Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The Ministry of the Word

The last two decades have witnessed the proliferation of so-called evangelical groups in the Philippines. Many of these are well-meaning Christians who want to share the Gospel—the Word of God—with their listeners; a few are self-proclaimed prophets who use the Gospel to attack the Catholic Church or other Christian sects. While theology is quite clear as regards the authority to proclaim the Word of God being invested on the sacred ministers—especially the bishops—I was wondering whether juridically that same authority is protected. In other words, does Canon Law establish anything as regards the teaching authority of the Church?

The aim of the munus docendi, which is incumbent upon the whole People of God but each one according to his own state and charism, is to spread the Gospel truth. But this task cannot be reduced to the mere transmission of a body of truths, like an ossified deposit of faith, but should rather be a true education in the living faith of the Church.
A concrete form of doing this is the so-called ministerium verbi—i.e., a technical expression that basically includes preaching and catechesis, although it may also be used in a wider sense to include any type of Christian instruction.

The Ministry of the Divine Word

The ministry of the Word—as a technical expression—refers to the work that strives to interpret the present in the light of those salvific “words and deeds” contained in the Gospel. Its aim is to shed light and give meaning to all the situations and all the problems that a person meets with in his personal and family life, as well as in his environment, social, political and professional, in order that he may listen to, understand and live according to the teaching of Christ.
The ministry of the word can take many forms, according to the different conditions under which it is practiced and the ends that it strives to achieve. Nevertheless, the Code specifically deals with basically two forms of exercising the ministerium verbi: preaching (cc.762-772) and catechesis (cc.773-780).

The ministry of the word affects all the faithful—bishops, priests, religious and laymen—and all of them have the duty of spreading the good news of salvation. Thus, every member of the Church should employ all the means available to him to carry out this mission, according to the grace (charism) he has received, putting the latter at the service of the others.

Proper subjects of the Ministerium Verbi

The teaching office is exercised by those who are authorized by divine or ecclesiastical Law to publicly teach—with the potestas docendi—in the name of the Church. Both the function and the power of magisterium entailed would differ depending on the office and the act being exercised. Thus, the following are the proper subjects of the ministerium verbi:

1) Roman Pontiff and College of Bishops: As regards the universal Church the duty of proclaiming the gospel has been especially entrusted to the Roman Pontiff and to the college of bishops (c.756, §1).
Not only the existence but the primacy of this duty has deeply evangelical roots. Thus, faced with the temporal needs of the early Christian community, “the Twelve called together the multitude of the disciples and said, ‘It is not desirable that we should forsake the Word of God and serve at tables […] we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the Word” (Act 6, 2-4).

2) Local Ordinary—in whose case the following distinctions can be made:
a) Right-duty - As regards the particular church entrusted to them the individual bishops exercise this responsibility since within it they are the moderators of the entire ministry of the word; sometimes, several bishops simultaneously fulfill this office jointly for various churches at once in accord with the norm of law (c.756, §2; cf. c.763).
The local Ordinary is the proper teacher of his flock and the authoritative preaching of the Word constitutes his primordial function. Thus, it is neither valid nor licit for him to transfer this function and responsibility to another person or body (e.g., to the Episcopal Conference, to an episcopal or diocesan commission), beyond certain narrow limits established by the law.
b) Right - Furthermore, since every bishop—together with all bishops and in communion with the Pope—is co-responsible for the whole Church, he has the right to preach the word of God everywhere, including churches and oratories of religious institutes of pontifical right, unless the local bishop has expressly refused this in particular cases (c.763).

3) Presbyters: It is proper of presbyters who are co-workers with the bishops to proclaim the gospel of God (c.757, in principio). Nevertheless, we can make the following distinctions:
a) Right-duty for pastor of souls: Pastors and others entrusted with the care of souls are especially bound to this office as regards the people entrusted to them (c.757, in principio). They exercise their duty towards the ministerium verbi by being especially responsible in explaining the word of God in a public way to those faithful entrusted to them.
b) Faculty for all priests: Presbyters and deacons possess the faculty to preach everywhere, to be exercised with at least the presumed consent of the rector of the church, unless that faculty has been restricted or taken away by the competent ordinary or unless express permission is required by law (c.764).

