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Archived Online Discussion
Topic: The Sacraments We Celebrate: A Catholic Guide to the Seven Mysteries of Faith
Date: 5-6 pm (ET)
on Thursday, September 23, 2010
Monsignor Peter J. Vaghi
Discussion Moderator:
Tonight, the Knights of Columbus is pleased to welcome once again Msgr. Peter J. Vaghi in a live discussion of his most recent book, The Sacraments We Celebrate: A Catholic Guide to the Seven Mysteries of Faith. This is the second book in a series that looks at the four pillars of the  Catechism of the Catholic Church, offering a thorough exploration of the sacraments as transforming encounters with Christ. At this time we'd like to begin the discussion by encouraging you to submit your questions for Msgr. Vaghi if you haven't done so already.

Kenneth Kelling
Kiel, WI USA
God bless you Monsignor and thank you for your book. Could you please
explain why a person in mortal sin is not supposed to consume the body and
blood of Jesus? To me it seems that one needs the strength that the Holy
Eucharist provides in order to fight the onslaught of the devil.
Monsignor Peter J. Vaghi:

Thank you for your question Kenneth.
The Eucharist wipes away venial sins and preserves us from future mortal sins. It is not ordered to the forgiveness of those in mortal sin. That is proper to the Sacrament of Penance.

Roger Feeney
Norwich, New York
Msgr. Vaghi:

How can we encourage others to return to the sacraments, especially those who have been away from the Church for some time or only visit on holidays?
Monsignor Peter J. Vaghi:

Thank you Roger.

The most important way to encourage fallen away Catholics to come home to the family of the church is through prayer and witness. I would even suggest prayer by name. Each of us knows individuals who are not actively practicing the faith for whatever reason and they should be on our prayer list.

On the diocesan and parish level, programs such as Come Home for Christmas and The Light is On for You during Lent are concrete ways to encourage a return to the Sacrament of Reconciliation. They have been successful in our Archdiocese of Washington and our parishes. Outreach to fallen away Catholics and those who are tepid in the faith or not properly formed in the faith should be a number one focus in the New Evangelization suggested by our Holy Father.

Margherita Peebles
Rio Linda, Cal.

Hello! Thanks for this great explanation of the sacraments. As a young woman, I am very much looking forward to marriage someday. It seems that people are getting married later and later these days, especially if they choose to have a career. How do you think this is affecting marriage and what's the solution?
Monsignor Peter J. Vaghi:

Thank you Margherita.

Like Holy Orders, Marriage is a special vocation and a sacrament. As I say in my book, "it is a special call from God." (p. 124) As with any call from God, it must be discerned through daily prayer. The Lord calls us at different times in our lives and the career issue is increasingly an integral part of the discernment. What is important, however, is our openness to His voice in terms of all life-time commitments such as Marriage and Holy Orders. For some, the call comes later in life. As long as one has carefully discerned the call, one is assuredly doing the will of God as best as one can regardless of age.

Maude Traufficant
Port Matilda, Penn
I know you say that, according to the Catechism, the Eucharist separates us from sin. How do we reconcile this with the need to receive with a clean soul, in other words, already having received reconciliation?
Monsignor Peter J. Vaghi:
Maude, thanks for your question. The Sacrament of Reconciliation is necessary for the forgiveness of mortal sins. In fact, the Catechism is clear that "The Eucharist is not ordered to the forgiveness of mortal sins--that is proper to the sacrament of Reconciliation." (CCC 1395) At the same time, the Catechism teaches that "the Eucharist preserves us from future mortal sins" because of the charity that is enkindled within us. (CCC 1395) Note also that "the Eucharist strengthens our charity, which tends to be weakened in daily life; and this living charity wipes away venial sins." (CCC 1394)

Leslie Kurth
Oakland, CA
What are some practical ways in which we, as laymen, can help improve sacramental preparation in our parishes/schools?
Monsignor Peter J. Vaghi:

Leslie, good question. Continuing prayerful study of the sacraments is fundamental. One of the reasons that I wrote this book was to help each of us understand more deeply the beauty and meaning of the sacraments--how each of the sacraments brings us in touch with the living and risen Jesus. "Each sacrament is our transformative share in the dying/rising experience of Jesus, which is essential for our salvation" as His followers. (p. 13) They are not isolated events. "They are various aspects of the one Paschal or Easter mystery." (p. 11) They prolong in time and space the unique Mystery of Jesus Christ, above all, His passion, death and resurrection and our insertion into that Mystery.

