Thursday, July 28, 2011

Confirmation by a Parish Priest in connection with Marriage (Part 11)

By Msgr. Rey Manuel S. Monsanto, JCD III. The Case of c.884, par.1: After talking about those other cases of delegating a priest, it will now be clear that in c.884, par.1, specifically the second phrase we will dealing with a special and different case. The case of c.884, par.1, second phrase, is also obviously another case of granting faculty by special grant to some priests in a diocese to be done by the diocesan Bishop. We treat it, however, differently from the others because this object of our special study is different from the other cases with its specific questions, like whether a diocesan, on his own authority, can grant this faculty to his priests, whether he can use this power to grant the faculty to all his parish priests, and the like. In other words, we mentioned the others first in order to show that this case is different from them. This part of par.1 states: “If necessity so requires, he (the diocesan Bishop) may grant to one or several priests the faculty to administer this sacrament.” The canon says that the diocesan Bishop, apart from the cases mentioned in c.883, no.2 and c.884, par.2, may also delegate a priest or even several specified priests in his diocese to administer confirmation. Since the canon does not specify any situation or limitation, the diocesan Bishop may, therefore, grant this faculty either permanently or for a specified limit of time, and either for specific cases or situations or even in a general manner to any priest/s. The only required parameters needed on the part of the action of the diocesan Bishop are the following: there is a “necessity” to grant it, like the vastness of the diocese, or the health of the Bishop, or the diocesan is often outside his diocese. The canon does not say that the necessity must be a grave one. he is only “one” or “several” of his priests, and not to delegate all the priests. The priest/s must be “specified”. Although the canon does not specify the office or pastoral work of the priest/s, it would seem logical that if he does delegate he should first delegate either his Vicar general or Vicars general, if he has more than one (cfr. c.475, par.2); and, in addition, he can also delegate some or all of the Vicars forane, or even a few more priests in strategic places. We can add a fourth requirement: if he delegates priest only for specific cases, like for marriage, or for certain times, the diocesan Bishop should specify these, as this is a case of special grant and according to c.882 will be for the validity of the action of the priest. The particular questions related to this canon: We will now go into the questions related to this canon and which have prompted this particular study. Does the diocesan bishop need a special “indult” from the Holy See to grant the faculty to one or several priests? In the Code of 1917: The 1917 Code stipulated in c.782, par.2 that the priest who can be the “extraordinary minister” of confirmation may be given the faculty either by common law or by special indult granted to him by the Apostolic See. In the Code of 1983: The 1983 Code, however, in c.884, par.1 does not in any way mention such an indult. It simply says that the diocesan Bishop can grant it, the only conditions being those we have already mentioned above. Does the diocesan bishop need a law from the Bishops’ Conference to grant the faculty? The Code would normally specifically indicate if a certain canon would need to be specified or particularized by the Bishops’ Conference. The Code, however, does not say so in this case. It simply grants the power to the diocesan Bishop without the need to wait for a law from the Conference. However, there is also no stipulation either that prevents the Bishops from agreeing among themselves to issue some guidelines (not laws) for some kind of uniformity throughout the country. They can decide to issue suggestions as to who can be given the faculty, for what circumstances, etc. Any diocesan Bishop, however, can always invoke his right given by this canon to choose the priest/s he wishes and for circumstances peculiar to his place. Should the diocesan bishop grant all his parish priests the faculty to confirm in view of an impending marriage? The Code (in stating that the diocesan Bishop himself or should ask some other Bishop if he cannot do it; when it emphasizes that only “one or several specified priests” may be given the faculty; and when it insists that for a dying person only the chrism consecrated by a Bishop is to be used) does not seem to favor giving all the parish priests the faculty to confirm. This is to emphasize that this task of administering confirmation is to be strictly understood as belonging to a Bishop being a successor of an apostle. However, it is to be noted that the above considerations are strictly connected with granting a priest or priests “general faculty” to confirm in the diocese. Confirmation specifically in connection with marriage is a special particular circumstance. And granting faculty to confirm in connection with marriage is a favor for a specific circumstance. Hence, due to the distance of the parishes and the inconvenience of traveling to places where confirmation is available that may even force them to leave their work and lose their important day’s salary, and most especially so that the faithful will readily see the value of the sacrament of confirmation as needed for the fullness of the sacraments of initiation especially for persons who will soon become parents and so that they will not just take it for granted for their own children, and since granting such faculty will facilitate their reception of the sacrament and eliminate the grave inconvenience, it seems reasonable for a diocesan Bishop to grant it to all parish priests in view of an impending marriage. But, this, we say once again, will be the prerogative decision of each individual Bishop, and he does not need the nod of the Conference nor an indult from the Holy See to do it. If a diocesan Bishop decides to grant “specified priests” or even all parish priests to confirm in this circumstance, he should clearly state when the parish priest is to administer confirmation: during the marriage ceremony itself, or days before in view of an impending marriage. And if he chooses the latter, he should also state how long or how many days before the marriage it can be done (because he/she might still be able to attend a regular confirmation in a diocese before the marriage). These are very important conditions for the administration of confirmation by a priest because he confirms only by delegation and these conditions are for validity. Thus, for example, in a case of confirmation connected with adult baptism, it is to be done in one continuous ceremony otherwise the confirmation will be invalid (see c.866). For the meantime: Can “ecclesia supplet” be used by the parish priests for this case? In the meantime that the diocesan Bishops do not clarify this particular question which is connected with the statement in the “Canon Law Digest” of whether the parish priests are already granted the faculty to confirm in connection with marriage, I believe that parish priests can VALIDLY CONFIRM IN CONNECION WITH MARRIAGE by virtue of c.144: the Church supplies (“ecclesia supplet”) the power of jurisdiction in case of “positive and probable doubt of law”. However, this problem is so easy and can be given immediate solution and the diocesan Bishop does not have to wait for a Conference resolution. For each individual diocesan Bishop by virtue of c.884, par.1 can either immediately tell his parish priests they that they have such faculty or that they do not have such faculty in his diocese, and he can immediately designate specified priests to confirm. And the “doubt of law” is solved.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Confirmation by a Parish Priest in connection with Marriage (Part I)

