Questions for Catholics

I’m rereading Katherine Kurtz’s wonderful Deryni series. In it, as it’s a fantasy recreation of Wales circa 1000 AD, she draws on heavily Catholic influences in her story. That’s fine, but it’s leaving me with some questions that I hope a Catholic Doper can help answer:

!) Excommunication
a) It can be reversed if the person repents? I thought excommunication was forever.
b) It’s contagious? If, for example, you give shelter to an excommunicate, you become excommunicated too?

  1. Interdicts
    a) An interdict is like an excommunication, only it’s for everyone in a country, not a person?

  2. Saints
    a) A Saint can be um…“un-Sainted”?
    b) If so, how does that fit in with Papal infalliblity (I assume that the Pope has to approve Sainthood"
    c) What, exactly, are “holy relics”?
    d) What criteria make a Saint (miracles have to be involved, right?)

  3. I know that rosaries are a string of beads and they are somehow used as a method of praying, but I don’t understand how one gets from beads to prayers. Are the beads just a mneumonic(sp) device? Are they imprinted with prayers?

  4. The heirarchy goes something like Priest->Bishop->Arch-Bishop-Cardinal->Pope, right?

I’ll probably have more questions as I get into the next book, which, IIRC delves deeply into the religious aspects of the society (The Quest for Saint Camber)

Thanks in advance!


Oops, one more:

If you’re unable to confess before dying (a soldier in battle, say), historically was the belief that you went to Hell for dying unshriven? (I seem to recall that that’s no longer doctrine).


The beads are not imprinted…the most I’ve seen is some of the beads painted with scenes of the live of Jesus Christ(but of course that was a medium-sized rosary).

Nothing mneumonic, unless you mean the order. Each of the 10 continuous(and usually smaller) beads is one prayer of Hail Mary(I apologize if that is not the English name of the prayer). The bigger bead is a prayer of Our Lord, followed by…the prayer one says when one makes the sign of the cross(sorry, I really don’t know the English names of the prayers!).

I’ll take a stab, though others will probably be able to expand greatly.

1a. Excommunication is not forever; it is intended to bring about repentance.

1b. Sometimes; in times past, excommunication came to be greatly overused, and since giving aid and comfort to someone under the ban could be construed as disobedience, it could lead to excommunication.

2a. Interdict may be against a person, a group, or a geographic area, but in general can be seen as a “wider” excommunication. Here’s a quote from the Catholic Encyclopedia:

3a. Sort of; the modern rules for the making of saints are just that, modern, and there are thousands of saints from the earlier days of the Church for which there is no good evidence. Many of these have been quietly removed from the calendar, though local cults (Catholic term of art, nothing to be alarmed at) may be allowed to continue.

3b. The modern method of making saints does fall under the heading of papal infallibility, so none of those will ever be “unmade”.

3c. Let’s see, first class relics are actually pieces of the dead saint, second class are items closely associated with/owned by the saint, and third class are anything ever touched by the saint.

3d. Quite a process these days, but a life of heroic virtue, no known impediments, at least two (IIRC) confirmed miracles attributed to the saint’s intercession, and must have been dead for at least five years. And oh yeah, dying for the Faith is a definite leg up.

  1. The rosary is not exactly a mnemonic, but more of a counting device, so you don’t lose track of the Hail Marys and Our Fathers, and which of the Mysteries you’re supposed to be contemplating.

  2. The hierarchy is a bit more complex, but in the modern church there are three clerical orders of importance, Deacon, Priest, and Bishop. Other titles, such as Monsignor, Archbishop, Cardinal, and even Pope are administrative rather than sacramental. The Pope is Pope by virtue of being the Bishop of Rome, just as the Bishop of an Archdiocese is an Archbishop because his see is an Archdiocese rather than a Diocese.

Keep in mind, IINACL (I Am Not A Canon Lawyer), so please consult with a trained professional.

Right, two things. No, make that three.