4) Deacons: Deacons also are to serve the people of God in the ministry of the word in communion with the bishop and his presbyterate (c.757, in fine; cf. c.764). Together with ordinary presbyters (i.e. not pastor of souls), deacons possess the faculty to preach everywhere, subject to the same limitations as the former (cf. c.764 supra).

Cooperators in the ministerium verbi

1) Non-ordained can be invited (admitti possunt). Since this function is not inseparably united to Sacred Orders, in collaboration with the proper subjects of the office of magisterium the following can also exercise the ministerium verbi in a suppletory way:
a) Religious: In virtue of their consecration to God, members of institutes of consecrated life give testimony to the gospel in a special manner, and they are appropriately enlisted by the bishop to assist in proclaiming the gospel (c.758).
b) Lay persons: In virtue of their baptism and confirmation, lay members of the Christian faithful are witnesses to the gospel message by word and by example of a Christian life; they can be called upon to cooperate with the bishop and presbyters in the exercise of the ministry of the word (c.759).
An Instruction, co-authored by no less than eight dicasteries, explains this point: “The non-ordained faithful, according to their proper character, participate in the prophetic function of Christ, are constituted as his witnesses and afforded the sensus fidei and the grace of the Word…Therefore, the faithful, especially members of Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life can be invited to collaborate, in lawful ways, in the exercise of the ministry of the Word.”[1]

2) This is neither a right nor a faculty. It must be pointed out that religious and lay persons cannot be grouped with the previous proper subjects of the ministerium verbi, since even if they are exercising a public function, the relation of superior-subject and of teacher-disciple that characterizes the magisterium does not arise, among other things because they do not have the sacra potestas, the possession of which implies sacred ordination (except of course in the case of members of clerical institutes). In any case, it is up to the Episcopal Conference, with the recognitio of the Holy See, to provide for this possibility.[2]

[1] VV.Sacred Congregations, Instruction Ecclesia de Mysteriis (15.VIII.1997), Art.2, §2.
[2] Ibid., Art.2, §3; cf. c.766. For example, the bishops of the U.S. recently approved amendments to Canon Law —first proposed in 1999—outlining when laymen can preach in church. Obviously such revisions need the approval of the Holy See before they can be implemented.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Catechesis in our time

My grandmother used to tell us that when she was a child, their parish priest used to gather the children of their town on Saturday and Sunday afternoons to teach them the Catholic faith. It was from him—in those lively sessions—that she learned the Creed and the Ten Commandments, and got her first notions of the Sacraments. Nowadays, it seems, catechetical instruction is quite low in the priorities of the parish. In contrast, the Born-again Christians, Jehovah’s Witnesses and other sects are quite aggressive in their proselytism—even conducting house-to-house visits. Does the law of the Church establish anything in this regard?

In the previous article, we talked about the ministerium verbi. Among the forms of exercising this ministerium verbi is also catechesis “which—in the words of Vatican Council II—is intended to make man’s faith become living, conscious and active through the light of instruct tion.”

Notion and Content of Catechesis

Catechesis is the teaching of Christian doctrine generally given in an organic and systematic manner, directed towards initiation into the Catholic faith and the growth and fullness of Christian life. Its function is to develop in men a living, explicit and active faith, enlightened by doctrine. It is therefore a process during which one discovers his initial conversion and educates it towards maturity. We shall consider the aspects of catechesis with greater juridic relevance—i.e., content, subjects and catechetical materials.
The Church has always considered it a sacred right and duty to transmit the teachings of Christ and not just the doctrine of any teacher. Thus, it is never licit for anyone, on his own initiative, to make a selection of the deposit of the faith for catechetical instruction; rather, everyone must faithfully follow the directives of the Magisterium of the Church, whether solemn or ordinary.
In general, the following have constituted the central topics for catechetical instruction since the first centuries of Christianity: the Creed, the Decalogue, the Sacraments and the Lord’s Prayer. Specifically, c.777 of the Code establishes that: In accord with the norms established by the diocesan bishop, the pastor is to make particular provision:
1° that suitable catechesis is given for the celebration of the sacraments;
2° that children are properly prepared for the first reception of the sacraments of penance and Most Holy Eucharist and the sacrament of confirmation by means of a catechetical formation given over an appropriate period of time;
3° that children are more fruitfully and deeply instructed through catechetical formation after the reception of First Communion;
5° that the faith of young people and adults be fortified, enlightened and developed through various means and endeavors.