Or, can the provision of C.884, Par 1 be applied to this case? (First of Two Parts) By Msgr. Rey Manuel S. Monsanto, JCD Introduction: In the “Canon Law Digest of the Philippine Church”, compiled and edited by F. Testera, OP, under the heading “CONFIRMATION”, there is a subheading that reads: “Confirmation by the Parish Priest at Marriages”. The entered answer, however, is almost just a word for word quotation of c.884, par.1 and does not seem to answer clearly and specifically the questions: whether the Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) has approved that the diocesan Bishops may delegate all their parish priests to confirm in connection with marriages; or, whether the Conference has already allowed all parish priests to confirm in said circumstances. It is not even clear if a parish priest can do it “in view of an impending marriage”, or just during the marriage ceremony itself because the said subheading says: “at marriages”. Because of this uncertainty, there is a case of “doubt of law”. Hence, there arise questions like: Is confirmation so needed for a catholic to be able to go into marriage? Can a priest be delegated to confirm? And if so, how and in what circumstances? Does a diocesan Bishop need the approval of the Bishops’ Conference? Or, does he need an Apostolic Indult to grant the faculty? And, lastly, should he delegate all his parish priests to confirm in connection with marriage? And we can add the question: for the meantime that this is not clarified, can the parish priests, due to doubt of law, have recourse to “ecclesia supplet” of c.144? I. The need for confirmation before a marriage: The 1983 Code of Canon Law simply counsels the fittingness of administering confirmation to a catholic who is about to be admitted into the sacrament of marriage. It says in c. 1065, par.1: “Catholics who have not yet received the sacrament of confirmation are to receive it before being admitted to marriage, if this can be done without grave inconvenience.” This counsel is not mentioned in the old Code, but is now mentioned in the new Code to put into canonical formula the Vatican emphasis that confirmation is one of the “sacraments of initiation” and so needed for “full Christian initiation” (c.842, par.2). However, as can be seen, the canon does not make confirmation a necessary requirement for marriage, and so is not a strong reason for refusing marriage ceremony for a non-confirmed catholic. Moreover, the canon emphasizes that it is to be received only “if this can be done without grave inconvenience”. It is not even needed for the fruitful reception of marriage as par. 2 of this canon mentions only the sacraments of penance and the blessed Eucharist for fruitful reception. But we can also see the importance given by the Code to confirmation as it requires its reception to be a sponsor at baptism and confirmation (see cc.874, par.1, no.3 and 893, par.1). Hence, it is but proper and fitting that someone entering marriage, which would entail raising up children in the faith, be fully initiated, even if it is not needed for the liceity or validity of marriage. And that, therefore, things should be done to somehow facilitate its reception for those entering marriage. After all, it was not the fault of those persons that they were not confirmed. II. The minister of confirmation: a. The bishop as ordinary minister: The Code states clearly that the ordinary minister of confirmation is a bishop. It says in c. 882: “The ordinary minister of confirmation is a Bishop.” The Code emphasizes this episcopal prerogative when it says in c.880, par.2 that the chrism to be used “must have been consecrated by a Bishop”: “The chrism to be used… must have been consecrated by a Bishop, even when the sacrament is administered by a priest.” In other words, a priest, even one given the faculty by law or by special grant, cannot even bless chrism, much less consecrate one, even when confronted with a case of person who will die without having received confirmation. Hence, confirmation does not have to be administered to one in danger of death if chrism is not available. The canon does not even give the possibility of a Bishop granting the power to consecrate to a priest (cfr. c.1169, par.1). This provision is vastly different from the provision in c.999, no.2 which gives the possibility for a priest to bless the oil for the sick “in case of necessity”: “The oil to be used in the anointing of the sick can be blessed not only by a Bishop but also by: …ín case of necessity, any priest but only in the actual celebration of the sacrament.” Duty of the bishop: Moreover, the Code emphasizes that it is the duty and responsibility of the diocesan Bishop to administer this sacrament himself. C.884, par.1 says: “The diocesan Bishop is himself to administer confirmation…..” First choice if he cannot personally administer: another bishop And this same canon and paragraph states that if he cannot do it himself, then the first choice of a diocesan Bishop to administer the sacrament should be another Bishop anad not a priest: “The diocesan Bishop is… to ensure that it is administered by another Bishop.” b. The priest as delegated minister: The Code, however, gives different ways whereby a priest may, by delegation, administer confirmation: General statement: C.882 gives the general ways or manners whereby a priest may be able to confirm: “A priest can also validly confer this sacrament if he has the faculty to do so, either from general law or by way of a special grant from the competent authority.” The canon, therefore, states two ways whereby a priest may have the faculty to confer: 1. From general law: means that the ways are mentioned or enumerated in the Code itself. 2. By way of special grant: it means that a priest is given the faculty by special delegation by the competent authority, or through some other way. It is to be noted that this canon does not specify the quality or position of the priest in as much as it simply says: “a priest”. Hence, he does not have to be a parish priest nor a priest with pastoral work nor does he need to be in any position; in fact, a priest from outside the diocese may even be delegated. The next canon, however, c.883, which enumerates the priests who are granted the faculty by general law, lists also the position or the office or the situation of the priest. This delegated faculty, the canon clearly states, is for the validity of the sacrament. 1. Delegation from General Law: C.883 mentions the following priests in certain offices or situations as being granted by general law the faculty to confirm: “The following have, by law, the faculty to administer confirmation: “n.1 within the confines of their jurisdiction, those who in law are equivalent to a diocesan Bishop;” Those “equivalent in law” to a diocesan Bishop are those priests who, even without being ordained Bishops, are made to head ecclesiastical jurisdictions equivalent to a diocese, like a “territorial prelature”, a “territorial abbacy”, a “vicariate apostolic”, or a “prefecture apostolic” (cfr. c.368 and following). But, since they are not Bishops, the exercise of their faculty is limited to the “confines of their jurisdiction”; otherwise, the confirmation they administer will be invalid (cfr. c.887). “n.2 in respect to the person to be confirmed, the priest who by virtue of his office… baptizes an adult or admits a baptized adult into full communion with the catholic Church;” The priest who by virtue of his office baptizes, whether an adult or an infant, or admits a baptized adult into full communion with the Catholic Church is the parish priest (cfr. c.530, no.1). The parochial vicar does not have this office. “n.3 in respect to those in danger of death, the parish priest or indeed any priest.” Hence, any priest in a case of danger of death may validly confirm. This faculty, however, is, as said above, subject to the availability of chrism consecrated by a Bishop (cfr. c.880, par.2). The priest does not even have to belong to the ecclesiastical jurisdiction where he administers confirmation to someone in danger of death (cfr. c.887, the last phrase). 2. Delegation by special grant: The following are the cases whereby a priest may be granted the faculty by special grant or delegation: a. C.883, no.2 says: “in respect of the person to be confirmed, the priest who… by mandate of the diocesan Bishop an adult or admits a baptized into full communion with the catholic Church;” It is to be noted, first, that while parish priests can confirm in connection with adult baptism or with full reception into the Catholic Church, other priests are to receive a mandate from the diocesan Bishop; and, secondly, that the only one who can validly give this mandate is a “diocesan Bishop” or the Bishop of the place and not just any Bishop. And the diocesan Bishop can give this mandate any priest; and may do so not only for particular cases. b. C.884, par.2 talks of a novel case or way whereby delegation is granted to a priest by means of, what I would call, “invitation” (“faculty by invitation”): “For a grave reason the Bishop, or the priest who by law or by special grant of the competent authority has the faculty to confirm, may in individual cases invite other priests to join with him in administering the sacrament.” Hence, the actual minister of confirmation, whether he is a Bishop or a delegated priest, can, in an actual conferment of confirmation, invite other priests concelebrating with him to join in administering the confirmation. The requirements for this are: first, “grave reason”, like when there is a big number to be confirmed; and, second, it should be done in actual celebration; hence, a delegated priest, unlike a Bishop, cannot just tell other priests to confer the sacrament for him while he does not confer it himself. Thus, the canon says that the priest “may… invite other priests to join with him”. (To be continued)

Thursday, July 7, 2011

The Canonical Imperatives of Priestly Sanctity (Part III)

By Fr. Jaime Blanco Achacoso, J.C.D. AFTER considering the demands laid down by Canon Law as regards the pastoral ministry of priests, we can proceed to other obligations which likewise are specify the general duty of priests to seek holiness. 2nd Imperative Can.276, §2 — 2º [Clerics] are to nourish their spiritual life from the two-fold table of Sacred Scripture and the Eucharist; priests are therefore earnestly invited to offer the sacrifice of the Eucharist daily and deacons are earnestly invited to participate daily in offering it. This imperative to make the Holy Mass the root and center of the priest’s entire life by its daily celebration is reiterated in c.904: Priests are to celebrate frequently; indeed daily celebration is strongly recommended, since even if the faithful cannot be present, it is the act of Christ and the Church in which priests fulfill their principal function. Furthermore, the Code specifies an obligation to offer the Holy Mass for the people for certain clerics by virtue of their office: 1) For the diocesan bishop: After he has taken possession of his diocese, the diocesan bishop must apply a Mass for the people committed to him on Sundays and the other holy days of obligation within his region (c.388, §1). 2) For the diocesan administrator: The diocesan administrator is obliged to reside in the diocese and to apply Mass for the people according to the norm of c.388 (c.429). 3) For the parish priest: After he has taken possession of his parish, the pastor is obliged to apply Mass for the people entrusted to him each Sunday and holy day of obligation within the diocese; if he is legitimately prevented from this celebration, he is to apply Mass on these same days through another priest or he himself is to apply it on other days (c.534, §1). On the other hand, the pious celebration of the Eucharistic Sacrifice is safeguarded by the following canonical provisions: 1) Prohibition against routine due to too many Masses daily: It is not licit for a priest to celebrate the Eucharist more than once a day, except for certain instances when the law permits such celebration or concelebration more than once (c.905, §1). In fact, only if priests are lacking can the Local Ordinary allow exceptions to this general limitation to one Mass per day: a) twice a day for a just cause; b) thrice on Sunday and holy days of obligation, for pastoral reasons. 2) Prayer before and after Mass: The priest is not to fail to make the required prayerful preparation for the celebration of the Eucharistic Sacrifice, or the thanksgiving to God upon its completion (c.909). 3rd Imperative Can.276, §2 — 3º Priests as well as deacons aspiring to the priesthood are obliged to fulfill the liturgy of the hours daily in accordance with the proper and approved liturgical books; permanent deacons, however, are to do the same to the extent it is determined by the conference of bishops. The degree of obligation is lost in translation; in effect the original obligatione tenentur is used in the Code for obligations of the greatest rank—e.g., duty of celibacy for clerics (c.277, §1), duty to attend Mass on holy days of obligation (c.1247). Indeed the liturgy of the hours forms part of the public worship of the Church, and its celebration constitutes a grave obligation for clerics, even if the commandment does not affect all the hours equally—i.e., Morning Praise and Evening Prayer form the double axis around which the divine office rotates , which should not be omitted except for a serious cause. This canonical norm is in perfect continuity with c.135 of the old CIC17. 4th Imperative Can.276, §2 — 4º [Clerics] are also bound to make a spiritual retreat according to the prescriptions of particular law. The obligation to attend spiritual retreat is also given in terms of strict obligation, and canonical provisions are made to facilitate such attendance. Thus, the days spent in such retreats are not counted among the vacation days of the parish priest, when he is allowed to be absent from the parish (cf. c.533, §2); the same right is given the parochial vicar (cf. c.550, §3). This obligation should be interpreted in the context of the right and duty of the priest to permanent formation. 5th Imperative Can.276, §2 — 5º [Clerics] are to be conscientious in devoting time regularly to mental prayer, in approaching the sacrament of penance frequently, in cultivating special devotion to the Virgin Mother of God, and in using other common and particular means for their sanctification. This canonical imperative lumps in one provision a series of norms of piety and sacramental life which are further spelled out in the Directory on the Ministry and Life of Priests as follows: 1) Devoting time regularly to mental prayer: Following the example of Christ, the priest must know how to maintain the vivacity and abundance of the moments of silence and prayer in which he cultivates and deepens his own personal relationship with the living figure of Jesus Christ (Directory…, n.40). 2) Approaching the sacrament of penance frequently: Like any good faithful, the priest also needs to confess his own sins and weaknesses. He is the first to realize that the practice of this sacrament reinforces his faith and charity toward God and his brothers. In order to effectively reveal the beauty of Penance, it is essential that the minister of the sacrament offer a personal testimony preceding the other faithful in living the experience of pardon. In this sense, it is good for the faithful to see and know that their priests go to confession regularly (Directory…, n.53). 3) Cultivating special devotion to the Virgin Mother of God: The Directory makes special mention of the Holy Rosary (Directory…, n.39). 4) Other common and particular means for their sanctification. The Directory enumerates the following: daily Eucharistic celebration, with adequate preparation and thanksgiving; spiritual direction already practiced in the seminary; the complete and fervent celebration of the liturgy of the hours, on a daily basis; examination of conscience; divine readings; the Via Crucis and other pious exercises; and the fruitful reading on lives of the saints (Ibid.). Conclusion These brief considerations were meant to show that the ideal of priestly holiness is a pretension of paramount importance in the canonical order, such that in fact concrete norms have been laid down for its accomplishment. These norms are laid down in the most concise and concrete manner in the Directory on the Ministry and Life of Priests. I consider this to be the best little manual for the life and ministry of priests, a veritable vademecum specifically for the secular clergy who many times suffer precisely from a lack of specifically secular spirituality, as compared to the members of religious orders or societies of apostolic life who enjoy well-defined norms and means of ongoing formation that safeguard fidelity to their vocation. I would like to end with a quotation from Bl. John Paul II, concluding his landmark Apostolic Exhortation, Pastores dabo vobis: “I will give you shepherds after my own heart (Jer. 3:15). Today, this promise of God is still living and at work in the Church. At all times, she knows she is the fortunate receiver of these prophetic words. She sees them put into practice daily in so many parts of the world, or rather, in so many human hearts, young hearts in particular. On the threshold of the third millennium, and in the face of the serious and urgent needs which confront the Church and the world, she yearns to see this promise fulfilled in a new and richer way, more intensely and effectively: She hopes for an extraordinary outpouring of the Spirit of Pentecost.” (n.82)

