Q One of the parishes that we sometimes attend does not have the “lavabo” (the washing of hands) during Mass. The priest has been asked about it, and he simply says that we don’t do it at this parish. But isn’t the lavabo a standard part of every Mass? (It’s done everywhere else that I’ve been.) (Albany, New York) </span id=”0″>

A Yes, you are right: The lavabo is, in fact, a standard part of every Mass and has been so since the fourth century. The General Instruction of the Roman Missal the “rulebook” for celebrating the liturgy says: “Then the priest washes his hands at the side of the altar, a rite in which the desire for interior purification finds expression” (No. 76). No option, as you see, is offered for skipping this prayer and ritual action. </span id=”1″>

From time to time, I have heard a rationale offered for eliminating the lavabo namely, that the gesture stems from the days when loaves of baked eucharistic bread were carried to the altar at the offertory and the priest needed to cleanse his hands of crumbs before proceeding with the sacred eucharistic prayer. </span id=”2″>


Since premade hosts are now used instead, this argument runs, the washing of the fingers has become unnecessary and obsolete. It may sound like a plausible argument, but it has the disadvantage of being wrong: Far from being just a practical and physical washing, the gesture has always been more about the interior need of the priest for purification. </span id=”3″>

Many churchgoers may not know the prayer the priest is saying at that moment since it is inaudible, but the words are these: “Wash me, O Lord, from my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.” </span id=”4″>

Q One of the beatitudes in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount is “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” Does that mean those simple-minded people who don’t ask any questions? (Lake Monticello, Virginia) </span id=”6″>

A I like it when people ask me about the beatitudes because I don’t think we focus enough on them. They are central to the lives of those who would try to follow Jesus. </span id=”7″>

If you were to ask Christians to name the Ten Commandments, most of us could list them; but if you asked those same Christians to list the Eight Beatitudes, we might not do as well. And yet the beatitudes are really the “Christian commandments.” </span id=”8″>

Most of the Ten Commandments given to Moses directed people what not to do – a sort of “least common denominator”; but the beatitudes tell us instead, in a positive way, what we should be spending our time doing acting as peacemakers, showing mercy, hungering for justice, etc. </span id=”9″>

But to answer your question: No, to be poor in spirit does not mean to be simple-minded and unquestioning. It means not being attached to a lavish lifestyle and material wealth as the goal of human existence; but even more, it signifies an attitude, a conscious awareness of our need for God. We didn’t create ourselves, nor do we sustain ourselves in being. God does that. </span id=”10″>

Once, some years ago, someone asked Billy Graham, with regard to this particular beatitude, “Shouldn’t we strive to be rich in spirit, not poor?” And Graham suggested substituting in the text the word “humble” in place of “poor.” We must not be self-satisfied or proud of heart, he said, but instead recognize our own dependency, our weaknesses and our need for God’s continual forgiveness.  </span id=”11″>

Q My father died earlier this week, and his body has been cremated. He loved his cats, and a few years ago he told me that he wanted me to scatter his ashes in the backyard where his cats are buried, so that he could be with them. The problem is that, although he was not a Catholic (an avowed atheist, in fact), I am. So would it be a sin for me to honor his request? (Carrollton, Georgia) </span id=”13″>

A In October 2016, the Vatican clarified that the remains of the deceased should be treated with respect and laid to rest in a consecrated place. That teaching is based on the church’s belief that the human body constitutes an essential part of a person’s identity and will one day be reunited with the soul. </span id=”14″>

This Vatican’s instruction simply reinforced what had already been the Catholic Church’s position. (In 1997, an appendix to the church’s Order of Christian Funerals had explained that “the practice of scattering cremated remains on the sea, from the air, or on the ground, or keeping cremated remains in the home of a relative or friend of the deceased are not the reverent disposition that the church requires.”) </span id=”15″>

But your father, as a non-Catholic, was not bound by the church’s guidelines; nor would I imagine that he meant his wish as a public repudiation of the church’s belief in a bodily resurrection. So I would say that you are free to honor his wishes. (And I know that, when you visit his backyard, you will remember to pray for your father’s eternal happiness in the company of the Lord.)  </span id=”16″>

Q Our parish uses the Nicene Creed at Mass, which includes the phrase “for us men and for our salvation he came down from heaven.” Why isn’t the phrase gender-neutral? It makes me feel marginalized as a woman. </span id=”18″>

Christ gave us an example of how to pray in the Lord’s prayer: “Give us this day … forgive us our trespasses.” Why doesn’t the church follow his example on deciding the wording of the creed? (Bloomington, Indiana) </span id=”19″>

A The English wording of the Nicene Creed “for us men” is actually a mistranslation. The Latin wording is “propter nos homines,” and in Latin the word “homo” is generic; it means “person” or “human being.” (By contrast, the Latin word “vir” is used when one wishes to denote a male individual.) </span id=”20″>

At the Masses I celebrate, I resolve the issue in a pastoral way by simply skipping over the word “men” and saying “for us … and for our salvation he came down from heaven.” (The other option, of course permitted by the liturgical guidelines – is to use the Apostles’ Creed instead of the Nicene Creed.) </span id=”21″>

Father Doyle is a retired priest in the Diocese of Albany, New York. Questions may be sent to Father Kenneth Doyle at askfatherdoyle@gmail.com and 30 Columbia Circle Dr., Albany, NY 12203.</span id=”23″>