Subjects of Catechetical Instruction

The most precious gift that the Church can offer to the confused and restless world of today is to form convinced Christians through an organic program of thorough catechesis. As John Paul II affirms: “To evangelize is the proper grace and vocation of the Church, its most profound identity. The Church exists for evangelizing, which means preaching and teaching”. And this is a service rendered not only to the Christian community, but to the entire society.
However, the diversity of participants leads to catecheses of different natures and different levels of authority. While all catechesis is an ecclesiastical action and consequently will always depend on the pastors to some extent, it is no less clear that all the faithful have the right to catechize. Thus, before anything else, it is important to make the following fundamental distinction.

1) Official vs. Unofficial Catechesis
a) Official catechesis—is that which depends on and receives public recognition from the authorities who direct it. It has an institutional character, and the pastors are
publicly responsible for its organization and adequate provision. Such Catechesis is intimately bound with the pastoral life and functions of the Church. The reason for this is because not only her geographical extension and numerical increase, but even more her inner growth and correspondence with God’s plan depend essentially on catecheses. As such, catechesis is bound to the other pastoral functions while not losing its specific character.
b) Unofficial catechesis—is that which does not have an institutional character, but rather depend on the free action of the faithful and which is only under the general supervision of the pastors. It arises because the faithful do not require any mandate or any authorization from the hierarchy to catechize. No less than John Paul II had pointed out the danger of parochial catechesis tending to “monopolize” and “homogenize” the multi-faceted catechetical task.

2) Active Subjects of Catechesis. Under the supervision of legitimate ecclesiastical authority, this concern for catechesis pertains to all the members of the Church in proportion to each one’s role (c.774, §1). In the words of the 1977 Synod of Bishops, catechesis is a shared responsibility that rests on the shoulders of all the members of the Church. Everyone must therefore shoulder this commitment according to one’s possibilities and the particular gifts or charisms one has received. Nevertheless, the Code makes specific mention of the following subjects:
1° Parents: Parents above others are obliged to form their children in the faith and practice of the Christian life by word and example (c.774, §2). This is a primary right-duty of parents, for which they may count on the help of the catechesis organized by the pastors but only as a subsidiary measure. On the other hand, the Code itself establishes that the pastor is to promote and foster the role of parents in the family catechesis (c.776, in fine).
2° Godparents and Guardians: Godparents and those who take the place of parents are bound by an equivalent obligation (c.774, §2). Thus, this is also a right-duty.
3° Pastors of souls (i.e., parish priests and chaplains): There is a proper and serious duty, especially on the part of pastors of souls, to provide for the catechesis of the Christian people so that the faith of the faithful becomes living, explicit and productive through formation in doctrine and the experience of Christian living (c.773).
4° Religious superiors: Superiors of religious institutes and of societies of apostolic life are to see to it that catechetical formation is diligently imparted in their churches, schools and in other works entrusted to them in any manner (c.778).
5° Local Ordinary: It is the responsibility of the diocesan bishop to issue norms concerning catechetics and to make provisions that suitable instruments for catechetics are fostering and coordinating catechetical endeavors (c.775, §1).

3) Catechetical Materials. The catechism is a synthesis of all the fundamental truths of the Catholic faith, expressed in an elementary, organic and systematic way, with specific and unequivocal formulas. Canon Law regulates catechisms and catechetical texts in the following terms:
1° Universal level (e.g. text of the catechism for universal use): Norms depend on the Holy See.[1]
2° National level: National catechisms should be approved by the pertinent Episcopal Conference, not just by an organism dependent on it (even if the Episcopal Conference may make use of such organism for the preparation of the catechism). The reason for this is that such organisms do not have any normative capacity, and the normative capacity of the Episcopal Conference in this matter cannot be delegated. In any case, these catechisms need approval (recognitio) of the Holy See.
3° Particular level: The diocesan bishop can approve and establish catechisms for use in the catechesis officially carried out in his jurisdiction, even if a duly approved national catechism exists.
4° Non-official level: The Catholic faithful, in the free exercise of their right-duty to do catechetical work, can seek approval for the use of other catechism and catechetical texts. In this case, the ecclesiastical authority is truly obliged to give approval if the contents of such materials are in accord with Catholic faith and morals and the universal catechetical norms.


