permissible for various reasons: to learn about other religions, to enjoy the esthetic values in their worship, and to fulfill various duties—by attending relatives’ and friends’ funerals and weddings, or being present at academic convocations, civic dedication ceremonies, and so on.

When present but not sharing in others’ worship, it is right to show respect by silence and other signs, for example, sitting and standing when the worshipers do. But any specifically religious behavior should be avoided, since sincerely engaging in it would be participation, while engaging insincerely not only would be dishonest but would imply the profession of views contrary to Catholic faith.

d) Sharing in worship at odds with faith always is a grave matter. Someone who shares in worship professes the faith it embodies. Thus, Catholics who knowingly share in worship at odds with their faith either accept heresy (if they are sincere) or profess what they do not believe (if they are not). In either case, what they do is always grave matter.

Communion services and other sacramental rites requiring a minister with holy orders are necessarily at odds with Catholic faith when celebrated by someone not validly ordained. That is so not only if they embody a belief about the sacrament being administered different from the Catholic Church’s faith, but even if they embody the Church’s faith and are carried out with the right intention, for also embodied in every such sacramental rite are beliefs about the need for holy orders and the conditions for their validity. Participation, therefore, always is grave matter.

Catholics also should avoid sharing in prayers, hymns, and other acts involving anything at odds with their faith. Someone who makes little or no effort to judge what is and is not acceptable is negligent about preserving and professing the faith. Thus, when participating in the prayer and worship of Christians not fully in communion with the Catholic Church, one has a grave responsibility to discriminate carefully between what is and is not consonant with Catholic faith, and to avoid sharing in what is not.

Although lack of sufficient reflection undoubtedly lessens or eliminates the guilt of some who sin in this matter, such error threatens the integrity of personal faith and the effectiveness of witness to the gospel.

e) Other prohibited sharing in worship also is grave matter. Vatican II teaches that sharing in worship can be wrong even when it does not involve accepting falsehood: “Common participation in worship which harms the Church’s unity, or involves . . . the danger of aberration in faith, of scandal and indifferentism is forbidden by divine law” (OE 26). Thus, the prospect of damage to the Church’s unity or of any of these dangers limits the situations under which one may share in others’ worship even when it is consistent with Catholic faith.

Catholics not only must avoid worship at odds with their faith but obey these additional norms regarding shared worship in order to promote genuine ecumenism and preserve the Catholic Church’s existing unity. If the norms are widely ignored, real divisions will not be eliminated but will simply be made to seem insignificant even as they persist. Motivation to work for Church unity will be undermined, and Catholics will more easily be led by subjective considerations to drift away from the Catholic Church and join some separated communion. Prohibited sharing in common worship therefore is a grave matter.62

45. See Gabriel M. Braso, O.S.B., Liturgy and Spirituality, trans. Leonard J. Doyle (Collegeville, Minn.: Liturgical Press, 1971), 165–208.

46. Regrettably few pastors instruct the faithful about this part of the liturgy and encourage them to share in it. About the value of participation by the faithful in general, see Paul VI, Laudis canticum, AAS 63 (1971) 534, International Commission on English in the Liturgy, Documents on the Liturgy, 1963–1979: Conciliar, Papal, and Curial Texts (Collegeville, Minn.: Liturgical Press, 1982), 1089. The Church invites all: CIC, c. 1174, §2. Since the point of the liturgy of the hours is to extend the Eucharist throughout the day, c. 1175 directs that “the true time of each hour is to be observed as much as possible.” Dominic F. Scotto, T.O.R., Liturgy of the Hours (Petersham, Mass.: St. Bede’s Publications, 1987), treats the history and importance of the liturgy of the hours and offers pastoral proposals to facilitate its celebration by parishes and families.

47. See CMP, 29.G.1–4; SC 60–61; CIC, cc. 1166–68. C. 1166 defines sacramentals as “sacred signs by which spiritual effects especially are signified and are obtained by the intercession of the Church.” C. 1167 declares the exclusive authority of the Holy See in establishing, changing, doing away with, and interpreting sacramentals, and requires observance of approved rites and formulae. C. 1168 determines the minister of sacramentals by the norm of the liturgical books and the local ordinary’s judgment.

48. For blessings provided by the Church: The Roman Ritual: Book of Blessings, trans. International Committee on English in the Liturgy (Collegeville, Minn.: Liturgical Press, 1989). Many of these blessings can be administered by lay persons.

49. Vatican II (see SC 9, 12) endorses and briefly restates what Pius XII taught more fully in Mediator Dei, AAS 39 (1947) 530–37, PE, 233.23–37, where he warned against the danger of drawing pernicious conclusions from the Eucharist’s objective excellence and power: Christian holiness is not to be reduced to liturgical participation; personal piety and a holy life also are necessary.

50. See CIC, c. 214. Teaching refers not only to doctrine but to moral norms and Church order, including the Church’s liturgy and the norms governing it. Thus, Vatican II commends popular devotions “provided they accord with the laws and norms of the Church” (SC 13).

51. See Pius XII, Mediator Dei, AAS 39 (1947) 568–72, PE, 233.129–37; Congregation for Rites, Eucharisticum mysterium, 49–67, AAS 59 (1967) 566–73, Flannery, 1:129–36; The Rites, 484–96.