One, this really wasn’t my first post, but I was a post Dec. 17th registrant whose admittedly small post count is now in the bit bucket somewhere.

Two, I know, it should be IANACL. Insufficient proofing is my only defense.

And three, I meant to mention a couple more relic facts. Every permanent altar in a Catholic Church has first class relics sealed inside. Also, touching a first class relic to a bit of cloth or some such makes said bit of cloth a third class relic.

Regarding this last, I heard a story that Anthony Cardinal Bevilaqua, Archbishop of Philadelphia, took a call on a radio call-in show that went something like this:

Caller: Cardinal Bevilaqua, is it true that anything touched by a saint is a third class relic?
Cardinal: Yes, that is true.
Caller: Great! Mother Drexel [Saint Katherine Drexel] gave me a spanking one time, so my rear is a relic!
Cardinal: Um…

Then again, I’ve heard the story featuring different players, so it is probably apocryphal.

There is nothing “papal” about canonization (recognizing a person as a saint.) The process is fairly rigorous (although JP II has been pushing it along lately). It is unlikely that a person canonized as a saint, these days, would be stricken from the rolls. This would be more a function of embarrassment than doctrine, however. The number of examinations of the candidate’s life is supposed to eliminate any possibility for error. On the other hand, canonization is still seen as the (human) church’s recognition that a person has been accepted into heaven, rather than that the church has put them there, so I suppose that if some future generation strongly disagrees with the decisions that have been made under JP II, they could point to “errors” that would invalidate the canonization.

Here are two Catholic views on sainthood and canonization:
Catholic On-Line Saints - FAQS
Catholic Encyclopedia (1913 - 1919) - Canonization and Beatification
Catholic Encyclopedia (1913 - 1919) - Relics

Two more points, particularly in regards to Ms. Kurtz’s works.

An interdict is similar to an excommunication, in that the people are forbidden to partake of the sacraments, but it was basically a political weapon (often used for religious reasons).

In an interdict, the clergy and people are prohibited from celebrating the sacraments. Priests may not baptize, hear confession, celebrate mass, or administer the last rites. Bishops may not confirm nor may they ordain priests. Lay people may not exchange wedding vows. To a believing people, this is a rather serious strain. While it was imposed, once in a while, in regions where heresy had “broken out” (encouraging people to “see the light” and return to the church), it was also leveled against kings and rulers. A king who was faced with a populace where everyone feared for their souls, where no one could marry, and where his soldiers might refuse to go to battle because they could not go to confession found himself in a serious situation.

Once the Reformation broke the belief behind the interdicts, they basically fell into disuse, being powerless to compel obedience.

In Ms. Kurtz’s universe, Rome never became the center of the Western Church, so the church in her novels operates more like the Eastern churches, politically. They set their own doctrine and there is no “higher authority” on whom to call for a clear judgment when there is a disagreement.

I hate to disagree, tomndebb, but in the modern practice of canonization there is papal involvement. To quote from a release from the Vatican Information Service , dated Sept. 12, 1997:

Mostly, what JohnM and tomndebb said.

Just one clarification:

Regarding the clerical hierarchy, there are three “levels” of ordination that require consecration. They are deacon, priest, and bishop. As JohnM says - the Pope is merely the Bishop of Rome. The Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Chicago, if he moved to the Diocese of Youngstown, would revert to being a bishop again. Cardinals, again, are “just” glorified bishops.

…and one question:

“Ex Cathedra” was drummed into my head by someone whom I consider to be as much an authority on things Catholic as a lay person can be, and certainly more of one than many priests. This was the means by which the Pope was infallible, and it only happened on rare occasions - twice in the history of the church, as of the 1980s. “Ex cathedra” means “From the Chair” - specifically, a chair that resides in St Peter’s Basilica and from which anything the Pope says is considered infallible. Which means he’s only infallible when he says he is. But there’s also some kind of low-level infallibility by which all of a pope’s pronouncements are considered correct, if lacking the punch of ex cathedra, yes?

