Questions on the Faith

Questions on the Faith is a new column for you to have your questions answered by authorities on various topics. Just email your question to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., and include your full name, address and contact number. All decisions on submissions rest with those answering the questions. Published submissions will be edited.



Should there be a uniform dress code for altar servers and lectors?


Q
: As a cradle born Catholic in Singapore, I have visited almost all the different parishes scattered across Singapore and it is rather perturbing that all the parishes have different standards for altar servers and lectors.


Some parishes require their altar servers to dress in a white top, black pants and black court shoes. Some allow their altar servers to serve in multi-coloured sports shoes, shoes without socks, and some even allow their altar servers to be dressed in bermudas!

It goes the same for lectors – some are seated in the sanctuary with the priests, communion ministers and altar servers, some parishes have their lectors seated with the main congregation.

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Q: We have celebrated Good Friday and it brought up a question I had been wanting to ask for a long time. Why is Good Friday not a Holy Day of Obligation? Surely, the fulfilment of God’s work on redemption was an epic event in history worthy of the glory, as the Ascension was. - Anthony Oei, Singapore

A: The Church gives us a list of days and feasts which are liturgically the most important in terms of ranking, and this is found in the Table of Liturgical Days in the General Roman Calendar. It lists the Easter Triduum as the first and most important in terms of eminence.

In an article on the Spirituality of the Seasons, Franciscan priest and liturgist Fr Thomas Richstatter wrote on the need to understand the essential difference between a list of obligations and a list of what is most important.This appeared in an article printed in the St Anthony’s Messenger, April 1995.

In it, Fr Richstatter rightly explained that just because the days of the Triduum are not made obligatory does not mean that they are not important days. They are, and they are eminently important enough to rank at the top of the table of Liturgical Days. The solemnity of Easter, he says, has same kind of preeminence that Sundays have.

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A church columbarium. Going to a physical place where loved ones are respectfully interred helps us to make that all important connection with them.A church columbarium. Going to a physical place where loved ones are respectfully interred helps us to make that all important connection with them.Q: During Bible Study, we discussed what our resurrected bodies would look like and this led to the subject of Catholic burial. Some of us do not understand the Catholic Church’s stand that the cremated ashes of a Catholic can only be kept or deposited on holy ground which today means in a church columbarium. It rules out sea burial or the quiet, respectful deposit of ashes in a natural spot that has special significance to the deceased.

If we are all God’s creatures and the whole of creation belongs to God, then isn’t every place God’s place and therefore holy? If for some reason places are deemed to have been made unholy, doesn’t it just takes the power of our Christian prayers, delivered through a priest performing traditional church rituals similar to those performed at columbariums, to restore the original state of holiness and hence make the burial acceptable?


Keeping ashes in a porcelain jar in a columbarium does not fulfil the “ashes to ashes” idea. How long can a church keep on storing ones ashes? Certainly not beyond the time when the money runs out, when all niches are full and no more income is forthcoming.

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Artwork depiciting the plague of flies afflicting Pharaoh and his court. Artwork depiciting the plague of flies afflicting Pharaoh and his court. Q: I would like to pose the following question in the Questions on the Faith section of CatholicNews. Why did God harden the following characters in the Bible which contradicted His gift of free will?

  • God hardened Pharaoh’s heart which resulted in many dying from devastating plagues (Exodus 9:12).
  • God hardened the hearts of Gentile kings so that they would not sign peace treaties with Israel which resulted in the total extermination of their peoples (Joshua 11:20).
  • St John mentioned that the reason why many Jews did not believe in Jesus was because God hardened their hearts (John 12:37-40).

David Woon. Singapore

A: When one approaches Scripture with an intent to learn and understand, it is always useful and perhaps even pertinent to know the difference and/or connection between doing hermeneutics and exegesis.
 
Generally speaking, hermeneutics deals with the philosophy and science of interpretation of the biblical text and would cover things like the role that divine illumination or insight plays in the interpretation of the text, and in this case, what was actually being communicated to us.

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Individuals who intend  to sign such directives  should make sure they  talk to their loved ones,  doctors, caregivers  and pastors about the care and treatment  they would like to have  if they reach a point  in their lives when they can no longer speak  for themselves.Individuals who intend to sign such directives should make sure they talk to their loved ones, doctors, caregivers and pastors about the care and treatment they would like to have if they reach a point in their lives when they can no longer speak for themselves.Q: I have two questions on the Catholic faith in connection with AMD (Advance Medical Directive) and ACP (Advance Care Planning):

1) Does signing an AMD goes against Catholic teaching?
I have signed that document a few years ago because I do not want my life prolonged in the case of terminal disease with no hope of cure. But one of my Catholic friends says that signing an AMD may go against Catholic teaching. Therefore she hesitated to sign it.

