The Great Adventure Catholic Bible Study 73 Books. One Story. Your Story. Wed, 26 Sep 2018 15:22:11 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Weekly Roundup of Ascension’s New Free Content Fri, 15 Jun 2018 15:14:07 +0000
Here is the weekly roundup of all the new free content on Ascension’s website. Every Friday you can check back here to make sure you didn’t miss any of our new podcasts, articles, or Ascension Presents videos. This week, Fr. Mike Schmitz explains why non-Catholics can’t receive Communion, Fr. Josh Johnson talks about celibacy, priests playing favorites, and Pope Francis; Nick LaBanca shares some solid advice on being a heroic Catholic father, and that’s just the beginning. Find out more below.

Ascension Presents

Why Non-Catholics Can’t Receive Communion

Holy Communion is not just a member privilege the Catholic Church offers to Catholics. It is an expression of the pre-existing reality that the communicant believes the Eucharist is the Body and Blood of Jesus. In this video, Fr. Mike thoroughly and passionately explains why the Church teaches that non-Catholics cannot receive Communion. Fr. Mike’s hope is that through his explanation, you will see how the Church’s teaching on this matter expresses its desire for all Christians to be one. Watch video

Guarding Your Life Against Lust

Oftentimes the advice we receive for overcoming lust sounds a little cliché, so we dismiss it as unhelpful. In this week’s video from Matt Fradd, though, he offers advice from St. Thomas Aquinas, who taught four ways to combat lust. Though they may seem common and difficult, no one who has consistently tried all four has found them lacking in their power to combat lust. Watch video

If you’d like to learn more about how to overcome porn and masturbation, check out Matt’s weekly podcast, Love People, Use Things.

Find out more about Matt Fradd at

A Friar Goes to Confession

Father Emmanuel tells the story of when a fellow priest showed him God the Father’s love. After hearing Father Emmanuel’s confession, the priest told him, “You’re a beautiful mess.” In many ways, that confession changed the course of his life. Watch video

Learn more about the CFRs at

Ascension Podcasts

Ricky the Dragon

What does a legendary pro wrestler have to do with Catholic sacramentality? Listen

Pope Francis, Priests Playing  Favorites, and Celibacy

Fr. Josh answers questions about Pope Francis and the media, priests playing favorites with parishioners, and dealing with celibacy as a priest. If you have a question, comment, or a response for Fr. Josh, email us at You may hear your question or comment in an upcoming podcast episode! Listen

Suicide: Preventing and Responding!

Did Vincent Van Gogh really commit suicide, or is there more to the story than we think? In light of recent suicides (Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain) Jeff comes to you with a special episode on preventing and responding to the tragedy of suicide. Find out how one of the historic icons of suicide (Vincent Van Gogh) has a different story than what you learned. Learn the the signs that typically lead to someone wanting to take their life, ideas as to how you can respond, what the Church teaches about suicide, and practical things you can do if you or someone you know is feeling depressed. Listen

3 Prayers You Might Not Be Praying and Why You Should Start 

If you’re not praying, you’re not going to get very far in understanding your faith or being able to help others grow in theirs. Historical theologian Dr. Marcellino D’Ambrosio explains three prayers of the Church to help you deepen your own prayer life and help others deepen their prayer lives as well. Listen and come away with a better grasp of the Church’s teaching on prayer, as well as several very practical ways to incorporate these three specific prayers into your own life and ministry. Listen

Ascension Blog

How a Saint Is Made (A Reflection on the Sower)

Examine the life of almost any saint and you will be struck by how ordinary they all started. St. Francis of Assisi is an excellent example of this. As a young man, Francis indulged in parties, dreamed of glory in battle, and was pretty much just like the rest of the young men in his town. Read More

St. Anthony of Padua Was a Simple Man

St. Anthony of Padua is one of the most popular and beloved saints. It may be a surprise to some that the finder of lost items is also a doctor of the Church, even given the title of Evangelical Doctor as proclaimed by Pope Pius XII in 1946. Read More

4 Ways Catholic Fathers Can Be Heroic Witnesses to Their Children

As I look at my children every night before going to bed, I wonder what their futures will be. I wonder what type of vocation they’ll have. I wonder what kind of relationship they’ll have with each other. I wonder what kind of relationship they’ll have with God.

