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A History of the Church to 1500 A.D.
Theology for the Laity Series

Altar Girls / Franciscan Spirituality and the 13th Century

by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

In speaking with Father Downey—we have agreed then, Father, I’d have class on the 22nd and 29th of May—22nd and 29th of May—to make up for the two classes that were missed earlier in the year.

Then, since I’m sure this is on everyone’s mind, I’d like to briefly read to you from a communiqué I received from Rome yesterday regarding the altar servers—women, therefore, serving at the altar. I have been asked to make public comment which I have not made, and I’d rather not make any public commentary now too, except to state certain facts.

It seems that the official newspaper of the Holy See, Observitore Romano, has still even to mention the fact that altar girls have been approved. It would seem, my informant tells me, that the policy of the Holy See is to downplay the significance of the event. It is based on an interpretation of Canon 230 in the Code of Canon Law. It is said that the Holy Father personally reviewed the decision already back in July—July the11th, 1992, and ordered it to be promulgated. It is not clear why the issue is being kept, you might say, so quiet and secretive except that there has been an uproar. The official decision on Canon 230 made by the Council for the Interpretation of Legislative Texts, as approved by the Holy Father, it is due to be published in the next new volume of the Actsa Apostoli Dulcedis. Until it appears there it is not yet official.

All the evidence indicates that the reason for the approval of altar girls came from a strong representation by bishops in the United States. Now I have the document here in Italian. It is signed by the Prefect for the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments and is dated March the15th of this year. And it’s in answer to a question whether both men and women can participate in assisting in the liturgy, and the answer is in the affirmative according to instructions given by the Holy See. In other words, the document approving women altar servers stands here approved by this Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments. It does not, at least what I have; it does not include a formal statement by the pope.

Among other questions that this raises, so my Roman informant tells me, is the age of the women who participate as altar servers, which is not a minor matter. In any case, this letter states, as far back, therefore, as 1992 there had been a formal approval for altar servers being women given, first by this congregation, and then, about two weeks later, by the Holy Father approving the decision of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments. It is, however, to be voted on, and voted on by the bishops—Conference of Bishops in the different countries—and it says they can, they need not, however, as Conference of Bishops, give the approval, they can give the approval. Indeed, this is not only dependent on the Conference of Bishops but on each individual bishop in his diocese. And the question then remains what will, say, the Council of Bishops in the United States do, having been, according to this information, been behind, pressuring, urging that women altar servers be approved by Rome? What then will the Conference of American Bishops vote on and will they vote on collectively the approval of altar servers as girls, whether each individual bishop, apparently not, would not be bound by the decision of the Conference of Bishops. We may say, therefore, that this only the beginning of what I firmly believe will be a highly controversial issue for months, maybe even years to come. No question that bishops have tremendous power, and as we know, and this is a pattern for over thirty years, in one country after another, the bishops take it upon themselves to jump the gun, to approve what is not approved by general law for the Church, and then, post factum, after a practice has become widespread, then they appeal to the Holy See to approve what they had been doing without even consulting the Holy See, as, for example, Communion in the hand.

This is what I would like to share with you as we begin our second class. Would you mind passing these on?

You should all have copies of the Analysis of Franciscan Spirituality.

Over the years, I have taught Franciscan Spirituality as a regular course of two semesters. Two Franciscans who wanted to better understand the spirituality of their founder—besides, I’m sure I’ve told you, my mother was for years a Franciscan tertiary and buried in a Franciscan habit.

The outline in nine parts I would like cover in class today are the dominant features of the spirit of St. Francis for today. Remember the origin of St. Francis. He lived at the dawn of the modern age where economics—the money dimension of western society—became so prominent historians speak of the dawn of capitalism being in the early thirteenth century when St. Francis of Assisi lived.

First, His Prayer Of Praise

St. Francis did not leave us many authentic writings—his Rule of Life, his Last Will and Testament, and some prayers. So many of St. Francis’ writings, though identified with his name, cannot be proved to be authentically his composition. In general, for Francis, the focus of his paraphrase, as he calls it, was adoration of God’s greatness as reflected in His creatures. In this St. Francis has been done a great injustice. He is pictured so often with animals—birds, other animals—as though he loved animals somehow for their own sake. That is not true. For St. Francis the whole world and, with emphasis, the animal world was a reflection of the greatness, the beauty, and the variety of God’s own perfections.

