... the church does believe that the relationships we have enjoyed on earth will be transformed and enhanced as they continue in heaven.
Q. My wife passed away three years ago, and I miss her very much. We were married for 63 years. What are the church's thoughts on the hereafter? Will we still be man and wife? (Milford, Iowa)
A. Your question is one frequently asked by those who are mourning deeply the death of a spouse. The response should bring you some comfort.
In one Gospel story (Mark 12:18-27), a question is posed to Jesus by the Sadducees, who did not believe in an afterlife; they wanted to know about a woman who had had seven spouses successively, and which man would be her husband in heaven. Jesus explained that "when they rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but they are like the angels in heaven" (Mk 12:25).
Some have interpreted these words -- erroneously -- to mean that there will be no continuing and special relationship in heaven between earthly spouses. Instead, what Christ simply meant was that the institution of marriage, as we have known it on earth, will be unnecessary in heaven. There will be no need for procreation because no one will ever die; human companionship will not be required to satisfy our loneliness because the desire for intimacy will be fulfilled by knowing the Lord personally.
Still, though, the church does believe that the relationships we have enjoyed on earth will be transformed and enhanced as they continue in heaven. A prayer frequently used at the end of funeral Masses has the priest saying, "Before we go our separate ways, let us take leave of our brother/sister. May our farewell express our affection for him/her; may it ease our sadness and strengthen our hope. One day we shall joyfully greet him/her again when the love of Christ, which conquers all things, destroys even death itself."
Q. Too often I have seen various ministers at the Mass wearing shorts. I find this to be the utmost irreverence. Would these same people wear shorts to dine with the president of the United States? Yet they wear shorts not only to dine with Our Lord, but to serve him as well.
I know that God probably doesn't care, but shouldn't we care how we present ourselves before him and act as his representatives? Shouldn't we dress our best for Mass -- which, after all, is the most important event we attend each week? (Upstate New York)
A. There is nothing in the church's universal Code of Canon Law as to how ministers of the Eucharist should be dressed -- which is logical, when one considers that the Catholic Church embraces the entire the world and that what is considered appropriate apparel varies widely around the globe. (I have been present at papal Masses in the interior of Africa that included liturgical dance by women in grass skirts -- all done reverently and enhancing the sense of worship.)
The Catechism of the Catholic Church, however, does speak to the issue when it observes that for all who are present at Mass, "bodily demeanor (gestures, clothing) ought to convey the respect, solemnity and joy of this moment when Christ becomes our guest" (No. 1387).
Because taste in dress does differ (even within our own nation), it might seem wise for dioceses or parishes to draft their own guidelines -- and many, in fact, have done so. Some are rather general, noting that ministers should dress in a way that is respectful, modest and presentable -- often adding that clothing that is too casual or flamboyant can distract worshippers from the Eucharist.
Others are quite specific; one parish in the U.S. Midwest directs that liturgical ministers should wear "no jeans, sweatpants or yoga pants; no shirts exposing the navel; no tight-fitting clothes; no shorts; no flip-flops." For men, this means "no T-shirts (collared shirts only); no sleeveless shirts." For women, "no dress or skirt with a hem any higher than at or just above the knee; no spaghetti strap tops or tank tops or tube tops; no style of dress exposing bare shoulders or bare back; no style of dress exposing cleavage."
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Questions may be sent to Father Kenneth Doyle at firstname.lastname@example.org and 30 Columbia Circle Dr. Albany, New York 12203.
Father Kenneth Doyle is a columnist for Catholic News Service