Category Archives: Canon Law (Church Law)

Can lay ministers give blessings?

The question always surfaces about the fittingness, according to Catholic liturgical theology and supported by  Canon Law, for the lay minister of Holy Communion to impart a blessing. The quick answer is that the Church does not offer this as a legitimate possibility for good reasons.

Recently, the priest offering Mass invited all people to the communion line to receive the Eucharist, and if not, to receive a blessing “because we are in communion with the deceased person” –the reason for all of us gathered at the Mass. Father missed the point. While we are in communion with the deceased in some sort of metaphysical level known only to God, the Church teaches what is revealed to us: we are first in communion with God the Holy Trinity, then the sacrament of the Church, and with one another. We have first principles. Coming forward to receive a blessing is a symbolic act reinforcing the painful separation of Christians, and it is clearly a second rate manner of being in communion which says to the person receiving such blessing that they are not good enough to receive the real thing. This priest confuses the faithful and opens the door to even more problems.

The exercise of the priesthood of the faithful is not expressed in giving blessings in the communion line, but it does demonstrate the error of clericalizing the laity. Therefore, let’s say from the outset that a person distributing the Eucharistic species may not bestow a blessing on a person because this is not one of the gifts given by the Church to the priesthood of the faithful. In fact, it is a serious cross-over from the laity to the ordained person.

Parishes rely, with good reason, on the extraordinary minister of Holy Communion because of the sizable the numbers of communicants and the lack of extra ordained ministers: priests and deacons, and the institute acolyte. The lay minister, as well as the clergy, have to respect the dignity of the Eucharist and the administration of the sacrament. But do we tend to see when a person has no intention of receiving the Eucharistic Lord? Typically, we encounter one of three things when the person presents him or herself with arms crossed over the chest:

1. they speak and gesture a sign of the cross over persons;
2. lay hands on such persons’ heads or shoulders while voicing a blessing;
3. waive or place the Holy Eucharist over them while speaking a blessing.

All three actions are liturgical abuses.

Ed Peters, a rather well-regarded canonist, teacher, and author, articulates why these acts are abuses in the sacred Liturgy. Professor Peters states,

Let’s consider them in order of gravity:

1. Blessing the faithful with the Most August Sacrament is expressly reserved to the ordained. Lay persons may not confer any blessings with the Host (Eucharistic worship outside of Mass nn. 91, 97-99, and 1983 CIC 1168). This practice should therefore be immediately halted wherever it has cropped up.

2. Touching many persons’ hair, faces, and/or garments while serving food (albeit divine Food) to the public has to be a violation of some health and safety regulation somewhere, not to mention its being poor manners. If the swine flu makes distribution from a common Cup an issue, surely touching hair and heads while serving others food from a common Plate is a problem. This particular practice should therefore be halted promptly, regardless of what one might think about lay blessings during Mass.

3. Ministers of holy Communion have, I suggest, no authority by their office to confer any sort of blessing on anyone. Neither the General Instruction on the Roman Missal nor the Book of Blessings (which later source makes provisions for laity to administer certain blessings) authorizes ministers of Communion to confer blessings during Mass. Given that lay persons serving as extraordinary ministers of holy Communion have no liturgical duties besides the administration of Communion, the introduction of a mini-blessing rite to be performed by them seems to me a plain violation of Canon 846. This practice should, I think, be halted pending a study of its liceity by qualified persons and, if appropriate, its authorization by the competent authority (1983 CIC 838,1167).

In brief, I suggest that lay ministers of holy Communion have no authority to bless anyone in Communion lines, they should refrain from touching people while distributing holy Communion, and they should immediately cease using the Blessed Sacrament for mini-Benediction rites.

If you are looking for another way of knowing what the Church teaches, Paul Matenaer gives  a response in his 2011 article “Can lay ministers give blessings during Communion?” which is worth reading critically as this is no small thing in the Ordinary Form of the Mass. He gives more detail to the answer than Ed Peters did.

Let me conclude: we want to be welcoming to all people, but there are appropriate places, actions and times for one to be hospitable. The communion line is not one of those places.

Vatican City State

Vatican City State map.jpg

Vatican City State was founded on this date in 1929 following the signing of the Lateran Pacts, later ratified on June 7, 1929. 

Vatican City State is a sovereign State which is distinct from the Holy See under international law. When you walk into St Peter’s Square, or visit the extra-territorial buildings of the Vatican, you are actually walking out of the Italian state and into another state. The pope has diplomatic relations with nearly 200 governments and other agencies representing peoples. The pope is a head of state and the papacy is the longest serving leadership of a people in all of history. But as happens often, most people don’t make the clear distinction between what the Vatican is and what the Holy See does because of laziness. The confusion is understandable.