Then, his love of God’s goodness. For Francis, God’s goodness was God’s sharing with His creatures what He, as God, possessed from all eternity. He never had to—if no single creature had been made, God would not have deprived anyone of anything they had a right to. The single most important premise in Franciscan spirituality is we have a right to nothing from God. And the word is nothing. And the word is nothing. We can claim nothing from God as though we had a right even to come into existence. We go on…

Devotion To Christ’s Passion

St. Francis, as we know, is one of the few saints whose stigmata, that is, carrying the Wounds of Jesus Crucified, in his hands, feet, head, and side, have been not only approved by the Church, but there is an annual feast day to honor the stigmata of St. Francis. And I’ve told you this on some occasions. Would anybody remember—anybody remember—the feast day of the Stigmata of St. Francis? What day is it? Anybody remember?

October? October 4th? October 4th? Was it some time in September?

What did she say?


What day?


17th? You say 17th? Multo bene! In the 16th and early 17 centuries there were some cardinals in the Vatican who thought we have, thought we have too many feast days has dropped some. And one of the feast days they dropped or wanted to drop was the feast day of the Stigmata of St. Francis. A Jesuit by the name of Robert Bellarmine was a cardinal at the time. He said, “Over my dead body! Nobody drops the Feast of the Stigmata of St. Francis!” He fought for retaining that feast and he won. The feast remained on the books. And then, when Robert Bellarmine died, he died on the feast of the Stigmata of St. Francis. That shows how appreciative Francis could be.

He had a great devotion to Christ’s Passion. Why? Because it is Christ’s Passion that especially manifests God’s love for us. God became man out of love for us so He might be able to suffer, and the more often I say it afterwards, people either get tired of hearing it or maybe in some little teeny weenie bit they get the idea! God became man so He would be able to suffer!

Well, we don’t have to go through any process of incarnation. We are human beings. But the secret is to choose to suffer in order to then love God the way He loved us an assimilation to Christ’s sufferings. And the holier God wants us to become—hear it, and don’t close your ears, hear it—the more you will have to suffer. Oh no! Sorry, oh yes! But I don’t like to suffer! Silly, who does? But we can love what we don’t like!

Number Three, The Holy Eucharist

Francis never was ordained a priest, considered himself unworthy of the priesthood. But he had a great respect for the priesthood and that grew out of his deep faith in the Holy Eucharist. My priestly vocation began at my mother’s knee when she’d read The Little Flowers of St. Francis and his great devotion to the Holy Eucharist. No question, not a shred of doubt in Francis’ mind, that Jesus in the Holy Eucharist is the same identical Jesus who lived in Palestine, died on Calvary, and rose from the dead on Easter Sunday. Christ, therefore, is now on earth. He is present so that we would be present too and that is why, again, over the centuries, the great religious orders and communities with special devotion to Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament trace their origin to St. Francis, Francis’ profound insight into the Real Presence. And it’s well to know that in his day, as you read, well, about how callous and indifferent so many Catholics were in Francis’ day of reverence for the Blessed Sacrament, about not worshipping Our Lord. Well, Francis was told, remember, to rebuild His Church. Christ telling Francis. He took that literally. Remember?

What was really meant was rebuild the Church which is in desperate need of reform.

Amen, the Catholic Church today is in desperate need of reform, and the word is desperate need, of reform from top down. And that reformation is to especially reform the episcopate and the priesthood.

Section Four, The Practice Of Poverty

In most people’s minds St. Francis is the model of living a life of poverty. Remember he was the son of a wealthy Italian merchant.

Suppose I read from this book, say a prayer we get it back into print. Number 19 is St. Francis of Assisi. I like to read from this book: “The Founder of the Franciscan Order, St. Francis of Assisi, 1181 to 1226.” He didn’t live very long, did he? “…and left a very little of his deep spirituality in writing.”