Monday, June 20, 2011

The Canonical Imperatives of Priestly Sanctity (Part II)

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.)

Monday, June 6, 2011

The Canonical Imperatives of Priestly Sanctity (Part I)


The universal theme of the Year for Priests, launched by Pope Benedict XVI on 19 June 2009 was: Faithfulness of Christ, Faithfulness of Priests. That entire year was a wonderful occasion for the whole Church to reflect on the identity and ministry of priests, which is none other than the identity and ministry of our Savior and Lord, Jesus Christ himself. Allow me to recall at the outset what is specific in the sacramental character received in Holy Orders: not only a participation in the priesthood of Jesus Christ (which is proper to the universal or royal priesthood of all Christ’s faithful), but rather a configuration in persona Christi capitis, which therefore constitutes the priest in a sacred minister—alter Christus, ipse Christus—in the midst of the community of believers, at the service of and in order to nourish the universal priesthood of all the faithful. As Bl.John Paul II explained in Pastores dabo vobis, n.14: “ For the sake of this universal priesthood of the new covenant Jesus gathered disciples during his earthly mission (cf. Lk. 10:1-12), and with a specific and authoritative mandate he called and appointed the Twelve ‘to be with him, and to be sent out to preach and have authority to cast out demons’ (Mk. 3:14-15).”

However, that entire year’s reflection might very well be an exercise in futility, were it to be left precisely at the level of speculative thought. In effect, there is abundant literature on the life and ministry of priests—from charming biographies like those of the Curé d’Ars himself to treatises like those of Alphonsus Ligouri; from Papal Exhortations like Pastores dabo vobis to veritable Instructions like the Directory on the Life and Ministry of Priests. Despite all these, however, there continues to be glaring manifestations of lack of priestly holiness, not just in the past but even in the very year that was supposedly dedicated to foster priestly sanctity and fidelity.

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.

The Code of Canon Law expresses this in a general way in c.276:

Can.276, — §1. In leading their lives clerics are especially bound to pursue holiness because they are consecrated to God by a new title in the reception of orders as dispensers of God’s mysteries in the service of His people.

One observes that by itself, c.276, §1 may be doomed to go the way of many well-meaning but ineffective pastoral initiatives and guidelines. Staying within that section, one remains in the level of a desideratum, or in more juridical terms a pretension. Such pretension needs to be articulated into enforceable norms. Put another way, the pretension of priestly holiness needs to be spelled out into a set of normative conduct.

This is what c.276, §2 sets out to do, clearly stating: In order for them to pursue this perfection—followed by five numbers outlining a set of vital duties for clerics. In other words, what follows is not just a set of desiderata, but rather a set of norms which clerics must follow if they are to fulfill the juridical obligation to pursue holiness set by c.276, §1.

In this issue and succeeding two issues of the CBCP Monitor, I propose to tackles these five paragraphs of c.276, §2, which I refer to as the Canonical Imperatives of Priestly Sanctity.

1st Imperative

Can.276, §2 — 1º First of all, they are faithfully and untiringly to fulfill the duties of pastoral ministry.

Before going any further, I think it is important to clarify the concept of pastoral ministry. In effect, under the guise of pastoral ministry, almost every conceivable initiative has been taken up by ordained ministers—ranging from works of purely material beneficence (e.g., relief of calamity victims) to socio-political and economic initiatives (e.g., education for the upcoming elections, parish-based mechanisms for the protection of the electoral process, organization of cooperatives, education in NFP).

Properly speaking, the pastoral function consists in exercising the tria munera Christi, which can be summed up principally in delivering the salvific means entrusted by Christ to the Church—i.e., the Word of God and the Sacraments. In other words, it would imply a serious impoverishment of the person and mission of the priest, not to say of the Church herself, to reduce their spiritual mission to merely material tasks.

With this I do not in any way deny either the timeliness or utility of many works aimed at alleviating the socio-economic, political or even medical conditions of the people, carried out by ecclesiastical organizations with the help of the Hierarchy. What I want to do is to point out the danger of substituting the genuine pastoral function of the clerics with other charitable works, thereby confusing the priestly mission of the Pastors with that of the faithful in general.

The Code of Canon Law spells out this particular imperative abundantly, both in general provisions and as regards the administration of each of the Sacraments. Following is just a summary.

A. General Provisions:

1) General availability for pastoral assignments: Unless they are excused by a legitimate impediment, clerics are bound to undertake and faithfully fulfill a duty which has been entrusted to them by their Ordinary (c.274, §2). More than specifying any task, this norm binds the cleric to undertake and faithfully fulfill—i.e., carry out and faithfully execute to completion—any and all pastoral assignments entrusted to him by his bishop.

In effect, one cannot help but wonder if the aforementioned cases of wayward initiatives of individual priests could have prospered had they been totally consumed by assignments of a genuinely pastoral nature from their legitimate hierarchical superiors.

2) Duty of residence: Even if they do not have a residential office, clerics nevertheless are not to leave their diocese for a notable period of time, to be determined by particular law, without at least the presumed permission of their proper Ordinary (c.283, §1). This provision specifies further the availability of clerics for pastoral assignments by limiting their absence from the diocese.

Indeed, it would be much more difficult for clerics to fall into unhealthy activism—with initiatives that are not strictly pastoral—were their presence in their own ecclesiastical circumscriptions more strictly enforced.

3) Prohibition from assuming public office: Clerics are forbidden to assume public offices which entail a participation in the exercise of civil power (c.285, §3). The relevance of this norm to the canonical imperative in question is quite clear: The cleric cannot give his 100% dedication to the pastoral ministry, were he to also participate in the exercise of civil government.

For the priest, the Lord’s mandate to render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s takes on an absolute value: The priest simply owes 100% of his potencies to God and his Church. Aside from strictly pastoral duties, the priest simply has no other time or energy for much else.

4) Prohibition from engaging in business: Clerics are forbidden personally or through others to conduct business or trade either for their own benefit or that of others, without the permission of legitimate ecclesiastical authority (c.286). It is interesting to note that the prohibition is quite all-encompassing: neither personally nor through others, neither for their own benefit nor for other (i.e., not even for their flock).