The Rosary:

Christianity is only one of several religions that use “rosaries.” (The name rosary is specific to Christianity, but it is applied to the similar Buddhist device by analogy. Muslims use a Tasbih in a similar fashion.)

When one says the rosary, one repeats the same prayer, multiple times, by rote–not to increase the number of “prayers” being prayed, but to set up a “white noise” behind which one concentrates on a religious mystery.

In the current traditional Catholic rosary, there are five “decades” of ten beads, each separated by a larger bead. For each decade, one prays the Hail Mary/Ave Maria on each bead, alternating with the Our Father/Pater Noster on the larger separating beads.

There are three sets of mysteries associated with the five decades (so that some really fancy rosaries are actually made with 15 decades). Over time, the rosary has picked up other traditions, so that the “typical” rosary, today, has a cross, five beads for specific prayers, and then the loop of the five decades.

There is a tradition that the rosary was “invented” by St. Dominic (or given to him by Mary) which would have made rosaries at the time of St. Camber anachronistic by 200 years. In actuality, the “Deryni” period would have had rosaries (that date back hundreds of years earlier) although the prayers recited on them might have been either all "Our Father"s or a set of fifty psalms. (I don’t remember whether or not Ms. Kurtz provided enough information to have portrayed that correctly.)

JohnM, I’d be really curious how that site justifies that language. (If Ratzinger is behind it, I can guess.)

While the pope is the officer who officially proclaims the canonization, he certainly makes no ex cathedra declaration. (Each of the popes since 1869 have canonized someone, yet I have never heard those declarations included in any tally of the two infallible declarations.)

I am not challenging you, but I am curious to know how they justify their statement.

Thanks for all the great responses! (and tomndebb, I’d been wondering about the lack of mention of a Pope!)

One or two more questions, if I can have your indulgence:
I read that On-Line Saints FAQ that Tom linked to (great info!), and realized that I’m probably confused as to what a Saint actually does/is. I apologize if I’m about to say something as rolleyes-inducing to Catholics as “Jews use Christian blood to make Matzo” is to Jews, so “Sorry” in advance.

I had the impression that Saints were…um…kind of like low-level Greek Gods, in that they had attributes. So-and-so is the patron Saint of Such-and-such and the Saint had special “powers” or a special ability to interceed to God regarding that “attribute”. From what I read, that doesn’t seem to be the case, right? Are there Saints that aren’t patron Saints of something? Or is the required miracle (except in the case of martyrs) what the Saint is patron of?



Okay, I’ll try a shot at this:

As I was told in RCIA class (And these people are by no means infallible, either, but they are responsible for teaching people the intricacies of the religion…)

1–The rosary was originally meant to have the same number of prayers as there are psalms, but the prayers said were Our Fathers. The Hail Mary was introduced later, and is shorter and more convenient.

2–The saints do not have magical godlike powers. The point of being Patron Saint of So and So is so that the person requiring help in the area of So and So will pray for the saint to pray for them. The idea is that the saint is a bit closer to God than we are, and has way more time on their hands, being dead and all, and they are willing to put in a good word for you in their area of expertise (usually something they were involved in/inown for during their life)

Hope that helps. If you have any really sticky questions, I can pose them to the church-people, if you tell me before Wednesday night (MST).

The whole notion of patron saints does come close to the accusation of hagialotry that some Protestants accuse Catholicism of supporting.

The narrow theological explanation of the church is different, but that explanation has often wandered a bit off track in the minds of the masses.