Yet few men in the Church’s history have more widely influenced the literature of Christianity than he. Born in Assisi in Umbria, the son of a prosperous merchant, Pietro Bernardoni, he was named after France, if you please, where his father was on business at the time his son was born. While taking part in an attack on Perugia in 1201, Francis made a prisoner and kept in hostage there for a year. This experience with a grave illness started the process of his conversion. Yet four years later he was another military exposition, this time in Apulia. In a dream Christ called him to His service. Francis returned and gave himself to the care of the sick. In another vision on April the 16th, 1206, Christ told him to rebuild the Church at San Damiano. The result was that Francis completely abandoned his old life while his father first imprisoned him and then hauled him before the bishop. He gave up all his possessions. In 1209 he was joined by two companions to whom he gave, as a rule, three gospel texts, Matthew 10:9, Matthew 20:21, and Luke 9:23. When his companions numbered eleven, he wrote a short rule and led them to Rome to obtain the approval of Pope Innocent III.

What a thrill I had, talking to my Vatican superior this morning which I want to share with you before we break up today. For me, God’s will is what the Holy Father and the Holy See tell me to do. And they’re not about getting orders. That’s Francis. In 1212 his ideas were accepted by a noble lady of Assisi, the future St. Clare. Meanwhile, Francis was able to inspire so many followers, and by 1217, they had to be organized into provinces with “ministers,” they were called, appointed as supervisors. Gradually, Francis’ direction of the order passed into the hands of other friars. In 1221 he formed the tertiaries, or faithful living in the world, who agreed to adopt Francis’ spirit as far as they could in their state of life. The formal rule was authorized by Honorius III in 1223. A year later, Francis received the gift of the stigmata. He died in the Chapel of the Portuncula on October the 3rd, 1226 and was canonized—the shortest period between death and canonization in the history of the Church—he was canonized less than two years later by Pope Gregory IX.

One reason for the foregoing sketch is that the most eloquent biography of St Francis was his own personal life. Yet he did write and there are more authentic writings than most people realize. The best one volume work that identifies Francis’ written and spoken words is titled The Words of St. Francis, by James Meyer, M-E-Y-E-R, O.F.M. The best collection of writings by and about St. Francis is The English Omnibus of the Sources, English Omnibus of the Sources.

The testament of St. Francis, his two rules for the Friars, his rule for the Poor Clares, and his final rule for the third order encapsulate the legacy that St. Francis left to posterity.

Are the writings of St. Francis, including his letters, canticles, and admonitions, give out the portrait of a man whom posterity has called, quote: “the most lovable of the saints,” unquote. What may be overlooked from the writings of the pavrabello, as he is called, or “little poor one” is his simple and total commitment to the Catholic Church. The following quotations from his first rule illustrate the depth of his commitment. Quote:

“That Brother Francis and whoever will be head of this order promise obedience and reverence to the Lord, Pope Innocent, and the rest of the brothers are bound to obey Brother Francis and his successors. Nobody is to be received contrary to the matter and form of Holy Church. All the brothers shall be Catholic and live and speak like Catholics. Should anyone, however, stray from the Catholic faith in life, in speech, or fact, and not amend, he shall be expelled from the brotherhood. All who in the Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church wish to serve God and Lord, all we lesser brothers and useless servants beg and entreat them to persevere in the true faith and in repentance, for there is no other way for anybody to be saved.”

So, now the Practice of Poverty… The first practice of poverty of St. Francis was the Incarnation. The Incarnation is God’s impoverishment, and then, literally, Francis wanted to be poor like Christ down to the fact that like Jesus was born in a stable, and lived a poor life, and died a stranger, is that we then might imitate Our Lord and love poverty.

Then The Source Of Spiritual Joy…

There are two kinds of happiness that Francis talks about—the interior happiness of possessing God, and the exterior cheerfulness of conduct. May I recommend to all of you to look to your practice of happiness? We have a duty to show ourselves happy because our practice of the faith should be appealing. People must see us happy in loving Christ and enjoying—enjoying this cross. That’s real. And then, of course, we show this also externally by our cheerfulness.

Number Six, The Attitude To God’s Creatures

Indications of God’s presence…My favorite definition of nothing: Nothing is where God is absent. Where any creatures exist, God is present. That’s the theological definition of presence, of existence. Again, creatures, for Francis are the expressions of the Divine Will. That is one way God manifests His Will. How does He do that? Through the creatures that enter our lives. Some are pleasant—that is one way God manifests His Presence. Some are unpleasant. Same thing. God wants to manifest His divine attributes and show us what He wants us to do. And thus, for example, if there are people in our lives that we find difficult to accept or live with, what is that except God telling us, “Look. I’ve put this person into your life so you may show how much you love Me.”