The logic again is quite simple: a priest is ordained for pastoral tasks—the tria munera Christi—and not for other activities, unless legitimate authority permits (obviously for special reasons). (To be continued.)

Monday, May 23, 2011

Towards a Canonical Status for Basic Ecclesial Communities (Part III)

I am a priest in a diocese in Mindanao, where there is a strong impetus for the establishment of Basic Ecclesial Communities (BECs). The work these are doing for the Christian faithful is undeniable, especially in those areas hardly reached by the inadequate number of priests. However, at times I have been at odds with such groups because of a certain tendency to supplant the parish. It has even happened that such groups in the rural areas outside the poblacion even dissuade their members from going to town to attend Mass on holy days of obligation, with the reason that they already have what they call a “dry Mass”─basically a liturgy of the Word with the administration of Holy Communion outside Mass─in their chapel. In matters of governance too, at times such BECs are at odds with our Parish priest, because they impose requirements on their members (beyond those required by the Parish) in order to be included in the roster for the reception of Confirmation and Baptism, and even for Marriage.

What does Canon Law say about this?

GIVEN the existence of BECs, the question now is can they be accommodated into the hierarchical structure of the Church? Better still, if they are to be accommodated into the hierarchical structure of the Church, how should they be configured so as to make them fit better in that structure?

A. Point of Departure: The Duty of the Bishop to Provide Pastoral Care.
Can. 516 ─ §2 Where some communities cannot be established as parishes or quasi­parishes, the diocesan Bishop is to provide for their spiritual care in some other way.

This canonical norm provides us with the point of departure for finding a legal support for the BECs. In effect, the BECs as we know them are precisely communities of faithful, which for various reasons─e.g., distance from the parish or town proper, insufficient number of people to warrant an investment of priest and material resources, or as mostly happens in Mindanao a scarcity of priests─cannot be constituted into a parish or quasi-parish.

Nevertheless, the diocesan Bishop is bound by Law to provide for the spiritual care of such a community of faithful in some other way, so that they are not marginalized as far as pastoral care is concerned.

B. Point of Arrival: The Collaboration of Non-ordained Faithful in the Pastoral Care of a Parish, under the Direction of a Priest with Powers and Faculties of a Parish Priest.

Can. 517 ─ §2 If, because of a shortage of priests, the diocesan Bishop has judged that a deacon, or some other person who is not a priest, or a community of persons, should be entrusted with a share in the exercise of the pastoral care of a parish, he is to appoint some priest who, with the powers and faculties of a parish priest, will direct the pastoral care.

This canonical norm provides us with the legal nexus between the traditional ways of being Church and the so-called BECs. In effect, the canon admits the possibility of delivering the pastoral care of souls─which properly belongs (i.e., entrusted by Christ) to the bishops, but is participated in by his presbyterium─to a community which cannot be constituted into a parish or quasi-parish due to a shortage of priests, through a sharing in the exercise of the pastoral care of a parish by a non-ordained person or persons. This then is the possible legal basis of the BECs: they can be the application in the Philippine context of c.517, §2.

But for this to happen correctly, an indispensable requirement must be met, as stipulated in the last part of the aforementioned canonical norm: the diocesan Bishop…is to appoint some priest who, with the powers and faculties of a parish priest, will direct the pastoral care.

Why this requirement? To understand this, we need to delve deeper into the nature of the pastoral care of souls, as carried out by the proper pastors─i.e., primordially and principally the bishops (as successors of the Apostles who directly received that mandate from Christ), and participating with them as their collaborators, their presbyterium.

C. Pastoral Care of Souls is an exercise of the Sacra Potestas.

Before Christ ascended to Heaven, he gave the Apostles a solemn mandate: All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and behold, I am with you all days, even unto the consummation of the world (Mt.28, 19-20). We can summarize the great truths enshrined in these lines as follows:

1) The pastoral care of souls consists essentially in teaching (make disciples of all nations), sanctifying (baptizing them, and together with that administering all the other sacraments), and governing (teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you, meaning to follow the path to holiness).

2) Such pastoral care was entrusted principally to the Apostles and their successors in history─i.e., the bishops (behold, I am with you all days, even unto the consummation of the world).

3) Such pastoral care requires a sacred power that only Christ can give. This is the reason why the mandate by Christ is preceded by a solemn declaration: All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Only by investing them with such power of jurisdiction─to bind and loosen─can they effectively carry out such pastoral care. Hence, Christ continues: Go, therefore, and make disciples….

D. Only the Ordained Ministers are Capable of the Power of Governance in the Church.

This theological truth is expressed in canonical language in the famous c.129 of the Code of Canon Law:
Can. 129 ─ §1 Those who are in sacred orders are, in accordance with the provisions of law, capable of the power of governance, which belongs to the Church by divine institution. This power is also called the power of jurisdiction.
─ §2 Lay members of Christ's faithful can cooperate in the exercise of this same power in accordance with the law.

A little excursion to the genesis of this canon can give us the final piece in the puzzle of how to fit the BECs in the hierarchical structure of the Church. This is one of the few canons that suffered a small but Copernican change in the final revision of the present Code just months before its promulgation in 1983 by John Paul II.

In effect, the final Schema of the Code of Canon Law, c.129, §2 read: Lay members of Christ’s faithful can participate in this same power in accordance with the law. This would have implied that lay faithful could take part in the power of jurisdiction─i.e., be subjects of such power.

With the slight revision, Canon Law confirmed what ecclesiology had long accepted, that such power of governance in the Church can only be possessed by the sacred ministers (priests and bishops, not even deacons); and that the non-ordained faithful (and deacons) can only cooperate in the exercise of such power. The nuance is subtle, but it is there: Only bishops and priests (in union with them) can possess and properly-speaking exercise the power of jurisdiction and thus provide authentic pastoral care; the non-ordained can only collaborate with the bishops and priests in the delivery of such pastoral care.

Applying this to the phenomenon of BECs, the laymen involved in such communities can only collaborate in the pastoral ministry of the priests; they cannot be the source of such ministry altogether. Put another way, the laypersons in such communities must at all times act in accord with the norms laid down by the sacred ministers.

To summarize: For the BECs to really be a way of being Church, it must form part of the pastoral care of souls emanating from the diocesan bishop, but passing through an ordained minister (a priest), who is endowed with the power and faculties of a parish priest (hence, a proper pastor of souls).

How this can be done in practice can be the object of particular legislation by the bishops, by─for example─drawing up a Guidelines for the Constitution and Conduct of Basic Ecclesial Communities. Subject to the recognitio by the Holy See, these Guidelines can constitute a common set of norms for all the dioceses.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Towards a Canonical Status for Basic Ecclesial Communities (Part II)

I am a priest in a diocese in Mindanao, where there is a strong impetus for the establishment of Basic Ecclesial Communities (BECs). The work these are doing for the Christian faithful is undeniable, especially in those areas hardly reached by the inadequate number of priests. However, at times I have been at odds with such groups because of a certain tendency to supplant the parish. It has even happened that such groups in the rural areas outside the poblacion even dissuade their members from going to town to attend Mass on holy days of obligation, with the reason that they already have what they call a “dry Mass”─basically a liturgy of the Word with the administration of Holy Communion outside Mass─in their chapel. In matters of governance too, at times such BECs are at odds with our Parish priest, because they impose requirements on their members (beyond those required by the Parish) in order to be included in the roster for the reception of Confirmation and Baptism, and even for Marriage.
What does Canon Law say about this?

WE resume our discussion of Basic Ecclesial Communities with a brief outline of what we shall tackle in this part.

1) There is an existing phenomenon, which in the Philippines we have given the name of Basic Ecclesial Communities (BECs). Like many things in the Philippines, it manifests the vibrancy of our culture in general, and of the Catholic Church in this country in particular. However, like any new thing, it also has its pains. Already, we see shadows together with the lights: frictions with the hierarchical structures (parishes), abuses in liturgical practice (proliferation of so called “dry Masses”) and even an under-valuing of the Sacramental life─all of these mostly due to a sore lack of doctrinal foundations.

2) But, for the meantime at least, the BECs are there and are even spreading─due in no mean part to the encouragement of the hierarchy itself. On the other hand, we see why the hierarchy is encouraging the BECs, especially in Mindanao: given the acute shortage of clergy, the BECs seem to be the way to address the pastoral needs of the faithful, especially in those areas of difficult access to the hierarchically constituted pastoral structures─i.e., the parish.

3) Hence, we ask ourselves: is there a way for these BECs to develop more systematically─i.e., more ecclesiologically? Are there provisions in Canon Law that can serve as guidelines of what the BECs can do, and what they should not do?

A New Way of Being Church?

It has been said that the BECs constitute the new way of being Church. This may seem like an innocuous expression, but it has very serious theological and canonical implications. In the theological─ecclesiological─sense, it might even be misunderstood to mean that the Church is evolving by the initiative of the people. In this particular case, even starting from the grassroots.