And then, as I slowly leave the room and quietly close the door, I realize that the answers to those questions are contingent on one person. Me. Their father. Read More

Form, Intent, and Why They Matter

Every sacrament has ministers who perform them. But who are these ministers? It turns out they vary depending on the sacrament. Today we will begin to look at this, as well as other issues in a sacramental refresher: a who, what, when, where, and how of sacraments. Read More

For the latest articles from Ascension, visit our new blog.

Feature photo by Mahir Uysal on Unsplash.

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How a Saint Is Made (A Parable of the Sower Reflection) Thu, 14 Jun 2018 18:13:50 +0000 Examine the life of almost any saint and you will be struck by how ordinary they all started. St. Francis of Assisi is an excellent example of this. As a young man, Francis indulged in parties, dreamed of glory in battle, and was pretty much just like the rest of the young men in his town. Had you known the teenage Francis, you would probably not have assumed he would one day be recognized as one of the great saints of the Church. No, more than likely, you would have thought his story had a different ending in store. It is clear, however, that in the life of Francis, a seed of faith had been planted.

Francis was gifted with profound moments of encounter and conversion. As a young man, he encountered a leper and was revolted. Then, ashamed of his revulsion, Francis climbed down from his horse, embraced the man, and gave him all of the money in his wallet. In that leper, Francis believed he met Jesus. Later, in the chapel of San Damiano, the Lord spoke to Francis from the Cross and commissioned him to rebuild the Church. Due to these dramatic stories, it is possible to think that Francis was made a saint in such moments. That was not actually the case. The Lord was planting seeds. Francis then had to set out, day and night, and live in such a way that he was responding to the call God had placed on his life. God did not make Francis follow. He had to choose to do so, daily.

In Mark’s Gospel Jesus gives a parable of a sower throwing seed:

“The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed upon the ground, and should sleep and rise night and day, and the seed should sprout and grow, he knows not how” (Mark 4:26-27).

In this parable, Jesus is revealing something about the lives of the saints, and the life he is calling us to as well. Throughout our lives, God plants seeds. Often, these come in moments of encounter or conversion. Perhaps you have read a blog or heard a homily in which you knew the voice of the Lord was calling you. That was a moment of conversion. It was a seed thrown into your life. Perhaps as a youth, you attended a conference, and that weekend God may have shown you his face in the Eucharist. A seed of conversion was planted.

The thing is, if you were operating under the assumption that those moments of encounter were somehow going to “make you a saint”, then it is possible that, instead of moving you forward on the road of sanctification, they may have left you feeling disillusioned. You might not have known that every incredible moment of encounter is followed by an ordinary moment of faith.

It is easy to believe that mystical moments of conversion make saints. And, yes, there were those moments in Francis’ life, but no moment distinguishes itself as “the moment” in which he became a saint. He could have left his encounter with the leper feeling good about giving his money, about having hugged the man, and left self-satisfied and unchanged. But, he did not. Instead, he let that encounter set him down a path. It was a long and winding road that led to his sanctification. The sower had thrown the seed into his life but Francis, at any point, could have chosen to ignore it or to turn away from it.

God revealed himself to Francis in those moments, but, far from controlling how Francis would move toward him, or even dictating whether he would seek him at all, God allowed the great saint to respond. 

“Night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he knows not how.”

It is not that Jesus does not know how the seed of faith grows in his people. What he is telling us is that, upon receiving this seed, we must choose to follow. Francis did just that. Night and day, the seed of faith sprouted and grew as Francis chased after the heart of God. What makes St. Francis extraordinary is not the dramatic stories. What makes him remarkable is the daily resolve to respond to the seed of faith that had been planted.

The truth is, God is calling you to sainthood. He has planted the seed of faith in your life. It is very likely that you have encountered him many times. But, God does not force the seed of faith to grow. He does not make you respond. Instead, day after day, we have the opportunity to walk in faith, responding to God’s call. As we do, the seed of faith grows and sprouts. The work of sainthood happens, not in an instant, but in the everyday moments.