The concept starts with the idea that we can ask others to pray for us (prayers of intercession–fully supported by all Christian groups).
From there, the idea develops that a saint–who has already proven that they have accepted God’s salvation and been taken to heaven–would be capable of praying with greater efficacy than a distracted person on earth. (We start losing people, here, as some groups believe that the dead are simply dead until the Final Days and others do not believe that there is any method by which a saint in heaven could hear a petition from a person who had not died.)
Then we move one step further with the notion that a saint who excelled in a particular area might be the best person to offer prayers to God for people in similar situations. (At this point, it is rather easy for people who have not been paying close attention to the teaching that saints can only intercede with God and not act on their own to decide that St. Anthony “finds” things for us or that St. Joseph “helps” us sell our homes. This is pretty clearly worship of saints as minor deities, but it is against church teaching. The fact that a great many Catholics get the teachings wrong does nothing to dissuade others of the idea that the teachings, themselves, are wrong.)

In the Roman rite (making no promises for others), if a person confesses or repents or whatever and stops doing what they were doing to get excommunicated in the first place, then yes, it can be undone.

I can’t be sure about this because excommunication ain’t my bag, baby, but I wouldn’t think so.

There is a group of people I have heard of, though I have been unable to find a cite for this … a group of people who go around with various saints proving the miracles were, well, not miracles. I don’t know how this affects the, er, affected people, but my understanding that once a saint or … saint(;)) on Earth, always a saint on earth (props to whoever can guess the slightly mangled reference).

It is my understanding that papal infallibility has never been used (as in, the method described by tomndebb) to declare someone a saint. As there have been two such declarations ever, and they both had to do not with sainthood but with Mary, it would seem to me that the issue has been avoided up until now, and at any rate ex cathedra statements are rare and reserved for other things, at least to my understanding.

Oh, the skeleton of Christ as a child, things like that;)

On a more serious note, they’re pieces of things or whatever deemed important to Church or Christian (I suppose Catholic, in this case) history. The cathedral (church? I don’t remember, to be honest) at Notre Dame, from what I have heard, has a buncha relics. Examples fo relics would be the skull of John the Baptist, or part of the cross, or the intact body of St. Clare (which, by the way, I have seen, and which is fucking unbelievable. If you ever want to see a miracle, go see that*.)

Three miracles. Two give you something else (beatification, IIRC), and one is something on a lower level (but still pretty hifallutin’, considering how many of us never even get to SEE one).

You use the beads to count how many times you’ve said a particular prayer. That’s why there are so many of those small’uns. And if they were imprinted with prayers, it’d be à la “grain of rice” stuff, and as such would be rather useless unless you happened to have the eyes of a hawk.

As my colleagues will have already pointed out, an Archbishop is head of a larger area than a bishop. In the ecumenical sense, they’re equal, at least as far as I know.

And if I’m wrong I trust someone will, as always, gently hit me with the cluestick:)

*Now watch someone come and tell me that got disproven, too…though as I said, I have seen the body…

Bevilaqua is a Cardinal? He came to our parish when he was bishop of Pittsburgh and offended most of the parish because it was Lent and the traditional foot washing ceremoney was to be performed-and he refused to allow women to participate. Huh. I have an interesting story about that.

Lest you think I’m doing a drive by, I’ll ask Fenris if he’s ever seen a set of beads? Basically, you use them to count off each prayer. Not only is there an Our Father, but there is also a Glory Be-
“Glory be to the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit; as it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end Amen.”

Excommunication isn’t about being kicked out of the church, per se-you can’t be. The church’s view is once a Catholic, always a Catholic. CECIL did a piece on this:

Cecil on Excommunication

Relics-there’s a church here in Pittsburgh over at Troy Hill which has a whole slew of relics. Really interesting. Some of them get to be a little hoky-Dr. Brett told us about the time he went to Rome and three different churches all claimed to have the skull of John the Baptist-so take it as a grain of salt. At least, they’re very fascinating things to see.