But the Church did not arise─and neither can it unfold and develop─from a people power initiative. The people of God, which is the Church─comes about from a Trinitarian initiative. By the will of God the Father, Jesus Christ instituted the Church by (1) calling together the Apostles and empowering them to teach, sanctify and govern in his name, and (2) sending the Holy Spirit on Pentecost to inhabit a community of disciples, together with the Apostles. In other words, the Church came about by a Divine design and constitution. It also develops historically by a Divine design and providence.

Thus, if we are to understand the Basic Ecclesial Communities as the new way of being Church, we need to look at them from the perspective of the Church, as Christ established it and how it has developed through the centuries under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. More specifically, if the BECs are really to be ecclesial, they must be constituted and they must operate according to the parameters set by the Supreme Authority of the Church in her reflection on what the Church is and how it is constituted.

We can arrive at this by a deductive process, starting from the concept of the Church as laid down by Vatican Council II and later expressed in juridic terms by the Code of Canon Law of 1983. Based on the essential structural elements of the Church, as established by Jesus Christ, we can encounter the canonical locus of the BECs in the hierarchical structure of the Church. In other words, through the right application of Canon Law, the BECs can indeed be a way of being Church.

The Traditional Way of Being Church

Vatican Council II─in the Dogmatic Constitution Lumen Gentium─already set forth the essential structural elements of the Church of Christ as follows:

1) A community of believers, who─regenerated in the new life of children of God by the sacrament of Baptism and subsequently nourished in their different ecclesial situations by the Word of God and by the other Sacraments─march in pilgrimage towards their definitive home in union with God. Together they constitute a portio populi Dei (a portion of the People of God, which is the Church).

2) A shepherd, who─as a successor of the Apostles─has received from the Pope, the Vicar of Christ (successor of Peter, upon whom Christ promised to build his Church), the mandate to be the proper pastor of the aforementioned portio populi Dei.

3) A group of ordained ministers, who─ontologically configured with Christ as head of the mystical body, and canonically invested with a specific participation in the pastoral mission of the bishop─act in persona Christi capitis to deliver to the faithful the means of salvation─i.e., the Word and the Sacraments.

Properly speaking, it is the aforementioned interaction of the ministerial priesthood (of the Bishop helped by his clergy) at the service of the universal or common priesthood (of the rest of the faithful) which brings about the congregation of believers which is called Church. In other words, the Church─as a visible structure and organization─has come about as a result of the unfolding of the mandate of the Resurrected Christ to Peter, to “feed my lambs” and to “feed my sheep”. In order to effectively deliver the means of salvation─the Word of God (revealed by Scripture and Tradition, and authoritatively taught by the Magisterium) and the Sacraments─to all the baptized, the Church organizes itself. Traditionally, this has been through the constitution of particular Churches (under the care of bishop as its proper Pastor), which are subdivided into parishes or quasi-parishes (each under the care of a priest, under the authority of the bishop, also as its proper pastor).

The traditional canonical expressions of this reality are the particular church and the parish.

A. Particular Churches: The Diocese

Can. 368 ─ Particular Churches, in which and from which the one and only catholic Church exists, are principally dioceses. Unless the contrary is clear, the following are equivalent to a diocese: a territorial prelature, a territorial abbacy, a vicariate apostolic, a prefecture apostolic and a permanently established apostolic administration.

Can. 369 ─ A diocese is a portion of the people of God, which is entrusted to a Bishop to be nurtured by him, with the cooperation of the presbyterium, in such a way that, remaining close to its pastor and gathered by him through the Gospel and the Eucharist in the Holy Spirit, it constitutes a particular Church. In this Church, the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church of Christ truly exists and functions.

Can. 372 ─ §1 As a rule, that portion of the people of God which constitutes a diocese or other particular Church is to have a defined territory, so that it comprises all the faithful who live in that territory.
─ §2 If however, in the judgement of the supreme authority in the Church, after consultation with the Episcopal Conferences concerned, it is thought to be helpful, there may be established in a given territory particular Churches distinguished by the rite of the faithful or by some other similar quality.
Can. 373 ─ It is within the competence of the supreme authority alone to establish particular Churches; once they are lawfully established, the law itself gives them juridical personality.

B. Parishes and Quasi-parishes.

Can. 515 ─ §1 A parish is a certain community of Christ's faithful stably established within a particular Church, whose pastoral care, under the authority of the diocesan Bishop, is entrusted to a parish priest as its proper pastor.

─ §2 The diocesan Bishop alone can establish, suppress or alter parishes. He is not to establish, suppress or notably alter them unless he has consulted the council of priests.

─ §3 A lawfully established parish has juridical personality by virtue of the law itself.
Can. 516 ─ §1 A quasi­parish is a certain community of Christ's faithful within a particular Church, entrusted to a priest as its proper pastor, but because of special circumstances not yet established as a parish. Unless the law provides otherwise, a quasi­parish is equivalent to a parish.

─ §2 Where some communities cannot be established as parishes or quasi­parishes, the diocesan Bishop is to provide for their spiritual care in some other way.
Can. 517 ─ §1 Where circumstances so require, the pastoral care of a parish, or of a number of parishes together, can be entrusted to several priests jointly, but with the stipulation that one of the priests is to be the moderator of the pastoral care to be exercised. This moderator is to direct the joint action and to be responsible for it to the Bishop.

─ §2 If, because of a shortage of priests, the diocesan Bishop has judged that a deacon, or some other person who is not a priest, or a community of persons, should be entrusted with a share in the exercise of the pastoral care of a parish, he is to appoint some priest who, with the powers and faculties of a parish priest, will direct the pastoral care.
Can. 518 ─ As a general rule, a parish is to be territorial, that is, it is to embrace all Christ's faithful of a given territory. Where it is useful however, personal parishes are to be established, determined by reason of the rite, language or nationality of the faithful of a certain territory, or on some other basis.

Can. 519 ─ The parish priest is the proper pastor of the parish entrusted to him. He exercises the pastoral care of the community entrusted to him under the authority of the diocesan Bishop, whose ministry of Christ he is called to share, so that for this community he may carry out the offices of teaching, sanctifying and ruling with the cooperation of other priests or deacons and with the assistance of lay members of Christ's faithful, in accordance with the law. (To be concluded.)

Monday, May 9, 2011

The Easter Eucharistic Precept and the Law of Annual Confession

EASTER is here again and I hear conflicting criteria regarding the so-called Easter Precept and the sacrament of Confession. Some say that the Church prescribes that the faithful go to the Sacrament of Reconciliation at least once a year¾during Easter Time¾and receive the Eucharist. On the other hand, there are those who say that in this age and time of too many people and too few priests, it is not practical to bother them unless one has mortal sins, so that the once-a-year precept refers more to going to Communion rather than going to Confession.
Can you enlighten me on this?

The Easter Eucharistic Precept

Due to a widespread neglect of the sacrament of the Eucharist in the Middle Ages, various Church Councils, from the 6th Century onward, enacted laws obliging the faithful to receive the Holy Eucharist, especially on the principal feasts. The IV Lateran Council (1215) established a general law for the Latin Church requiring the reception of Communion at least once a year at Easter by those who had attained the age of discretion. This law, which was confirmed by the Council of Trent, was incorporated in the 1917 Code of Canon Law. The actual Code of 1983 retains the annual precept, with some modifications:

Can. 920 ¾ §1. All the faithful, after they have been initiated into the Most Holy Eucharist, are bound by the obligation of receiving Communion at least once a year.

¾ §2. This precept must be fulfilled during the Easter season, unless it is fulfilled for a just cause at some other time during the year.

The primary subject of this precept, therefore, are all the faithful who have received First Communion, barring excusing causes such as moral or physical impossibility. This obligation to receive Holy Communion at least once a year should be fulfilled normally during Easter time, understood as the period from Palm (Passion) Sunday to Pentecost Sunday. The satisfaction of the Eucharistic precept outside this period required a just cause¾such as illness, or residence in a remote area where there is no minister to celebrate Mass or administer Holy Communion¾but it must be satisfied within the space of one year, counted from the previous Communion (cf. c.203).

In the Philippines, this precept applies as legislated in the universal law of the Church, and no special faculty is needed to comply with the Easter duty outside Easter time: each faithful, in conscience, shall decide whether he has sufficient reason to do it in the prescribed time.

Finally, it must be said that since the same Code of Canon Law, in c.914, imposes the responsibility of ensuring that children who have reached the use of reason are nourished by the divine food as early as possible on the parents and those who take their place as well as on the pastor, one can conclude that¾in the case of children¾the observance of the Eucharistic precept indirectly bears upon the parents or guardians and upon the parish priest too, who thus become the secondary subjects of this ecclesiastical law. This was actually stated in the 1917 Code (c.860), which though removed in the present Code as something not strictly proper in a book of law, nevertheless is quite morally binding.