To end, perhaps we can just say that catechesis has not lost its importance, neither in the Law of the Church nor in its pastoral programs. It cannot be otherwise, since it comes ahead in Christ’s mandate to the Apostles just before his glorious Ascension to Heaven: Go and preach to all nations…!

[1] Aside from the Code, of primordial importance are: John Paul II, Apostolic Exhortation Catechesi tradendae, 16.X.1979; General Catechetical Directory, 11.IV.1971; SCDF, Response regarding approval of catechisms, 7.VII.1983.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Canonical Safeguards for the Doctrine of the Faith

My nephew graduated from a prestigious Catholic university. Some years ago, when he was still in that institution, he cheerily announced over breakfast that his theology professor openly confessed in class that he was an atheist. His mother—my sister— promptly took it up with the school authorities, and she was told that indeed a good number of the professors of the Theology Department of that university were avowed atheists, but that it was part of academic freedom to respect their views on that subject. My sister was dumbfounded, since she had precisely put her son in a Catholic university to avoid such erroneous ideas. I had forgotten this incident but a more recent episode—this time involving a niece in a Catholic school for girls—has moved me to seek clarification. From what I gathered from my sister, the religion teacher in that school told my niece’s class that the CBCP’s position against contraception is just one position, and there are other Catholic positions on the matter. Does Canon Law not safeguard the teaching of
sound doctrine in Catholic institutions?

The Canonical Safeguarding of the Doctrine of the Faith

“Guarding the deposit of the faith is the mission which the Lord entrusted to his Church, and which she fulfills in every age.”[1] This is part of the teaching office of the Church. However, the munus docendi—as the above-recounted incidents would illustrate—would be seriously hampered were the juridical system to lack the mechanisms to enforce the propagation of the correct doctrine and to proscribe erroneous ones. Thus Canon Law indeed contains the adequate juridic safeguards for the authenticity of the Gospel message and its propagation. This safeguarding is anchored on three institutions, which have enjoyed re-formulation in recent years.

a. The Professio fidei

Historically, the requisite of a public profession of faith in specific circumstances finds its origin in the first centuries of the Christian era—e.g., for the catechumens before baptism, and for priests and bishops before their ordination. This public profession of faith implied a formal manifestation of the Christian faith before the ecclesiastical authority and according to the dispositions of Canon Law.

The present Code of Canon Law stipulates that the following persons are obliged to make a profession of faith personally in accord with the formula approved by the Apostolic See (c.833):
1º all persons who take part with either a deliberative or consultative vote in an ecumenical or particular council, in a synod of bishops, or in a diocesan synod;
2º those promoted to the sacred college of cardinals;
3º all persons promoted to the episcopacy and those equivalent to a diocesan bishop;
4º the diocesan consultor;
5º vicars general, episcopal vicars and vicars judicial;
6º pastors, the rector of the seminary, the professors of theology and philosophy in seminaries, those to be promoted to the order of deacons;
7º the rector of an ecclesiastical or Catholic university at the beginning of his term of office, and teachers in any university who teach disciplines which deal with faith or morals (italics added for emphasis);
8º the superiors in clerical religious institutes and societies of apostolic life, in accord with the norms of the constitutions.

The Code was of course alluding to the Professio Fidei extant at that time—promulgated by the S.C. for the Doctrine of the Faith in 1967.

b. Canonical Definition of Assent and Penalization of Unlawful Dissent.

On 9 January 1989, the S.C. for the Doctrine of the Faith published new formulas for the Professio Fidei and the Iusiurandum fidelitatis in suscipiendo officio nomine Ecclesiae exercendo, which were approved by the Roman Pontiff in a special Rescript dated 19 September of that same year. The Professio Fidei enumerates three specific kinds of propositions that the Magisterium teaches and to which the believer is obliged to adhere.

1st Category of truths: De fide credenda. The formula states: With firm faith, I also believe everything contained in the Word of God, whether written or handed down in Tradition, which the Church either by a solemn judgment of by the ordinary and universal Magisterium sets forth to be believed as divinely revealed. These are truths definitively proposed by the Universal Magisterium (either solemn or ordinary) to be believed as formally revealed—i.e., contained in the sources of Revelation. The faithful are duty-bound to adhere to them with an act of faith in Revelation itself. This paragraph appropriately confirms and is provided for in c.750 of the present Code of Canon Law.

