Liturgical Laws - Why They Matter


The purpose of law is to give a stable structure to a society, in this case the highest act of the  ecclesiastical society of the Church, the Mass. Liturgical laws are not arbitrary constructions but are intended to protect important truths and realities of the faith according to the principle lex orandi lex credendi (the law of praying is the law of believing). For this reason the authority in the Church which has the charism of protecting the faith is uniquely responsible for safeguarding the integrity of the Mass and other sacraments. On this matter the Second Vatican Council said in the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy:

22. 1. Regulation of the sacred liturgy depends solely on the authority of the Church, that is, on the Apostolic See and, as laws may determine, on the bishop.
  2. In virtue of power conceded by the law, the regulation of the liturgy within certain defined limits belongs also to various kinds of competent territorial bodies of bishops legitimately established.
  3. Therefore no other person, even if he be a priest, may add, remove, or change anything in the liturgy on his own authority.


The Code of Canon Law legislates this principle in c838, which establishes,

Canon 838
   1. The supervision (moderatio) of the sacred liturgy depends solely on the authority of the Church which resides in the Apostolic See and, in accord with the law, the diocesan bishop.
   2. It is for the Apostolic See to order the sacred liturgy of the entire Church (universa ecclesia), to publish (edere) the liturgical books, to review their translations into the vernacular languages and to see that liturgical ordinances
are faithfully observed everywhere.
   3. It pertains to the conferences of bishops to prepare translations of the liturgical books into the vernacular languages, with the appropriate adaptations within the limits defined in the liturgical books themselves, and to publish (edere) them with the prior review by the Holy See.
   4. It pertains to the diocesan bishop in the church entrusted to him, within the limits of his competence, to issue liturgical norms by which all are bound.

When the liturgical law is observed no one has any legitimate reason to complain. Justice, order and peace, as St. Augustine noted, are interrelated. When the justice of obedience to ecclesiastical law is not rendered and thus the proper Order of the Mass is violated, there can be no real unity in the parish and thus no peace. As a result, the Catholic unity of communion with the bishop and with and through the bishop with Peter is disturbed. Hierarchical Communion is one of the three marks of unity to be found in the Church, the others being unity of faith and unity in the discipline of the Sacraments. Liturgical disobedience uniquely disturbs all three! This is not surprising since the Eucharist is the principal source and sign of the unity of the Church. By its very nature, it MUST be either a sign of unity or a sign of disunity.

Of course, many other evils enter in by liturgical disobedience, including the serious injustice of depriving the faithful of licit, and in some cases valid, sacraments, something to which as Catholics they have a right.

Canon 214  The Christian faithful have the right to worship God according to the prescriptions of their own rite approved by the legitimate pastors of the Church, and to follow their own form of spiritual life consonant with the teaching of the Church.

When these evils occur they have the right, and even the responsibility, to make their voices heard.

Canon 212
  1.  The Christian faithful, conscious of their own responsibility, are bound by Christian obedience to follow what the sacred pastors, as representatives of Christ, declare as teachers of the faith or determine as leaders of the Church.
  2. The Christian faithful are free to make known their needs, especially spiritual ones, and their desires to the pastors of the Church.
  3. In accord with the knowledge, competence and preeminence which they possess, they have the right and even at times a duty to manifest to the sacred pastors their opinion on matters which pertain to the good of the Church, and they have a right to make their opinion known to the other Christian faithful, with due regard for the integrity of faith and morals and reverence toward their pastors, and with consideration of the common good and dignity of persons.


Answered by Colin B. Donovan, STL

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