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Canon Law conference.

In matters liturgical there is considerable tension between those who favour more authority be given to conferences of bishops to make changes and those who argue that Rome must retain most authority to guarantee the unity of the liturgy throughout the world. Both sides marshall arguments. In the conference described below, the model of the Church as "communion" and the principle of subsidiarity were extolled as favouring more power for the local churches; in other words, the speakers favoured Cardinal Kasper's theory explained in the article on pages 12-14.


The 36th annual convention of the Canadian Canon Law Society (CCLS) took place October 15 - 18, 2001, in Quebec City. Canonists, and others, including representatives of the Canon Law Societies of Great Britain, Oceania, and the United States, gathered for their annual meeting, to elect officers, and to hear the Most Reverend Ernest Leger, Archbishop of Moncton, discuss the "Rights and Obligations of the Christian Faithful--a Pastoral Point of View," ironic in view of what happened later.

Archbishop Leger

After listing the various models of the Church, Archbishop Leger focused on the Church as "communion," which derives from the "Trinitarian mystery of the Church." He opposed this model to the "dualist model where, according to him, the clergy remains vested with power over the liturgy, while the laity is directed to play an active role in the world."

His Grace outlined the historical development of human rights/responsibilities over the past 100 years. Along with Pope Leo XIII's encyclical Rerum novarum (1891), and Pius XI's Quadragesimo anno (1931), he included the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights (1948), but neglected to mention that human rights are based on the natural law, and that, over the years, the United Nations has added a few rights that are not. In the document Gaudium et spes, he said, the Second Vatican Council recognizes "the right to act according to the dictates of conscience..., rightful freedom even in matters of religion."

He then covered the rights of the faithful as emphasized in the new Code of Canon Law, which--he stressed--reflects the "communio" aspect of the Church.

Fr. John Huels

Father John Huels, Professor of Canon Law at St. Paul University, and guru in liturgical law, reported on the New General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM 3): He entitled his address "Subsidiarity or Uniformity."

He started by defining his topic: "The principle of subsidiarity, in sociological or political theory, means that higher levels of government...should intervene in the functioning of lower levels only when necessary, and should assume control only over matters that cannot be handled effectively at the level of the individual, small group, or lower level of society". One got the impression that subsidiarity, whether or not GIRM 3 supported it, was more important than the actual changes.

Father Huels stressed that the praenotanda and rubrics of the liturgical books, promulgated by the Holy See, are universal laws with the same juridical weight as other universal laws, including the Code. "The value of unity," said Father Huels, "entails a certain degree of uniformity in ritual practice....In fact, the very nature of ritual demands the regular performance of set actions, and the utterance of established texts within a fixed...pattern. There are...constitutive elements of the various liturgical rites, especially the Sacraments. These essentials cannot be adapted, dispensed, or changed by particular law or custom [MJF: or by an individual priest]. Only the supreme authority (the Pope or college of bishops) determines these matters, unless it is a question of what the Church believes to be a matter of divine law, in which case no change is possible."

Rome or conference of bishops?

From this introduction, Father Huels launched into his examination of whether GIRM 3 supported the competencies of the conferences of bishops or not, as compared with the 1975 edition. Of the 30 references to conferences of bishops in GIRM 3, 26 give no new powers.

Both editions allow the conferences of bishops to make adaptations concerning postures during the Eucharistic prayer, but GIRM 3 adds a sentence: "Where it is the practice that people remain kneeling from the completion of the Sanctus until the end of the Eucharistic prayer, this is laudably retained." Father Huels adds: "(Although this) does not juridically derogate from the competence of the conferences of bishops,.. .it may affect their decision making, because opponents of standing during the Eucharistic prayer now can find support for their view in the universal law."

Sign of peace

Other changes include the form for exchanging the sign of peace, to be determined by the conference of bishops, "in accord with culture and the practices of the people". But GIRM 3 adds: "Nevertheless, it is appropriate that each person offer the sign of peace only to those nearby, and in a dignified manner."

Three norms, Fr. Huels acknowledged, reflect greater centralization of authority over the liturgy: for example, reverence on the part of those who receive Holy Communion standing, reverence for the altar and the Book of Gospels, and the number of readings. GIRM 3 says the conference of bishops is to decide whether the faithful are to receive communion kneeling or standing; and that, if they receive standing, the conference should determine an appropriate sign of reverence for them. (How about applying subsidiarity if one wants to receive his Lord on his knees?)

Holy Communion

One change interpreted by Father Huels to be in favour of subsidiarity concerns how Holy Communion, under both kinds, is given to the faithful. Conferences may now regulate the matter, expand the cases when it is permitted, and publish the norms, after merely receiving the recognition of the Apostolic See (#283).

GIRM 3 has eliminated two of the four methods previously allowed. Today, besides drinking directly from the cup, the faithful may receive by intinction, which is done only by the minister dipping the Host in the precious Blood and placing it directly on the tongue of the recipient. Also, the celebrant must consume all that remains, instead of pouring it down the sink - a desecration of the Sacred Species occurring in some sacristies. Also, silence must now be maintained in Church both before and after Mass.

Fr. Ladislas Orsy

Father Ladislas Orsy, S. J., Professor of Philosophy of Law and Canon Law, Georgetown University Law Center, Washington, expounded on "The Future of Canon Law: Portents of New Structures and Norms." After assuring us that he was no prophet, he proceeded to "read the signs of the times".

According to Father Orsy, as "globalization threatens to engulf us all, a new effort is emerging to preserve regional cultures". He feels that the Church--in adapting to this--must give the episcopacy "greater freedom and broader autonomy" because they receive the fullness of their power, including jurisdiction, directly from the Spirit, as does the priest, and--would you believe?--the laity.

This reinforced what Father Marc Pelchat, Professor of Ecclesiology and Dean of the Faculty of Theology and Religious Sciences at Laval University, had asserted the day before in his talk "New Ministries in the Church." "It doesn't make sense," he said, "to devise new ministries (lay pastoral assistants, etc.) unless you design a new model of Church, other than that of Trent."

Father Orsy quoted Lumen gentium 12: "The whole body of the faithful who have an anointing that comes from the Holy One cannot err in matters of belief...." He added: "We need better institutional channels ... for bringing people's the attention of the pastors, and stronger ordinances about the duty of pastors to listen...."

But how does one distinguish the weak laity, not so inspired by the Holy Spirit, from the strong laity who are, he asks. This problem he has not yet resolved. But what he does see, in the future (but he is not a prophet, he says) is a restructuring of the Catholic Church.

Over the previous three days, one of the members had been discussing with various people a copy of an article from a 1949 Catholic Digest, entitled "What They Say about Priests," depicting the life of typical priests at that time, and the respect and love their parishioners felt for them. The member was approached by Sr. Marjorie Gallagher, secretary-treasurer, who said, abruptly, "You cannot distribute anything without, first, passing it by the Executive."

"Here, have a copy," offered the member. But Sister refused: "It has to be more formal than that."

Perhaps Sister was too busy organizing to actually listen to the various speakers promoting the rights of the laity but it brings up an interesting question: are those who are anxious to wrest power away from Rome in favour of the local authorities really doing so on behalf of the faithful or are they just enhancing their own (arbitrary) authority?

Dr. Ferrari worked in the public health section of the Department of Immigration for many years. She writes from Ottawa.
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Title Annotation:Canadian Canon Law Society
Author:Ferrari, M. Jean
Publication:Catholic Insight
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:May 1, 2002
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