“But she is cruel! She doesn’t like me. Doesn’t even talk to me.”

“Look! How often do I have to put it through your—through your thick skull? The colder she is, the more uncouth and unkind, the more I want you to love her because by going out to her you are showing your love for Me.”

“But I don’t like her.”

“How long do I have to tell you? This has nothing to do with whether you like her or not. Do you love Me?”

“Yes, Lord, I do.”

“All right. Stop the nonsense.”

Then, creatures that enter our lives—this is Francis—are invitations to gratitude. And there are different kind of creatures. Now pleasant creatures that we are to enjoy – Oh Lord more of those, please, more of those—and there are painful creatures that we have to endure. Same thing. They are opportunities for showing our gratitude to God. There are still others—Oh, no! You mean God puts into our lives creatures He wants us to throw out? Yes! To get rid of? Yes!

I’m sure I’ve said more than once I’ll be giving a retreat in May, to men before Mothers’ Day, and quite a few executives, almost every retreat, they’ve got problems with their secretaries. So I can see their problem. She’s a temptation. But if she’s a temptation, you’ve got to remove her from your life.

“But Father! I’ve never had a secretary as faithful as this one.”

“So what? Out!”

“But Father! She’s so efficient!”

“Stop it. Get rid of her.”

“All right, all right,”

And the more pleasant a creature is, if it is God’s Will that we remove that creature from our lives, it’s God’s Will, don’t ask. Well, whether you like it or not, that has nothing to do with it. Whether you should…

Then Number Seven, Fraternal Charity

This is Francis. He himself just loved the solitary life. Oh, how he loved to be all alone! And yet, he knew that if he was going to follow in the footsteps of the Master, then he and his brethren would have to live together, would work together, and do all of that in peaceful generosity. And, as we know, to practice charity toward strangers is one thing, but, day after day, week after week, to practice charity toward the same characters that God puts into our lives…Oh no! Oh yes!

I’d like to repeat this. Over years of speaking to many religious—for many religious to live together in peaceful harmony is difficult. For women religious to live together in peaceful harmony is impossible. No question. Impossible without special, extraordinary, supernatural grace from God! Yet, as He told His followers, they were to live together in community.

Then, Number Eight, Loyalty To The Church

First, obedience to the pope… As we’ve said before—and this, as you know, is being tested to the breaking point today—obedience to the Vicar of Christ is the acid test of being a bona fide Catholic today. And respect for the bishops—note the difference between being obedient to the pope and respectful for the bishops. And the distinction, of course, is that living in the diocese we are under the jurisdiction of what we call the local ordinary. However, the bishop’s authority in a diocese is conditioned on what rights the Pope gives him. And this—let’s be clear—the pope allows the bishops to rule the diocese, but these bishops must themselves be obedient to the Bishop of Rome. And as long as the bishop is kept in a diocese by the pope, we owe him obedience. But I repeat, maybe the tenth time, but our obedience to the bishop is conditioned by the bishop’s own obedience to the Bishop of Rome, then, fidelity to the Church’s teaching.

Francis himself was not a very learned man. He was very intelligent, but not very academically trained. Over the centuries, many Franciscans have been highly intellectual trained theologians, the most outstanding of whom was St. Bonaventure, one of the first ministers general of the Franciscan Order. And it’s most important to know that even the Franciscans, inspired by Francis himself, who had such a great devotion to Our Lady—except for the Franciscans, I doubt if Our Lady’s either Immaculate Conception or Assumption would yet be defined. A great devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary.

And Finally, The Universal Apostolate

Not unlike St. Ignatius, centuries later, for Francis, the whole world needed to be evangelized. Francis, as we know, did the unheard of thing of going to the Moslem sultan, presenting himself in person. He could have been, well, hacked down in the presence of the sultan. And to this day the Franciscan Order has custody of the Holy Land, and to this day, the Franciscans are the ones who have the faculty, given them by the pope, to bless the Way of the Cross. There is an association in the Church’s history between the Franciscans and both the Holy Land and Christ’s Passion. One of the great desires of Francis was for martyrdom; poor man, he died a natural death, deeply disappointed.