2) Does signing an ACP go against Catholic teaching if I state in that document that in case of terminal disease with no hope of cure, I do not wish to be resuscitated, nor do I want to be intubated and attached to a ventilator?

As a Catholic I do not support euthanasia. I just wish to die naturally without any medical intervention which would only prolong my suffering before dying. But I do accept palliative therapy. - Oei Khoen Hwa, Singapore

A: If you want a quick answer to your question, it is “yes”. Catholics can sign AMDs. But there are conditions that must be met, and a Catholic needs to understand why these are in place. Just signing an AMD without knowing about what our faith teaches about such issues could end up being a difficult issue for ourselves and our loved ones.

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St Stephen the Martyr is seen in this mural in the Vatican. CNS photoSt Stephen the Martyr is seen in this mural in the Vatican. CNS photo
Q: The Holy Innocents were killed soon after Jesus’ birth. May I know why is St Stephen regarded as the first martyr instead of the Holy Innocents?  - Edwina Prabha D’Cruz

A: Your observation is astute. Indeed, St Stephen is regarded as the protomartyr (first martyr) and the feast of the Holy Innocents is always celebrated on the first Monday after that.

To be sure, there is no historical data to tell us the exact date of St Stephen’s death, and for that matter, neither do we have any dates for the deaths of the innocent infants killed by the murderous decree of Herod. 
 
The only difference between the deaths of St Stephen and the innocent children is that St Stephen died and was a martyr by his free will, blood and love, whilst those of the children were by their blood alone.  

It is thus most likely that because love at its purest and most selfless is demonstrated when there is a full knowledge coupled with a full willingness to give of oneself, that the Church deems that St Stephen is the first after Jesus’ death to die a true martyr’s death, and that he gets the honour of being hailed as the protomartyr.  

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Q: Can a Catholic partake of food offered:
1)    during the Qing Ming festival?
2)    during the seventh month Hungry Ghost festival?
 
A: Whenever a question of this nature is asked of us, it is always good to obtain guidance and direction from sacred scripture. 1 Cor 10:27-30 gives us sound Christian advice, but we should also take into consideration the other reasons why these gatherings take place in our culture.

St Paul cautions us against being a scandal to others in this matter, and for good reason. We Christians certainly do not believe that spirits or ghosts (hungry or sated) eat foods offered.  But what we do in the presence of our non-Christian friends and relatives can be a cause of scandal to them. In their Taoist or Chinese religious beliefs, such foods are indeed either consumed or “blessed” by these spirits, and their partaking of such foods provides for them a blessing in life or for good fortune. This is particularly true in the case of the foods offered at the Qing Ming festival.

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Q: What does “in the fullness of time” mean? What does this mean for us today as Christian disciples? Susan Clare Lee

The Holy Mother & Child by Stephen B WhatleyThe Holy Mother & Child by Stephen B WhatleyA: In Gal. 4:4, St Paul says that “in the fullness of time, God sent forth his Son”. The use of this phrase points to the fact that the plan of God was not something arbitrary or unplanned, but that there was in the unfolding of time and circumstances, a specific time for the culmination of God’s love to be manifest to humankind and for salvation to be fulfilled in Christ.

This phrase also takes into consideration the incredibly convoluted way through which Christ, the apogee of salvation, finally came to be.

The genealogy that is featured in Matthew’s gospel speaks vividly about just how mired in sin and brokenness the human race was, and how despite this messy and even embarrassingly scandalous family history, God could and did enter into our existence and purified it from within.

The nativity of Jesus is that fullness of time that Paul referred to. This being the case, we are all living in the “fullness of time” as well.

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Q: Recently, I was invited to a Protestant church service as it was in memorial of my late father who passed away. During the service, bread and wine were offered to those who were baptised. Question: Can baptised Catholics partake of these? - Eunice Smith

A: As Catholics living in a country that often see Catholics marrying Christians of other denominations, this is an important issue that needs to be answered for pastoral, ecumenical, liturgical and catechetical reasons.
 
Understanding them on all these different levels will help us to appreciate the richness of our faith as well as the ramifications of receiving the Eucharist each time we participate consciously in Holy Communion. It will also help us to understand the oft-misunderstood prohibition of receiving communion outside of a state of grace.

