Q. Most of my family is Protestant, but I became an adult convert four years ago and was baptized and confirmed in the Catholic faith. Members of my family often ask me questions about Catholic beliefs, and usually I can answer them, but recently my mother asked me one that I need your help with. She said, “Since Jesus is now resurrected and sits at the right hand of God the Father, why do Catholics keep him crucified on the cross in your statues, religious jewelry, pictures, etc.?” (Chillicothe, Ohio)
A. The image of the tortured body of Jesus on the cross has been used by Christians as a devotional symbol since the early centuries of Christianity. The purpose, of course, is to illustrate the immense love that Christ had for us and the sacrifices he endured to redeem us. The crucifix serves, too, to remind us that we are called to make our own sacrifices on behalf of others.
In one of his sermons, St. Augustine (354-430) gave the underlying rationale for the use of the crucifix, writing, “The death of the Lord our God should not be a cause of shame for us; rather, it should be our greatest hope, our greatest glory. In taking upon himself the death that he found in us, he has most faithfully promised to give us life in him, such as we cannot have of ourselves.”
This depiction of Christ on the cross takes its inspiration from St. Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians, where St. Paul writes, “We proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to gentiles” (1 Cor 1:23). What you might want to say to your mother is that the Catholic Church honors her perception that Jesus now shares in glory — so much so that some Catholic churches today choose to portray the image of Christ on the cross dressed in the white robes of his resurrected glory.
Most crosses that adorn Catholic church steeples and bell towers display only the cross, not the body of Jesus; likewise, Catholics are not adverse to using such religious symbols as the Jerusalem cross or the Celtic cross. So Christians of all denominations, though their devotional symbols may sometimes differ, clearly reverence both the passion of Christ as well as his resurrection.
Q. At a recent Mass I attended, I noticed a teenager seated near me who was chewing gum during the Mass. I was not overly alarmed because I have seen other people (of all ages) chew gum at Mass. But I was appalled when I watched that young man parade forward to receive holy Communion while still chewing his gum. Should the priest have refused to give him Communion? (West Linn, Oregon)
A. Canon law (Canon 919.1) tells Catholics that they are to abstain from all food and drink (with the exception of water or medicine) for at least one hour before receiving holy Communion. The reason, of course, is to remind us how special the Eucharist is, nourishing us for life eternal. Nowhere does canon law define precisely what constitutes food and what does not.
Some, I suppose, might argue that since sugar-free gum has no nutritional value, it does not qualify. But I would tend to differ; in my mind, gum of any kind profanes the mouth as a receptor for Communion and should be avoided.
As to your question, though, I would not as a priest refuse to give the young man holy Communion. Why take the risk of embarrassing him and having him feel uncomfortable at that church or, perhaps, at any Eucharist?
Why not instead seek him out after Mass and chat with him as to the appropriateness of chewing gum before receiving Communion? And if the problem is as common as you indicate, perhaps an occasional reminder in the church bulletin might help.
Questions may be sent to Father Kenneth Doyle at firstname.lastname@example.org and 30 Columbia Circle Dr., Albany, New York 12203.