The ministry of Saint Peter and his successors, the bishops of Rome, Vicars of Christ, the Roman Pontiffs is by nature known as “apostolic” making the crucial distinction that it is directly connected with what the Lord did with the 12 Apostles and Disciples: to be sent on mission by preaching, teaching and sanctifying. Hence, we believe that the Catholic Church carries out its mission of a announcing the truth of the Gospel for the salvation of all humanity and in the service of faith, hope, love, peace and justice in favor of all peoples (without reservation). The Church’s mission, therefore, is religious, that is, the Church has a supernatural character and orientation, and not a political one; consequently our conception of what and who the Church is can’t be reduced to political and sociological conceptions. Scripture, sacraments, and service are not “policy statements.”

The Vatican has a central government to care for the work of Pope with regard to relations with governments, and temporal affairs. When we speak of the Church’s announcement of the gospel we speak of the departments related to that work: doctrine, worship, evangelization, schools, culture, canon law, etc. We call these departments the Roman Curia. Vatican City State is a singular instrument that’s independent of the Holy See, working to be a coherent earthly power at the service of the Divine Majesty.

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Defender of the Bond is an icon of the Good Shepherd

Cardinal BurkeOn November 8, the Holy Father Francis received in audience participants in the Plenary Assembly of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signature with the Prefect, Raymond Leo Cardinal Burke (he’s one of our American Prelates in service to the Holy Father at the Curia). A plenary session allows for the consulters and those assigned to a particular office to meet to discuss business but also to meet with the Pope so as to hear what he has to say on a  particular theme of his choosing. A plenary session is held once a year.

The Wisconsin native, Raymond Leo Cardinal Burke is a brilliant noteworthy churchman. His Eminence  earned his doctorate in Canon Law from the Gregorian University in 1984. John Paul named Burke to be the Defender of the Bond of the same tribunal he now leads. He was previously the bishop of La Crosse and archbishop of St Louis. Pope Benedict appointed him to the present work in 2008 and a cardinal in 2010.

Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signature, one of three ecclesiastical tribunals of the Holy See, is the highest judicial authority of the Church; the Prefect, acting in the name of the Pope, is the minister of justice. The decree of justice is sent under a signature, hence, “signature,” administering the justice asked for by the people of God. There are 25 prelates who assist the Prefect and his staff. You can learn more about the ministry of the Apostolic Signature by reading the articles in Pastor Bonus.

Here, the Pope focuses on truth and justice in the work of the Defender of the Bond with regard to the sacrament of Marriage. The Defender of the Bond and the judge of martial cases work together to ascertain the truth and are not in competition with each other but is the point of communion between what is revealed in scripture, lived in the sacraments and lived in the world. You can see to what extent Mother Church tries to care for her married children in a time of hurt and discouragement.

The following his Francis’ talk with my emphasis.

This, your Plenary Session, gives me the opportunity to receive all of you who work in the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signature, expressing to each one my gratitude for the promotion of the correct administration of justice in the Church. I greet you cordially and I thank the Cardinal Prefect for the words with which he introduced our meeting.

Your activity is geared to fostering the work of the ecclesiastical tribunals, called to respond adequately to the faithful who turn to the justice of the Church to obtain a correct decision. You do your utmost so that they function well, and you support the responsibility of bishops in forming suitable ministers of justice. Among these, the Defender of the Bond carries out an important function, especially in the process of matrimonial nullity. It is necessary, in fact, that he be able to fulfill his own part with efficacy, to facilitate the attainment of truth in the definitive sentence, in favor of the pastoral good of the parties in question.

In this regard, the Apostolic Signature has offered significant contributions. I am thinking in particular of the collaboration in the preparation of the Instruction Dignitas connubii, which explains the applicable trial norms. Placed in this line also is the present Plenary Session, which has put at the center of its works the promotion of an effective defense of the matrimonial bond in the canonical processes of nullity.

The attention given to the ministry of the Defender of the Bond is without a doubt opportune, because his presence and his intervention are obligatory for the whole development of the process (cf. Dignitas connubii, 56, 1-2; 279, 1). Foreseen in the same way is that he must propose all sorts of proofs, exceptions, recourses and appeals that, in respect of the truth, foster the defense of the bond.

