Questions Answered – April 2019

Do Baptized Converts Need Confession First?

Question: During the Easter Vigil, non-Christians are baptized, receive First Communion and are confirmed, while converts are received into full communion with the Church, meaning also and above all the Eucharist. I understand how one may admit a non-Christian, given that Baptism remits sin, but a convert who makes a profession of faith and has been validly baptized – don’t they need the sacrament of Penance before receiving Communion, at least theoretically?

Answer: The difficulty in your question is one based first on the question of the recognition of Baptism by Protestants and secondly the fact that, though Protestants make a profession of faith and receive Holy Communion at the Easter Vigil in the present RCIA formation, there seems no place for confessing sins there.

First, one should simply state that Penance is provided before Confirmation and Communion. I will explain this later in greater detail. The Catholic Church does accept Baptism as administered in many Protestant sects, as long as they entail the pouring of water touching the skin and the formula “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” — that is to say, in the name of the persons of the Trinity. Formulae such as: “I baptize you in the name of the Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier” would not be valid, as these characteristics are enjoyed by all three of the Persons and do not delineate the real distinction of persons in the Trinity.

As a result, the Catholic Church recognizes as valid the Baptism practiced by most of the mainstream Protestant denominations, even if they themselves have trouble explaining the exact effect of infant baptism. Since Baptism is recognized in these denominations, the only thing required to enter the Church would be a profession of faith which includes what the Church teaches and differs in some respects from the confessions of our separated brethren. Mormon or Unitarian baptism would be problematic, however. RCIA programs must make provision for confession for those who are entering the Church and normally this is done in private before the actual sacraments are conferred at the Easter Vigil. So those who are members of other denominations do experience the sacrament of Penance but not in public. Since they are professing their faith in what the Catholic Church believes, Baptism suffices as a fit sacramental preparation to receive absolution.

The practice of seeking Reconciliation in auricular confession before the actual reception of Confirmation and Communion at the Easter vigil has several salutary effects. First, one can get used to the ritual and the examination of conscience required in the future for the convert. Second, the priest can offer useful aid and instruction, both as the matter and the form of the sacrament of Penance, without having to concern either himself or the penitent with people waiting in line. Both priest and penitent have sufficient time then for pedagogy about this most important sacrament, which is one many converts have never experienced. This presumes that the RCIA penitent has been sufficiently instructed concerning the nature of sin and have examined their conscience thoroughly.

 

How to Convince that Resurrection Is Real?

Question: How can we convince others about resurrection?

Answer: The fact of the Resurrection is a miracle. There is no way to prove to someone that it actually happened apart from faith in the witnesses in the New Testament. That being said, however, there are arguments which can be made even from philosophy and reason unaided by faith to demonstrate the necessity of the resurrection for the fulfillment of man.

The problem of death is one of the great mysteries of the world. Christian doctrine is clear that a painful death was not originally a part of God’s plan for the human race. Adam and Eve were created in grace and would not have incurred the necessity of a painful death had they not sinned. Scripture tells us: “Sin entered the world through one man and through sin death” (1 Cor. 5:21). Once it entered the world, the mystery of iniquity led to the mystery of death. Yet this is contrary to reason.

The two philosophers who most influenced Catholic thought and took on the problem of death were Plato and Aristotle because they were the first to discover the metaphysical order and thus the spiritual nature of the soul. Both knew that the soul transcended matter and death because intelligence is a spiritual action which involves absolute truths and not just description. However, if the soul is immortal, what does one do with the body? All material bodies die. No one has so far experienced one which does not. The philosophical axiom for this is: “Matter tends to corruption.” If the soul is immortal, how can one explain the fact that the body dies?

Plato resolved this difficulty by basically saying that the body was not man. Man was a soul and the union of the soul with the body was unnatural. For him the soul pre-existed its creation in the body in an ideal world where knowledge was spiritual and full of light. At a certain point in time (no one knows why) the soul fell out of this ideal world into the darkness and the prison of matter. Human life was basically about escaping from this prison of darkness through knowledge and truth, until freed by death to enter into the ideal world again. Knowledge was remembering what had been learned in the ideal world and had no relation to experiences in the five material senses. Rather his ideal for knowledge was mathematics and knowledge consisted in leaving the shadow world of the senses.

These ideals held a certain attraction for the Patristic world since they emphasized the spiritual life. Yet so great an authority as St. Augustine, though highly influenced by a Platonic theory of knowledge, still felt called upon to correct it when dealing with truth. The divine ideas of Plato became seminal reasons or root sources of the truth of things. But they were no longer in a separate spiritual world from God and the material things in the world. Those material things were not shadows but really existing individual things whose kind was determined by the divine ideas which were in the mind of God. Since Augustine believed in the resurrection, he was also clear that the body was not a prison.

Aristotle accepted the divine idea theory, but for him these were also in the mind of the Prime Mover, First Cause, or what we call God. He also was clear that material experience in the five senses was necessary to discover these metaphysical ideas. The source of the difference between a cat and a dog was in the idea in the mind of God, but man’s arrival at this essential difference did not entail fleeing from sense knowledge. Indeed, sense knowledge was the portal through which abstract ideas were both discovered and checked for accuracy.

His theory of the relation of the body to the soul was very different from Plato’s. He held that the body was as necessary to the existence of man as the soul. Each was in substantial unity with the other. The body was good as was matter. He called the soul the “form” of the body. Christianity has accepted this explanation. “The unity of soul and body is so profound that one has to consider the soul to be the ‘form’ of the body: i.e., it is because of its spiritual soul that the body made of matter becomes a living, human body; spirit and matter, in man, are not two natures united, but rather their union forms a single nature” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 365). The soul can exist without the body but the soul is not man.

Death becomes a problem again. If the soul is immortal and the soul and the body form a single nature, then it is unnatural that the body should die. Aristotle was puzzled by this, as every body he experienced died and yet man’s body should not die forever. There was so solution to this by reason. The necessity of resurrection was reasonable because of the union of the immortal soul with the mortal body, but the fact was impossible by nature. This demonstrates that, though man can learn many truths through reason, ultimate truths desert him. There must be another knowledge besides reason to explain these things, but no one knows that it exists unless God chooses to reveal it and we respond in faith. Man without revelation was imprisoned in a box canyon concerning the mystery of death. When Christ rose from the dead, like the ring to a finger, the solution was clear. Man was not destined for death, but for God. Aristotle knew that man was not destined for death, but everyone died. Aristotle was treating the nature he knew as though it were nature as it should be. We know by revelation that it is fallen nature.

So, though one can know that resurrection is necessary for the completion of the nature of man through reason, there is no solution as to how this can take place. Arguments drawn from reason are pointless to demonstrate the fact of resurrection, though they can demonstrate its necessity and that it is not absurd. The resurrection of the dead is a miracle because there is no power by nature in the body or the soul of man to make a dead body live forever. You cannot prove the fact of resurrection; faith alone, based on the physical post-resurrection experiences of Jesus, can give man certainty that he can fulfill his nature.

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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Comments

  1. Re: Reality of the Resurrection. There is a book written by a former atheist called Cold Case Christianity. The atheist was a homicide detective who’s expertise lay in “cold cases.” What’s more cold than a death from over 2000 years ago? It’s an interesting and easy read.