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Catholic Faith
Vol. 4 - #4, Jul / Aug 1998

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

Q.  What makes a Mass invalid or illicit? It is not uncommon to see variations occurring in the Eucharistic celebration at many parishes. They include substitution of inclusive language in the readings and the Eucharistic prayer, failure to add a drop of water to the wine at offertory and the use of extraordinary ministers attending Mass in the congregation. Please explain the difference between an invalid and an illicit Mass. —T.S., Michigan

A.  The Sacrifice of the Mass is valid provided the one offering Mass has been validly ordained as a priest or bishop. Valid ordination means that the ordaining prelate traces his episcopate back to the apostles whom Christ ordained at the Last Supper. Another condition for validity is that the one offering Mass has the intention to do what the Catholic Church understands by consecrating the bread and wine into the living body and blood of Christ and offering the sacrifice which Christ made to His heavenly Father by His death on Calvary. Moreover, the priest must pronounce at least the minimum words required for a valid consecration. Still another condition for validity is that real bread and wine are used for consecration.

The range of licitness in the offering of the Mass covers the whole spectrum of ritual which the Church prescribes for the offering of the Holy Sacrifice. It is common knowledge that there are many abuses in the Eucharistic liturgy in our day.

Two further facts should be noted. Even though a priest is in mortal sin or has abandoned his faith in the Holy Eucharist, his Mass is still valid, provided the conditions mentioned above are fulfilled.

Q.  A priest has told me that the Church no longer believes in limbo. I believe the Catechism of the Catholic Church states that we can only trust in the mercy of God when an infant dies without Baptism. What is the position of the Church regarding infants who die without Baptism?  —T.S., Michigan

A.  It is true that the Catechism of the Catholic Church does not speak of limbo. Over the centuries, the Church has understood limbo to be the abode of souls who enjoy the happiness that would have been our destiny if human beings had not been elevated to the supernatural order. The limbo of infants would therefore be a state or place of perfect happiness, but without the beatific vision of God.

Some theologians of renown have thought that God might supply the wont of Baptism by some other means. St. Bernard, for example, suggested that infants who died without Baptism could reach heaven because of the faith of their parents. The Catechism of the Catholic Church does not deny the possibility or the existence of limbo. It merely says we may trust that, in God’s mercy, innocent children, whether born or unborn, do reach heaven. To be noted, however, is that we may trust, but without being certain of their entering the beatific vision.

Q.  Do you have any suggestions for a person who wants to learn Latin? —T.S., Michigan

A.  It is impossible to exaggerate the importance of learning some Latin in order to better understand our Catholic faith. The reasons are obvious. From the earliest centuries of Christian history, Latin has been, and remains, the official language of the Church’s magisterium. The general councils of the Church and the documents of the Bishops of Rome have been in Latin. Even with the vernacular in the liturgy, the Church teaches that the real meaning of the liturgical words is that of the original Latin.

There are three recommendations I would make for learning some Latin:

  1. Enroll in a home-study course in ecclesiastical Latin, such as The Family of St. Jerome, c/o Mr. Jan G. Halisky, 507 S. Prospect Avenue, Clearwater, Florida 34616.

  2. Organize a group of persons interested in learning Latin, under the direction of someone who understands the language and is willing to direct the group.

  3. We are forming a home-study course in ecclesiastical Latin—further details to follow.

Catholic Faith
Vol. 4 - #4, Jul / Aug 1998

Copyright © 1998 by Inter Mirifica
No reproductions shall be made without prior written permission

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