AS we saw in the previous issue, the entire Year of the Priest a year ago might well be an exercise in futility were it to be left at the level of speculative thought. Hence, the importance of Canon Law, because Canon Law begins where theology ends—i.e., in the level of due if not enforceable human conduct. Whereas moral, sacramental and even pastoral theology can only indicate what is fitting and proper conduct, leaving it to each faithful to make responsible use of his freedom to act accordingly, Canon Law stipulates what is juridically binding and hence owed if not outright enforceable. In short, Canon Law adds the note of exigency to the desideratum of priestly holiness.
In the previous issue, we had tackled the first part of the first canonical imperative of priestly holiness, contained in c.276, §2, 1º: the duty of priests to faithfully and untiringly fulfill the duties of pastoral ministry. After seeing the general provisions of Canon Law in this regard, let us consider the specific content of this norm.
B. Duties towards the Administration of the Sacraments:
1) General duty to administer the Sacraments abundantly: The sacred ministers cannot refuse the sacraments to those who ask for them at appropriate times, are properly disposed and are not prohibited by law from receiving them (c.843, §1).
The minister—furthermore—should ask nothing for the administration of the sacraments beyond the offerings defined by the competent authority, always being careful that the needy are not deprived of the help of the sacraments because of their poverty (c.848).
2) General duty to prepare the faithful for the reception of the Sacraments: Pastors of souls and the rest of the Christian faithful, according to their ecclesial function, have the duty to see that those who seek the sacraments are prepared to receive them by the necessary evangelization and catechetical formation, taking into account the norms published by the competent authority (c.843, §2).
3) Duties of parish priests as regards the administration of Baptism and Confirmation:
a) It is the duty of the parish priest to assure that the celebration of baptism be properly prepared: (1) an adult who intends to receive baptism is to be admitted to the catechumenate and, to the extent possible, be led through the several stages to sacramental initiation, in accord with the order of initiation adapted by the conference of bishops and the special norms published by it; (2) the parents of an infant who is to be baptized and likewise those who are to undertake the office of sponsor are to be properly instructed in the meaning of the sacrament and the obligations which are attached to it (c.851).
b) The pastor of the place where the baptism is celebrated must carefully and without delay record in the baptismal book the names of those baptized, making mention of the minister, parents, sponsors, witnesses if any and the place and date of the conferred baptism, together with an indication of the date and place of birth (c.877, §1).
c) Shepherds of souls, especially pastors, are to see to it that the faithful are properly instructed to receive [Confirmation] and approach the sacrament at the appropriate time (c.890). The sacrament of Confirmation is to be conferred on the faithful at about the age of discretion, unless the conference of bishops determines another age, or there is danger of death, or in the judgment of the minister a grave cause urges otherwise (c.891).
4) Duties of parish priests as regards the administration of the Holy Eucharist:
a) It is the responsibility, in the first place, of parents and those who take their place as well as the pastor to see that children who have reached the use of reason are correctly prepared and are nourished by the divine food as early as possible, preceded by sacramental confession. It is also for the pastor to be vigilant lest any children come to the Holy Banquet who have not reached the age of reason or whom he judges are not sufficiently disposed (c.914).
b) [Holy Communion] should be administered outside Mass to those who request it for a just cause, the liturgical rites being observed (c.918).
c) Holy Viaticum for the sick is not to be delayed too long; those who have the care of souls are to be zealous and vigilant that they are nourished by Viaticum while they are fully conscious (c.922).
5) Duties of priests as regards the administration of the Sacrament of Penance:
a) Individual and integral confession and absolution constitutes the only ordinary way by which the faithful person who is aware of serious sin is reconciled with God and with the Church (c.960). Only a priest is the minister of the sacrament of penance (c.965).
b) All to whom the care of souls is committed by reason of an office are obliged to provide that the confessions of the faithful entrusted to their care be heard when they reasonably ask to be heard and that the opportunity be given to them to come to individual confession on days and hours set for their convenience (c.986, §1).
In urgent necessity any confessor is obliged to hear the confessions of the Christian faithful, and in danger of death any priest is so obliged (c.986, §2).
c) Absolution cannot be imparted in a general manner to a number of penitents at once without previous individual confession unless:
1º the danger of death is imminent and there is not time for the priest or priests to hear the confessions of the individual penitents;
2º a serious necessity exists—i.e., when in the light of the number of penitents supply of confessors is not readily available rightly to hear the confessions of individuals within a suitable time so that the penitents are forced to be deprived of sacramental grace or holy communion for a long time through no fault of theirs. (c.961, §1). It is for the diocesan bishop to judge whether such condition exists (c.961,§2).
d) The proper place to hear sacramental confessions is a church or an oratory (c.964, §1). Confessionals with a fixed grill between penitent and confessor [should be] always located in an open area so that the faithful who wish to make use of them may do so freely (§2). Confessions should not be heard outside the confessional without a just cause (§3).
e) In hearing confessions the priest should remember that he acts as a judge as well as a healer and placed by God as the minister of divine justice as well as mercy (c.978, §1). In the administration of the sacrament, the confessor, as a minister of the Church, is to adhere faithfully to the doctrine of the magisterium and the norms enacted by competent authority (c.978, §2).
6) Duties of priests as regards the Anointing of the Sick:
a) Every priest and only a priest validly administers the anointing of the sick (c.1003, §1). All priests to whom the care of souls has been committed have the duty and the right to administer the anointing of the sick to all the faithful committed to their pastoral office; for a reasonable cause any other priest can administer this sacrament with at least the presumed consent of the aforementioned priest (c.1003, §2).
b) This sacrament is to be conferred upon sick persons who requested it at least implicitly when they were in control of their faculties (c.1006).
7) Duties of parish priests as regards the celebration of Marriage — Can.1063 is quite explicit. Pastors of souls are obliged to see to it that their own ecclesial community furnishes the Christian faithful assistance so that the matrimonial state is maintained in a Christian spirit and makes progress toward perfection. This assistance is especially to be furnished through:
1º preaching, catechesis adapted to minors, youths and adults, and even the use of the media of social communications so that through these means the Christian faithful may be instructed concerning the meaning of Christian marriage and the duty of Christian spouses and parents;
2º personal preparation for entering marriage so that through such preparation the parties may be predisposed toward the holiness and duties of their new state;
3º a fruitful liturgical celebration of marriage clarifying that the spouses signify and share in that mystery of unity and of fruitful love that exists between Christ and the Church;
4º assistance furnished to those already married so that, while faithfully maintaining and protecting the conjugal covenant, they may day by day come to lead holier and fuller lives in thief families.
Before leaving this particular imperative, I want to point out the priority given to it. Indeed, if the faithful and untiring fulfillment of the duties of their pastoral ministry constitutes a primordial obligation of the priest, it also constitutes for him the principal means for struggling and expressing his priestly sanctity. Put another way, the priest who struggles to fulfill these duties is clearly on his way to holiness. (To be continued.)