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St. Anthony of Padua, the Evangelical Doctor, Was a Simple Man

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St. Anthony of Padua, the Evangelical Doctor, Was a Simple Man Wed, 13 Jun 2018 12:49:43 +0000 St. Anthony of Padua is one of the most popular and beloved saints. It may be a surprise to some that the finder of lost items is also a doctor of the Church, even given the title of Evangelical Doctor as proclaimed by Pope Pius XII in 1946. His South American devotees, who call him St. Anthony of Lisbon after his birthplace, at first resisted his new title of doctor, fearing that it would disconnect him from the common folk. 

St. Anthony—who was born August 15, 1195 and died June 13, 1231—was indeed a learned man of aristocratic birth, but he preferred humility to the appearance of erudition and preaching to the common people over university privileges. Having studied as an Augustinian in Spain and then transitioning to life as a Franciscan in Italy, many of his fellow Franciscans thought washing dishes to be his greatest skill. It was only when St. Anthony was asked to preach for a special gathering that his gifts were discovered. He was sent to teach at the University of Bologna where he received many accolades, but he chose only to remain in academia for a time. He was also entrusted by St. Francis with the formation of the Franciscans.

St. Anthony’s reputation as finder of lost items actually comes from this time, when he prayed and found his book of annotated psalms which had been taken by a wayward novice leaving formation. Not only did the book return, but also the novice to the Franciscan order.

St. Anthony’s Preaching

St. Anthony crafted his preaching so that it was just as accessible to the learned as to the unlearned. We read of him in Butler’s Lives of the Saints:

“The learned admired the loftiness of his thoughts, and the strong images with which he painted the most sublime mysteries, and added an unspeakable dignity to the most obvious and common truths of religion and morality; yet a natural simplicity rendered all his discourses no less intelligible and easy to the most vulgar understandings.”

St. Anthony travelled about to preach and thousands would gather to hear him. His preaching was so popular that often he could only preach outdoors.

A collection of St. Anthony’s sermons is preserved to this day. While we cannot hear the inflection of voice or the use of emotion with which he was said to stir the hearts of penitents, we can glimpse some highlights of his thought. He was a biblical scholar. His teaching was centered on Scripture, and especially the gospels. This is why he is called the Evangelical Doctor. He is even quoted saying, “Theology is the science of Sacred Scripture.” Centuries later, the Second Vatican Council would teach, “the study of the sacred page is, as it were, the soul of sacred theology” (Dei Verbum, no. 24). The Catechism of the Catholic Church (no. 117) also reaffirms the spiritual senses of Scripture—moral, analogical (speaking of Christ), and anagogical (speaking of heaven). St. Anthony, following the Church Fathers whom he had studied deeply, immersed his preaching in those mystical and symbolic ways of interpreting Scripture. He saw throughout the Bible a “concordance” of events, as he termed it, which communicates a unified message and culminates in Christ. 

A Childlike Embrace

St. Anthony draws out the allegorical sense of the prophecy in Isaiah, “For a child is born to us” (Isaiah 9:6). He explains in the most tender of terms how it shows us what Christ is like. St. Anthony preached:

“This God is made a little child for us, is born for us today. There are many reasons why Christ is called a little child; and for briefness’ sake here is just one: if you hurt a child, make him cry, or smack him; but then show him a flower, a rose or something like that, and after showing it give it to him—then he will not remember the hurt, he will put away his indignation and run to embrace you. In the same way, if you offend Christ by mortal sin, or inflict any kind of injury on him, but then offer him the flower of contrition or the rose of tearful confession (‘Tears are the soul’s blood’), then he will not remember your offenses, he will take away your guilt and run to embrace and kiss you.”

Likewise, St. Anthony draws out the moral sense of the passage in which the baby Jesus was wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger:

“O poverty! O humility! The Lord of all is wrapped in a scrap of cloth! The King of angels lies down in a stable! Blush, insatiable avarice! Be ashamed, human pride!” (The Nativity of the Lord, 7). 

