Q. Is the happiness of heaven dependent on human factors? Specifically, when I die and — hopefully — get to heaven, how could I be eternally happy if my children were not to make it with me? (The way things are right now, that is a distinct possibility.) How could I ever be at peace knowing that they are being punished forever? (Aiken, S.C.)
A. In the kingdom of heaven, according to the promise of the Book of Revelation (21:4), God “will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain, [for] the old order has passed away.”
How exactly that is going to happen is hidden from us while we are on this side of heaven. To be honest, I have no direct answer to your question, which is a perennial one, except to say that I choose to put my trust in the revealed word of God.
Some theologians have explained it this way: In heaven, we will better understand how the Lord is just, that those who reject him by the way they live have chosen their fate. God will not override that choice — and we will be comforted by this fuller knowledge.
Truthfully, that explanation doesn’t help me much, but this one does: I believe that the mercy of God is expansive and that many more people are in heaven than we imagine. Only the Lord knows the true state of our souls, and I am encouraged by Matthew’s Gospel, which says in Chapter 25 that we will ultimately be judged by how we responded to people who needed our help.
I love the story of Monica, who prayed — over many years, with many tears — for her son Augustine when he was living far from the Christian life, and how St. Ambrose told her that it was impossible that a “child of such tears” would perish.
So, take heart, continue to give witness to the faith we hold dear. Entrust your children to the care of God (who loves them even more than you do) and keep praying for them, as I will, too.
Q. In our parish, we have been studying the Eucharist, and that has resulted in some wonderful and fresh insights, but it has also prompted a question in my mind. It seems that we have all been taught different ways of receiving Communion. At our church, some take the host on their tongue, some in their palm. Some kneel to receive or genuflect first, some bow and others make the sign of the cross. Is there a best way to receive Jesus, or does it matter? (Willard, Utah)
A. The guidelines for the reception of holy Communion are expressed most clearly in the General Instruction of the Roman Missal.
It says that the host may be received either on the tongue or the hand, and the choice belongs entirely to the communicant. If Communion is taken in the hand, it is done in the following way: If the person is right-handed, let’s say, he or she should open the left hand fully and place it over the right hand, creating, as the theologian Tertullian said, a “throne for the Lord.”
The priest places the host in the left palm and then, using the fingers of the right hand, the communicant puts the host into his or her mouth. (Never should a communicant reach out to the priest and grab the host.)
The general instruction grants to each nation’s conference of bishops the right to decide the posture to be used in taking Communion, as well as the particular gesture of reverence before receiving.
The U.S. bishops have determined that Communion is to be received while standing, following a simple bow of the head (such as one uses when pronouncing the name of Jesus).
However, the general instruction clearly states in No. 160 that an individual communicant may opt instead to receive while kneeling. There is no need to genuflect before receiving or to make the sign of the cross before or after. (I have witnessed several near-accidents when a communicant in line suddenly decided to genuflect in front of an elderly person who was taken by surprise.)
As your final line suggests, the fact that a communicant is receiving the body of Christ is paramount and overrides any consideration of posture or gesture.
But a certain uniformity creates an orderly and more reverent flow. It also highlights the fact that the reception of Communion is not just an individual act of faith and piety but illustrates the spiritual unity of Christ’s followers.
Questions may be sent to Father Kenneth Doyle at firstname.lastname@example.org and 40 Hopewell St., Albany, N.Y. 12208.