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 three issues ago of the CBCP Monitor, which we conclude with this present issue.
Specific Practical Provisions
Article 6: Liturgical Celebrations
Two areas are covered in this article of the Instruction:
1) The Holy Mass in particular - “Abuses which are contrary to c.907 are to be eradicated” (§2) to wit:
a) “Deacons and non-ordained members of the faithful may not pronounce prayers─e.g., especially the Eucharistic Prayer with its concluding doxology─or any other parts of the liturgy reserved to the celebrant priest”. This abuse is not uncommon in the Philippines. To be sure many times it could be by the initiative of the faithful, but even so it should be the duty of the pastor to explain these matters to them, even by way of a general advertence even within the Mass itself, in the moments permitted to him by the rubrics (e.g. before the final blessing).
b) “Neither may deacons or non-ordained members of the faithful use gestures or actions that are proper to the same priest celebrant.” This is another area where abuses have proliferated in Philippine churches, many times at the instigation of the priests themselves. The rubrics of the Roman Missal and the provisions of the General Instructions for the Roman Missal (IGMR) are quite explicit and specific as regards the gestures and postures of the celebrant and the congregation during the Holy Mass, precisely because the liturgy is the public worship of the Church--i.e., its regulation cannot be left to private and individual initiative.
Thus, the Code clearly stipulates: “The liturgical books approved by the competent authority are to be faithfully observed in the celebration of the sacraments; therefore no one on personal authority may add, remove or change anything in them” (c.846, §1; emphasis added). Examples of such abuses are: the faithful extending and/or lifting their arms and/or holding hands with each other during the Our Father; the celebrant inserting words of his own composition--ad lib--into the text of the Missal, especially in-between major prayers or when he addresses the faithful, and even before the Consecration; the non-fulfillment of the stipulated postures and procedures when Holy Communion is received by the hand.
2) Use of Sacred Vestments in General - Two possible abuses are addressed: (§2)
a) “The sacred ministers are obliged to wear all of the prescribed liturgical vestments”. Again, the practice in many parishes─especially during concelebrations─of concelebrants just using a stole (without chasuble alb or sometimes even just over street clothes) during the Holy Sacrifice is a flagrant violation of this norm.
b) “The use of sacred vestments which are reserved to priests or deacons (stoles, chasubles or dalmatics) at liturgical ceremonies by non-ordained members of the faithful is clearly unlawful”.
Article 7: Sunday Celebrations without a Priest
The Instruction starts by stating that “much good derives for the local community from this useful and delicate service” in those cases when “in the absence of priests or deacons, non-ordained members of the faithful lead Sunday celebrations” (§1). However, it clarifies that this is only so when such is carried out “in accordance with the spirit and the specific norms issued by the competent ecclesiastical authority”─specifically:
1) “A special mandate of the Bishop is necessary for the non-ordained members of the faithful to lead such celebrations. This mandate should contain specific instructions with regard to the term of applicability, the place and conditions in which it is operative, as well as indicate the priest responsible for overseeing these celebrations” (§1).
2) “The practice of inserting into such celebrations elements proper to the Holy Mass─e.g., the use of the Eucharistic Prayers, even in narrative form─is prohibited” (§2).
3) “It should be emphasized (to) those participating, that such celebrations cannot substitute for the Eucharistic Sacrifice, and that the obligation to attend Mass on Sunday and holy days of obligation is satisfied only by attendance at Holy Mass” (§2).
Article 8: The Extraordinary Ministry of Holy Communion
It is in this article perhaps where the most obvious abuses can be observed. Thus, the Instruction starts by categorically stating that “the canonical discipline concerning extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion must be correctly applied so as to avoid generating confusion”. It proceeds to concretize this criterion:
Main Principle: “A non-ordained member of the faithful, in cases of true necessity, may be deputed by the diocesan Bishop (...) to act as an extraordinary minister to distribute Holy Communion outside of liturgical celebrations ad casum vel ad tempus or for a more stable period” (§1).
