Questions Answered

The Raising of Lazarus, by Sebastiano Del Piombo (1517-19).

Question: Could Jesus perform miracles of his own accord? Did he not empty himself and rely on the Father as we do by faith? We are to have faith to move mountains. What better way to make the point than Jesus praying in thanksgiving before he does a miracle?

Answer: It is important in answering this question to remember what the doctrine of the Incarnation affirms. The union between God and man cannot take place in the natures. If this had occurred, either one nature would have absorbed the other, and there would have been only one nature, which is the heresy of Monophysitism,or there would have been a third nature, which was neither one nor the other, which is actually the same error.

The union between God and man in Christ thus took place in the person of the Word. Another term for an individual who possesses a nature is a hypostasis, and a hypostasis with a rational nature is a person. Therefore, the union between God and man in Christ is called the Hypostatic Union.

When Christ assumed a human nature, he did so economically, which means that he did this to accomplish his mission which is to redeem us from sin. It was fitting that he not assume anything which would detract from this, and so he assumed a complete human nature, human soul and body, human intellect, will, and passions, but NOT a human person as he was already a divine person with a divine nature. His self-emptying, also referred to as kenosis in Greek, did not involve any surrender of his divinity. But he took to himself in the womb of Mary a second way of acting. The one person of the Word could thus speak and act in two natures. Sometimes, in the same verse in Scripture, he speaks first in one nature, then in the other. “Now, Father, glorify me (human nature) in your presence with the same glory which I (divine nature) had with you before the world existed” (Jn 17:5). Christ hid his divinity so that he might suffer the passion, but he did not give it up. His humanity was a tool of his divinity (instrumentum divinitatis). The Catechism expresses this by saying: “What he was, he remained, what he was not, he assumed” (§469).

He could thus exhibit three kinds of actions: divine only with the Father and the Holy Spirit, using only the divine nature, like Creation, Preservation, and Government of the world. He could also exhibit actions which were only human, using the powers proper to human nature, like eating, drinking, dying, and suffering. He could also exhibit actions in which he, as God, personally performed an action through the power of divine nature which could only be done in human nature to produce an effect which was supernatural, like the miraculous healing of the sick by a physical word or physical touch. These are called, in theology, theandric acts, because they show both powers exercised by a single subject, the person of the Word.

“And so we proclaim two natural wills in him and two natural operations indivisibly, incontrovertibly, inseparably, and unfusedly” (3rd Council of Constantinople, D, 556). Christ did not have faith; this was because he had the vision of God from the moment of his conception. He, therefore, performed these acts on his own. He did not need to pray, like Elijah, before raising someone from the dead. If Christ did pray, it was for our example, or, as the questioner said, in thanksgiving. He healed by his own power as the person of the Word.


Question: If a habitual (sic) Catholic or agnostic receives Communion without proper preparation, is it an act of sacrilege? Or due to ignorance, is he or she excused from having to be clean from any mortal sin?

Answer: I have no idea what the term “habitual Catholic” means, but I think it might mean one who only practices his faith on rare occasions, and often misses Mass on Sunday. To miss Mass through one’s own fault is a grave sin. The Code of Canon Law is clear about the reception of Communion in the state of mortal sin without confession: “A person who is conscious of a grave sin is not to … receive the body of the Lord without prior sacramental confession unless a grave reason is present, and there is no opportunity of confessing; in this case the person is to be mindful of the obligation to make an act of perfect contrition, including the intention of confessing as soon as possible” (CIC 916). If this applies to the habitual Catholic a fortiori, it would apply to the agnostic.

The question about ignorance follows the same principles as vincible and invincible ignorance in any mortal sin. People have a moral obligation to inform themselves before any moral action. In the case of approaching Communion, this would mean what the Catholic Church teaches and expects as proper preparation to receive the sacrament. If a person avails his or herself of all the possible sources of information which they can find, and are not told that they cannot approach the sacrament without being free from mortal sin, then they would not be held guilty for this sin, just as they could not be held guilty for any sin where they could not resolve their ignorance by their own free will. God does not hold us accountable for things which are not in our power. I know of cases where Jews were present at Mass for confirmation, and the priest ushered them up to Communion, knowing they were Jewish. The sin, in this case, would fall on the shoulders of the priest, who certainly cannot claim invincible ignorance.

If, on the other hand, persons present themselves for Communion, knowing full well what Christ and the Church expects, and simply callously ignore this, then they would be guilty of sin. This is a case of vincible ignorance. Given the unchurched nature of congregations today, especially on occasions like weddings and funerals, it is advisable to publish in the program, and announce in a pastorally sensitive way, that only Catholics worthily prepared may partake of Communion.  Others might receive a blessing, or just remain in their places, and pray for the couple or the deceased.


Questions can be posted on the HPR website.

Fr. Brian Mullady, OP About Fr. Brian Mullady, OP

Fr. Brian T. Mullady, OP, entered the Dominican Order in 1966 and was ordained in 1972. He has been a parish priest, high school teacher, retreat master, mission preacher, and university professor. He has had seven series on EWTN and is the author of two books and numerous articles, including his regular column in HPR, “Questions Answered.”

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