IN a recent Workshop of the Executive Committee of the Canon Law Society of the Philippines, a nagging question was again raised: What is the canonical status of Basic Ecclesial Communities (BEC)? The matter was raised by the canon lawyers from Mindanao (priests and a bishop), because of the growing frictions between the ecclesiastical organization and the so-called basic ecclesial communities. In the past, this question had always been sidelined by the lack of any clear theological notion of such communities; hence—the argument went—it was futile to attempt a canonical analysis of the problem.
This time, however, it was pointed out that even if it might be premature to attempt a definition of the canonical status of Basic Ecclesial Communities, some working guidelines might be in order, by way of delimiting the scope of pastoral action of such communities, in accordance with Church Law. In short, even if it might not be possible to categorically state what Canon Law states these communities are, it might be possible to draw from existing legislation what these communities are not. In more practical terms, perhaps we can glean from Canon Law what these communities may and may not do.
In fact, this is the task that the Canon Law Society of the Philippines proposed to tackle in its National Convention in May 2011. As a starting point for the canonical investigation, the CLSP Execom identified a little-known document of the Holy See, which was issued in 1997. To arouse interest in this topic, we are revisiting that document in a 4-part series that started in the previous two issues of the CBCP Monitor.
The Dispositive Part of the Instruction
The second part of the Instruction is entitled Practical Provisions and consists of 13 Articles: Two articles covering general provisions, and 11 articles containing specific practical provisions in as many areas where collaboration of the lay faithful is possible─and in fact exists─in the pastoral ministry of priests. Without reproducing that part of the Instruction, we can focus our attention on the strictly dispositive parts of the text, following the original numbering of the articles.
Article 1: Care in using the terms Ministry and Minister
John Paul II had emphasized the need to clarify and distinguish the various meanings that have accrued to the term ministry in theological and canonical language. “For some time now, it has been customary to use the word ministries not only for the officia (offices) and non-ordained munera (functions) exercised by Pastors in virtue of the sacrament of Orders, but also for those exercised by the lay faithful in virtue of baptismal priesthood” (§1). The Instruction made the following reminders:
1) “Only with constant reference to the one source, the ministry of Christ, may the term ministry be applied to a certain extent and without ambiguity to the lay faithful: that is, without it being perceived and lived as an undue aspiration to the ordained ministry or as a progressive erosion of its specific nature, (because) only in virtue of sacred ordination does the word obtain that full, univocal meaning that tradition has attributed to it” (§2).
2) “The non-ordained faithful may be generically designated extraordinary minister when deputed by competent authority to discharge, solely by way of supply, those offices mentioned in c.230, §3 and in cc.943 & 1112” (§3).
3) “Temporary deputation for liturgical purposes─mentioned in c.230, §2─does not confer any special or permanent title on the non-ordained faithful. It is unlawful for the non-ordained faithful to assume titles such as pastor, chaplain, coordinator, moderator or other such similar titles which can confuse their role and that of the Pastor, who is always a Bishop or priest” (§3).
Article 13: Necessary Selection and Adequate Formation
“Should it become necessary to provide for supplementary assistance in any of the cases mentioned─i.e., in the other articles below─the competent authority is bound” by the following criteria:
1) He should “select faithful of sound doctrine and exemplary moral life.” The importance of this criterion of selection should be obvious: conduct reflects doctrine, and the good conduct of such non-ordained faithful in the exercise of their functions would depend on their intellectual comprehension of the doctrinal foundations of such functions.
2) The following Catholics “may not be admitted to the exercise of such functions”:
1° Those “who do not live worthy lives”─i.e., worthy of the ministry they are being deputed to perform, the more stringent standards (logically) to be applied to the extraordinary ministers of the Holy Eucharist. Thus, the Pastors should make sure that such lay ministers are habitually in the state of grace─obviously only by the assiduous and frequent reception of the sacrament of Penance─because of their intimate contact with the Body of Christ.
