Visiting or Living in Finland as a Catholic – Practical Matters
Ever since the first ecclesial structures came to Finland in the second half of the 12th century, Catholicism flourished in Finland for almost 400 years. This period came to an end when the Protestant Reformation was implemented in the Swedish Kingdom in the first half of the 16th century. The Catholic Faith remained forbidden until the late 18th century.
1. FINLAND FOR TOURISTS
Today, the Catholic Church in Finland is a small but lively entity. There are Catholic parishes existing in the following cities: Helsinki, Turku, Jyväskylä, Tampere (with chapels in Vaasa and Pietarsaari), Kouvola and Oulu. Masses are offered mostly in Finnish, sometimes in other languages. There are also occasional Masses in other cities and towns, more information can be found in the Mass times schedule (under “diaspora”).
Ecumenical relations in Finland are close and friendly. Therefore it is always possible to make a visit to other churches and denominations in Finland.
Since many of the Catholic priests in Finland come from abroad, there is a variety of languages that one can use in the confession. Most priests speak English. In most parishes there is confession time 30 minutes before Mass, but it is best to check the schedule individually.
2. FINLAND FOR THOSE WHO PLAN TO STAY LONGER
Register. If you are a Catholic moving to Finland, or planning to stay here for a longer period of time, you are requested to register in the Catholic parish of the territory of which you live in. Please contact your closest parish for more details.
Being a registered member of the Catholic Church in Finland helps the local Church to better organise its pastoral work and makes it easier to organise baptisms, weddings, funerals etc.
Support. Since the Catholic Church in Finland is not eligible to take part in the so called Church taxation system – whereby members of the Evangelic Lutheran and Orthodox Churches pay a certain membership fee to their parishes – all Catholics are asked voluntarily to pay a membership fee of 1.5% of one’s income to the Catholic Diocese of Helsinki, which then distributes the money to the central administration and parish level. The obligation to support one’s parish also remains. Also, all Catholic homes receive the Diocesan Magazine Fides, and are asked to help its publication by paying its voluntary annual fee of 32€, or abroad 37€.
2.1. SACRAMENTS AND SACRAMENTALS
Attending Holy Mass. As anywhere else, Catholics are obliged to attend Mass every Sunday and Holy Day of Obligation. The obligation is fulfilled by taking part in any Catholic Mass celebrated between late Saturday afternoon and Sunday evening – respectively vigil or day of the solemnity in question. Those who are sick, or take care of others who are sick, those who cannot avoid working, and those for whom the church is objectively too far away, are freed from this obligation. There is no need in such a case to seek a closer Christian service of another denomination. It is good to remember that Catholics cannot receive Holy Communion in non-Catholic services. The same principle applies for non-Catholics in any Catholic Mass.
Living in the “diaspora”, very far from the nearest Catholic church, can be demanding. Those who live too far from the nearest Catholic church to be able to attend Mass on Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation are encouraged on those days to dedicate some time for personal prayer and prayer with their families, praying the Liturgy of the Hours or the Rosary. The Church especially recommends making an act of spiritual communion.
The Holy Days of Obligation (that do not fall on a Sunday) in Finland are the following: Nativity (Dec. 25); Mary, Mother of God (Jan. 1); Epiphany (Jan. 6); Ascension (date changes every year).
In Finland people kneel for the whole Eucharistic Prayer until the great Amen and again after the Agnus Dei. Holy Communion is sometimes distributed in both forms, whereby it is good to remember that the Host must be immediately consumed and never carried away, even to where the Blood of Christ is distributed.
Confession. The Church invites the faithful to receive Holy Communion often, and at least once a year. This, however, does not mean one must receive Holy Communion at every Mass. We must examine our conscience and prepare ourselves to receive the Body and Blood of Christ in a worthy manner. Regular confession is recommended.
Repenting and confessing honestly one’s sins is a necessary condition to a spiritually fruitful Communion. In the state of mortal sin, one is not allowed to communicate before confessing one’s sins and having received absolution thereof.
Baptism. For the sake of the salvation of their souls, children should be baptised rather in the first weeks after birth than later. One should contact the parish priest to discuss the matter as soon as possible, even before the birth has taken place. It is recommended that baptisms be celebrated as part of a normal parish Mass.
First Communion and Confirmation. The religious education of children in preparation for First Communion and Confirmation is given by the local parish. In many parishes teaching is given in many different languages. Usually, depending on one’s parish, the age for First Communion is 8-9 years, and for Confirmation 13-15 years, although well prepared children cannot be refused to receive the Sacraments earlier. Confession must precede First Communion.
Marriage. When a man and a woman love each other, and have carefully thought about spending their whole lives together and wanting to raise children that are fruits of that love, it is time to – rather sooner than later – to seek the advice of a Catholic priest. In some parishes there are marriage preparation courses where the future spouses are taught about the essentials of the Catholic understanding of a sacramental marriage. It is advisable to contact one’s parish priest as early as possible.