The Law of Annual Confession

In the Philippines, fortunately, one hardly needs to be reminded of the Eucharistic precept: the Sunday Masses are noteworthy for their long queues of people coming to receive the Holy Eucharist. In this connection, it would be good to be reminded of yet another disposition of the 1983 Code of Canon Law:

Can. 989 ¾ After having attained the age of discretion, each of the faithful is bound by an obligation to faithfully confess serious sins at least once a year.

Definitely, the canon does not lay down this law for any specific time of the year, nor does it lay it down for everyone. It binds only those who are aware of having committed a mortal sin and have not yet had it absolved in sacramental Confession, and he may go to Confession any time during the year. But the long queues in the confessionals of many churches during Lent and Easter season are an eloquent manifestation of the common sense of the faithful that even the just man falls seven times each day; furthermore , as John Paul II reminded the faithful: the individual and integral confession of sins with individual absolution constitutes the only ordinary way in which the faithful who are conscious of serious sin are reconciled with God and with the Church (Reconciliatio et paenitentia, 33).

Indeed, the faithful are all too aware of that warning of St. Paul to the Corinthians: Therefore whoever eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord unworthily, will be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord…for he who eats and drinks unworthily, without distinguishing the body, eats and drinks judgment to himself (I Cor 2, 27-28).

Herein lies the nexus between the Easter Eucharistic precept and the law on yearly confession of serious sins: To receive Holy Communion worthily at Easter time, it seems logical that the best way to prepare for it is with individual sacramental Confession.

Duty of Pastors to Facilitate Confession

If the obligation exists for the faithful to go to confession at least once a year in case of serious sins, and the just man falls seven times each day, there seems to be a corresponding duty on the part of the sacred ministers to enable the faithful to fulfill the duty.

Indeed, a series of simple calculations can serve to quantify this duty of the pastor¾at least in a general way. In the Philippines, there is an average of 15,000 Catholics for every priest. Now according to the population profile of the Philippines, roughly 68% of the population falls in the 10-60 years old bracket¾which , presumably, is the age group to which (roughly) the law of annual confession applies. Assuming that the same percentage holds for the Catholics too, then there should be 10,200 Catholics of 10-60 years of age for every priest in the Philippines. Even if each of these faithful only went to the minimum once-a-year confession, this would mean that the pastors, if they are to fulfill their duty, should on the average hear about 30 confessions daily throughout the year.

There has been a lot of talk of the need for moral recovery in Philippine society and politics. Such moral recovery cannot happen in a collective way, in a mass action. The moral recovery of a society depends ultimately on the individual personal conversion of its members—a conversion that is not possible without the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Here indeed is a point of self-examination for the pastor of souls, and a possible point of redress for the parishioners.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Towards a Canonical Status for Basic Ecclesial Communities (Part I)

A Review of the Instruction Ecclesia de Mysterio

I am a priest in a diocese in Mindanao, where there is a strong impetus for the establishment of Basic Ecclesial Communities (BECs). The work these are doing for the Christian faithful is undeniable, especially in those areas hardly reached by the inadequate number of priests. However, at times I have been at odds with such groups because of a certain tendency to supplant the parish. At times, such groups in the rural areas outside the poblacion even dissuade their members from going to town to attend Mass on holy days of obligation, with the reason that they already have what they call a “dry Mass”─basically a liturgy of the Word with the administration of Holy Communion outside Mass─in their chapel. In matters of governance too, at times such BECs are at odds with our Parish priest, because they impose requirements on their members (beyond those required by the Parish) in order to be included in the roster for the reception of Confirmation and Baptism, and even for Marriage. What does Canon Law say about this?

The Problem with BECs

There are two basic problems with the Basic Ecclesial Communities. Firstly, although the term has been used quite extensively in the Philippines, the Magisterium has not really defined it authoritatively. Even in the Philippines, the bishops have not given a real definition. Hence, the margin for abuse of the notion is quite wide.

Secondly, if there is no theological definition, much less could there be a canonical one. The expression does not even appear in the Code of Canon Law. Perhaps it was for this reason─the lack of any clear idea of what they are in the first place─that they have not been treated seriously in the canonical forum.

Nevertheless, the phenomenon does exist and─in Mindanao and to a certain extent also in the Visayas─quite extensively, to the point that somebody had said “they are the new way of being Church.” Hence, it’s not something that can be left to develop helter-skelter, among other things because the Church is not something that develops out of human initiative, but rather follows a Divine design. Hence, if a phenomenon like the BECs is to develop─to borrow the aforementioned quotation─being Church, it cannot be allowed to develop without the proper parameters.

Here is where Canon Law can help, because even if there may not be a canonical definition of the Basic Ecclesial Communities yet, not for this does it follow that there is a normative gap as regards the phenomenon. There is a legal gap (lacuna legis) insofar as the very expression basic ecclesial community does not even appear in the Codex, but there is no normative gap (lacuna normativa), because the juridic structure of the Church is sufficiently fine so as to provide the pertinent norms to the actuation of the BECs. In other words, from the existing legal norms, it is quite possible to draw what is applicable to the constitution and conduct of basic ecclesial communities.

This, in fact, is the inspiration behind the 19th National Convention of the Canon Law Society of the Philippines, to be held this coming April 26-29 in Surigao City. In effect, what the CLSP proposes to do is to sift through existing legal norms in the Church to find what are applicable to BECs and then integrate them into a sort of a draft Guidelines for Basic Ecclesial Communities, for possible presentation to the CBCP for the latter’s adoption and if necessary Papal recognition.

Point of Departure: the Instruction Ecclesia de Mysterio of 1997
In 1997, the Holy See issued the Instruction Ecclesia de Mysterio, On Certain Questions Regarding the Collaboration of the Non ordained Faithful in the Sacred Ministry of Priests. It was co-authored by six Vatican Congregations (for the Clergy; for the Doctrine of the Faith; for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments; for Bishops; for the Evangelization of Peoples; for the Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life) and two Pontifical Councils (for the Interpretation of Legislative Texts; for the Laity). The document reaffirmed the teaching of the Second Vatican Council (especially of Lumen Gentium, n.33 and Apostolicam Actuositatem, n.24). Its main purpose was to acknowledge and promote what is specific to the vocations of the lay faithful and of ordained ministers, with the goal of encouraging real communion in the Church.
Surprisingly, it was met either with criticism or with indifference. After almost 15 years, the problem of the BECs compels us to revisit this document, which enjoys the specific approval of the Holy Father.

As an introduction, it may be good to summarize the basic objectives of the Instruction, which simply reaffirms the teaching of the Second Vatican Council and of the more recent post conciliar Magisterium on the positive role of the laity in the Church's mission.

1. Encourage the ordained ministers and foster the ordained ministry. It seeks to encourage ordained ministers by forcefully reintroducing the subject of vocations to the priesthood, stressing that the Church's life depends on the sacrament of Holy Orders as a free, absolutely irreplaceable gift, because the ordained ministry (Bishops, priests, deacons) is part of the Church's very structure. Thus, the Instruction concludes by stating that "the 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."

2. Remind the laity of their specific role. The Instruction also reminds us how the fundamental equality of Christians—based on Baptism—is compatible with an essential difference—based on Sacred Orders—and that lay Christians, precisely because of Baptism, are called to the consecratio mundi, which differs from the task of anyone who belongs, through the sacrament, to the ministerial ranks. Thus, by avoiding every form of clericalism, lay Christians are encouraged to be more aware of their identity and to give their witness in the world and in the Church without considering the exercise of ministerial duties which they may perform from time to time as a form of advancement but only as one of substitution.

3. Expose the "functionalist" and "individualist" errors. The Instruction also calls for critical discernment regarding certain modernistic trends that deeply affect people's idea of the ministry.

The first, the "functionalist" approach, holds that human actions and things in general cannot refer to anything beyond themselves. In this mentality what really counts is to achieve the goal one has set for oneself. We can understand then how, even when moved by true pastoral generosity, some eventually think that whatever does not require the sacramental power of the Bishop, priest or deacon ad validitatem can be assumed ordinarily and permanently by the laity. But in doing so, the ordained ministry begins gradually to be eroded. This is illustrated by the complaint of our priest from Mindanao that some BECs are discouraging their people from attending Mass in the town proper, since anyway they have their own service─presided by a layman─in their barrio chapel.

The "individualist" approach, on the other hand, has become more and more widespread since the 16th century and leads to thinking in terms of "personal success", "competitiveness" and "power". There is no space to tackle this issue now; neither is it too relevant to the problem we have at hand.

4. Authentic promotion of the lay apostolate. The Instruction is not a limitation of the genuine promotion of lay participation in the evangelical and ecclesial apostolate. On the contrary, this is encouraged in the right direction consistent with Catholic ecclesiology. However─as Card. Ratzinger emphasized then─"it intends to rebut and prevent the tendency towards a clericalization of the lay faithful, and the risk of creating, in reality, an ecclesial structure of parallel service to that founded on the sacrament of Orders."

