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Canon Law Update

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The following is a guest post by Dante Figueroa, Senior Legal Information Analyst.

Recently this blog highlighted various religious law materials in the Law Library’s collections, including our extensive canon law collection.  There have been some important developments in the canon law area this year.  These developments relate to the implementation of the Apostolic Letter Summorum Pontificum concerning the use of the Roman Liturgy by the Catholic Church.

On April 30, 2011, the Vatican’s Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei (Church of God) at the Vatican issued an “Instruction” containing guidelines on the application of the Apostolic LetterSummorum Pontificum” issued by Pope Benedict XVI in 2007.  This Apostolic Letter aimed to clarify matters relating to the use of a Roman Liturgy that was published in 1962.

The main pillars of the Catholic Church are: the Creed, Sacraments/Liturgy, Christian Life, and Prayer.  The liturgy of the Catholic Church is called “the Roman Liturgy” (also called “the Roman Rite”) and is “the whole complex of official services, all the rites, ceremonies, prayers, and sacraments of the Church, as opposed to private devotions.”  At the center of the Roman Liturgy is the Holy Eucharist (Mass), which is regulated in canons 897 through 958 of the Corpus Juris Canonici (or Code of Canon Law).

Codex Juris Canonici (1983), inscribed "To the Canon Law Collection of the Library of Congress, April 14, 1983," and signed "Joannes Paulus PP. II." (Law Library of Congress, LCCN 83126300)

The Roman Liturgy is contained in the sacred liturgical books, of which the ancient Missale Romanum (Roman Missal) “has enjoyed a particular prominence in history.”  This book contains the prayers said by the priest at the altar as well as “all that is officially read or sung in connection with the offering of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass throughout the ecclesiastical year.”

In 1962 Pope John XXIII approved the publication of a new Roman Missal.  This regulated the ancient Roman Rite and its contents are written and expressed only in Latin.  Then, in 1970, after liturgical reform that was triggered by the Second Vatican Council, Pope Paul VI approved a revised Roman Missal, which was translated into various languages.  The latest edition was published in 2000.  The translations of the Roman Missal did not involve an invalidation of the traditional Roman Missal, which had been available only in Latin.  The Latin form of the Roman Liturgy contained in the 1962 Roman Missal could still be used, but only with permission from the respective Bishop.

Following on from regulations addressed by Pope John Paul II in 1984 and 1988 to diocesan bishops that sought to restore the use of the Roman Missal of 1962 to some degree, in 2007 Pope Benedict XVI issued motu proprio (on his own initiative) the Apostolic Letter called Summorum Pontificum.  This document reaffirmed that “There is no contradiction between the two editions of the Roman Missal” and that the 1962 Roman Missal had never been abrogated.  It stated that no permission would be needed for the use of either version.  It repealed any other canonical laws concerning the matters regulated by the Roman Missal that were promulgated from 1962 onwards and that are incompatible with the liturgical books in effect in 1962.

Code of Canon Law Latin-English Edition, Canon Law Society of America, 1983. (Law Library of Congress, LCCN 84115664)

Under Summorum Pontificum and its Instruction, the 1970 Roman Missal is still considered to be the forma ordinaria (the normal form), and the 1962 Roman Missal the forma extraordinaria (the extraordinary form).  Specific parish churches, oratories, chapels, sanctuaries, and places of pilgrimage will therefore need to make specific arrangements to accommodate the forma extraordinaria when interested groups require its celebration to the respective pastor, rector, or priest.  To assist with this, provision has been made to increase the knowledge of Latin and of certain traditional liturgical forms on the part of priests and seminarians.  Catholics who support or belong to groups who question the validity or legitimacy of the sacraments celebrated in the forma ordinaria or the authority of the Roman Pontiff are barred from requesting the celebration of the forma extraordinaria.  The celebration of the liturgical rites of the Holy Week is now permitted to be conducted in either the forma ordinaria or the extraordinaria, and in both if necessary.

The changes may lead toward the reinstitution of a focus on the use of Latin in dioceses around the world if the 1962 Roman Missal becomes more frequently used.  The Law Library of Congress canon law collection contains a great number of items in Latin.  However, readers may find one particular volume of the Code of Canon Law useful if they don’t speak Latin and want to learn more, as it contains the text in English as well as Latin.

Thanks to Nathan Dorn, Rare Book Technician, for finding the two books pictured above and making them available for the preparation of this post.

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