Q. Sometimes when I pray, I ask for the intercession of certain well-known saints. But at other times I pray instead to departed people whom I have known, loved and respected — my grandmother, for example, or my aunt.
On occasion I even ask for the help of someone who wasn’t a Catholic or whom I didn’t know personally. (Today, for example, I found myself praying to a famous author whom I never met but who once wrote something which affected me deeply and which relates to a struggle I’m now experiencing.) I don’t consider any of this wrong, but I’m wondering what your thoughts are about it. (Superior, Wis.)
A. I think that what you are doing is reasonable, appropriate and, I’m sure, productive. Some might be inclined to say that the “safest” course is to pray only to those saints who have been officially canonized, since by canonization the church declares with the fullness of its authority that a person is in heaven and worthy of veneration.
But there are plenty of people whom we have known personally and who we sense instinctively must be with God because they lived lives that were so decent and faith-filled.
To me it makes sense to ask them to intervene on our behalf, especially since we have already experienced their concern for us. (I pray often to my mother, particularly when faced with a difficult decision or challenge.) Interestingly, you felt it necessary to apologize for praying “even” to non-Catholics. I think you should keep doing that. If only Catholics are with God, then heaven is a far smaller place than I envision.
The practice of asking the saints to intercede on our behalf dates to the earliest years of Christianity and is shared by Catholics, Orthodox and some Anglicans. In Revelation 5:8, John depicts those in heaven as bringing our needs before God under the form of “gold bowls filled with incense, which are the prayers of the holy ones.”
Q. Sometimes I’m confused about my church. Recently, as chairperson of parish ministries and acting on orders from my pastor, I had to tell a young woman who is in an invalid marriage that she could not serve as a lector or eucharistic minister. (She was devastated and felt rejected by her church.)
However, in this very same parish, an unwed mother is often the cantor at Mass, and now another unwed mother serves as our parish’s religious education coordinator. I don’t understand why we welcome these last two people and reject the first woman. (City and state withheld)
A. Those who assist at Mass as liturgical ministers must be Catholics in good standing. The guidelines of the Archdiocese of Hartford, Conn., which are fairly typical, require that extraordinary ministers of holy Communion must: “be practicing Catholics, distinguished in their Christian life, faith and morals; be at least 19 years old; have received the sacraments of baptism, confirmation and Eucharist; demonstrate a deep reverence for and devotion to the Eucharist; be an active registered member of a parish in the archdiocese; (and) if married, the marriage must be a valid Catholic marriage.”
Lectors and extraordinary ministers of holy Communion serve in visible leadership positions in a parish. The woman you first describe is in a continuing marital relationship that is not approved by the church. Her service as a minister could easily be taken by parishioners to mean that “rules don’t matter.”
I view the two unwed mothers differently. Certainly they made moral mistakes in the past, in conceiving their children out of wedlock. But it would seem that they have put that behind them, hopefully gone to confession, have chosen bravely to bear and to raise their children as single parents and are actively involved in serving the parish. I have nothing but admiration for them.
What bothers me, however, is that your pastor would put the burden on you to deliver the news to the first woman that she could not serve. That is unwise and unfair. This is a very delicate pastoral situation that he should clearly handle. It should be wrapped in the larger message of gratitude for the woman’s willingness, with strong encouragement for her to continue to come to Mass even though at the moment she cannot take Communion.
The pastor should raise with her the possibility of having her marriage blessed in the church (reviewing the annulment process, if she or her husband were previously married) so that she can participate fully in the church’s sacraments and ministries.
Questions may be sent to Father Kenneth Doyle at firstname.lastname@example.org and 40 Hopewell St., Albany, N.Y. 12208.