Conquering Through Love

St. Anthony is said to have stirred many to repentance. He understood the situations which he entered for preaching, and he did not embarrass or confront sinners directly. Instead, he pulled on the heartstrings and pricked the conscience as if through the backdoor. Above all, he was able to truly witness because he practiced what he preached. He, the humble dishwasher-turned-preacher, possessed the humility to which he exhorted his hearers. We read in Butler’s Lives of the Saints:

“To his other advantages he added that of the most graceful action and accent, by which he knew how to get into the very souls of his hearers by seizing on their senses, having learned that man has as much of a sensible as of a rational creature…. Charity and prudence took off the edge of harshness from his reprehensions, and his very reproofs were not bitter or austere, but amiable and insinuating. While he beat down presumptuous sinners by the terrors of the divine judgments, he at the same time took care to raise and encourage their sinking souls by confidence in the divine goodness and mercy. He opposed the fashionable vices and growing heresies of those times with equal vigor and success. The most obstinate heretics and the most hardened sinners threw themselves at his feet, declaring themselves conquered.”

He was called the “Hammer of Heretics” because of his effectiveness in bringing about the conversion of heretics. St. Anthony likewise opposed popular vices of the day. Once when the heretics were unwilling to listen to him, legend has it that the fishes rose to the surface of the water to hear St. Anthony preach. Pope Gregory IX appreciated St. Anthony’s fidelity to the Church and his gifted preaching, and made him his official court preacher. There, St. Anthony’s preaching came to be dubbed as the “Jewel Case of the Bible.” Pope Gregory himself called St. Anthony the “Ark of the Testament.”

St. Anthony’s Theology

St. Anthony never wrote a work of systematic theology, but his written sermons, expounding on the Bible in its spiritual senses, are themselves a work of biblical theology. In his book St. Anthony of Padua: Doctor of the Universal Church, Very. Rev. Raphael M. Huber, O.F.M. writes:

“he did expound the Sacred Text in such a deeply theological and a clearly mystical manner that these very sermons have become, in a sense, a textbook of dogmatic and moral theology; at least we find in them the marrow and quintessence of every theological tract.”

A Forerunner of Marian Dogma

St. Anthony, in the thirteenth century, was ahead of his times in articulating numerous orthodox theological doctrines. According to Huber, in a time when the Immaculate Conception was not universally understood, St. Anthony taught that the Blessed Virgin was “a throne of God made of pure ivory” and that she was “without the ardor of concupiscence and lily-white in her innocence”. He believed that she must have been preserved from original sin in order to be worthy to bear the Son of God.

St. Anthony also saw the implications of this for her Assumption into heaven. Though the Assumption was not celebrated everywhere, St. Anthony celebrated the Assumption on August 15 and preached on it. He argued from Scripture for the appropriateness of Mary’s Assumption, and drew parallels from various Old Testament passages to make the case. Drawing typology from Esther to Mary, he writes:

“This our glorious Esther is today led by the hands of the angels to ‘the chamber of king Assuerus’, ‘the heavenly bride-chamber in which the King of kings, blessedness of the angels, sits upon a starry throne,’ Jesus Christ, who loved this glorious Virgin ‘above all other women’, her from whom he took flesh, who found grace and mercy in his sight above all women. O immeasurable dignity of Mary! … truly, more excellent still was the grace of blessed Mary, who bore a Son to God the Father; and therefore she has been found worthy of being crowned this day in heaven” (Sermon on the Assumption).

A Defender of the Papacy

St. Anthony also preached on papal supremacy in a time when popes vied with emperors. He taught that Peter “was placed at the head of the apostles and at the head of the Church” and that “to him who had made a profession of Christ’s divinity before all the rest, was also given before all the other apostles the prerogative of the keys.” He also hinted at papal infallibility. In his biography of St. Anthony, Huber quotes St. Anthony, who wrote:

“Yes, indeed, Peter, as a mere man was an ignorant and illiterate person, but sitting upon his cathedra he was most wise” .

St. Anthony recognized that Peter was given a singular gift by God to interpret the true Faith.

