Can prayers clinch heaven?
Q. I was given a prayer folder that tells me that I will suffer no purgatory and be taken directly to heaven when I die, provided that I say these prayers daily for 12 years. (Missed days can be made up.) I am about ready to start the third year, but a dear Catholic friend has just told me that this promise is not true.
The prayers are called "The Seven Sorrows of Mary, as given to St. Bridget and The Twelve-Year Prayers of St. Bridget on the Passion of Jesus," and I have read that these prayers were confirmed by Pope Clement XII and Pope Innocent X. I don't really mind doing the prayers, but I would like to know if I can guarantee my salvation. (Fayetteville, Arkansas)
A. No prayer -- not even one said every day for 12 years -- can "guarantee salvation." Even a plenary indulgence, which remits all of the temporal punishment due to sin, covers only those sins committed up until the time the indulgence is gained; it is not "prospective."
The surest way to eternal happiness is to live out the teachings of Jesus Christ as learned from the Gospels. (I quote as my witness Jesus himself, who explained in Matthew 7:21 that "not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my father in heaven.")
It strikes me as a bit like magic to think that the mere recitation of certain words could by itself win joy that is eternal. After all, a plenary indulgence requires, in addition to the particular prayer or action, the reception of the sacraments of penance and the Eucharist (as well as prayers for the pope's intentions).
Having said this, I would still encourage you to continue the recitation of the prayers you mentioned. Most often, the effect of prayer -- as well as comforting the soul -- is to bring one closer to Jesus in thought and action, which is the goal of our lives and the safest path to salvation.
Q. I am getting married in Cancun, Mexico, and the pastor of my Christian church (Valley Point Church) here in Pennsylvania is coming to marry us. (We will actually get married civilly at the courthouse here at home before we travel to Mexico, in order to be sure that the wedding will be recognized in the U.S.)
My brother-in-law is a Catholic priest here in Pennsylvania, and I have invited him to be present (not officiate) at our wedding on the beach in Cancun. He says that he is not allowed to attend since it is not a Catholic wedding in a church and that he can only come to the dinner afterward at the resort restaurant. Is that true? (Everyone I talk to says that this can't possibly be a rule for Catholic priests.) (Pennsylvania)
A. I take it from your question that you are not a Catholic, since your church would seem by its name to be a nondenominational Christian one. I do not know whether your husband-to-be is Catholic, and my answer hinges on whether he is.
If he is not, I don't see why your brother-in-law should feel that he cannot attend the wedding. If, however, the man you are marrying is a Catholic, his responsibility is either to be married by a Catholic priest in a Catholic church or to receive the necessary permissions for the marriage to be performed by someone other than a priest and in a setting other than a Catholic church.
My guess is that the groom is in fact a Catholic and has not received the needed permissions -- in which case I can understand your brother-in-law's reluctance to attend.
Especially as a priest, he is required to avoid giving scandal, and he has evidently decided that his presence at the wedding would create the misimpression that the ceremony was approved by the Catholic Church.
I would guess, further, that he has made the judgment that for the sake of family harmony -- and with the hope that later you might decide to have your marriage "blessed" by the Catholic Church -- it would better that he be present at the reception.
- Father Kenneth Doyle is a columnist for Catholic News Service