|BISHOPS MUST 'PROMOTE, MODERATE, GUARD' THE LITURGY
On Holy Thursday, 17 April 2003, the Holy Father John Paul II gave the
Church a gift, the Encyclical Ecclesia de Eucharistia.1
The Encyclical dedicates a special chapter to highlighting the splendour
of the liturgy of Eucharistic celebrations in all its artistic
Canonical Notion of ‘Instruction'
In this context, the Holy Father desires that even in our day, the
observance of the liturgical norms be rediscovered and appreciated as the
action and testimony of the sole and universal Church which is made
present in every Eucharistic celebration. And he adds that in order to
especially strengthen appreciation for the liturgical norms he has asked
the competent departments of the Roman Curia to prepare a specific
Document in which counsels are given even of a juridical character on this
issue of such great importance.2
The "documentum” announced by the Holy Father has taken the
specific form of an "Instructio”, in the technical sense of the
term described in canon 34 §1 of the Code of Canon Law.
It is important to highlight three essential aspects of this canonical
1) an instruction, in the area of canon law, is an implemental
document of the current laws, both for declaring their dispositions and
for developing and determining the mode to carry them out;
2) an instruction is given for the use of those who have the duty to
make sure the laws are kept and thus to urge their observance;
3) an instruction is legitimately published, within the limits of
their competency, by those who possess executive power in the canonical
In the present case, therefore, the Instruction Redemptionis
1) does not contain new legislation in liturgical matters with regard
to the Eucharistic celebrations; the aim is set to clarify the current
norms, to indicate the ways to carry them out, to charge their
observance and to indicate any abuses;
2) is directed for the most part to Bishops, because in the current
canonical order, the task of carrying out the liturgical laws,
especially those regarding Eucharistic celebrations, pertains almost
exclusively to Bishops;
3) was published by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the
Discipline of the Sacraments which, apart from the authority of the
Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, is vested with authority for
"the regulation and promotion of the sacred liturgy, primarily of the
The content of the Instruction Redemptionis Sacramentum is
spelled out in the title with the words: de quibusdam observandis et
vitandis circa Sacramentum Eucharistiae (On certain matters to be
observed or to be avoided regarding the Most Holy Eucharist). Given the
two Documents' connection, one notes in the Instruction's Preamble: "Those
things found in this Instruction are therefore to be read in continuity
with the above-mentioned Encyclical Letter, Ecclesia de Eucharistia".
Of the three essential elements of the instructions that we have
indicated, in this paper we are only taking into consideration the second
element, that is, the Bishops: moderators of the Liturgy in the Churches
entrusted to them.
Teaching of Vatican Council II
The Second Vatican Council, in the Constitution Sacrosanctum
Concilium, formulates the following general principle with
regards to authority in liturgical matters, which could seem too absolute
with respect to the Bishop: "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." (n. 22).
The difference between this and the principle articulated in canon 1257
of the Code of Canon Law promulgated in 1917 ought to be noted:
"Regulation of both the sacred liturgy and the approval of liturgical
books depends exclusively on the Apostolic See".
The Constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium, although being the
first Document of the Council (4 December 1963), gets its inspiration
already from the conciliar doctrine on the episcopate that would reach its
maturity in the Constitution Lumen Gentium (21 November 1964) and
in the decree Christus Dominus (28 October 1965).
On the role of the Bishop in the regulation of the liturgy in his own
diocese, the Constitution Lumen Gentium teaches: "Every legitimate
celebration of the Eucharist is regulated by the Bishop, to whom is
committed the office of offering the worship of Christian religion to the
Divine Majesty and of administering it in accordance with the Lord's
commandments and the Church's laws, as further defined by his particular
judgment for his diocese. Bishops thus,... by the ministry of the word,
communicate God's power to those who believe unto salvation and through
the sacraments, the regular and fruitful distribution of which they
regulate by their authority, they sanctify the faithful. They direct the
conferring of baptism.... They are the original ministers of confirmation,
dispensers of sacred Orders and the moderators of penitential
discipline..." (n. 26).
The decree Christus Dominus on the pastoral office of the
Bishops in the Church emphasizes in turn: "Therefore, Bishops are the
principal dispensers of the mysteries of God, as well as being the
governors, promoters and guardians of the entire liturgical life in the
Church committed to them. They should, therefore, constantly exert
themselves to have the faithful know and live the paschal mystery more
deeply through the Eucharist and thus become a firmly-knit body in the
unity of the charity of Christ" (n. 15).
Paul VI showed that he was especially concerned with establishing the
application of certain prescriptions of the Constitution Sacrosanctum
Concilium. In the Motu proprio Sacram Liturgiam4 of
25 January 1964, the Pope exhorted "the Bishops of dioceses to set at once
about teaching their people the power and the interior worth of the sacred
liturgy,... to take part in the religious services together, devoutly, and
with body and soul".