2nd Category of truths: De fide tenenda. The formula further states: I also firmly accept and hold each and everything definitively proposed by the Church regarding teaching on faith and morals. This refers to teachings also definitively proposed by the Magisterium, but not as formally revealed—i.e., not as specifically contained in the sources of Revelation. The faithful are obliged to give accept and hold these truths—not insofar as these belong to Revelation, but insofar as they are being definitively proposed by the Church. It was for the safeguarding of this category of truths that a §2 was added to c.750 of the CIC 83 through the Motu Proprio Ad Tuendam of 1998. Thus, c.750 of the Code of Canon Law now consists of two paragraphs: [2]
§1. Those things are to be believed by divine and catholic faith which are contained in the word of God as it has been written or handed down by tradition, that is, in the single deposit of faith entrusted to the Church, and which are at the same time proposed as divinely revealed either by the solemn Magisterium of the Church, or by its ordinary and universal Magisterium, which in fact is manifested by the common adherence of Christ's faithful under the guidance of the sacred Magisterium. All are therefore bound to avoid any contrary doctrines.
§2. Furthermore, each and everything set forth definitively by the Magisterium of the Church regarding teaching on faith and morals must be firmly accepted and held, namely those things required for the holy keeping and faithful exposition of the deposit of faith; therefore, anyone who rejects propositions which are to be held definitively sets himself against the teaching of the Catholic Church.

3rd Category of truths: Finally, the formula states: Moreover I adhere with submission of will and intellect to the teachings which either the Roman Pontiff or the College of Bishops enunciate when they exercise their authentic Magisterium, even if they do not intend to proclaim these teachings by a definitive act. This paragraph has its corresponding legislative expression in c.752 of the Code of Canon Law: A religious respect of intellect and will, even if not the assent of faith, is to be paid to the teaching which the Supreme Pontiff or the college of bishops enunciate on faith or morals when they exercise the authentic magisterium even if they do not intend to proclaim it with a definitive act; therefore the Christian faithful are to take care to avoid whatever is not in harmony with that teaching.
Since these teachings are not proposed definitively, they do not enjoy the note of infallibility. It is this datum that has caused a number of misconceptions, which we should clarify with the following observations:
a) “Not infallible” is not equivalent to “fallible”. The note of infallibility is a precise phenomenon—juridically determined—which has to do with the manner in which a teaching is proposed, and not directly about the intrinsic truthfulness or certainty of the teaching.
b) “Not infallible” is not equivalent to “questionable”. Faced with a teaching that does not enjoy the note of infallibility, there is no reason for a Catholic to adopt a posture of doubt or criticism, but rather one of positive acceptance, with the assurance that in this way he is serving the Church.
c) The contrary behavior is typified as a delict—as pointed out earlier (cf. c.1371, 1º). Aside from an intellectual assent to the doctrine, an assent of the will is required, manifested by an external actuation in accord with it.
d) The distinction between “infallible” and “simply authentic” Magisterium should not be confused with the distinction between solemn (extraordinary) and ordinary Magisterium. This is the kind of formalistic error that tends to reduce infallibility to formal solemnity without regard to the more important (substantial) note of definitiveness.


From the foregoing discussion, it is quite clear that the theology professors in the Catholic university and the religion teacher in the Catholic school for girls are in clear violation of Canon Law. The aggrieved parties—in this case any student, their parents or guardians—can bring the matter to the attention of the competent ecclesiastical authority, which in this case would be the Local Ordinary (or bishop of the diocese). Failing in that, they can raise the matter to the Holy See through the Papal Nuncio.

[1] John Paul II, Apost. Const. Fidei Depositum (11.X.1992).
[2] The typification of the corresponding delict was also made by making the corresponding modifications in c.1371, 1º to refer to the new c.750,§2:
Canon 1371 — The following are to be punished with a just penalty:
1° a person who, apart from the case mentioned in c.1364, §1, teaches a doctrine condemned by the Roman Pontiff, or by an Ecumenical Council, or obstinately rejects the teachings mentioned in c.750, §2 or in c.752 and, when warned by the Apostolic See or by the Ordinary, does not retract.