St. Anthony, the Evangelical Doctor, was steeped in the prayerful study of Scripture in light of the Church Fathers. His main interest was in stirring hearts to the love of God and his main tool was the witness of his life, which stood to support the unique skill of his teaching and preaching.

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Four Ways for Catholic Fathers to Give Heroic Witness to Their Children Tue, 12 Jun 2018 15:55:46 +0000 As I look at my children every night before going to bed, I wonder what their futures will be. I wonder what type of vocation they’ll have. I wonder what kind of relationship they’ll have with each other. I wonder what kind of relationship they’ll have with God.

And then, as I slowly leave the room and quietly close the door, I realize that the answers to those questions are contingent on one person. Me. Their father. Now that’s not to say that my wife doesn’t have a hand in this. If I didn’t have her by my side the entire house would be up for grabs. But studies clearly show the necessity of a father, or at least a father figure, in the life of children. Those that come from places with an absent father or regular male role model in their lives are more likely to be in jail, more likely to be sexually promiscuous and more likely to be prone to a multitude of other problems.

As a Catholic father, I have even greater demands on me, and these expectations are something I must fulfill, particularly because I vowed to follow through at each of my children’s baptisms. Now I’m far from being the father of the year (I pray that our Lord will allow me to raise my children well everyday), but with Father’s Day coming up, I’ve been thinking about how fathers, and Catholic fathers in particular, need to be bold. What does it mean to be a good Catholic father in this day and age? I only have about four years’ experience of being a father, so this may not be much that I’ve picked up, but here are four ways we as fathers can really live out our vocation in a heroic way. Because that’s what we’re called to do: to give a heroic witness to our children.

1. Pray with your children daily and let them see you pray.

We as fathers (along with our wives) are our children’s primary instructors in the Faith. Not the religious education teacher. Not our parish’s pastor. Not our own mothers. We are. Studies have shown that when a father does not practice his faith in front of his children, there is only a very small chance that the children will themselves be religious as adults. Your role as a father matters in the eternal salvation of your child. Can’t be any more blunt than that.

You as a father need to pray with your kids, principally during the Mass. Let them see you making the Sign of the Cross after dipping your hand in the holy water font, and do it slowly. Let them see you genuflect before our Lord as you enter and exit church, and ensure that they do so when they are of age (my 25-month old son can do it, so start them young). Let them see you strike your breast with sorrow for your sins at the Penitential Rite. Let them see you bow your head in reverence at the elevation of the Eucharist. Also, pray before meals, and ensure that you, or your wife (or both of you) are praying with your kids before bedtime. Kids are great at memorization. Young children can easily memorize the Our Father, Hail Mary, and a few other prayers if you pray it with them each day.

I’ve often read this Scripture passage when I pray Compline from the Liturgy of Hours, and it’s something all fathers need to remember:

“You shall therefore lay up these words of mine in your heart and in your soul… And you shall teach them to your children, talking of them when you are sitting in your house, and when you are walking by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise” (Deuteronomy 11:18-19).

It’s always a good time to talk to our children about our Lord Jesus.

2. Always be on the same team as your wife, your children’s mother

You and your wife have to be on the same page. In Familiaris consortio, St. John Paul addressed fathers in this way:

“Love for his wife as mother of their children and love for the children themselves are for the man the natural way of understanding and fulfilling his own fatherhood… In revealing and in reliving on earth the very fatherhood of God, a man is called upon to ensure the harmonious and united development of all the members of the family: he will perform this task by exercising generous responsibility for the life conceived under the heart of the mother, by a more solicitous commitment to education, a task he shares with his wife, by work which is never a cause of division in the family but promotes its unity and stability, and by means of the witness he gives of an adult Christian life which effectively introduces the children into the living experience of Christ and the Church” (FC 25).

Our children need to see that we love their mother. This is why we always need to put our wife at number one (well, two, after God of course). A lot of people in our culture flip flop that and put their kids before their spouse. We as Catholic fathers can’t afford to do that. Marriage is permanent. We know that. If our relationship isn’t good with our wife, it will have detrimental effects on our children. We have to keep harmony in our family, and if our kids see us being kind to their mother, they will be witnessing true manhood. Don’t fight in front of your kids, and always pray to St. Joseph that you may be a good husband so that you in turn may be a good father.

