Q. Recently I heard read at Mass these words from St. Mark’s Gospel: “Amen, I say to you, all sins and all blasphemies that people utter will be forgiven them. But whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an everlasting sin.” This puzzled me. How does one blaspheme against the Holy Spirit? (Dublin, Ohio)
A. The quote you reference is from Mark 3:28-29. On the surface, it would seem to clash with what we grew up learning: that God can forgive anything if we’re sorry. And so, not surprisingly, this passage has sparked considerable commentary.
The first thing I should say is that God, indeed, can forgive anything; that’s the very reason Jesus came. Early in the Gospel, the angel of the Lord tells Joseph in a dream: “You are to name him Jesus because he will save his people from their sins” (Mt 1:21).
What then does the Marcan passage mean? It means that the one who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit is one who refuses to accept God’s forgiveness.
As the Catechism of the Catholic Church explains: “There are no limits to the mercy of God, but anyone who deliberately refuses to accept his mercy by repenting, rejects the forgiveness of his sins and the salvation offered by the Holy Spirit. Such hardness of heart can lead to final impenitence and eternal loss” (No. 1864).
As St. John Paul II explained in his 1986 encyclical letter “Dominum et Vivificantem”: “‘Blasphemy’ does not properly consist in offending against the Holy Spirit in words; it consists rather in the refusal to accept the salvation which God offers to man through the Holy Spirit, working through the power of the cross” (No. 46).
So “blasphemy against the Holy Spirit” — I believe and would hope — is rather unusual; it would mean rejecting God’s offer of forgiveness all the way to the end of one’s life.
Q. My wife and I are traditional Latin-rite Catholics who moved to central Virginia from an area that had numerous Catholic churches, where Masses with dignified, traditional music could always be found. But the churches where we live now are small in number and feature contemporary music at every Mass.
Worship bands have guitars, flutes, mandolins and, evidently, whatever one wants to bring. Hymns are normally vapid, meaningless campfire songs. I leave Mass wondering whether God was even present. Often applause breaks out for the band, and the pastor said nothing will be changed because he loves it.
I have taken to bringing “earbuds” so I can listen to prerecorded Gregorian chant that drowns out the band. Consequently, I leave with a more upbeat feeling. Is this practice frowned upon? (Some parishioners give me nasty looks.) (Central Virginia)
A. Are you sure there’s not another Catholic parish you could attend without too much inconvenience — one with quieter, more traditional music? (I googled “Catholic churches in central Virginia” and found 20 or so listed — but I know this covers a wide geographic area.)
I do understand why it makes others uncomfortable to see you sitting there playing your own music. The Mass is meant to be a public act of worship — a community of faith praying together — not a private devotion.
As a very last resort, what you’re doing is surely better than not going to Mass at all — but it might be best to sit near the back of church so as to minimize the distraction to other worshippers.
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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