52. The central doctrinal document on this devotion, which includes many references to prior elements of the Catholic tradition bearing on the matter: Pius XII, Haurietis aquas, AAS 48 (1956) 309–53, PE, 253. Essential elements of the devotion are not entirely optional (AAS 312, PE 10), because to reject them either would be to deny the union of Jesus’ living heart with the person of the Word or to refuse to respond to God’s redemptive love in a way proportionate to the precise mode in which he has chosen to express that love and make it effective.

53. For the sources of the various devotional practices and a survey of the documents which justify them, see Timothy T. O’Donnell, Heart of the Redeemer (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1992). A practical directory of sacred heart devotion: Walter Kern, Updated Devotion to the Sacred Heart (Canfield, Ohio: Alba House, 1975), 137–86.

54. See New Catholic Encyclopedia, s.v. “way of the cross.”

55. The Church urges veneration of Mary and the other saints: see CIC, c. 1186. The Council of Trent (see DS 1821–25/984–88) and Vatican II (see LG 51) both defend the Catholic practice of venerating Mary and the other saints, and direct bishops to eliminate abuses and excesses. CIC, c. 1187, directs that no act of public veneration be carried out except to those called saint or blessed by the Church’s authority. Thus, one should publicly pray for rather than to others who lived and seem to have died in Christ. But privately—for example, within the family circle—Catholics rightly invoke the intercession of those friends and loved ones whom they are confident now live with the Lord.

56. See LG 65–68; John Paul II, Redemptoris mater, 38–47, AAS 79 (1987) 411–26, OR, 30 Mar. 1987, 11–14. Many of the principles underlying Vatican II’s teaching on Mary are clearly and briefly stated by Pius XII, Ad caeli reginam, AAS 46 (1954) 633–37, PE, 251.34–45. Vatican II also vindicates using the title “mediatrix” of Mary, while carefully explaining that her role is subordinate to Jesus’ unique mediation (see LG 62). Leo XIII, Fidentem piumque animum, ASS 29 (1896–97) 206–7, PE, 139.3, well accounts for the mediating role of Mary, following St. Thomas (S.t., 3, q. 26, a. 1), who explains that it is compatible with the uniqueness of Jesus’ mediation that others be mediators between God and human persons, insofar as they cooperate by preparing for or serving Jesus’ work. Mary’s unique cooperation, which she undertook by her fiat, is with the Incarnation itself, and so with the whole of Jesus’ saving work and every grace he merited by it.

57. On the rosary and the Angelus, see Paul VI, Marialis cultus, 40–55, AAS 66 (1974) 151–62; The Pope Speaks 19 (1974–75): 77–83. On the rosary as an element in sound spirituality: Louis Bouyer, Cong.Orat., Introduction to Spirituality, trans. Mary Perkins Ryan (Collegeville, Minn.: Liturgical Press, 1961), 87–94. The rosary is unique among extraliturgical devotions in the frequency and force with which the Church commends it. Leo XIII published an encyclical each year for sixteen years (1883–98) encouraging the rosary. CIC, c. 246, §3, and c. 663, §4, singles out the rosary for special mention in commending Marian devotion for seminarians and religious. Congregation for Bishops, Ecclesiae imago (Directory on the Pastoral Ministry of Bishops), 91, EV 4 (1971–73) 1322–25, Documents on the Liturgy, 838: “Among the devotions to be reverently preserved and spread among Christian families and communities, the holy Rosary of Mary stands out. It has been ceaselessly recommended by the popes as a kind of compendium of the Gospel and therefore as a model devotional practice recommended for the Church [note omitted] and splendidly confirmed by the practice of the saints.” This document (see 90–91, EV 1320–25, Documents on the Liturgy, 837–38) also makes special mention of adoration of the Blessed Sacrament in and outside Mass, devotion to Jesus’ sacred heart, veneration of Mary and the other saints, and the way of the cross.

58. See John Paul II, Redemptoris missio, 29, AAS 83 (1991) 274–75, OR, 28 Jan. 1991, 9.

59. See Secretariat for Promoting the Unity of Christians, Ad totam ecclesiam, 50, 59, AAS 59 (1967) 589, 591–92, Flannery, 1:498, 500.

60. See Secretariat for Promoting the Unity of Christians, Ad totam ecclesiam, 42, 44, 47, and 50, AAS 59 (1967) 587–89, Flannery, 1:496–98.

61. See CIC, c. 844, §§1–2. The canon also says (in §2) that under these same conditions Catholics may receive the sacraments of penance and anointing of the sick “from non-Catholic ministers in whose churches these sacraments are valid” (in practice, it seems, this means a priest of an Eastern Orthodox church). Since anyone can baptize, in case of necessity when an ordinary minister is not available Catholics may ask anyone available to baptize; for example, a Catholic woman suffering a dangerously premature birth rightly asks even a nonbelieving physician or nurse to baptize the child as soon as it is born (see c. 844, §1, and c. 861, §2).

62. A sign of this is that the Church’s law prescribes that anyone guilty of this sin is to be punished with a just penalty: CIC, c. 1365.