3. Tell your kids you love them

You have to tell your kids this. Even your sons. We all know that our daughters are the apples of our eyes, and we are affectionate with them. But our sons need that, too. Whether you have all boys, all girls, or a mix of both, you have to let your kids know you love them. You can say that with those three simple words. Or get down on the ground and play with them. Show interest in their activities, their creations, their sports. Show them by teaching them about your greatest love, Jesus Christ. We might think that our wives are the sole providers of “TLC.”, but that couldn’t be any farther from the truth.

We as fathers might of course be a bit rougher with our kids, and take more chances with them than our wives would want us to, but we also need to be tender with them, and they need to see that too. St. John Paul II also warns against “the phenomenon of ‘machismo’”. Don’t be like the guys that you see in Hollywood or on TV. That isn’t authentic manhood. Kids need their dads to provide both toughness and tenderness. It’s not an either/or, but instead it’s a both/and.

4. Pray the Rosary often

Now I know I already said that fathers need to pray, but this deserves its own point. Numerous saints have attested to the power of the Rosary. St. Padre Pio continuously prayed the Rosary, often calling it his “weapon”. And that it is, as the Rosary is an excellent tool for spiritual combat. This means it’s good to get your kids using it early. When I was young, my father always led our family in the Rosary. It’s not a prayer for old women. It’s a prayer for all Catholics, especially for dads.

Here’s something a lot of people might not know: one can attain a plenary indulgence for saying the Rosary with one’s family. This is something one can do daily. As I said, my dad (and mother) often said the Rosary with me and my three siblings. And on top of that, it was not uncommon in my large, extended, Italian family for over 60 people at once to recite the Rosary at family birthday parties. My father, grandfather, uncles and male cousins all joined in. It was a beautiful witness.

Now, did things get crazy sometimes with kids running around, either at family parties or at home with just my immediate family? Yes. And things even get really crazy now when we try to say the Rosary with two kids under the age of four. But it’s something we need to do. If you must, just say one decade of the Rosary. But I challenge you to start saying the entire five decade Rosary with your kids from the time they learn the Hail Mary. Let our Catholic faith be front and center with your family.

Of course, these are only a few ways we can go about being better dads. But at least it’s a start. We have so many great examples among the saints, so we must look to them as we endeavor to be good and loving fathers to our children. There’s only one main reason why we’re doing all of this, after all. It’s so that our entire family may be united with our Lord together in heaven one day. Do you want your child to be in heaven at the end of their earthly life? You as a father need to lead them there.

What are some other ways we can be better dads, or ways we can help our own dads or husbands in their vocation as fathers? Let us know in the comments below.

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Form, Intent, and Why They Matter Mon, 11 Jun 2018 15:54:13 +0000 In a recent post, while exploring the question of communion at Protestant services, we looked at Canon 844, which states:

“Catholic ministers administer the sacraments licitly to Catholic members of the Christian faithful alone, who likewise receive them licitly from Catholic ministers alone.”

Reading this, one could ponder the definition of a “Catholic minister” in this sense. Every sacrament has ministers who perform them. But who are these ministers? It turns out they vary depending on the sacrament. Today we will begin to look at this, as well as other issues in a sacramental refresher: a who, what, when, where, and how of sacraments. This article focuses on the sacraments of initiation. In future posts, we will address the rest of the sacraments.

What Does a Sacrament Require?

First of all, a sacrament needs a minister who intends to confect the sacrament. Intention is important. Sacraments are not “magic spells” where words and objects have power, but moments in which God grants the privilege of allowing us to be part of his plan to deliver grace. So if someone, for example, were to sleepwalk while pouring water on someone and saying the formula for baptism, it would not be valid. Aside from that, the minimum that is needed are referred to as “form” and “matter.” These would be the “how” and “what”.

Form is what is said and done and matter is whatever is required to be present. Not everything that normally occurs in a sacrament is required. For example, some very important parts of the baptism rites whose symbolism is important to what is going on (the candle, or the white gown) do not constitute sacramental matter because it is possible to have a baptism without them.