I’m sure you know the story of St. Anthony of Padua, who was a monk, not a Franciscan, but he heard about Franciscans getting martyred. As Anthony, he figured, I’d better join them, then I’ll become a martyr. Again, poor Anthony became a Franciscan, but he too died a natural death.

I think I’ve told you, being brought up in the spirit of St. Francis, from my first Mass which I celebrated on June the 21st, 1947. Ever since, having Mass, I pray for the gift of martyrdom. I’m still waiting.

Preaching, and this is as we said during the homily, we are all called upon to proclaim Christ’s word to others and convert people. Can I get a—an agreement from you people to make at least one convert in a year, the next year? Can I do that? What was the date? Now look—just to make sure, someone could write it down so we don’t forget…Today is the 17th of April. Am I correct? Is it? Okay. 1994. Right? So, by September, by April the 17th, 1995, Lord spares me, I’m here, we’ll have class, I’m going to get from all of you a report. And, of course, don’t be satisfied with one convert, the more—but as least one. I want every able bodied person attending these classes to bring at least one person either back to the Church or to the Catholic faith by April the 17th, 1995. Is that a deal? So we have no choice.

There is work to be done. And that to the whole world! What I’d like to do now, it is 3:36 and I think the usual procedure, is it 3:40 or is it 3:45 that we start answering questions? Well, let me make a very important announcement. As I mentioned earlier, I spoke to Cardinal Sanchez, my Vatican superior, this morning by telephone, he was in the United States during Easter week for less than two days. He spoke on the Catechism of the Catholic Church. He has given us two assignments, and I assured him, in my phone conversation today, that we would carry through.

One of the two assignments, and they’re not just a one job deal—they are two publications—one for the formation of priests. Holy Father is deeply concerned over the need that priests have for ongoing spiritual and doctrinal formation. By November of this year we promised the Congregation for the Clergy we would have the first issue of this publication in print. Next week I plan to give you more data.

Second publication is to be called The Catholic Catechist. And behind The Catholic Catechist, as a publication—and this is to be monthly, and to start publication as soon as we can, hopefully this summer. Behind the publication we plan on an association which the Holy See is involved in. I want to make absolutely, absolutely sure—that’s why I called Cardinal Sanchez up this morning—so I could then share this with you. Yes, he does want an Association of Catholic Catechists or Catholic Catechists Association whose organ of publication that would be this publication called The Catholic Catechist. We are necessitating funds, this will cost money…

Within a week my hope is to provide you with, at least, with a basic outline of both forthcoming publications. And, of course, I would like to have all of you somehow involved and others you can suborn into service, to cooperate. The Holy See—I have said it more than once—is desperately poor. The budget of the American bishops is higher than that of the Pope for whole Church. The Faith must be preserved. And the Holy Father has no illusions, even as so many of the mistaken and bad ideas emanating from America, so correspondingly, the Holy Father and those who work with him depend on the United States to help the rest of the world.

Here, I repeat, are the two grievous needs which the Catholic Church has to strengthen the spiritual and doctrine formation of her priests and to motivate the Catholics, especially the laity, in not just, say, receiving the forthcoming Catechism, but to become catalysts for catechizing in a way that by ourselves we’d never dream of doing—that I wouldn’t dream of doing—I don’t have the authority. But Rome does. You’ll be provided with further information already by next Sunday.

And now, some of your question. Given the number of questions I’ll have to make the answers rather short.

Is there a good reason why churches are removing the tabernacle from in the front of the church to a side or back of the church?

There is no good reason.

St. John’s image of the woman and her offspring pursued by the dragon and fleeing into the desert is usually applied to the end times. I’ve heard that Scott Hahn, though not denying its application to the end of times, sees this as a story told to St. John by Our Lady of the flight of the Holy Family into the desert to Egypt to escape Herod the Edomite. He says “Edom” means “red.” Herod is the first red dragon. What do you think?

Oh, you can say that, but you don’t stop—you don’t stop with Herod and Christ’s flight into Egypt. Oh, no! It’s going on right now.

How do I explain why it is necessary to go to a priest to Confession? I spoke with a convert and this was something she didn’t quite accept.

