Why Do Catholics Do That?

This page addresses questions frequently asked by both Catholics and non-Catholics about our faith. If you have a question about the Catholic faith that you'd like answered, please contact Kim Schulman in the parish office at 404-252-4513, ext. 220, Questions will be answered based on appropriateness and as space permits. Questions and answers will appear in the bulletin first and then archived here on the website.


Why Don't We Sing "Alleluia" During Lent?

The “Alleluia” and “Gloria” are joyful chants, with Alleluia being the primary chant of the Easter Season - "He is risen, Alleluia." Lent is a penitential period when we express sorrow for the sin that put Jesus on the Cross. Instead of the joyful Alleluia, we sing an alternative hymn which still recognizes Jesus as Lord. During Lent, we prepare our hearts for resuming the Alleluia on Easter Sunday. In both Advent and Lent, we also omit the “Gloria,” again because it is a joyful hymn.

Why do Catholics Fast During Lent / Eat Meat on Friday?
The three pillars of Lent are prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. Historically, the Church directed Catholics to abstain from eating meat on Friday. Friday was selected because it was the day Jesus died on the Cross. Meat was available only to the nobility and wealthy. Fish was someone available to the poor, as were vegetables. So, the idea of abstinence was to try to make the wealthy eat like the poor people on that one day a week (originally on Monday, Wednesday and Fridays of Lent). After the second Vatican Council, fasting was reduced to Ash Wednesday and Good Friday for those who have not yet reached 60 years of age. Abstinence was retained for every Friday of Lent, regardless of age unless there is a medical reason for something else.

Why is it that at a Catholic wedding the father of the bride is not asked, "Who gives this woman to be married to this man?

The parties in a marriage "give" themselves to each other; they are not given to someone else. The Catholic ritual has always reflected that reality. Even in the days of "arranged" marriages, the parties still had free consent, so they were not "given in marriage."

What is the Church's position on cremation and the scattering of ashes?

The Church was opposed to cremation because there was a movement in Europe which advocated cremation as a new way of showing disbelief in the doctrine of the resurrection of the body at the end of time. Recognizing that this was not a universal movement, in 1963 the Church rule changed to permit cremation PROVIDED it was not chosen as a means of advertising disbelief in that doctrine. So, the burial of the body remains the preferred option, but cremation is permitted. In the case of cremation, the cremated remains may be present for the funeral Mass and, if so, are treated the same way as a body.


Burial of ashes is the preferred option. Scattering is permitted in very narrowly defined circumstances such as, for example, to prevent the location of burial from becoming a place of curiosity. Even if ashes are scattered in some fashion, it must always be done in an atmosphere and spirit of true reverence for the human remains.

Are we to bless ourselves with Holy Water upon entering and leaving the Church? Is it proper to make the sign of the cross when genuflecting before you enter and exit a pew?

The traditional Catholic custom is to bless oneself with Holy Water on entering the Church and when leaving. When genuflecting, making the sign of the cross is optional. It is not an inherent part of the genuflection, so it can be made or omitted.

Are we to bless ourselves with Holy Water upon entering and leaving the Church? Is it proper to make the sign of the cross when genuflecting before you enter and exit a pew?

The traditional Catholic custom is to bless oneself with Holy Water on entering the Church and when leaving. When genuflecting, making the sign of the cross is optional. It is not an inherent part of the genuflection, so it can be made or omitted.

Why do Catholics pause at the end of the Lord's Prayer for the priest to add his part and then finish?

What the priest says at the end of the Lord's Prayer is not an interruption but a prayer continuing the final sentiment of the Our Father. The doxology, which follows that second prayer - "For the kingdom, the power and the glory are yours now and forever" - was never part of the Lord's Prayer. Through a mistranslation of the Missal after the Reformation in England, the "Deliver us O Lord..." prayer was omitted, and the doxology was put adjacent to the Lord's Prayer. Over the course of time, it morphed into being part of the prayer, and is the common usage in many of the Protestant and Evangelical churches.

Can you explain why priests are doing Confirmations? In the past, only Bishops confirmed. Also, what happened to the slap in Confirmations?

Priests could always do Confirmation in case of an emergency, so of its nature, the power to administer the Sacrament was not confined to the Episcopal order. In practice, it was usually conferred by a Bishop except in the case of an emergency. In recent years, Bishops have been given the authority to delegate ordinary administration of the Sacrament in wider circumstances to make it more readily available.


In the Archdiocese of Atlanta, every pastor has permission from the Archbishop to confer Confirmation. The "slap" (which was a light tap on the face, was to symbolize strength the face adversity) was abolished after the Second Vatican Council because it didn't help convey the true nature of the Sacrament which, rather than being assistance to deal with adversity, is the assistance of the Holy Spirit to live affirmatively the Christian vocation in every circumstance of life.

Why do we ring the chimes or bells during the Eucharistic Prayer?  I was once told that before microphones were used, the bells would be rung to let the people who couldn't hear know that the most important part of the Mass was taking place.

The bells originally had a practical purpose. The Mass was in Latin, and the words were spoken quietly by the priest – so even microphones were not an issue. The bell was rung one time when the priest extended his hands over the chalice in blessing right before the Consecration. This was a signal to the congregation that the Consecration was about to take place. Then, when the words of Consecration had been spoken, the priest would genuflect, raise the Host (Chalice) to be visible to the people, and then genuflect again. The bell was rung at each of those steps – so the triple ring became common.