And he ends the Documents by reaffirming the principle proclaimed by
the Council on the sole right of the Apostolic See and the Bishop in
liturgical matters: "Lastly, We would draw attention to the fact that...
the regulation of the sacred liturgy is vested exclusively in the Church:
that is to say, in the Apostolic See and, in the measure allowed by the
law, in the Bishop. For this reason, nobody else, not even a priest, is
entitled to add, subtract or change anything in the liturgy".
On 26 September 1964, the former Sacred Congregation of Rites published
the instruction Inter Oecumenici5 "for the
Implementation of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy", in which the
Bishop's authority in liturgical matters is again formulated, having also
kept in mind the prospective territorial assemblies of Bishops: "It is for
the Bishop to regulate the liturgy in his own diocese, in accordance with
the norms and the spirit of the Constitution on Sacred Liturgy, the
decrees of the Holy See and of the competent territorial authority" (n.
The Code of Canon Law
The new Code of Canon Law takes its inspiration, as is well
known, from the spirit of the Second Vatican Council and it "could be
understood as a great effort to translate... into canonical language" the
Council's teaching.6 This is especially important with regards
to the duties (munera) of Bishops considered both as a College and
as Pastors of the portion of the People of God entrusted to them.
In the part dedicated to diocesan Bishops (cann. 381-402), among the
Bishop's duties, the fundamental duty of protecting the Church's unity and
therefore of promoting a common discipline for the whole Church is brought
to the fore. It particularly insists, however, on the obligation of being
vigilant so that abuses do not creep into the ministry of the Word, the
celebration of the sacraments and sacramentals, the worship of God and the
veneration of the saints and the administration of goods (can. 392).
With respect to the munus sanctificandi, can. 835 §1 formulates
this general principle: "The Bishops in the first place exercise the
sanctifying function; they are the high priests, the principal dispensers
of the mysteries of God, and the directors, promoters and guardians of the
entire liturgical life in the Church entrusted to them".
Apart from the duty of "the high priests, the principal dispensers of
the mysteries of God," (can. 835 §1), three specific duties that pertain
first to the munus regendi are indicated, namely, the duties of
being moderators, promoters and guardians of the entire liturgical life of
the Church entrusted to them.
The duties of moderating and promoting have a positive meaning that
implies as a consequence prudence and creativity; guarding, however,
touches upon the vigilance necessary for avoiding the introduction of
abusive innovations to the detriment of the liturgical patrimony which
needs to be preserved.
In keeping with the principle articulated in can. 835, it is
furthermore specified in can. 838 §1 with the aforementioned words of the
Council, that the authority for regulating the holy liturgy is vested
exclusively in the Apostolic See and, in the measure allowed by the law,
in the diocesan Bishop by establishing the logical consequence according
to which: "Within the limits of his competence, it pertains to the
diocesan bishop in the Church entrusted to him to issue liturgical norms
which bind everyone" (ibid., § 4).
And with regard to other works by which the Church fulfils the
sanctifying function, it explicitly recalls the duty that is incumbent
upon local Ordinaries to take care "that the prayers and pious and sacred
exercises of the Christian people are fully in keeping with the norms of
the Church" (can. 839 §2).
It is obvious that with respect to the handling and administration of
the individual sacraments and other acts of divine worship, mention is
often made of the Bishops' different obligations according to the nature
of the individual sacraments, just as the pertinent, special faculties for
granting specific dispensations in single cases. This is not the place to
collect all these cases.
The prescription is recalled, however, which affects all pastors of
souls together with involved lay people: "Pastors of souls and other
members of the Christian faithful, according to their respective
ecclesiastical function, have the duty to take care that those who seek
the sacraments are prepared to receive them by proper evangelization and
catechetical instruction, attentive to the norms issued by competent
authority" (can. 843 §2).
Thus, all are still required to observe the norm according to which:
"In celebrating the sacraments the liturgical books approved by competent
authority are to be observed faithfully; accordingly, no one is to add,
omit or alter anything in them on one's own authority" (can. 846 §1).
It ought be noted that the authority responsible for implementing
liturgical laws, just as with all other laws, must be able to make the
effective juridical means available for obtaining such an observance. The
spirit of canon law presupposes that ecclesial obedience is established
upon faith and charity, far from every form of slavish fear.
Nonetheless, for cases in which compliance in an important matter, the
Superior can and is normally required to have recourse to the coercive
means foreseen by the law, without excluding, if the case necessitates,
recourse to true and proper ecclesiastical penalties. It is not to be
forgotten that disregard for liturgical laws carries with it a violation
of the rights of the faithful to have the liturgy celebrated according to
the laws of the Church and not according to the will of the one who
presides over the celebration (cf. can. 213).
