Is the tabernacle always supposed to be in the center of the sanctuary? If it’s not in good view from where I sit, in what direction should I genuflect -- toward the tabernacle or toward the altar?
The tabernacle does not have to be in the center of the sanctuary but many bishops and pastors prefer it that way. I’ve been in many Catholic Churches and the tabernacle is often located in several different places throughout the worship space. In some cases you may even find the tabernacle outside of the main worship space. However, not all tabernacle placements are created equal and Church law gives us broad guidelines on where the tabernacle should be located: “The tabernacle in which the most Holy Eucharist is reserved is to be situated in some part of the church or oratory that is distinguished, conspicuous, beautifully decorated and suitable for prayer.” (Code of Canon Law 938). It is not good practice to have the tabernacle tucked away in a corner or off in a closet where it is not immediately visible and accessible to the faithful to pray. Generally speaking, the tabernacle should be located in a place that is easily visible and accessible to the faithful when entering a church so as to facilitate prayer and worship. The interpretation of this law is ultimately up to the diocesan bishop and all matters pertaining to the placement and ornamentation of the tabernacle is subject to the bishop’s approval.
It is customary before entering the pew of a Catholic Church to genuflect to Jesus Christ fully present in the Blessed Sacrament located in the tabernacle. There is no official law explaining this but the General Instruction of the Roman Missal does tell us: “If the tabernacle with the most Blessed Sacrament is present in the sanctuary, the priest, deacon and other ministers genuflect when they approach the altar and when they depart from it, but not during the celebration of Mass itself. Otherwise, all who pass before the most Blessed Sacrament genuflect, unless they are moving in procession” (GIRM 74). This law basically says that you genuflect to the tabernacle at all times except during the celebration of Holy Mass when the liturgical action is focused more on the sacrifice of Christ at the altar and less on his presence in the tabernacle. The interpretation of this law is ultimately up to the discretion of the pastor.
Even if the tabernacle is located to the right or left of the altar one should still genuflect to Jesus’ presence in the tabernacle. We bow to the altar rather than genuflect because the altar is the place of Jesus’ sacrifice on Calvary but only in the tabernacle do we find Jesus’ body, blood, soul and divinity fully present! No matter where the tabernacle is located it is good practice that when passing in front of the tabernacle or when leaving or entering a pew it is important to recognize Jesus’ presence by genuflecting. It is the gesture of genuflection that gives proper reverence to the Lord of our lives, Jesus Christ!
Is it ok for a Catholic to refuse to vote in an election for reasons of conscience?
It depends on whether or not a person’s conscience has been rightly formed. If someone is refusing to vote because he has studied the candidates on the ballot for a particular office and cannot, in good conscience, vote for any of them, that is his prerogative. He should still vote for other offices where there is an acceptable candidate and on the various measures and propositions presented for a vote. But, if someone is refusing to vote at all because he doesn’t believe he should vote in general, then his conscience may be improperly formed. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states: ‘Submission to authority and co-responsibility for the common good make it morally obligatory to pay taxes, to exercise the right to vote and to defend one’s country” (CCC 2240). A great resource to help form your conscience is “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship” by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. You can read the document on the website www.usccb.org.
What is the official church teaching on what happens after our earthly bodies die: Are we “dead” until Judgment Day, or do we immediately go to heaven, hell, or purgatory?
Although physical human bodies die, human souls never die. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that every spiritual soul “is immortal: It does not perish when it separates from the body at death, and it will be reunited with the body at the final Resurrection” (CCC 366). At the moment of death, the soul separates from the body, is judged immediately, and enters either heaven (immediately or through Purgatory) or hell. Each man receives his eternal retribution in his immortal soul at the very moment of his death, in a particular judgment that refers his life to Christ: either entrance into the blessedness of heaven--through a purification or immediately--or immediate and everlasting damnation (CCC 1022). For scriptural evidence of this, see Luke 16:22; 23:43; 2Corinthians 5:8; and Philippians 1:23.
Every soul will unite with its resurrected body just prior to the Last Judgment when Christ returns for the final time to bring all earthly existence to an end. The Catechism elaborates on this further: “In the presence of Christ, who is Truth itself, the truth of each man’s relationship with God will be laid bare. The Last Judgment will reveal even to its furthest consequences the good each person has done or failed to do during his earthly life . . . The Last Judgment will come when Christ returns in glory. Only the Father knows the day and the hour; only he determines the moment of its coming. Then through his Son Jesus Christ he will pronounce the final word on all history. We shall know the ultimate meaning of the whole work of creation and of the entire economy of salvation and understand the marvelous ways by which his Providence led everything towards its final end. The Last Judgment will reveal that God’s justice triumphs over all the injustices committed by his creatures and that God’s Love is stronger than death." (CCC 1039-1040). Store up for ourselves treasures in heaven and become rich in what matters to God: faith, hope and love, and you will enjoy eternal happiness for all time.
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