Nowadays, with the Mass in the vernacular language, and the words spoken aloud, the bells are rung in some parishes more as a continuity of tradition than as a practical matter.

Why and when should we genuflect?

Genuflection is a sign of reverence to the Blessed Sacrament. So, it is customary and proper to genuflect whenever we come into or leave the presence of the Blessed Sacrament reserved in the Tabernacle.


Genuflection is also proper at the reference in the Nicene Creed to Jesus becoming incarnate as man on the feast of the Annunciation (March 25) and the feast of Christmas.

Why are Catholics one of the few Christian faiths to make the sign of the cross?

The sign of the Cross is common among both Catholics and Orthodox. It is considered a sign of reverence and a remembrance that Jesus died on the Cross to bring salvation to the world. It simply fell out of use among other churches following the Reformation.

Why do we believe in praying to saints?

The “saints” are those who are in heaven. So, they have a special relationship with God. We believe that they can be powerful intercessors for us, presenting our needs to God.

Why do we call priests "Father"?

You can find out a lot about the background of this on the internet. Basically, it goes back to the New Testament traditions of Peter, Paul and John, all of whom addressed the people to whom they wrote as their "children." It connotes spiritual fatherhood.

What are the rules of fasting before Communion and why is it done?

The Eucharistic fast is intended to focus our minds on the solemnity of what we are doing in receiving Communion. Originally, the fast was from midnight before receiving Communion, later that was reduced to three hours for food, and now it is one hour from food and liquids other than water and medicine.


For a lay person, the fast is one hour before receiving, not an hour before Mass begins. This applies to everyone who is of age to receive Communion. In case of severe hardship or very advanced age or illness, even the one hour can be dispensed.

Who lights the Tabernacle lamp? Does it stay lit even when the Blessed Sacrament lies in repose in St. Mary's Chapel?

The traditional lamp was fueled with bee's wax. The one at Holy Spirit is electrified. It is always lit when the Blessed Sacrament is reserved in the Tabernacle. It is extinguished, for example, when the Blessed Sacrament is in repose in St. Mary's Chapel during the Triduum.

What is the purpose of the cover the priest has over the Chalice during the Eucharistic Prayer?

The "cover" is called the Pall. It has been used for centuries. The purpose for it was to prevent dust or other foreign objects from falling in the Chalice. Until after the reforms following the Second Vatican Council, it was a liturgical requirement that the Pall be kept on the chalice except during the Consecration and Communion. That requirement was abolished. So it is now a practical decision for the priest to make. Some priests like to adopt the older practice.

Are we to bless ourselves with Holy Water upon entering and leaving the Church? Is it proper to maket he sign of the cross when genuflecting before you enter and exit a pew?

The traditional Catholic custom is to bless oneself with Holy Water on entering the Church and when leaving. When genuflecting, making the sign of the cross is optional. It is not an inherent part of the genuflection, so it can be made or omitted.

What is the meaning behind the making of the cross on our forehead, mouth and heart before the reading of the Gospel?

It mirrors the blessing a Deacon receives prior to proclaiming the Gospel - "may God be in your mind, on your lips and in your heart as you proclaim His holy Gospel."

Should parishioners remain kneeling after Communion until all the extra hosts are put back in the Tabernacle?

The general custom has been to kneel until the Blessed Sacrament is placed in the Tabernacle. But it is equally appropriate to sit. The primary consideration should be reverence and meditative prayer, whether this comes through silence or through a Thanksgiving hymn.

What does the light in the nave (near the Tabernacle) symbolize?

It is called a Sanctuary Lamp. It is lighted when the Blessed Sacrament is reserved in the Tabernacle.

Why did Jesus "ascend" into heaven and why was Mary "assumed"? What is the big significance and difference between the two ways of getting to heaven?

Jesus was God, so he ascended into heaven. In other words, He went there by His own power. Mary was not God, so she was taken up into heaven by Jesus - she was "assumed."

What is the symbolism of dipping our fingers in holy water and making the sign of the cross?

It recalls our baptism into Christ, which makes us members of the Church, the Body of Christ.

Why does the Priest purify the chalices on the Altar now?

The purification can be done at the Altar or at a side table, or it can be done after Mass. The Holy See issued a directive in 2007 that the ritual purification must be done by a priest, deacon or installed acolyte. Since we depend so heavily on Extraordinary Ministers of the Eucharist to assist our clergy at all Masses, we do the ritual purification at the Altar and one of the extraordinary Ministers completes it after Mass with a more thorough washing of all the chalices.

How should we hold our hands during the "Our Father"?

There is really no right way and no wrong way for anyone but the Celebrant. For him, the correct posture is the hands spread apart in prayer. The traditional posture for all others is the "Orans," that is, hands joined together in a prayer posture. You may notice that some people like to hold hands during the Our Father, and perhaps even when visiting other churches you might notice that the entire congregation does it. If members of an individual family, or close friends, want to do that, it’s fine. However, since hand-holding is not a liturgical action, if you are one of those who prefers to hold hands during the Our Father, please be sensitive to the fact that the people beside you may not wish to do so.

During the Profession of Faith, why do the clergy and some parishioners bow their head at “born of the Virgin Mary and became Man?”

The tradition of the Church over the centuries was to genuflect in reverence at that phrase because it refers to the mystery of the Incarnation, Jesus taking on a human nature in order to bring salvation to the world. The custom of the genuflection is preserved now only on the feast of Christmas and on March 25, the feast of the Annunciation. The rest of the year, a bow takes the place of the genuflection.