Thus, the so-called extraordinary ministers (or lay ministers of Holy Communion as they are commonly called) are so deputed, in principle, only for distributing Holy Communion outside liturgical celebrations (i.e., outside the Mass or Holy Week services).
1st Exception: “In exceptional cases or in unforeseen circumstances, the priest presiding at the liturgy─supposedly this includes the Mass─may authorize such ad casum” (§1). Again we have to note that this should be in exceptional or unforeseen circumstance. Obviously, if such were to happen Sunday after Sunday, it wouldn’t be exceptional or unforeseen anymore; thus, to make use of this prerogative regularly would be an abuse.
2nd Exception: “Extraordinary ministers─i.e., those deputed as such by the diocesan Bishop─may distribute Holy Communion at Eucharistic celebrations (e.g., Holy Mass) only” in any of the following situations: (§2)
1) when there are no ordained ministers present;
2) when those ordained ministers present at a liturgical celebration are truly unable to distribute Holy Communion;
3) when there are particularly large numbers of the faithful such that the liturgical celebration would be excessively prolonged because of an insufficient number of ordained ministers to distribute Holy Communion.
It is important to note that the Instruction categorically states that this exceptional function “is supplementary and extraordinary, and must be exercised in accordance with the norm of law” (§2). This norm of Law is precisely concretized by the three situation outlined above by the Instruction.
In the case of a Mass, the first situation cannot arise (since the celebrant is precisely an ordained minister); the second situation hardly arises, since the celebrant normally should be able to distribute Holy Communion himself. Thus, normally, only the third situation would be the probable cause for exercising this prerogative, and even then, the Instruction itself considers as an abuse “the habitual use of extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion at Mass, thus arbitrarily extending the concept of a great number of faithful” (§2 in fine).
This is perhaps one of the more glaring inconsistencies between the norm and the present praxis in the many parishes, where lay ministers distribute Holy Communion on a regular basis, Sunday after Sunday, and even daily. This obviously needs to be addressed by the Bishops, according to the tenor of the present Instruction.
Other possible abuses: Aside from the previously mentioned phenomenon of the regular use of extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion, the Instruction points out “certain practices to be avoided and eliminated where such have emerged in particular Churches”:
1) “Extraordinary ministers receiving Holy Communion apart from the other faithful as though concelebrants”─e.g., in the sanctuary.
2) “Association (by the extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion) with the renewal of promises made by priests at the Chrism Mass on Holy Thursday, as well as with other categories of faithful who renew religious vows or receive a mandate as extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion.”
In both cases, what is obviously at stake is the danger of eroding in the mind of the faithful the conviction of the essential difference between the common and the ordained priesthood, and the danger of clericalizing the laity and thereby disempowering them from fulfilling what they really─vocationally─ought to do: to proclaim Christ in the midst of temporal (secular) realities.
Article 9: The Apostolate of the Sick
The Instruction begins by affirming that “in this area, the non-ordained faithful can often provide valuable collaboration” and that “these constitute a Christian presence of the greatest importance to the sick and the suffering” (§1). In fact, this seems to be one area where the laity can really collaborate with the pastoral work of the priests, given the shortage of sacred ministers and the non-sacramental nature (at least for the most part) of this ministry. Thus the Instruction reminds the Pastors of the following (§1):
1) “The non-ordained faithful particularly assist the sick by being with them in difficult moments, encouraging them to receive─and by helping them to have the dispositions to worthily receive such─the sacraments of Penance and the Anointing of the Sick.”
2) “In using sacramentals, the non-ordained faithful should ensure that these are in no way regarded as sacraments, whose administration is proper and exclusive to the Bishop and to the priest.”
3) “In no instance may the non-ordained perform anointings either with the Oil of the Sick or any other oil”─i.e., not even by way of a para-liturgical rite.
