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.)