Liturgical Law

Author: Duane L.C.M. Galles


Duane L.C.M. Galles

Many of the enquiries received by the Saint Joseph Foundation concern not the Code of Canon Law itself, but liturgical law. According to Canon 2: "For the most part the Code does not define the rites which are to be observed in liturgical actions. For this reason current liturgical norms retain their force unless a given liturgical norm is contrary to the canons of the Code." Liturgical law can be found in such documents as the <Sacramentary>, the <Lectionary> and the <General Instruction of the Roman Missal.>

The rampant disregard for liturgical law by trendy clerics and liturgists probably has been the greatest source of harm in the Latin church in the past three decades. Great irreverence has been perpetrated in the name of "relevance" in the liturgy and, as one author stated, the solemn worship of God too often has been transformed into a low-grade variety act. Too often the celebrant sees his role as something of a stand-up comic who must bend or break the liturgical rules to get his "theme" across. He acts not in the person of Jesus Christ but of Johnny Carson.

Bishops tolerate this and Rome tolerates episcopal toleration. It is after all "only" the liturgy— what Vatican II called the <fons el culmen>, the source and summit of Christian life.

Obviously the best guide to the liturgy is liturgical law itself. Most of these can be conveniently found in the English translation of <Documents on the Liturgy>, 1963-1979, published by the Liturgical Press. The volume has a wonderful index which is one of its handiest features.

But if you are like me you need some sinew on the bare bones of liturgical law in order to know how to do liturgy in practice. Formerly this office was filled by Adrian Fortescue's <The Ceremonies of the Roman Rite Described>, last published in 1958. Lamentably, for four decades the reformed rites of Vatican II found no successor to Fortescue. Talented masters of ceremonies—like the one at my parish—managed to update Fortescue in practice, but no comprehensive guide made its way into print to help the less talented.

After forty years in a liturgical wasteland the void seems now filled. Monsignor Peter J. Elliot is a functionary at the Pontifical Council on the Family. He has just published <Ceremonies of the Modern Roman Rite: The Eucharist and the Liturgy of the Hours; A Manual for Clergy and All Involved in Liturgical Ministries> (Ignatius, 1995). This handy volume of 360 pages is a solid and reverent manual for masters of ceremonies.

It also contains many gems and one of the finest is to be found in Appendix 9. This is a wonderful essay on liturgical law entitled "The Location of the Tabernacle." In briefs for clients the Foundation has argued that, <pace> publications like <Environment and Art in Catholic Worship> (EACW) produced by the Bishops' Committee on the Liturgy, liturgical law does not require the removal of the tabernacle to a separate Eucharistic chapel. In many cases this chapel is but a mean and undistinguished place and one suspects that if there were more truth in advertising, guidelines like this would appropriately be subtitled "How to renovate a broom closet." So out of the way are many of these places that my pastor threatens to publish an illustrated guide, <How to Find the Blessed Sacrament in Minnesota>—replete with maps.

On page 875, Monsignor Elliot presents similar arguments on the location of the tabernacle. He adds that in parish churches "we find that an academic liturgical rationalism has tried to require a separate chapel" for the tabernacle. He declares that "this extremism has done great harm." Benediction has become rare. Eucharistic exposition is seldom held. The Corpus Christi processions of old have been largely abandoned. The upshot is that faith in the Real Presence has waned and only a third of American Catholics still believe this doctrine.

With respect to EACW, which he aptly describes as "this dated document," Monsignor Elliot admits "to be fair to the authors [of EACW], their opinions [do] reflect the era of the 1970's." Such exquisite Romanita! But to call the purveyors of relevance "dated" is to thrust deeply indeed.

Ignatius Press is to be loudly acclaimed for publishing this handy and very good book. It is the answer to many prayers. It will not be a best seller but in places where the liturgy is celebrated devoutly and reverently every sacristy should have a copy.

Taken from the August 15, 1995 issue of "Christifidelis".
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