The mentioned Instruction describes, in particular, the role of the Defender of the Bond in the causes of nullity for psychic incapacity, which in some Tribunals constitute the sole reason for nullity. It underlines the diligence that he must put in assessing the questions addressed to the experts, as well as the results of the opinions themselves (cf. 56, 4). Therefore, the Defender of the Bond who wishes to render a good service cannot limit himself to a hasty reading of the acts, or to bureaucratic and generic answers. In his delicate task, he is called to try to harmonize the prescriptions of the Code of Canon Law with the concrete situations of the Church and of society.

The faithful and complete fulfillment of the task of the Defender of the Bond does not constitute a pretension damaging of the prerogatives of the ecclesiastical judge, to whom corresponds solely the definition of the cause. When the Defender of the Bond exercises the duty to appeal, also to the Roman Rota, against a decision which he holds damaging to the truth of the bond, his task does not abuse that of the judge. In fact, the judges can find, in the careful work of him who defends the matrimonial bond, a help to their own activity.

The Second Ecumenical Vatican Council defined the Church as communion. Seen in this perspective are the service of the Defender of the Bond and the consideration that is reserved to him, in a respectful and attentive dialogue.

A final, very important annotation as regards the workers committed in the ministry of ecclesial justice. They act in the name of the Church; they are part of the Church. Therefore, it is necessary to always keep alive the connection between the action of the Church that evangelizes and the action of the Church that administers justice. The service to justice is a commitment of apostolic life: it requires to be exercised by keeping one’s gaze fixed on the icon of the Good Shepherd, who bends down to the lost and wounded sheep.

At the conclusion of this meeting, I encourage you all to persevere in the search for a limpid and correct exercise of justice in the Church, in response to the legitimate desires that the faithful address to Pastors, especially when, confidently, they ask to have their own status authoritatively clarified. May Mary Most Holy, who we invoke with the title Speculum iustitiae, help you and the whole Church to walk on the path of justice, which is the first form of charity. Thank you and good work!

Conclave date set: for the good of the Universal Church, solum Deum prae oculis habentes.

George Alencherry.jpgThe Cardinals have determined that the Conclave will begin on 12 March 2013. The Votive Mass Pro Eligendo Pontifice (For the Election of the Pontiff) will be offered in the morning at Saint Peter’s Basilica by the Cardinal Dean and later that afternoon the cardinals will process from the Pauline Chapel to the Sistine praying the Litany of Saints.

The cardinals will follow rules set down in John Paul IIs 1996 Universi Dominicu Gregis with the amendments of Benedict XVI in his motu proprio, Normas Nonnullas; moreover, they will adhere to the norms of the Ordo Rituum Conclavis.
There are 115 cardinals voting, 77 of them need to agree on a single man. Mostly an European group of men with an average age of 72; Cardinal Kasper is the oldest at 80 (his birthday was March 5, after the sede vacnate) and the Cardinal Thottunka, the Syro-Malabar, the youngest at 53.
There are 67 created by the Pope-emeritus and 48 by Blessed John Paul; 19 were professed as religious; the majority are Italian trailed by the USA.
Saint Joseph, universal patron of the Church, pray for us, and the cardinals.
On the Roman liturgical calendar of Blessed John XXIII, March 12 is the feast of Saint Gregory the Great (+604).

Creeping infallibility?

We face reductionisms of the Faith all the time as Catholics: liturgical expedient minimalism is one of the most noteworthy examples, then there’s the identifiable dictatorship of relativism and the denial that Scripture is divinely inspired (cf. Benedict’s address last week to the PBC). While not formal matters of heresy (technically defined) but they are reductions that are a gradual chipping away of the content and expression. Poor liturgical practice, banal sacred music and unprepared liturgical preaching will erode the content of faith. There are other examples but I think these three give good a sense of a problem.
I believe that Tarcisio Bertone and Joseph Ratzinger are correct: we believe, as Catholics, in revealed truth; that the faith is not debatable and we can’t reduce our faith to formally defined dogmas. And while the infallibility of the papal office is restricted to a clearly defined process so as not to allow arbitrariness, the exercise of infallibility has been exercised twice since 1870. BUT there are the secondary object of infallibility that have to be acknowledged and assented to, despite what Fathers Hans Kung, Roger Haight, Randy Sachs, John Coleman and Charles Curran say.

Here’s John Allen’s article: A long-simmering tension over creeping infallibility by John Allen.pdf

About the author

Paul A. Zalonski is from New Haven, CT. He is a member of the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation, a Catholic ecclesial movement, and an Oblate of Saint Benedict. Contact Paul at paulzalonski[at]
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