Concretely, the beauty of the sacraments should be shared with children at home. Well-prepared sessions of preparation for parents are necessary in the parish so that the parents are confident in their knowledge about the individual sacraments. This includes Baptism, Penance, Holy Eucharist, Confirmation and, later on, preparation for Marriage. The best preparation for Holy Eucharist and Penance is "weekly" Sunday Mass with the children and  "regular" reception with the children of the Sacrament of Penance. To encounter Christ regularly in these sacraments changes us forever and helps us in our daily walk with the living Lord Jesus. In effect, then, prayerful study about the sacraments and regular participation in the sacraments are the best preparation for a worthy reception of the sacraments. 

Eddy Nichols
Red Hook, NY
Weekly Church attendance aside, how do you suggest family members strengthen their commitment to the sacraments together?
Monsignor Peter J. Vaghi:
Eddy, I would suggest a family preparation for Sunday Mass and Penance. This could include the prayerful study of the readings at home for the forthcoming Sunday involving a discussion of the readings and how they apply to the life of one's specific family. In addition, use of the examination of conscience is a wonderful way to prepare together for reception of the sacrament of Penance. It might raise areas where the family can grow in forgiveness of each other. Each of these suggestions is bound to deepen the understanding and love of the sacraments of the Holy Eucharist and Reconciliation. It helps bring the family together spiritually. 

Jeff Lawson
Scranton, PA
Monsignor, you shared an anecdote about a young couple, both Catholic educated in high school and college, that still failed to understand sacraments on a basic level. Is there a crisis of knowing the fundamentals of our faith? I've always felt our Catholic colleges focused too much on novel theologies or social doctrines and not enough on the central tenets of the faith. What is going on these days?
Monsignor Peter J. Vaghi:
Jeff, sacramental preparation is ideally the subject for grade school and high school study. In college programs, a deepening of the understanding theologically should take place. A renewed effort needs to be made at the parish level in terms of preparation for the sacraments and educating on the basics of the faith. The parish is the catechetical center of the Church. Happily, so many efforts are being made in parishes all over our country in recent years to deepen the study, love and reception of these life-changing encounters with the living Lord, encounters we call sacramental.

Pavel Herzog
Zanesville OH
On the topic of Penance, Father, I wonder if sin is truly as you say, something akin to plaque in one's arteries. An ailment to get over. Or is it a real force? Isn't evil a real force that we must overcome? Isn't that the problem that people no longer truly take sin, evil, hell, and its role in the world, seriously?
Monsignor Peter J. Vaghi:
Pope John Paul II described sin as a "mystery." It is a burden, and like plaque in one's arteries, it blocks the flow of grace. But the beauty of our faith, and our faith in the sacramental encounter we call Penance, makes it clear that our sin can be healed no matter how deep or paralyzing it is. That is the Good News we celebrate. For sure that is the challenge, to recoup a sense of sin in our lives, name it, confess it and live a renewed life in the Lord Jesus.

Connor Burk
Kingston, RI
Msgr. Vaghi, thank you for your work.
In your book you mention that each sacrament has specific graces that stenghten us, bring us peace, etc. How do we effectively explain the concept of 'a grace'?
Monsignor Peter J. Vaghi:

Thank you Connor.

Tomes have been written on the topic of grace. In sum, the Catechism teaches that "Grace is a participation in the life of God."(CCC 1997) Moreover, it is "favor, the free and undeserved help that God gives us to respond to his call to become children of God, adoptive sons, partakers of the divine nature and of eternal life." (CCC 1996) Each sacrament, as it is a transformative encounter with the living God, is a special vehicle of grace. Each sacrament confers and strengthens the life of grace in the particular form that each sacrament symbolizes. We speak, for example, of a healing grace or a grace which nourishes or strengthens. Each sacrament brings us in touch with the living God in a different and particular way, and as such, changes, transforms and gives us grace. It is God's wonderful life within us. Remember the old definition of a sacrament as an outward sign instituted by Christ to give grace. How privileged we are to share even now in the life of God in our encounter with Him through the seven sacraments. It is His gratuitous gift of His own life.

Discussion Moderator:

The Knights of Columbus would like to thank you, the audience, for your participation in this discussion. We also extend our heartfelt thanks to Monsignor Peter Vaghi for his insightful analysis on how we can incorporate the sacraments into our daily lives. Monsignor Vaghi is a Knight of Potomac Council 433 in Washington, D.C. If you would like more information, see Msgr. Vaghi's interview with Salt & Light Television regarding his previous works.

We encourage you to join us in October when we host Rodney Stark, who will be answering questions on his most recent book, God's Battalions: The Case for the Crusades.

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