Liturgical Laws, Authority of

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This article considers the authority of liturgical laws in the Latin church sui iuris, since each of the Eastern Catholic churches has its own liturgical patrimony and canonical discipline. Liturgical law may be understood broadly as the law regulating the liturgy. Liturgical laws are mainly ecclesiastical (human) laws, so their promulgation, binding force, interpretation, dispensation, and revocation are subject to the same canonical rules as any other ecclesiastical law. Some liturgical laws are based on divine law, for example, many requirements for the validity of sacraments. No one may dispense a divine law or validly enact a human law contrary to it.

The legislators for the liturgy are the same as those for any other area of ecclesiastical law. The supreme legislator is the pope, acting on his own, or the college of bishops, which exercises its power in an ecumenical council. The Second Vatican Council's Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy established the foundations and directions for the most comprehensive liturgical reform in the history of the Church, which was implemented by the legislation of Popes Paul VI and John Paul II.

Universal and Particular Law. The pope issues universal liturgical laws for the entire Latin church. These are found principally in the introductions and rubrics of the official liturgical books. Universal liturgical laws are also found in the Code of Canon Law, in Book IV, "The Sanctifying Office of the Church." Other sources of universal liturgical law are apostolic constitutions and apostolic letters motu proprio of the pope, if treating a liturgical matter, and the decrees of the Congregation for divine worship and discipline of the sacraments (CDWDS) issued by mandate of the pope. Although rare, an administrative document of the Roman Curia may have legislative force by specific papal approval, indicated at the end of a document with the precise words, in forma specifica approbavit.

The supreme authority may issue particular law for a part of the Church, but normally particular law is issued by lower legislators. Below the supreme authority is the plenary council and conference of bishops of a nation or other territorial grouping of dioceses. At the next level is the provincial council made up of representatives of the dioceses that comprise an ecclesiastical province. Finally, there is the level of the diocese or equivalent particular church.

Plenary and provincial councils and diocesan bishops are free to enact laws regulating any kind of liturgical matter, provided their laws are not contrary to a higher norm (ius ), whether this be a higher law, administrative norm, or legal custom (c. 135, §2). There are additional restrictions on the legislative power of conferences of bishops. The conference of bishops may enact laws only for specific matters as permitted in the universal law or by prior authorization of the Holy See. To be binding, the decrees of the conference must be approved by at least two-thirds of the total membership and must obtain the recognitio (a kind of approval) of the Holy See (c. 455). The legislative competence of conferences of bishops includes the approval of vernacular translations of the liturgical rites, many liturgical adaptations, and policies on numerous liturgical matters, such as lay preaching, the age for confirmation, holy days of obligation, the catechumenate, etc.

Customs. Unlike laws, which are issued by legislative authorities, customs originate within the community itself (parish, religious community, diocese, etc.). During the first millennium, the liturgy was regulated more by custom than by law, whereas law tended to predominate in the second millennium, especially in the centuries after the Council of trent when liturgical development ossified and a mentality of rigid rubricism prevailed. The role of custom is regaining momentum since Vatican II due to the recovered theology of the local church within the communion of churches; the stress on the dignity of all the faithful, their participation in the threefold munera of the Church, and their right and duty to participate meaningfully in the liturgy; and the imperative of inculturation. Many aspects of the liturgy are today subject to local customs as well as laws, for example, lay ministers, art and architecture, music and dance, gesture and posture, observances of feasts days and seasons, inclusive language, etc.

The customs of a community obtain the force of law if they are specifically approved by the competent legislator, or if they are observed by the majority of the community for thirty continuous and complete years. This applies both to customs contrary to the law and customs on matters not treated in the law (praeter legem ). No custom can attain the force of law if it is contrary to divine law or if it is not reasonable (cc. 2326). A legal custom (one that has the force of law) must be observed in those communities where it is in force, even if it is contrary to the law. Customs with the force of law can be revoked only by the competent legislative authority (c. 28).

Administrative Norms. Executive authorities, especially the congregations of the Roman Curia, may issue general administrative norms within their competence, as does the CDWDS for the liturgy. These norms are contained in non-legislative documents, such as directories, instructions, circular letters, etc. There is no consistent difference between legislative and administrative norms as to their content or style, but laws (leges ) and legal customs have the greater juridic value. An administrative norm in a document of a Roman dicastery, which is contrary to universal law, is null. A curial document cannot revoke particular laws or legal customs. This can only be done by an act of the competent legislator that expressly revokes the particular law or custom (cc. 20, 28).

Vicars general and episcopal vicars may also issue general administrative norms, including norms for the liturgy, but they would not do this without a mandate from the bishop. The liturgical commissions of dioceses and conferences of bishops have no power to issue binding norms. Their documents are advisory only, except for those provisions within them that are citations of other binding norms.

Bibliography: A New Commentary on the Code of Canon Law, ed., j. p. beal, j. a. coriden, and t. j. green (New York/Mahwah, NJ 2000). j. m. huels, "Assessing the Weight of Documents on the Liturgy," Worship 74 (2000) 117135. j. m. huels, "A Theory of Juridical Documents Based on Canons 2934," Studia Canonica 32 (1998) 337370.

[j. m. huels]