In most cases, marriages celebrated in the Catholic Church in Finland are so called mixed marriages, which means that one of the spouses is Catholic and the other is baptised but belongs to another Christian denomination. In such cases, the marriage cannot be licitly celebrated without the consent of the Catholic Bishop of Helsinki. If the other party is not baptised, a marriage can be celebrated also only with the consent of the Bishop. In order to receive more information in these matters, please contact the parish priest in the nearest Catholic parish.
Normally a Catholic wedding ceremony takes place in a Catholic church building, preferably in one’s own parish church. It is possible, however, in some cases, to have the ceremony in another place, even in the territory of another parish, if the local parish priest has given his approval.
Before the marriage can take place, the Church requires that even the non-Catholic party has understood the meaning of a Catholic marriage (fidelity, unity and indissolubility, openness to children) and that the Catholic party is asked to do all he or she can to ensure that the children are baptised and raised Catholic.
Sometimes, one or both parties have been married before. As long as the other spouse is living, all such earlier marriages must be studied and found to be invalid by the Church Tribunal before a (new) marriage can be contracted. This can be a long process. If a Catholic has civilly remarried and thus lives in a new “marriage” which is not approved by the Church, he or she cannot receive the Sacraments.
The Anointing of the Sick can be requested from the local parish when needed. When a Catholic person is dying, it is always good to ask a Catholic priest to visit the person and give him or her the last Sacraments.
The sacrament of Holy Orders. If a celibate man feels a vocation to the priesthood, he can, after a thorough thinking period, approach a priest to ask for guidance. If he thinks he is called to be a Diocesan priest in the Diocese of Helsinki, he should first contact the parish priest of his parish, who can give him further advice.
Sacramentals. It is always recommended that a house or home where Catholics live be blessed. One can ask any Catholic priest to come and celebrate a home blessing.
Funerals. When a Catholic person is dying, it is always good to ask a Catholic priest to visit the person and give him or her the last Sacraments.For funeral arrangements it is good to speak with the parish priest as soon as possible.
Currently, there is only one Catholic cemetery in Finland. It is situated in the city of Turku. However, the Lutheran and Orthodox cemeteries are available to people of all faiths all around the country. Most Catholics are buried there.
Cremation, which is becoming more and more popular among the general population, is a lawful option for Catholics, but they are in no way encouraged to make use of that practise.
Mass Stipends. It is normal for Catholics to ask priests celebrate Mass for the repose of the soul of a deceased person or for another intention. In such cases, it is a constant Church practice to give a reasonable donation for the priest’s sustenance.
2.2. RELIGIOUS EDUCATION FOR CHILDREN
In Finland, children start to attend school in the year during which they turn seven years. Before that, they may attend daycare, and most will go to kindergarten the year prior to starting school. According to the law, all school children can have education in their own religion at school, if there are at least three children that request it in the whole city or town organising school teaching.
It is very important for parents to remember to make this wish known to the school before the school starts, and, if problems arise, to contact the local parish or the Catechetical Centre in Helsinki as soon as possible.
The Catechetical Centre is a Diocesan organ that prepares and publishes teaching materials for schools; it also gives training to teachers of Catholic religion and organises substitute classes for those children who do not participate in religious education in their own school. The law does not require teachers of a religion personally to belong to that religion.
2.3. PARTICULAR ACTIVITIES IN THE DIOCESE
Solemnity of Saint Henry (Jan. 19). It is believed that Saint Henry was born in England. He was Bishop of Uppsala, Sweden, and in 1155 took part in the so called First Crusade of the Swedish king Saint Eric to Finland. Here he started to baptise many people and organise ecclesial life but was martyred in South-Western Finland already in the next winter. His remains were ultimately brought to the newly built Turku Cathedral in 1300. He is the patron saint of the Catholic Diocese of Helsinki and all Finland.
Pilgrimage to Köyliö (mid June). This pilgrimage was started in the 1950’s. There are actually two pilgrimages at the same time: a one day pilgrimage by bus or a three day pilgrimage on foot to the place where Saint Henry was martyred. It is said a pagan peasant killed the bishop while he was traveling over the ice of Lake Köyliö. Already in medieval times, an artificial island was built on that spot of the lake and a chapel was erected on it. There is not much left from the chapel, but the small island can be reached by roving boats, and a Holy Mass is celebrated there every year.
Diocesan Feast (mid August). Hundreds of Catholics gather every year in the Diocesan activity Centre Stella Maris close to the city of Lohja on a Saturday closest to the solemnity of the Assumption of Our Lady to spend the day in the lovely natural surroundings of that place, meet other Catholics, eat together and – most importantly participate in the Holy Mass and a Marian devotion.
Holy Cross Pilgrimage to Hattula (mid September). There is a bus pilgrimage to the medieval Church of Hattula made on a Saturday close to the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross (Sept. 14). At the Church, there is a small liturgy of the word, and veneration of the relic of the Holy Cross, which is followed by carrying of a few crosses around the church while Holy Rosary is being recited. Afterwards the local Lutheran parish invites the pilgrims for coffee.