Father Kenneth Doyle, Catholic News Service
Q. As a longtime practicing Catholic, I would like to know whether the church has a position on whether those who are now in heaven can observe, and are aware of, how we are living our lives here on earth. Also, can we pray to our deceased loved ones for help and guidance in the same way that we pray to the saints? (San Francisco)
A. As to your first question, the belief of the church is that the saints in heaven are, in fact, aware of us and of how we are living. From the earliest days of the church, Christians have prayed to the saints and asked them to petition the Lord on our behalf.
In the Book of Revelation (5:8), traditionally attributed to the apostle John, those in heaven are portrayed as interceding for us before the throne of God, holding bowls filled with incense and offering our own prayers to the Father. If they are aware of our prayers, they clearly must know what we are about.
Your second question is a bit more complicated. As for praying to deceased loved ones, we may not be certain whether they have yet merited heaven. If they are still in purgatory, we can surely pray for them — but can they pray for us? And here, theologians have differed.
St. Thomas Aquinas believed that the souls in purgatory were not yet in a position to intervene on our behalf. St. Robert Bellarmine, on the other hand, felt that these souls were already secure in their eventual salvation and therefore were in a favorable position to beg divine help for those of us still in earth.
If the deceased loved ones to whom we pray are already in heaven, then of course they can bring our prayers to the Lord.
So, to your question, I think that it does make sense to hope that they are already with God and to pray to them for help and guidance. I myself do this frequently — visit the graves of my parents and my sister and ask them to help me to live the way they taught me and to be a good priest.
Q. Can a divorced person serve as a eucharistic minister, or do you need to get your marriage annulled first? I have no intention of remarrying, nor am I living with a partner or having a sexual relationship with anyone. What is the Catholic Church’s rule on this? (Trinidad and Tobago)
A. Yes, you absolutely can serve as an extraordinary minister of holy Communion — and no, you do not need to get your marriage annulled first. (You would only need to do that if you wanted to remarry.)
Your question reminds me that there is a fair amount of misunderstanding among Catholics about divorce. Sad to say, some Catholics who have been divorced — sometimes through little or no fault of their own — feel that they have thereby separated themselves from the church and may even stop coming to Mass.
So it is helpful when a parish explains on their website, as does the parish of St. Vincent de Paul in Niagara Falls, New York, that “Catholics who are separated or divorced, and who have not remarried outside of the church, are in good standing in the church and can receive the sacraments, including holy Communion.
“(They) are encouraged to fulfill their Catholic commitment by attending church on a weekly basis … (and) to fully participate in all aspects of parish life. (They) are invited to serve in any ministries — including lectors, eucharistic ministers and catechists. (They) may serve as godparents for baptism or sponsors for confirmation. Catholics who are separated or divorced are not excommunicated.”
Similarly, St. John Paul II said in his 1981 apostolic exhortation “Familiaris Consortio”: “I earnestly call upon pastors and the whole community of the faithful to help the divorced, and with solicitous care to make sure that they do not consider themselves as separated from the church, for as baptized persons they can, and indeed must, share in her life” (No. 84).
Questions may be sent to Father Kenneth Doyle at firstname.lastname@example.org and 30 Columbia Circle Dr., Albany, New York 12203.