Do note, however, that an answer in a publication like the CatholicNews may have a different timbre as compared to engaging in a theological and spiritual conversation face to face with someone, principally because there are nuances involved.

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Q: Why are there evil spirits? One would have thought that God, with His infinite goodness, wisdom and foresight, would not create anything that would become evil. Now that they exist, why doesn’t God wipe them out? - Anthony Oei

A: This is a good but rather complex question. Firstly, I am assuming that by “evil spirits” you are referring to the malevolent and demonic spirits that Jesus confronted when he exorcised the possessed people in the time of His earthly ministry. Though you may not be referring to the presence of sin and evil in the world, these are actually very much related, and they will be dealt with together.

Secondly, your question carries with it an assumption that the notion of God necessarily abrogates any existence of sin or evil, based on the fact that God should not and must not tolerate any existence of evil or anything that is contrary to His goodness.

This second assumption is thorny because this understanding of God does not take into account the great gift of free will that he has given to all human persons. If God is love, and scripture tells us that He is (1 John 4:8), then for love to be true and freely given, it has to necessarily include the possibility of it being rejected and unreturned.

St Thomas Aquinas’ definition of love puts this in a nutshell: Love is willing the good of the other as other.

In this respect, God’s love, which is the basis of creation, necessarily includes the possibility of a turning away from the goodness that is willed by Him for His creation. Lucifer’s rebellion against God is a clear example of this. Evil and sin (which is essentially the effect of evil) are thus the result of the ongoing work of evil spirits. So, in speaking about “evil spirits”, we are referring to evil spirits and their sin effects.

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Q: I came across this term, “sonship”, twice recently and it was used to describe the relationship between Christ and us. I am confused because I had learnt that this term is used in our relationship with God since He is the Father and I am Jesus’ brother/sister because He is the Son of God. Has the Church changed its stand? Lilian Kwek

A: The doctrine that is at the heart of this question is what is sometimes known as the doctrine of supernatural adoption as children of God and at times also referred to under the rather ambiguous terms “divine filiation” or “divine sonship”.

This doctrine has its source especially in the teachings of St Paul who speaks of those baptised in Christ as being children of God in Christ Jesus through faith (cf Galatians 3:26-27).

St John the evangelist also alludes to it in the prologue to his Gospel where he tells us that the power to become children of God is given to all those who accept Jesus Christ (cf John 1:12).

What does this doctrine teach us? Essentially, from what St Paul teaches regarding our adoption in Christ Jesus, it means that in baptism we have clothed ourselves with Christ and by so doing, we have become co-heirs with Christ, sons and daughters of the same Father in heaven.

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Q: Is it proper to have a tea ceremony at or after a Catholic church wedding?

A: Weddings are joyful times when families come together to celebrate a special moment in the lives of their children. The Church recognises this special moment and sees it as a blessing and the fulfilment of the God-given vocation to life and to love.

The Church has always supported the inculturation of the Christian faith to local cultures. Even in marriage, the Church recognises that local cultures are expressions of this joyful occasion and encourages a tasteful inculturation of the celebrations.
 
Therefore, it is permissible, for example, for an Indian couple to include in the exchange of rings a further expression of this commitment by the tying of the thali. This is the gold thread which the groom ties to the neck of the bride.

Similarly, in Chinese culture, the tea ceremony is one beautiful element that couples, while celebrating the gift of marriage in a Catholic ceremony, may also express it towards their elders as a sign of filial piety and love. The commandment to honour parents is in turn a call for blessing upon the children in their marriage, and on their future children that God may bless them with.

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Q: When do we address our prayers to God, to Jesus and to the Holy Spirit?

A: On the matter of prayer, St John Damascene said that “prayer is the raising of one’s mind and heart to God or the requesting of good things from God”. Drawing from the words of Christ, the writings of Scripture and the saints, and the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we are gifted with prayers grounded in Christian tradition.

Through prayer, God invites His chosen ones into a relationship with Him that is both personal and communal. He speaks to us through His Son, Jesus Christ, the Word-made-flesh, and He inspires us through the Holy Spirit.

Thus prayer is our response to God who is already speaking or, better yet, revealing Himself to us. Therefore, prayer is not merely an exchange of words, but it engages the whole person in a relationship with God the Father, through the Son, and in the Holy Spirit.

It is this realisation that God Himself is worthy of prayer and God is a Trinity of persons. Therefore, it would seem fair to say that we can pray to each member of the Godhead.

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