All About Indults

Author: Father Edward McNamara


All About Indults

ROME, 20 JULY 2010 (ZENIT)

Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university. Q: What exactly is an indult? Who issues them? How long are they valid? How can one inform oneself of their content (in short, are they published somewhere)? I am asking because I have been told that more than a decade ago, based on an inquiry made by an ordinary, the Vatican issued an indult which allowed laity to preach at Newman Centers in the Province of New York. This would seem to contradict my understanding of comments contained in your publication (March 11, 2008) when you commented on the appropriateness of laypersons preaching at Good Friday services. Any clarification you could provide would be dearly appreciated. — J.L., Syracuse, New York

A: An indult is, in short, an administrative act by a legislator. According to the Canon Law Society of America's Commentary on the Code of Canon Law, it:

"Designates a special favor given for a determinate period of time; it is distinguished from a privilege which is a special favor granted in perpetuity. Both indult and privilege comprise a positive and objective juridic norm. It is necessary to remark that the term 'indult' is applied also to the document granting the concession of the favor, as in the indult of a marriage dispensation" (comment to Canon 93).

Earlier, commenting on Canon 35 (on administrative acts) the authors underline a certain inconsistency in the code. Canon 35 does not mention indults among these acts, but 10 canons refer to them, mostly regarding abandoning of consecrated life. Perhaps the only canons mentioning a liturgy-related indult are 1015 and 1021, both of which refer to the need for an apostolic indult to allow a bishop to ordain a man from a rite different from the bishop's.

From a liturgical perspective then, an indult could be defined as: a special (and often temporary) favor granted to a physical or moral person by the Apostolic See (or the local ordinary) which confers faculties contrary to or beyond the prescriptions of the law. As J.P. Lang points out in his "Dictionary of the Liturgy": "An indult does not affect the law in any way but simply authorizes the person in question to act contrary to it because of special circumstances."

An indult ceases in ways similar to that of a privilege; that is, if the authority that granted the indult revokes it. This can be done by directly revoking the particular indult or indirectly by promulgating a new law covering the same subject matter whose effect supersedes or revokes the indult. For example, the use of the 1962 Roman Missal, previously permitted as an indult, is now within the ambience of the Church's universal liturgical law and not an exception to that law.

An indult may also be extinguished if the time for which it was granted expires. For example, in 2002 the United States was granted a three-year indult allowing extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion to purify the sacred vessels at Mass. Liturgical law reserves this task to the deacon, an instituted acolyte in the absence of a deacon, or, if neither is present, the priest. When the period was about to expire, the Holy See was asked to renew it for a further period. After examining the case the Holy Father decided that it was better not to renew the indult, and so the United States returned to the same situation as the rest of the world. Similarly, if an indult is granted for a certain number of cases, then it ceases when this number is reached.

It also ceases if, over time, changed circumstances lead the competent authorities to judge that its use has become damaging or illicit, or if the original reason for granting the indult disappears.

Indults and privileges are granted in written form but are not always published in official sources. For example, the indult supposedly granted the Newman Centers interests the local ordinary and those involved in the centers. If they consider the granting of the indult to be of general interest, it is up to them to publish it for a wider audience.

As an indult allows for an exception to the law, any commentaries I made with respect to the law itself would be of no relevance to the case at hand. Having no knowledge of the explicit contents of this indult, I cannot say if it applies to Good Friday services or not.

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