2° Those “who do not enjoy good reputation”─and this obviously so as to avoid scandal in the rest of the faithful. Thus, it would not be enough that the Pastor himself knows that the layman in question is living a worthy life; he must also project such righteousness to the rest of the community─e.g., upright profession and professional practice.
3° those “whose family situations do not conform to the teaching of the Church”─e.g., irregular marriage situation.
3) “Those chosen should possess that level of formation necessary for the discharge of the responsibilities entrusted to them”. More specifically:
1° “In accordance with the norms of particular law, they should perfect their knowledge particularly by attending, in so far as possible, those formation courses organized for them by the competent ecclesiastical authority in the particular Churches”.
It is interesting to note that the Instruction hurries to advert that these courses should be carried out “in environments other than that of the seminary, as this is reserved solely for those preparing for the priesthood”─thus forestalling yet another tendency to erode the line between the ordained and the non-ordained faithful.
2° “Great care must be exercised so that these courses conform absolutely to the teaching of the ecclesiastical Magisterium and they must be imbued with a true spirituality.” The use of the adverb absolutely is noteworthy: it shows the concern of the Supreme Legislator that such formation courses not be done haphazardly─just to comply with the letter of the law─, without fulfilling the spirit of the norm.
3 "Precisely to avoid a functionalistic, pragmatic and utilitarian conception of ministry in the Church─Card. Ratzinger adds─it is essential to emphasize clearly the doctrine on the nature of the ministerial priesthood and on the unity and diversity of ministerial tasks in the service building up the Body of Christ."
Specific Practical Provisions
Article 2: The Ministry of the Word: Preaching in General
This ministry refers to the pastoral preaching, catechetics and all forms of Christian instruction, among which the liturgical homily holds pride of place (§1). The Instruction emphasizes the following norms:
1) “The non-ordained faithful, according to their proper character, participate in the prophetic function of Christ. Therefore, (they) can be invited to collaborate, in lawful ways, in the exercise of the ministry of the Word” (§2).
2) “The use of the expression admitti possunt─in c.766 of the Codex which establishes the conditions under which non-ordained faithful may be invited to preach in ecclesia vel oratorio─makes clear that in no instance is this a right”. Furthermore, “the terms in which these conditions are expressed in c.766...make the exceptional nature of such cases clear” (§3).
3) It is up to the Conference of Bishops to lay down the opportune criteria─which must receive the recognitio of the Apostolic See─to help the diocesan Bishop discern the advisability of making use of this prerogative (§3).
4) “Preaching in churches or oratories by the non-ordained faithful can be permitted only as a supply for sacred ministers ... It cannot, however, be regarded as an ordinary occurrence or as an authentic promotion of the laity” (§4).
Article 3: The Homily
The homily is the “preeminent form of preaching, (in which) the mysteries of faith and the norms of Christian living are expounded from the sacred text throughout the course of the liturgical year” (§1). Thus, the Instruction makes the following reminders:
1) “The homily must be reserved to the sacred minister, priest or deacon, to the exclusion of the non-ordained faithful, even if these should have responsibilities as pastoral assistants or catechists in whatever type of community or group... All previous norms which may have admitted the non-ordained faithful to preaching the homily during the Holy Eucharist are to be considered abrogated by c.767, §1”(§1).
2) “The diocesan Bishop cannot validly dispense from (this) canonical norm, since this is not merely a disciplinary law but one which touches upon the closely connected functions of teaching and sanctifying” (§1).
3) “The practice, on some occasions, of entrusting the preaching of the homily to seminarians or theology students who are not clerics is not permitted” (§1).
4) “A form of instruction designed to promote a greater understanding of the liturgy─including personal testimonies─is lawful, if in harmony with liturgical norms, should such be considered objectively opportune as a means of explicating the regular homily preached by the celebrant priest...(and) not assume a character which could be confused with the homily” (§2).
5) “As an expositional aide, and provided it does not delegate the duty of preaching to others, the celebrant minister may make prudent use of dialogue in the homily, in accord with liturgical norms” (§3).
6) “Homilies in non-Eucharistic liturgies─e.g., blessings─may be preached by the non-ordained faithful only when expressly permitted by law and when the prescriptions for doing so are observed” (§4).