Well the poor dear! Work on her so she will accept it. Because being a Catholic means you believe, believe on faith that Christ gave the apostles the power to forgive sins and forgive sins after they are manifested. Auricular confession—that means earful confessions—auricular. That auricular confession of sins is a divine mandate. Why is it necessary? Because Christ said so. Period.

Three of us are secular Franciscans. Our fraternity is, by God’s grace, copying the orthodox, now to study the friars we have had as advisors. We’ll be starting a new formation class next month. Would you like us to give a name and number, would you like us to give a name and a number?

Oh, yes, by all means.

With altar girls—or will altar girls—be allowed to serve the Latin Tridentine Rite Mass?

An interesting question! That would surely a really [Lost text due to mechanical failure].

Please explain in layman’s terms what the “Fundamental Option” is. I could not understand what the Holy Father was driving at.

I would not use the verb “driving at.” What the Holy Father is saying is there is a very basic error regarding sin called the Fundamental Option which claims that every human being, at least once in his or her life, is faced with a fundamental option to either accept or reject God. But then they go further and they claim that Fundamental Option is the only mortal sin you can commit. No single sin is ever mortal. No adultery is ever mortal. No single abortion is ever mortal sin. What constitutes a mortal sin and therefore should be confessed is the habit of what we call mortal sins, the person has rejected God. On those premises almost no one, except of course the devil, would be committing mortal sins. A main single reason for so many empty confessions or confessionals in the western world. And the genius behind that error is the Jesuit Karl Rahner.

We are redeemed by Christ’s sacrifice that is grace, a preternatural gift becomes available to us. We see Our Lady was saved in anticipation of Christ’s merits at the first instant of her life. Must we not say that all the grace given to our first parents, not only after the fall, but even at the first instant of their lives, was given also in anticipation of Christ’s sake sacrifice?

You could say that, but that’s not the way the Church teaches. In other words, it is—so the Church teaches—it is only because the human race fell and then the Incarnation took place, and therefore, the grace given since the fall is the grace either in anticipation or subsequent to the Incarnation. So we do not, strictly speaking, speak of the grace to our first parents being in anticipation of Christ’s sacrifice.

What book beside the Bible is a good or best source of theological knowledge of God? Where in the Church’s teachings are official teachings about God Himself? Is it Vatican I? How or where can I get it? Priests almost never teach about God Himself.

Well I would say Ludwig Ott. O-double-t. Ludwig Ott. Translation from the German—given titles—Fundamentals of Dogma is one title I’m familiar with—Sir Ludwig Ott, O-double-t, is a synthesis of the Church’s teaching over the centuries, organized in the form of theses, a very compact book but extremely useful. Where are the Church’s official teachings about God? It is found in many places but especially in Vatican I. The Divine Attributes are spelled out in detail in the decisions and defined doctrines of the First Vatican Council. And the text of the First Vatican Council can be found. The TAN Publishers has a book called The Teachings of the Church which include all the decisions and decrees of the First Vatican Council.

We are located near many Catholic churches that are convenient for us to attend, but every Mass is loaded with abuses. Should we go out of our way, 100 miles round trip at an inconvenient time—5 a.m., to attend the Tridentine Mass which is approved by the bishop? Or is it acceptable to keep going to our local church?

Well I would say this depends on you. You certainly are free to go even 50 miles each way. On the other hand, you surely may also attend even these abused Masses, but watch it! Be careful that out of your understandable—shall I call it charity or sympathy—you do not imbibe some of the ideas. We are living in a revolutionary world! Dioceses have been hit by a theological hurricane!

In Chicago, for example, they are now going to turn over parishes to women—to be run by women! Just for today! And one, a nun who did not wear any garb, now is going around “dolled up” in a clerical collar, the recently appointed pastor. Lord, help us! These are very, comma, very serious. The revolution will pass. This cannot go on. The Catholic Church cannot survive on these conditions! But somebody had better keep the faith intact.

Is it an obligation to avoid abusive masses or is it more important to go to any mass on a daily basis?

Well I would say to go to any Mass on a daily basis. But be prudent, be careful, and do not unnecessarily expose yourselves to ideas that some of these abusive masses will practice.

If you have the choice, which Mass would you prefer to celebrate—number one, Novus Ordo in English, two, Novus Ordo in Latin, third, the old Latin Tridentine? Thank you.

