By Father Kenneth Doyle
Catholic News Service
Q. Some years ago, I was driving my car in an unfamiliar area and felt a desire to stop in a church and pray. I came across a huge barn of a building with no sign on the outside, and I wondered whether it might be “one of ours” (i.e., a Catholic church).
I entered and saw a red candle lighted, to the right of the altar, and I knew that I was “home.” In more recent years, though, some of the Catholic churches I visit have no red light, and the Blessed Sacrament is locked away in a chapel. Perhaps this is just a quirk of my home diocese, but I can’t help wondering: Why are we hiding God? (Orange, California)
A. The “sanctuary lamp,” to which you refer, is actually required in a Catholic church whenever the Blessed Sacrament is reserved. The General Instruction of the Roman Missal (the GIRM, the church’s liturgical “rule book”) says in No. 316 that “near the tabernacle a special lamp, fueled by oil or wax, should shine permanently to indicate the presence of Christ and honor it.”
Note that it need not be red, though certainly that is the traditional color. As for your concern with the Eucharist’s being “locked away in a chapel,” you should know that the GIRM does provide an option (in No. 315) so that the Blessed Sacrament may be reserved “either in the sanctuary, apart from the altar of celebration” or “even in some chapel suitable for the private adoration and prayer of the faithful.” That chapel, though, must be “organically connected to the church and readily noticeable by the Christian faithful.”
I am assuming that you have not seen the Eucharist literally “locked away,” since that would preclude the chance for adoration. In our parish, we have a separate eucharistic chapel. It can accommodate six to eight people, who may kneel or sit in quiet meditation before the Blessed Sacrament.
Just outside this chapel, visible as one enters the main body of the church, is a (red) sanctuary lamp that is kept lighted throughout the day and night. Far from “hiding God,” I believe this small but prayerful place honors the presence of Jesus in a special way and beckons people to visit.
Q. I am appalled that the church has apparently bought into the climate change mania. This, despite significant scientific evidence to the contrary — and especially in spite of its obvious political motivation. Am I a bad Catholic for opposing this church position? (Troy, New York)
A. Clearly, the Catholic Church views climate change as a dangerous reality in need of a global solution. In his May 2015 encyclical on the environment (“Laudato Si'”) Pope Francis said the following: “A very solid scientific consensus indicates that we are presently witnessing a disturbing warming of the climatic system.”
He continued: “Humanity is called to recognize the need for changes of lifestyle, production and consumption, in order to combat this warming or at least the human causes that produce or aggravate it.”
He also added: “There is an urgent need to develop policies so that, in the next few years, the emission of carbon dioxide and other highly polluting gases can be drastically reduced, for example, substituting for fossil fuels and developing sources of renewable energy.”
In November of 2015, on a plane returning from Africa, Pope Francis told reporters that an international agreement on climate change was needed to save a world “at the limits of suicide.”
The church’s moral position is based on a strong consensus within the international scientific community: Since 2001, some 34 national science academies worldwide have made formal declarations confirming human-induced climate change and urging nations to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases.
In December 2015, Cardinal Peter Turkson, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, while strongly supporting the pope’s ecology encyclical on the call for climate control, told the National Catholic Register that the pope was “not claiming any dogmatic position” or proclaiming “an article of faith.”
So, directly to your question: I suppose that you can be a good Catholic and still disagree with the church on climate change. I just wonder whether you are being a good scientist.
Questions may be sent to Father Kenneth Doyle at email@example.com and 40 Hopewell St. Albany, N.Y. 12208.