7) “In no instance may the homily be entrusted to priests or deacons who have lost the clerical state or who have abandoned the sacred ministry” (§5).
Article 4: Participation in the Pastoral Work of the Parish Priest
The Instruction deals in this section with two fundamental realities:
1) Participation of non-ordained faithful in the pastoral care of a parish - The Instruction begins this article by stating that “the non-ordained faithful may collaborate effectively in the pastoral ministry of clerics in parishes, health-care centers, charitable and educational institutions, prisons, Military Ordinariates, etc.” (italics added). Nevertheless, subsequent allusion to c.517, §2 makes it clear that it is dealing not so much with a simple collaboration, but with “a participation in the exercise of the pastoral care of a parish” (c.517, §2 in medio, italics added)─i.e., a real exercise of the power of jurisdiction. Thus, the Instruction underscores the following points:
a) This is an exceptional provision, and before employing it, “other possibilities should be availed of, such as using the services of retired priests still capable of such service, or entrusting several parishes to one priest or to a group of priests”, keeping in mind “the preference that (c.517) gives to deacons” (§1).
b) “This exceptional provision (should) be used only with strict adherence to conditions contained in it” to wit:
1° it is “due to a dearth of priests and not for reasons of convenience or ambiguous advancement of the laity, etc.”
2° it is only “a participation in the exercise of the pastoral care, and not directing, coordinating, moderating or governing the parish─which are competencies of a priest alone” (§1).
c) “These forms of participation in the pastoral care of parishes cannot, in any way, replace the office of parish priest” (§1).
2) Tenure of Parish Priest - “The parish priest is the pastor proper to the parish entrusted to him and remains such until his pastoral office shall have ceased”. The following clarifications are made as regards the duration of this tenure: (§2)
a) “The presentation of resignation at the age of 75 by a parish priest does not of itself (ipso iure) terminate his pastoral office. Such takes effect only when the diocesan Bishop...shall have definitively accepted his resignation in accordance with c.538, §3.”
b) “Having reached the age of 75 does not constitute a binding reason for the diocesan Bishop to accept a parish priest’s resignation”. In fact, the Instruction points out that it may seem better to extend the tenure of an old but still able parish priest, rather than resort to the extraordinary measure of allowing non-ordained faithful to participate in the exercise of the pastoral care of the parish, as stated above.
Article 5: Structures of Collaboration at the Diocesan and Parish Levels
"These structures─the Instruction starts─have produced many positive results and have been codified in canonical legislation." While the previous article dealt with participation in the pastoral care (properly speaking) of the Parish, this article deals more specifically with the structures provided by law for the collaboration of the non-ordained faithful with the hierarchy at the parish and at the diocesan levels. Noteworthy are the following reminders:
1) Council of Priests (Presbyteral Council) - "Membership in it is reserved to priests alone. Deacons, non-ordained members of the faithful even if collaborators with the sacred ministers─i.e., as per Article 4─and those priests who have lost the clerical state or who have abandoned the sacred ministry do not have either an active or a passive voice in the Council of Priests" (§1, italics added).
2) Diocesan and Parochial Pastoral Councils and Parochial Finance Councils - These are the only two structures provided by the Code, which may have non-ordained faithful as members with the following conditions (§2):
1 They have "a consultative vote only and cannot in any way become deliberative structures."
2 "Only those faithful who possess the qualities prescribed by the canonical norms may be elected to such responsibilities."
3) The Parish priest presides at Parochial Councils - "Any deliberations entered into (or decisions taken) by a parochial council, which has not been presided over by the parish priest or which has assembled contrary to his wishes, are to be considered invalid, and hence null and void" (§3).
4) Special Study Groups - "Ordinaries may avail themselves of special study groups or of groups of experts to examine particular questions. Such groups, however, cannot be constituted as structures parallel to diocesan presbyteral or pastoral councils", nor to parochial pastoral or finance councils. "Neither may such a group deprive these structures of their lawful authority" (§5).
[To be concluded.]