Rorate Caeli

The Latin Mass Society’s Canonical Notes on the Responsa ad dubia

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Rorate Mass last Saturday, Holy Rood, Oxford

You can read the Latin Mass Society's discussion of the Congregation for Divine Worship's Responsa ad dubia, point by point, here.

Many canonists on the internet and off it have noticed that the Responsa issued by the CDW seem to be making demands on bishops and priests which go beyond the authority of a Roman Congregation to make. In some cases they seem to be taking away prerogatives from bishops which they are explicitly given by Canon Law, and even by the Second Vatican Council. The Supreme Legislator, the Holy Father, can of course change Canon Law, but it would be ludicrous to suggest that the Congregation for Divine Worship can do so. Since the Holy Father has—presumably, deliberately—given the Responsa only generic, not ‘specific’, approval, it is the Congregation’s authority which is at issue.

In the same way, the Responsa presents itself as an interpretation of Traditionis Custodes. There has been much discussion online about how exactly, and to whom, this interpretation is binding. The key point, however, is that an interpretation of a legal document at best borrows its force from the document it is interpreting. The Responsa cannot add to the obligations set out by Traditionis Custodes, and if it attempted to do so, it would fail. This kind of document falls under the category noted in Canon 33.1:

General executory decrees, even if they are issued in directories or in documents of another name, do not derogate from laws, and their prescripts which are contrary to laws lack all force.

Thus Bishops retain their authority to make judgements about the justification for binantion (priests saying extra Masses), under Canon 905.2; they retain their authority to abrogate the law of the Church for the good of souls, under Canon 87.1; and they surely retain their authority to judge whether their own priests are dangerous schismatics. I dare say parish priests retain their authority to publish what they think appropriate in their parish bulletins, and their bishops retain the right to overseas this, without having arbitrary judgements, made without knowledge of local circumstances, imposed on them from a Roman Dicastery.

As JD Flynn remarks on this subject: “the pope has emphasized frequently that diocesan bishops don’t answer to curial prefects, and shouldn’t answer to curial prefects—that the curia was made for bishops, not bishops for the curia.”

In considering the Responsa, bishops may nevertheless decide that the message they convey from the CDW is enough, even without legal force, to persuade them to make life more difficult for Catholics attached to the older liturgy. In making this judgment, they must at least be mindful of the consideration which presumably motivated them or their predecessors in allowing celebrations in the first place: the good of souls, which the Responsa itself regard as the justification for allowing it.

LMS guidance on the Responsa here.

Some more discussions by canonists and others:

https://chiesaepostconcilio.blogspot.com/2021/12/responsa-ad-dubia-sullapplicazione-del.html (Italian)

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