Well, I like to celebrate all three. What I do back home is a matter of policy, is regularly celebrate the Novus Ordo in English. But I’m very happy saying the Novus Ordo in Latin and I deliberately, though I could, I abstain from offering Mass in the Tridentine Latin, though I deeply, highly, appreciate and approve. Why do I do that? To maintain my freedom that I will have the leverage and no one can tell me that I am, say, fathering the Tridentine ritual out of emotion. No!

I may have told you that we are planning, a priest friend of mine, we are planning, to start a movement among priests who will have both Latin Masses as part of their practice—the Novus Ordo Mass and the Tridentine Mass, and priests who are strongly in favor of the Latin be authorized to say both Masses. And we so far have about eighty priests committed to that practice, and we further have a bishop backing the venture.

Can a priest improvise his way of baptizing? Question: Can a priest improvise his own way of baptizing? I heard about one who baptizes in the name of the Creator, the Redeemer, and the Sanctifier. Was the infant validly baptized?

Answer: There might be some question whether it is licit, but as long as the intention is to do what the Church intends, it’s valid—sorry, dear Father, sorry, dear Father, sorry—you are wrong! You are wrong!

It continues—the old traditional formula, “In the name of the Father,” and so on—is not difficult to learn and should be used. It is much better, of course, when the baptism is both valid and licit as the liturgy and the parents expect. Spontaneous improvisations are a sign of talent among musicians and Dixieland jazz bands, but it signifies nothing in the conferral of sacraments. Not so fast, Father! Not so fast! It may be, may possibly be a valid Baptism. I don’t think so!

And this is a problem that we’re facing. Improvisations, my eye! All kinds of introductions—words removed, words added—which have nothing do with the licitly but the validity!

We videotaped our Tuesday evening daily Mass for rebroadcast for next week, weekend on cable TV, and even CTND. That Tuesday Mass is the next Sunday liturgy. My question is do people who view and partake in our Mass broadcast receive the same graces, except for receiving Communion, as they would if they went to the Mass at Church?

No! Lower case, no.

You mention that not all annulments are right. What criteria does one use to know whether an annulment is right or is suspect—especially if you are granted one?

Well this has been my policy over the years—I tell people who have had an annulment granted by the Church to trust God that their annulment is valid. Trust God, it is valid.

Having said that, are there norms for determining whether a given annulment is valid or not? There sure are!

All of those norms—the three basic norms—have been gone over more than once for there being a sacramental indissoluble marriage: Condition number one, both validly baptized before marriage. Secondly, both enter into a valid contract, which is they want to remain faithful to one other for life. They intend a lifetime commitment, and they want to accept the children that God will send them. And then thirdly, that the marriage is naturally consummated, even one natural act of intercourse after marriage.

Now most the annulments that are granted are on condition number two, that the people either don’t believe or don’t realize that marriage is a lifetime commitment. Remember what happens after the marriage has nothing to do with affecting the validity. Once married, you’re married. Period. What are called annulments is really a misnomer. De facto, what they should be called is declarations of nullity if there had not been a sacramental, consummated, and valid contractual marriage in the first place.

In unstable country like ours there’re so many people—they “marry,” all right, with that verb in quotation marks. They have no sincere idea of remaining faithful to one another for life. And that is why, as I’ve said how many times, the Catholic Church will survive in only those dioceses in which the bishop and the people in that diocese still believe that Christ’s teaching on sacramental, valid, consummated marriage stands. The main reason, as I’ve said so often—not just here—but by now a thousand times in lectures and classes over the years, the main single reason for the breakdown of the Catholic Church in one country after another is right here!

And, unless we in America wake up to the crisis which we are facing, then what I’m saying is no prophecy, just common sense. The days of American Catholicism are numbered! Unless and where and when and in so far as there are those who are in charge of the Church who still believe that under the conditions described sacramental marriage cannot be dissolved by any human power.

Could an unknown but preexisting psychiatric diagnosis invalidate a marriage?

Well, no. Just because there was a diagnosis, that would not invalidate a marriage. I’ve talked to enough psychiatrists to help them understand the realities of life. If there is one fallible profession in this world it is the profession of psychiatry.

