Father Kenneth Doyle

Q. Recently I was watching a reality show that featured a “medium” who was communicating messages to a family from those who had already passed on. I have always been skeptical of this, but I was wondering what the church’s stance is on this subject. (Galloway, N.J.)

A. Mediums are psychics who profess to channel spirits of the dead in order to secure information to pass on to the living. Some mediums use this “gift” on a daily basis and often charge a fee for doing so.

The moral stance of the church is clear: The Catechism of the Catholic Church says in No. 2116: “All forms of divination are to be rejected: recourse to Satan or demons, conjuring up the dead or other practices falsely supposed to ‘unveil’ the future.”

That same section of the catechism goes on to say that recourse to mediums contradicts “the honor, respect and loving fear that we owe to God alone.” The catechism references the Old Testament Book of Deuteronomy which warns (18:10-11): “Let there not be found among you anyone … who consults ghosts and spirits or seeks oracles from the dead.”

Having said that, I would not dispute that the souls of the departed may appear to the living and reveal the unknown. Padre Pio — the 20th century Italian saint, mystic and stigmatic — is commonly believed to have been visited with apparitions from souls of the departed. The difference, it seems to me, has to do with from which side the channel is opened: Padre Pio never actively conjured up such visions, nor even desired them, while mediums claim to have the power to do just that at will.

Q. I have seen Pope Francis quoted as saying that women should play a greater role in the church (although not as priests) — especially in a church that views Mary as more important than the apostles; and our archdiocese recognizes that girls may be altar servers. So what could be the possible justification for our local pastor’s allowing only boys to serve at Mass? (He is a new pastor, and three weeks before he even arrived at our parish he published a notice on the front page of our parish bulletin about this being his policy.) (Missouri)

A. In 1994, the Vatican Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments issued a circular letter to the world’s bishops clarifying that the current Code of Canon Law (published in 1983) allows for male and female altar servers. The letter, though, leaves it to each bishop to determine the practice in his diocese. A further clarification in 2001 notes that, though a bishop may decide to permit female servers, he may not require them — so a local pastor winds up setting the rule for his parish.

In a few parishes in the U.S. (certainly the vast minority) a decision has been made to use only boys or men to serve Mass. In general, the few pastors who have chosen that option reason this way: Serving at the altar is often a contributing factor to a priestly vocation, and so as many boys as possible should be given that opportunity. Most priests, though, would instead say this: If women can be lectors and extraordinary minister of holy Communion, how could you ever explain to a little girl that she can’t carry the wine and water to the altar?

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Questions may be sent to Father Kenneth Doyle at askfatherdoyle@gmail.com and 40 Hopewell St., Albany, N.Y. 12208.