The doctrinal principle at the root of these concerns is the twofold affirmation of the unity of the Church 's mission, in which all the baptized participate, and the essential difference of the ministry of pastors, rooted in the sacrament of Orders, with respect to the other ministries, offices and ecclesial functions that are rooted in the sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation.

5. Encourage terminological precision. In Article 1 of the practical provisions─¬entitled "Need for an Appropriate Terminology"─the Instruction rightly insists on the need for a suitable terminology, clarifying the confused use of the word ministry, which describes both the officia and the munera exercised by Pastors in virtue of the sacrament of Orders, and those exercised by the non ordained faithful.

6. Eliminate abuses. As Card. Ratzinger affirmed at the time: "The timeliness and urgent need of this Instruction is explained in the light of the situation occurring in specific and widespread ecclesial circles, which demands, special insistence on the faithful application of the principles and norms contained in the teachings of the Magisterium and the Church's universal legislation in the concrete life of the particular Churches."

In view of the situation in certain ecclesial areas, specifically North Central Europe, North America and Australia, and noting the risk that abuses in the lay faithful's participation in the sacred ministry of the ordained could spread to other ecclesiastical regions, Card. Ratzinger already affirmed then that "it seemed most timely and urgent to define clearly the various forms of assistance open to the lay faithful in the exercise of the priestly ministry."

An Important Observations: collaboration vs. participation

In the substantive level, the most important word─a veritable hermeneutic key─is a term that appears in the title itself of the document. In effect, the title speaks of the collaboration of the non-ordained faithful in the priestly ministry.

The term initially used in the preliminary discussions was participation. Thus, the title of the symposium in April 1994, which launched the serious preparation of this document, was "The Participation of the Lay Faithful in the Priestly Ministry". However, Pope John Paul II himself, in his address to that symposium, never used the term participation in this context. In fact, he belabored the distinction between participation in Christ's priesthood by virtue of baptism and confirmation, and the eventual exercise of some tasks entrusted to them by the priests:

"The laity's every ecclesial action or function─including those for which the Pastors ask them to stand in, where possible─is rooted ontologically in their common participation in Christ's priesthood and not in an ontological participation (either temporary or partial) in the ordained ministry proper to Pastors. Therefore, it is clear that if the Pastors entrust them, in an extraordinary way, with some tasks ordinarily and properly connected with the pastoral ministry but not requiring the proper character of Orders, lay people should know that these tasks are existentially rooted in their baptismal ministry and nowhere else! It must always be remembered that the exercise of such tasks does not make pastors of the lay faithful: in fact, a person is not a minister simply by performing a task, but through sacramental ordination."

The terminological shift is important. In effect, participation ("to take part in") in the ministerial tasks could not strictly speaking take place without the subject ontologically taking part─for that matter─in the ministerial priesthood itself. This could only happen with priestly ordination. From this we see the aptness of the term collaboration ("to work with") when applied to the non-ordained faithful's cooperation with the ministerial work of priests.

Preliminary Conclusions

With the aforementioned discussion, we can point out the following doctrinal conclusions:

1. Lay collaboration in priestly ministry is not a right. The document contains several assertions that call for hermeneutic clarification. Thus, the part concerned with Theological Principles (n.4) says with respect to the tasks and functions which "are considered along the lines of collaboration with the sacred ministry" that "the non ordained faithful do not enjoy a right to such tasks and functions". Obviously, there is no wish here to deny that these faithful can legitimately exercise the tasks and functions mentioned. The document wants to state, however, that the non ordained faithful do not have the right to demand that they be assigned to the above mentioned tasks or functions.
Elsewhere the Instruction says: "the officia temporarily entrusted to them ... are exclusively the result of a deputation by the Church" (Art.1, §2). "Deputation by the Church" is a shorthand expression for "deputation by the Church's lawful Pastors". This complete formulation, used in other passages of the Instruction, avoids an identification of the Pastors with the Church herself. And §3 of the same article correctly indicates that "the temporary deputation for liturgical purposes mentioned in c.230, §2─does not confer any special or permanent title on the non ordained faithful". The following sentence states that it is unlawful for the non ordained faithful to assume titles such as pastor, chaplain, coordinator or moderator. What applies to temporary deputation applies with all the more reason to permanent deputation for liturgical or pastoral tasks (cf. CIC, c.230, §1, 517, §2,).

2. Lay collaboration is supplementary─i.e., only in cases of necessity. By their ecclesiological nature all of these particular functions belong to the realm of the ordained ministry, in which a lay person, however, can collaborate in cases of necessity, if he has been lawfully deputed to do so. But it must be noted here: "in case of necessity"!

For example, it could never be the Church's objective to replace the Eucharistic celebration by promoting Sunday celebrations without a priest. Nevertheless, wherever there are no other possibilities, the Church is grateful to that lay person who, being well disposed and following the instructions of the Bishop who appointed him, conducts a Liturgy of the Word for and with the faithful who have no other opportunity to celebrate the Lord's Day. It is clear that the lay person here is truly a supplementary aid. Thus, for the good of the faithful he will be glad when a priest is available to celebrate the Eucharist. The Instruction enables us to indicate many other analogous situations.

3. Responsibility for abuses. The practical provisions of the Instruction are not limited to listing possible or actual abuses, but they always seek to indicate the theological and canonical coordinates underlying the respective fields of activity and thereby to draw the necessary consequences. As a well-known Canonist, Prof. Winfried Aymans, pointed out at the time, "the problems mentioned are caused, first of all, by the fact that they are found in a border area." Abuses occur, according to Aymans, when exceptional solutions become alternatives, changing an extraordinary competence into an ordinary one, or, on the other, when the limits provided for collaboration are unlawfully extended and a competence is assumed that has not been given.

"In this regard─Aymans continues─it should be pointed out that the laity usually cannot be considered responsible for true and proper abuses. They in fact fulfill—normally with good intentions─that role which has been introduced in their particular Church and has been entrusted to them. On the other hand, it should be noted that the norms established by the Bishops' Conferences or by individual Bishops generally do not contradict the ordinances of universal law, but their clarity at times is not enough to prevent the spread of an abusive practice."

It is for this reason that the Canon Law Society of the Philippines has chosen this topic for their study and discussion in this year’s CLSP National Convention.

Monday, March 28, 2011

The Re-marriage of Fallen-away Catholics: A Review of the Motu Proprio Omnium in mentem

A Catholic man, a well-known personality, became a Born-again Christian and married a Baptist woman without securing the required dispensation from the Catholic authorities. After a few years, they break up and get a civil annulment from a Philippine court. Now he wishes to remarry in the Catholic Church with a Catholic woman. Can he do it?

The Canon Law on Mixed Marriages and the so-called Disparity of Cult

There are two phenomena regulated by Canon Law which oftentimes are confused: mixed marriages and disparity of cult.

A mixed marriage is one contracted between two baptized persons, one of whom was baptized in the Catholic Church or received into it, and another who is a member of a Church or ecclesial community which is not in full communion with the Catholic Church. According to c.1124 of the Code of Canon Law, such a marriage cannot be celebrated without the express permission of the competent authority. Canon Law further stipulates that such permission can be granted by the Local Ordinary if there is a just and reasonable cause, but only if the following requirements (called cautions) are met: (1) the Catholic party declares that he/she is prepared to remove dangers of falling away from the faith and makes a sincere promise to do all in his/her power to have all the children baptized and brought up in the Catholic Church; (2) the other party is informed at an appropriate time of these promises which the Catholic party has to make, so that it is clear that the other party is truly aware of the promise and obligation of the Catholic party; (3) both parties are instructed on the essential ends and properties of marriage, which are not to be excluded by either party (c.1125).

Can.1126 further establishes that the conference of bishops is to establish the way in which these declarations and promises, which are always required, are to be made, what proof of them there should be the external forum and how they are to be brought to the attention of the non-Catholic party. In practice, many dioceses in the Philippines now require the non-Catholic party to sign a simple document to this effect.

Failure to follow these norms by itself does not invalidate the canonical marriage thus contracted, but it renders it illicit─i.e., if done with full knowledge and consent, it would be gravely sinful for all involved (starting with the witnessing priest of course who should know better).

Quite a different matter is the so-called impediment of disparity of cult established by c.1086, which stipulates:

§1. Marriages between two persons, one of whom is baptized in the Catholic Church or has been received into it and the other of whom is non-baptized, is invalid.

§2. This impediment is not to be dispensed unless the conditions mentioned in cc.1125 and 1126 [i.e., the cautions for mixed marriages] are fulfilled.

In other words, whereas in the case of an unauthorized mixed marriage is only illicit but valid, the presence of the impediment of disparity of cult─unless lawfully dispensed─renders the marriage invalid from the start.

The Motu Proprio Omnium in mentem

The Apostolic Letter “Motu Proprio” Omnium in mentem, issued 26.X.2009, dealt with two unrelated matters: a clarification of the ministerial function of deacons, and the obligation of the canonical form of marriage for those faithful who have left the Church in a formal way. Saving the first matter for a future article, let us focus now on the second clarification.