Is it, however, possible that there is a diagnosis which given—the testing given—that the validity of the marriage is called into question because of the psychotic condition which the person had shown, but the diagnosis has nothing to do with the validity of the marriage.

Why can’t the permanent deacons be pastors instead of women?

You ask! You ask the deacons! Guess who is running the Church!

Although I must say this… I received enough invitations to the ordination of deacons to be able to say this. And every invitation I’ve ever received—the left side, the left side of the invitation had a list of the wives of the deacons. Right side are the deacons themselves to be ordained. In other words, if the deacon is married, knowing human nature, the deacon’s wife is not above exercising her influence on her dear husband, the Reverend Deacon.

Is it true man has an immortal soul and animals have a mortal soul which dies when they die, but man’s immortal soul, of course, lives on?

That’s right. In other words, our soul, our soul is immortal while having certain qualities, animal properties which we would say are mortal. Yes.

A Catholic at work has related the following to me. While traveling he went to confession in London, England. At a travel station of a Catholic church, he received the following absolution: “I absolve you of all your sins, past, present, and future sins.” I explained to him that this seemed to exceed the authority of the priest in Confession, as each major sin needs to be confessed. The future sins cannot be said yet. What should I have said?

Well, what you told the priest was good. He needs instruction. But, I would say, don’t raise a red flag, especially for a stranger and most especially in England. So. I think you spoke well. I hope the priest learned from your exhortation.

At this point would it do any good to object to altar girls? Would it have any effect?

Oh yes! Respecting the Pope’s authority, nevertheless, pointing out simply but firmly what consequence you foresee as a result of altar girls. Mother Teresa spoke to the Holy Father. She told him—she told me she told him—that the consequences would be devastating.

Did your mother express surprise that you did not become a Franciscan?

Oh yes! Not only surprise but objection! Best I could tell her, “Mother I did the next best thing.” I’m not sure I convinced her.

I was told by someone that their parish priest reads from the document of the Vatican II on the renovation of churches. Is this information in the documents?

It really depends on what is meant by “renovation of churches.” I would say it would not be the documents of Vatican II as such, but there are several thousand supporting documents besides those of Vatican II issued by the Holy See among which would be some touching on churches.

In saying Mass, is it necessary for the priest to put water in the wine and also to wash his hands? This priest never washes his hands at Mass and he already put the water in the cup before Mass.

Well, he should do both—both pour the water into the wine during Mass and wash his hands.

Can you recommend a missal?

Well there are missals on the market. All the existing missals for the Novus Ordo—as you know the translation has been approved by the ICEL which leaves much to be desired.

Why does not the Church hierarchy in Rome discipline bishops, priests, who stray from the true dogma? Our Catholic faith keeps getting watered down. By backing down it weakens Church faithful, priesthood, and leaves them in confusion.

Well as you see the document we are reading and going over is one way in which the pope is trying to cope with the situation. Each pope thinks differently. There are—bishops are removed, bishops are reprimanded. And over the years I’ve had the dubious privilege of reprimanding bishops. So I know it’s done. The problem is not just reprimanding a bishop but what he does after being duly reprimanded.

Why did not Jesus become incarnate 2000 years sooner? It would have avoided much killing, bloodshed between the different groups of people. At this time why did God approve of such brutality in this area?

Oh no! He didn’t approve it. Why did He wait this long? Till we get to heaven we won’t really know the answer.

The bottom line is why does God permit evil? Why does allow sin? That, needless to say, is a mystery. But one reason we can say is that the more evil the more sin, the more grace God will give. Where sin abounds, there grace will even more abound.

What pope tried the experiment of having First Communion before First Confession? How long before he changed it back?

No pope tried the experiment of First Communion before First Confession. Zero. During Paul the VI, in many parts of the world they took it upon themselves the liberty of giving communion before confession, but never with Rome’s backing.

If teenagers don’t want to go to daily Mass is it all right if a parent gently but firmly takes them anyway, winter and summer?

All I know, being brought up by a loving mother less than five foot tall—gently but firmly. We’d better start early, real early, real, real early. So many modern parents…

Copyright © 2005 by Institute on Religious Life

Conference transcription from a talk that Father Hardon gave to the
Institute on Religious Life

Institute on Religious Life, Inc.
P.O. Box 410007
Chicago, Illinois 60641

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