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Catholic Faith
Vol. 1 - #2, Nov / Dec 1995

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

Q.  What is the Church’s teaching on capital punishment? —V.E.R., Texas

A.  Capital punishment is part of the acknowledged tradition of the Catholic Church. This is illustrated by St. Paul’s statement: “The State is there to serve God for your benefit. If you break the law, however, you may well have fear; the bearing of the sword has its significance. The authorities are there to serve God; they carry out God’s revenge by punishing wrongdoers” (Roman 13:4).

Having said this, however, we must immediately explain that capital punishment is becoming less and less accepted. More than one country no longer legalizes capital punishment. Moreover, Pope John Paul II in The Gospel of Life expresses his satisfaction with the “growing public opposition to the death penalty even when such a penalty is seen as a kind of ‘legitimate defense’ on the part of society.” He further declares that, “modern society has the means of effectively suppressing crime by rendering criminals harmless without definitely denying them the chance of reform” (Evangelium vitae, no.27).

This does not mean that the Holy Father is against capital punishment on principle. It simply means that, in our day, capital punishment is not as effective a deterrent to crime as in the past. But the Vicar of Christ is heartened by the fact that, at least in some circles, opposition to capital punishment is an encouraging sign of renewed respect for human life.

To return to the original question, “What is the Church’s teaching on capital punishment?” the best answer is found in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. “Preserving the common good of society,” we are told, “requires rendering the aggressor unable to inflict harm. For this reason the traditional teaching of the Church has acknowledged as well-founded the right and duty of legitimate public authority to punish malefactors by means of penalties commensurate with the gravity of the crime, not excluding in cases of extreme gravity; the death penalty” (no.2266).

Q.  Is it permissible for priests to decide that kneeling during Holy Mass is now optional for the congregation?  —A.R.D., Florida

A.  No, it is not permissible for priests to decide whether the people should kneel or not kneel during Holy Mass. As the General Instruction to the Roman Missal tells us, reverence in the Eucharistic Liturgy is of the essence of the Church’s liturgical history. The form of this reverence is to be “in harmony with the traditions or the culture of the region” (no.212).

Three genuflections during Mass are required of the priest who offers the Holy Sacrifice. Moreover, a genuflection is required of the priest before and after Mass if there is, “a tabernacle with the Blessed Sacrament in the sanctuary,” and “whenever anyone passes in front of the Blessed Sacrament” (Ibid., no.233).

The absolute minimum for the faithful kneeling during Mass is “during the consecration” (Ibid., no.21).

Having said this, we must, keep in mind how deeply concerned Pope Paul VI was about the weakening of faith in the Real Presence, both during and after Mass. He wrote an entire encyclical, The Mystery of Faith, before the Second Vatican Council closed to recall the Church’s faith in transubstantiation. The Vicar of Christ saw this faith in grave danger. One of the signs of this jeopardy is the fact that in a growing number of churches in our country people are no longer kneeling even at the consecration of the Mass.

For centuries the Catholic faithful in the United States have knelt during the Eucharistic Prayer. The real issue which the questioner raises is not whether kneeling during Mass is now optional for the congregation. It is whether faith in the Holy Eucharist has weakened, and the undermining is being disguised as progress in the post-conciliar liturgy.

Q.  What is wrong with using ‘inclusive language’ in the translations of Scripture, the liturgy, and papal documents? —F.L.N., New York

A.  The expression “inclusive language” is an invention of the feminist movement. The roots of the feminist movement are at variance with Christian principles. It argues from an alleged discrimination of women by men and urges women to revolt against men. The best known proponent of this ideology was the Marxist Nikolai Lenin who urged that “the success of a revolution depends upon the degree of participation by women.”

On these terms inclusive language is simply part of the larger struggle for the eventual creation of a classless society.

For the Catholic Church to use “inclusive language” in translations of the Bible, the Liturgy, and papal documents is to tamper with the integrity of the Faith. The feminists could not care less what happens to the meaning of revealed truth as expressed in English. As fundamental a mystery as the Eternal Fatherhood of God must be sacrificed, they will say, in order to satisfy those who have been seduced by the feminist revolution.

Catholic Faith
Vol. 1 - #2, Nov / Dec 1995, pp. 34-35

Copyright © 1995 by Inter Mirifica
No reproductions shall be made without prior written permission

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