The Motu Proprio dealt with the obligation of the faithful who have left the Church in a formal way─e.g., the typical fallen-away Catholic who joins the Born again movement─to follow the ecclesiastical laws regarding the canonical form of marriage, the required dispensation from the impediment of disparity of cult and the need for permission in the case of mixed marriages.

It did this by taking away from the previous redaction of cc.1086, §1 (establishing the impediment of disparity of cult), c.1117 (requiring the canonical form if at least one of the parties of marriage is a baptized Catholic) and c.1124 (requiring permission from the Local Ordinary for a mixed marriage), a phrase which limited the scope of the Catholic party to one who “was baptized in the Catholic Church or received into it and has not by a formal act defected from it.” Thus, in the new redaction of the aforementioned canons, the phrase “and has not by a formal act defected from it” has been deleted.

The crux of the matter is that many problems arise as regards the separation of the faithful from the Church. The papal document explains it:

“First, in individual cases the definition and practical configuration of such a formal act of separation from the Church has proved difficult to establish, from both a theological and a canonical standpoint. In addition, many difficulties have surfaced both in pastoral activity and the practice of tribunals. Indeed, the new law appeared, at least indirectly, to facilitate and even in some way to encourage apostasy in places where the Catholic faithful are not numerous or where unjust marriage laws discriminate between citizens on the basis of religion. The new law also made difficult the return of baptized persons who greatly desired to contract a new canonical marriage following the failure of a preceding marriage. Finally, among other things, many of these marriages in effect became, as far as the Church is concerned, clandestine marriages.”

In sum, what the motu proprio has established is that even if a Catholic separates from the Church, he/she is still under Church Law, even if he disregards it. If he/she marries a person who is not validly baptized without due dispensation (from the impediment of disparity of cult) from the Local Ordinary, that marriage would be invalid.


Since our Catholic personality married the Baptist woman (invalid baptism) without dispensation from the impediment of disparity of cult, that first marriage was invalid. Thus, after securing a civil annulment, he is free to marry (not re-marry) in the Catholic Church with a Catholic woman.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Denial of Holy Communion to Civilly Remarried Catholics

I am an assistant parish priest, forced to confront difficult situations on my own at times, due to the frequent absence of the parish priest for family reasons. Recently I was again placed on the spot because of the presence of a well-known personality at Sunday Mass, who was with his partner who most people know as his wife, but who I—together with quite a number of people in the parish—know he is only civilly married to, since he has an existing canonical marriage with another woman who is still very much alive and also quite present in the public eye. The problem is this person and his partner came to receive Holy Communion. Since I was placed on the spot and to avoid creating a scene, I just gave them the Holy Eucharist. Did I act correctly?

Declaration of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts
On Communion for Divorced and Remarried Persons

This question had been exhaustively answered by a Declaration of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts dated 24.VI.2000. For brevity, we can reproduce the pertinent numbers of that document in the following paragraphs.

The Code of Canon Law establishes that "Those upon whom the penalty of excommunication or interdict has been imposed or declared, and others who obstinately persist in manifest grave sin, are not to be admitted to Holy Communion" (c.915). In recent years some authors have sustained, using a variety of arguments, that this canon would not be applicable to faithful who are divorced and remarried. It is acknowledged that paragraph 84 of the Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris consortio, issued in 1981, had reiterated that prohibition in unequivocal terms and that it has been expressly reaffirmed many times, especially in n.1650 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, published in 1992, and in the Letter written in 1994 by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Annus internationalis Familiae. That notwithstanding, the aforementioned authors offer various interpretations of the above-cited canon that exclude from its application the situation of those who are divorced and remarried.

Given this alleged contrast between the discipline of the 1983 Code and the constant teachings of the Church in this area, this Pontifical Council, in agreement with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and with the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments declares the following:

1. The prohibition found in the cited canon, by its nature, is derived from divine law and transcends the domain of positive ecclesiastical laws: the latter cannot introduce legislative changes which would oppose the doctrine of the Church. The scriptural text on which the ecclesial tradition has always relied is that of St. Paul: "This means that whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily sins against the body and blood of the Lord. A man should examine himself first only then should he eat of the bread and drink of the cup. He who eats and drinks without recognizing the body eats and drinks a judgment on himself."

This text concerns in the first place the individual faithful and their moral conscience, a reality that is expressed as well by the Code in c.916. But the unworthiness that comes from being in a state of sin also poses a serious juridical problem in the Church: indeed the canon of the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches that is parallel to c.915 CIC of the Latin Church makes reference to the term "unworthy": "Those who are publicly unworthy are forbidden from receiving the Divine Eucharist" (c.712). In effect, the reception of the Body of Christ when one is publicly unworthy constitutes an objective harm to the ecclesial communion: it is a behavior that affects the rights of the Church and of all the faithful to live in accord with the exigencies of that communion. In the concrete case of the admission to Holy Communion of faithful who are divorced and remarried, the scandal, understood as an action that prompts others towards wrongdoing, affects at the same time both the sacrament of the Eucharist and the indissolubility of marriage. That scandal exists even if such behavior, unfortunately, no longer arouses surprise: in fact it is precisely with respect to the deformation of the conscience that it becomes more necessary for Pastors to act, with as much patience as firmness, as a protection to the sanctity of the Sacraments and a defense of Christian morality, and for the correct formation of the faithful.

2. Any interpretation of c.915 that would set itself against the canon's substantial content, as declared uninterruptedly by the Magisterium and by the discipline of the Church throughout the centuries, is clearly misleading. The phrase "and others who obstinately persist in manifest grave sin" is clear and must be understood in a manner that does not distort its sense so as to render the norm inapplicable.

The three required conditions are:

a) grave sin, understood objectively, being that the minister of Communion would not be able to judge from subjective immutability;

b) obstinate persistence, which means the existence of an objective situation of sin that endures in time and which the will of the individual member of the faithful does not bring to an end, no other requirements (attitude of defiance, prior warning, etc.) being necessary to establish the fundamental gravity of the situation in the Church.

c) the manifest character of the situation of grave habitual sin. Not to be considered to be within the situation of serious habitual sin are those faithful who are divorced and remarried, who would not be able, for serious motives -such as, for example, the upbringing of the children- "to satisfy the obligation of separation, assuming the task of living in full continence, that is, abstaining from the acts proper to spouses" (Familiaris consortio, n.84), and who on the basis of that intention have received the sacrament of Penance. Given that the fact that these faithful are not living more uxorio (i.e., unchastely) is per se occult, while their condition as persons who are divorced and remarried is per se manifest, they will be able to receive Eucharistic Communion only remoto scandalo (i.e., avoiding scandal).

3. Naturally, pastoral prudence would strongly suggest the avoidance of instances of public denial of Holy Communion. Pastors must strive to explain to the concerned faithful the true ecclesial sense of the norm, in such a way that they would be able to understand it or at least respect it. In those situations, however, in which these precautionary measures have not had their effect or in which they were not possible, the minister of Communion must refuse to distribute it to those who are publicly unworthy. They are to do this with extreme charity, and are to look for the opportune moment to explain the reasons that required the refusal. They must, however, do this with firmness, conscious of the value that such signs of strength have for the good of the Church and of souls.

The discernment of cases in which the faithful who find themselves in the described condition are to be excluded from Eucharistic Communion is the responsibility of the Priest who is responsible for the community. They are to give precise instructions to the deacon or to any extraordinary minister regarding the mode of acting in concrete situations.

4. Bearing in mind the nature of the above-cited norm (cfr. n.1), no ecclesiastical authority may dispense the minister of Holy Communion from this obligation in any case, nor may he emanate directives that contradict it.

Applying the Norms to the Specific Case

A distinction will have to be made on whether or not the persons concerned, who are civilly married but not canonically married, are in fact living in habitual sin. As the Declaration itself pointed out (ref. n.2-c), it could happen that the couple concerned may find it difficult to separate (e.g., because they are raising up children), but are in fact not living as husband and wife and are therefore not sinning against chastity.

However, since the fact of their observing chastity is a private matter known only to them, and the fact that they are not married canonically is a matter known to many in the community, the canonical norm is that they must be refused Holy Communion in that community.

Nevertheless, the Declaration also carefully notes that this must be done with utmost charity, avoiding a public refusal as much as possible. In this particular case, what could be done is for the priest to explain the matter to the couple and request them to attend Mass somewhere else where they are less known, such that their reception of Holy Communion could virtually pass unnoticed, thus making the possibility of scandal as remote as possible.

Finally, since our poor assistant parish priest was placed on the spot, and since he could not have been in a position to judge the subjective conditions of the couple concerned right there and then, he did well in giving them Holy Communion. However, he is duty-bound to follow up and talk with the couple as mentioned in the previous paragraph.