The “What” and “How” of Baptism

Beginning, then, with baptism, let us look at what is required. The matter is water. The form consists of the words:

“I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit”

spoken while water is poured on the recipient (Code of Canon Law, Canon 849). Traditionally, the water is poured three times on the head, or the person is immersed three times, but this is not required.

The rest of the ritual: the vows rejecting Satan, the presence of a godparent, the aforementioned gown and candle are important, but not necessary. For a baptism to be valid, all that is needed is to have the words above spoken, and the water to be poured on someone. Please note, this form must be followed strictly for the baptism to be considered valid by the Church. As an example, if someone baptizes “in the name of Jesus,” or even speaks of the persons of the Trinity, but does not use their individual titles (“Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,”) this would not be considered valid.

The “Who” of Baptism

So we have the what and the how. Let us move to the “who” of baptism. Perhaps because baptism is vital to salvation, in this sacrament, the Church allows the most freedom in who the minister can be. The Church does teach:

“The ordinary ministers of Baptism are the bishop and priest and, in the Latin Church, also the deacon” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 1256).

However, ANYONE can baptize validly. This leads to several additional factors. For example, when many Protestants choose to come into full communion with the Catholic Church, there is often no need to baptize them again. If their previous denomination baptizes with the same formula that Catholics do, the Church considers this a valid baptism. A tangential note here regarding the “when” of baptism: once. It need not, and in fact cannot, be received more than one time.

Further, it is preferred, but not required, that baptisms occur on Sunday, or at the Easter Vigil (Canon 856). Also, the person baptizing need not be Catholic, or even a baptized Christian themselves. As long as they intend to do what the Church believes to be true when they are pouring the water and saying the formula (there’s the required intent), the sacrament is considered valid.

Normally, baptisms done by a lay person would only be done in cases of emergency. If there was no grave need to wait for a priest, this would be illicit, but still valid. For this reason, DON’T just go around giving out baptisms like they are party favors. Why? Well, for one thing, the Church names the ordained as normal ministers for a reason. This way they know what is done, and that the formula is followed correctly. If I start going around baptizing folks just for kicks and giggles, I’m obviously not taking it seriously, I may not follow the form correctly, and one could argue that I don’t have the proper intent, thus invalidating it.

Baptism is not just a symbol.

Baptism is truly making a change in the person. As the minister, one has a responsibility to make sure that the person they are baptizing (or their parents, if it is an infant or child) desires this. Another practical reason is that the Church requires a record of the baptism to be kept. In cases where a baptism takes place outside of the Church, the person who administers the sacrament, if they are not the pastor of the local parish, is responsible for informing the pastor of the parish where the baptism took place—the date and details—so the parish has a record (Canon 878).

The “Where” of Baptism

This touches on another aspect of baptism: the “where.” It is expected that baptisms take place in a church unless it is necessary for the baptism to take place elsewhere. Again, this way the record is kept safe as it stays where it was.

One more thing should be considered regarding the ability of anyone to baptize validly. I am aware of cases in which parents baptized gravely sick children or infants who would not survive until a baptism at a church could be scheduled. What a beautiful gift this is (both the gift from the parent to the child, and the gift of the Church to the parent, in allowing this)! Situations like this are why the Church allows anyone to baptize in cases of grave necessity.

I also have heard anecdotal evidence of people baptizing their healthy child, even though they were going to schedule a baptism. Please refrain from this. As was mentioned above, there is a way baptism should be handled, and unless it is truly a grave necessity, we should let the ordained minister handle this. If, however, you are aware that an infant (or adult for that matter) was validly baptized prior to a scheduled ceremony, please let the priest or deacon know. They can continue the ceremony but in place of the actual pouring of water and baptism, they can administer a “conditional baptism,” that is, a baptism that will confer all the graces of the sacrament if the original one was not done validly.

“Confirmation is necessary for the completion”

Confirmation strengthens the faith of a baptized person, delivering to them the fullness of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. How important is this? The grace received in confirmation is so vital that baptism is incomplete until confirmation is received:

“the reception of the sacrament of Confirmation is necessary for the completion of baptismal grace” (CCC 1285).