4) “The priest (is the) only valid minister” of the sacrament of Anointing of the Sick...No other person may act as ordinary or extraordinary minister of the sacrament, since such constitutes simulation of the sacrament” (§2).
Finally, we might add that even if the Instruction does not specifically mention it, the administration of Holy Eucharist to the sick seems to be one where the extraordinary─non-ordained─ministers of the Holy Eucharist can really play an important role, given the shortage of priests.
Article 10: Assistance at Marriages
The Instruction first states “the possibility of delegating the non-ordained faithful to assist at marriages” since, on the one hand this is strictly an ecclesiastical norm (for the canonical form of marriage); and on the other hand, because such delegation “may prove necessary in special circumstances where there is a grave shortage of sacred ministers” (§1). It then proceeds to remind the Bishops of the following norms:
1) Only “the diocesan Bishop may concede this delegation” (§1). “With the exception of an extraordinary case due to the absolute absence of both priests and deacons who can assist at marriages, no ordained minister may authorize the non-ordained faithful for such assistance. Neither may an ordained minister authorize the non-ordained faithful to ask or receive matrimonial consent according to the norm of c.1108, §2” (§3).
2) The diocesan Bishop may concede this delegation “subject to the verification of three conditions” (§1; cf. c. 1112, §1):
1° “there are no priests or deacons available;”
2° “after he shall have obtained for his own Diocese a favorable votum from the Conference of Bishops” regarding this move;
3° “the necessary permission of the Holy See”.
3) “In such cases, the canonical norms concerning the validity of delegation, the suitability, capacity and attitude of the non-ordained faithful must be observed” (§2).
Article 11: Extraordinary Minister of Baptism
“Apart from cases of necessity, canonical norms permit the non-ordained faithful to be designated as extraordinary ministers of Baptism”, but the Instruction reminds the Pastors of the conditions for the licitude of this extraordinary designation:
1) “There is no ordinary minister or in cases where he is impeded, (but) care should be taken to avoid too extensive an interpretation of this provision and such a faculty should not be conceded in a habitual form.”
2) The Instruction concretizes a negative list of reasons for that deputation, which would therefore make such deputation illicit:
1° “the ordinary minister’s excessive workload”;
2° “his non-residence in the territory of the parish”;
3° “his non-availability on the day on which the parents wish the Baptism to take place.”
Article 12: Leading the Celebration at Funerals
The Instruction reminds the Pastors of the following norms as regards obsequies:
1) “It is desirable that priests and deacons, even at some sacrifice to themselves, should preside personally at funeral rites in accordance with local custom, so as to pray for the dead and be close to their family, thus availing of an opportunity for appropriate evangelization.”
2) “The non-ordained faithful may lead the ecclesial obsequies”, with the following conditions:
1° “There is a true absence of sacred ministers.” In the absence of further explication within this article of the term true absence of sacred ministers, we have to attend to the sense given to this term in the previous article as regards the sense of lack of ordinary minister for baptism, including the negative list of situations when this is not verified.
2° The deputed non-ordained extraordinary minister must “adhere to the prescribed liturgical norms”, and should therefore “be well prepared both doctrinally and liturgically”.
The Instruction ends by re-stating the two fundamental criteria in this matter:
First, the need to reinforce the identity of the ministerial priesthood, by respecting the principle of diversity in the People of God and more specifically of the proper status and mission of the laymen. “The Holy Father reminds us that the particular gift of each of the Church’s members must be wisely and carefully acknowledged, safeguarded, promoted, discerned and coordinated, without confusing roles, functions or theological and canonical status.”
Second, the shortage of ordained ministers must be addressed by fostering vocations to the priesthood, not by substituting priests with laymen. “Solutions addressing the shortage of ordained ministers cannot be other than transitory and must be linked to a series of pastoral programs which give priority to the promotion of vocations to the Sacrament of Holy Orders.”