Also, the idea of the “patron” Saint is very likely connected to a cultural persistence of whatever the pre-Christian beliefs of the peoples who converted. This was sometimes even encouraged ( “The natives still tell stories that that hilltop was holy to the mother goddess.” “Really? Wouldn’t it be an amazing thing if Our Lady of Whatchamacallit made an apparition right there?” “Hmmm…” )

Y’kow, patronage is often arrived at by strange means. For instance it makes sense the patron of newscasting is the Angel Gabriel (yes, unfallen Archangels are Saints), who brought the news of Jesus’ conception. And it’s sort of understandable if the patron of TV is St. Clare of Assisi who is said to have had the gift of Remote Seeing. But I’ve read a patron of bell makers is St. Agatha, by mistake: her martyrdom involved the severing of her breasts, and lousy medieval paintings of said mutilation (in which she was demurely covered up) led people to believe those were bells on the table beside her.

The modern criterion for canonization is generally that the person exemplifies Christian virtue and holiness in an extraordinary manner, to the point of such holiness being manifested even after death by miracles associated with him/her. JP2 has raised controversy at times by insisting in maximizing the canonization rate of (relatively) contemporary figures in order to hold up examples of living a holy life (and sometimes a specific kind of holy life) in modern times. Problem is, the more recent the person, the likelier there’s a paper trail of less-than-PC moments (e.g. Msgr. Escriva, Mother Theresa, Edith Stein).

The Church did, after Vat-II, suppress the veneration or strike from its calendar of Feast Days a bunch of those whose biography was blank once you removed folk legend from it – e.g. the martyrs Ursula (of the 11 thousand virgins), who probably never existed, and Christopher, who apparently did exist but there’s no record on what did he do IRL.

Not exactly lower level infallibility. The underlying idea behind papal infallibility is that of the magisterium, or teaching authority of the Church. The Church has taught many things over the last two millenia with the same level of authority as the Pope speaking ex cathedra, both through the extraordinary magisterium of a General Council and in the ordinary teaching of the bishops when, though dispersed, they teach in agreement with each other and Rome.

There are also authoritative though not infallible teachings of the ordinary magisterium, to which the faithful owe submission even though the matter in question is not infallibly proclaimed. Bishops exercise this teaching authority within their diocese, with the Pope’s teaching having special weight because of the primacy of his office.

If you want to dig into the source document for the Church’s current teaching in this area, check out Lumen Gentium, the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, promulgated by Vatican II in 1964.

Yep, Cardinal Tony, as I somewhat irreverently refer to him, has been in Philly since 1988, and got the red hat in 1991. I was in Morgantown, WV throughout his time in Pittsburgh, and I had a number of friends from there who were quite perturbed over the foot washing fiasco. On the other hand, the Philadelphia Archdiocese is very conservative, so he seems to fit well here, and I honestly think he has moderated somewhat over the years. I almost always go to the Triduum services, and there have always been women in the group of parishioners at the foot washing on Holy Thursday, and female altar servers are common, as well as communion under both kinds.

Guinastasia, care to share your story?

Thanks for all the great answers: Ignorance has been fought successfully! Seriously, I’ve learned a lot!

As long as I have your attention, however, I’ve got another Catholic/Science-Fiction question that’ll be meaningless (I think) unless you’ve read the book. So, has anyone reading this thread also read James Blish’s A Case of Conscience?

Just in case, Spoiler Space. I’m gonna ruin the ending, and it’s an excellent ending, so don’t read ahead unless you’ve read the book and/or don’t intend to.

I’m seriously confused by the the way that the Manichaean heresy was disproved by the exorcism. If I understood correctly, Manichaeanism is the belief that Satan can create and is therefore equal to God.

The planet Lithia (because the planet has no crime/war/sin, but also has no concept of God) cannot exist as it does in a Godly creation. Ergo, Satan must have created it. But Satan can’t create. The main character, a priest, has a major moral/spiritual crisis about this.

At the end of the book, the priest exorcises the planet, which goes “poof” and vanishes (or is nuked, or the sun went nova or something). But whatever happened, the timing is too coincidental to be anything but a successful exorcism. This somehow disproves Manichaeanism.

Wha? :confused: The planet was real. People walked on it, breathed it’s air, ate it’s food, etc. Unless I’m missing something, all the sucessful exorcism meant was that Satan can create, but God is more powerful. Or am I missing something?