This is why in the Eastern Catholic Churches, confirmation is given immediately after baptism. As for the “who” of this sacrament, this is the bishop. While Eastern Catholic Churches usually confirm right after baptism, and thus the priest is directly administering, the bishop is still the original minister in these cases because only a patriarch or bishop may consecrate the oil that the priest uses when confirming. In the Latin church, the ordinary minister of the sacrament is a bishop, but in some cases due to unavailability of the bishop or other grave reasons, a priest may confirm, again using oil consecrated by the bishop (CCC 1312-1313).

The Matter and Form of Confirmation

The matter required for confirmation is the oil: chrism. The form is the bishop anointing the confirmand with that oil, while saying either:

“The seal of the gift that is the Holy Spirit” (Eastern Catholic Churches)

Or, in the Latin Church:

“Be sealed with the Gift of the Holy Spirit” (CCC 1300).

Regarding the location of confirmation, it is desirable that confirmation take place in a church, during a Mass, but this is not required (Canon 881). When is confirmation celebrated? There is some variety here. As was mentioned above, Eastern Rite Catholics celebrate it immediately after baptism; Latin Church tradition waits until the confirmand has reached the age of discretion (CCC 1307).

The Eucharist Is the Completion

Baptism and confirmation initiate the individual into Christianity, but the Eucharist completes this initiation, connecting the individual with the rest of the Church at the wedding feast of the Lamb. I don’t think this or any blog post is enough to discuss the theology involved in this “most august sacrament” (Canon 897), but to maintain continuity with the rest of this post, this section will stick to the who, what, how, etc.

The matter of the Eucharist is the bread, made from wheat, and unspoiled wine, into which some water is added. The form is the words of the priest spoken at consecration. You may recall we discussed baptism above, and how not every aspect of the baptism was form or matter. In a similar way, not all of the words of consecration are considered the form. Only the following words, spoken during the Eucharistic Prayer, constitute the form of the Eucharist:

“Take this, all of you and eat of it. For this is my body which will be given up for you.”

And later, while with regards to the precious blood:

“Take this, all of you, and drink from it. For this is the chalice of my blood, the blood of the new and eternal covenant, which will be poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins. Do this in memory of me.”

In other words, if a priest saying the Eucharistic Prayer stumbles over the pronunciation of “Chrysogonus,” or is traveling and accidentally says the name of the bishop where he was yesterday, this does not invalidate the Eucharist. But when consecrating the bread and wine, the words above must be said in their entirety.

The Intent and Person Matter

As I wrote above, in addition to form and matter, the intent of the minister matters as well. Only the bread and wine that the priest intends to confect becomes the Body and Blood of Jesus (so you can’t sneak some extra bread into Mass and walk away with it as the Eucharist). Traditionally, this is why the priest often places the chalice and ciborium on a small white cloth called a corporal, so there is no doubt as to what bread and what wine he intends to consecrate.

Which brings us to the “who” of the Eucharist. There are several ways to answer this. Firstly, in order to consecrate the Eucharist, this is a simple answer: only someone ordained as a priest can do so. One way the Eucharist is different from the other sacraments though, is the fact that the minister who confects the sacrament is not necessarily the minister who administers the sacrament. Often he is, but due to the practicalities of the number of people at a Mass, sometimes there are other ministers. The ordinary minister of the Eucharist is a bishop, a priest, or a deacon (Canon 910). The same canon does go on to describe extraordinary ministers as well: instituted acolytes or lay faithful who can also assist in the distribution of communion.

When and where are pretty simple: at Mass. In fact, it is unacceptable for a priest to attempt consecration outside of holy Mass (Canon 927, which also—fun fact—states it is unacceptable to only consecrate one species and not the other). Mass obviously normally takes place in a church but this is not required.

Hopefully this has been an informative post. In the future I hope to go over other sacraments and what is required too. If you have any questions or suggestions for other topics you’d like to learn more about, please leave them in the comments below.

Photo by Prayitno on Flickr.

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Belonging: Baptism in the Family of God

Chosen: Your Journey Toward Confirmation

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