As stated above, the instruction by its very nature is an implemental
document of current laws, aimed at those who have the duty to make sure
that the laws are kept. The Instruction Redemptionis Sacramentum is
addressed to diocesan Bishops, inasmuch as in the canonical order, Bishops
are above all vested with the duty of making sure that the liturgical laws
in their own Church are kept.
The Instruction also mentions Episcopal Conferences, presbyters and
deacons as ones responsible for ensuring that liturgical laws are kept.
Episcopal Conferences, above all, are vested with the task of procuring
translations of liturgical books and of not allowing changes without the
approval of the Apostolic See; it is incumbent upon presbyters and
deacons, as collaborators with the Bishop in pastoral ministry, each
according to his own position, to faithfully carry out the prescribed
norms in all the liturgical celebrations, both inasmuch as it regards
themselves in their capacity as presiders over the assembly and as it
concerns the faithful participating at the celebrations.
For this reason, the first chapter below the title: De sacrae
Liturgiae moderatione gives an extensive treatment first of all on the
place of the diocesan Bishop, then briefly on the Episcopal Conferences
and finally, on the presbyters and deacons as moderators of the liturgical
The duty of Bishops in the liturgical domain is summarized, as was
noted above, in three verbs: to promote, to moderate and to guard (cf.
can. 835). It can be said that the Instruction implicitly applies these
three verbs in each of the most significant moments and aspects of the
liturgical celebrations, which it analyses in detail, in order to give the
Bishops legitimate help in the fulfilment of their duties as moderators of
the liturgies in the Churches entrusted to them.
For the most part, it offers the theological and doctrinal foundation
equipped with the sources for understanding the meaning of the
celebrations, then current norms to be kept are set forth in summary form
and, if necessary, the abuses or deviations that need to be corrected are
Although there are sections in which the Bishop is not mentioned, given
the very scope of the Instruction, it is presupposed that the responsible
subject to whom it is addressed is the diocesan Bishop. The greater part
of the articles are formulated in the indicative voice as an affirmation
of a current norm or a recognition of a fact, or else, in an impersonal or
mandatory form without specifying the subject who is vested with the duty
of implementation or with charging the implementation.
Cases are not lacking, however, in which the Bishops' responsibility
touching upon the obligation to be vigilant with special care for avoiding
abuses is explicitly called upon.
Thus, for example, being vigilant over the homily (cf. n. 68) and on
the nonsacramental sense of the act of penance which is done at the
beginning of the celebration of the Holy Mass (cf. n. 80); correcting
abuses that the faithful come to communion "gregatim" (as a group
indiscriminately) without the required conditions (cf. n, 83); judging
upon the necessity of celebrating the Mass outside a consecrated place
(cf. n. 108); overseeing the admission of an unknown priest, unforeseen by
the relative "celebret" at the celebration of the Mass (cf. n. 111);
recalling the permission, perhaps previously granted, to keep the
Eucharist in a place where there is the danger of desecration (cf. n.
131); promoting the worship of the Eucharist, especially the exposition
and adoration of the Blessed Sacrament (cf. nn. 134 and 136); establishing
places for perpetual adoration (cf. n. 140): regulating Eucharistic
processions (cf. n. 142); conducting where possible the procession of
Corpus Domini on public streets (cf. n. 143); approving particular
norms, if necessary, that touch upon extraordinary ministries of Communion
in order to correct possible abuses (cf. n. 160); where there is a lack of
priests, making sure that on Sundays the faithful have at least the
liturgy of the Word, always avoiding its confusion with the Eucharistic
celebration (cf. nn. 164-167).
The Instruction in the last chapter, after mentioning the most serious
delicts against the holiness of the sacrament of the Eucharist for which
punishments are reserved to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the
Faith, and after having indicated the most significant number of the same,
devotes another subheading to the diocesan Bishop in which, among other
things, it cites part of canon 387 with which I would like to conclude:
"The diocesan Bishop, 'since he is the principal dispenser of the
mysteries of God, is to strive constantly so that Christ's faithful
entrusted to his care may grow in grace through the celebration of the
sacraments, and that they may know and live the Paschal Mystery'".
1 AAS 95 (2003) 433-475.
2 Cf. AAS 95 (2003) 468.
3 Cf. John Paul II, Apost. Const. Pastor Bonus, n.
4 AAS 56 (1964) 139-144.
5 AAS 56 (1964) 877-900.
6Cf. John Paul II, Const. Sacrae Disciplinae Leges,
25 January 1983: AAS 75/II (1983) XI.