Q. In a few weeks I will turn 65 years old. I have arthritis in most of my joints; in the early spring, when it’s rainy and damp, the arthritic pain can be unbearable. Is it a sin to miss Sunday Mass, given the extreme pain?
When is it acceptable to stop going to church and watch Mass on television? (Also, since my total knee replacement, I can no longer kneel down; so how does one go to confession without kneeling?) (Brookville, Indiana)
A. First, about the posture for confession — because that part is easy. I have heard the confessions of people lying in a hospital bed, sitting in a quiet corner of a restaurant, even standing on a beach. Clearly there is no requirement that the penitent be kneeling.
In the parish where I served as pastor for 24 years, we had a confessional “room,” which is typical in Catholic churches today. There, the penitent could opt for anonymity by sitting or kneeling behind a screen or — if he or she preferred — could come around and sit and talk face-to-face with the priest.
As for the part about how sick you have to be to skip Mass, the answer is “use your head.” The Catechism of the Catholic Church says, “The faithful are obliged to participate in the Eucharist on days of obligation unless excused for a serious reason (for example, illness, the care of infants)” (No. 2181). The nature and degree of the sickness is not defined, so we have to figure it out for ourselves.
The God we serve and believe in is a person of reason. How could a loving God want you to suffer excruciating pain as the price for going to Mass? And how could you even pray effectively when you’re feeling that bad? A handy rule of thumb might be this: Would I go to work if I felt this way?
Q. Our pastor has just taken the step of allowing lay parishioners called “commentators” to make announcements from the ambo prior to the start of Mass. (Previously, these commentators always used the microphone of the choir to welcome parishioners and introduce visitors.)
I was under the impression that the ambo could be used only for the scriptural readings, homily and the petitions during the prayer of the faithful. May the ambo be used for announcements before Mass begins?
(The pastor is very reverent but marches to his own tune. I would love for you to say “No,” so that I could cut out your answer and show it to him.) (Wichita, Kansas)
A. First, some definitions. The word “ambo” denotes a reading stand and is often used interchangeably with the word “lectern.” The “pulpit” is elevated and generally reserved for preaching and the Gospel reading.
And technically, you are correct: No. 309 of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal notes that “from the ambo only the readings, the responsorial psalm and the Easter Proclamation (Exsultet) are to be proclaimed; likewise it may be used for giving the homily and for announcing the intentions of the universal prayer.”
The reality, though, is that some churches are small and sparsely furnished, with only one logical place for both the scriptural readings and the announcements.
And, as somebody who has been in the trenches for a long time, can I make an appeal? If your pastor is like most parish priests today, he’s got more work than he can handle; the last thing he needs to worry about is where the commentator stands.
Questions may be sent to Father Kenneth Doyle at firstname.lastname@example.org and 30 Columbia Circle Dr., Albany, New York 12203.
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