3 December 2014

Liturgical law: The Ordinariate Rite

With the practical use of the Ordinariate Rite in mind, and entirely for my own guidance, I have jotted down some notes about rubrics ... how rigid they really are ...  drawn from the older (pre-Conciliar) Manualists. I begin with Law, its obligations, in general; then move on to Liturgical Law; and end up with a frivolously bold speculation.

LAW. We are not in conscience obliged to obey a law the authority of which is uncertain. Lex dubia non obligat; non potest lex incerta certam obligationem inducere; nemo ad aliquam legem servandam tenetur, nisi illa ut certa ei manifestetur. How are we to know whether in a particular matter a law is certain? Of the systems proposed in the old manuals, Probabilism seems to many of us the most persuasive. If in doubt between two or more moral possibilities each of which can be characterised as Probable, we may follow even that possibility which is the less or least probable, provided that it is genuinely still probable.

LITURGICAL LAW. Rubrics are either substantial, because they prescribe the form or matter of a Sacrament; or accidental when they do not prescribe form or matter. They also fall into these categories: Preceptive and directive. [There are also facultative rubrics which explicitly permit a choice; I shall not trouble with them further.] Substantial rubrics are preceptive and bind in conscience. The question to interest us is whether accidental rubrics are all, necessarily, preceptive; or whether some among them are only directive. If some are merely directive, this means that they do not in themselves bind in conscience, but simply provide the approved way of carrying out a liturgical action.

Most moral theologians, and many of the old rubrical experts, hold, with varying degrees of emphasis, that at least some rubrics are only directive. They feel that the Church does not intend that small details should oblige sub gravi. They tend not to be very generous in suggesting actual examples: it is, perhaps, easy to guess why! Even among those who incline to believe that all rubrics are preceptive, there is sometimes an inclination to feel that some wiggle-room is necessary. A distinguished example of this is Benedict XIV writing as a private theologian; having reported his own agreement with the idea that they are preceptive, he adds that one can be immune from mortal sin when breaking a rubric "propter parvitatem materiae".

CONCLUSIONS. The question whether each and every rubric binds in conscience or not, is an open question. Since the question is open, one is in conscience free to choose and follow even a less probable judgement, provided always that one has a good reason and that it still does have a degree of probability.

CUSTOM. The old writers also devote some energy to the question of custom acquiring the force of Law even when the custom is contrary to the letter of the law (contra legem). They are able to show that the SRC operated itself upon this principle. I omit a detailed discussion of this point because the necessary time has not yet have elapsed since the promulgation of the Ordinariate Ordo Missae for this to be relevant, i.e. for immemorial and unreprobated custom to have become established.

But it would be amusing to propose an argument that approved immemorial customs which accompanied these liturgical formulae when they were used, by ourselves, in the century or so before we entered into Full Communion. Ecclesiologically, this would posit a continuity within our community before and after the act of reunion, a Hermeneutic of Continuity of our very own. Similar logic would enable us to continue to apply the provision in the Canon Law of Canterbury and York that "the minister who is to conduct the service may in his discretion make and use variations which are not of substantial importance": a principle which de facto has been observed anyway within the Catholic Church by most users of the Novus Ordo for nearly half a century.


ansgerus said...

Learned Father,

the rubrics of the Breviary and certainly even the order of the Psalms to be read, whatever once approved order they are following, are accidential, not substancial like a form of a sacrament. But this did not hinder St. Pius X from stating expressis verbis in His bull "Divino Afflatu" that "qui quidem sciant se tam gravi non satisfacturos officio nisi Nostrum hunc Psalterii ordinem adhibeant".
Whether a prescribed rubric is accidential or substancial is not the point, you simply have to follow the liturgical laws, it is not up to your decision, and if you deliberately decide not to follow a rule which you are prescribed to follow by liturgical laws to which you are bound you simply get lost of the grace of the liturgical work you are offerring.

Aaron Sanders said...

The editors of the old Catholic Encyclopedia certainly didn't sympathize with the preceptive/directive distinction (http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/13216a.htm), and I think their strongest point is the fact that even rubrics granting freedom of choice are preceptive from the standpoint of demarcating a field of choice beyond which one may not stray (e.g., you may use Dies irae entirely or not at all, but not just half the text).

Even within the material you've provided here, though, it appears to me that the distinction is not between rubrics to which we are bound to adhere in conscience and those which do not bind the conscience, rather those which bind gravely and those which bind only venially. If we ought to choose death before sin, does such a distinction provide real purchase for action?

The real muddy area, however, is that of custom contra legem, and here I think it is high time that the Church at large received clear guidance regarding how one might intentionally yet nonetheless morally violate the rubrics. I believe St. Thomas' own explanation would be that this "wiggle room" is provided for when general laws fail in specific cases, but in our age of boutique liturgy driven by personal preference, how is anyone to be confident that his acknowledgment of a law's "failure" is anything more than his own concupiscent rebellion? This includes the pious soul whose motivations are to restore reverence now excluded by the liturgical books (e.g., genuflecting during Mass instead of bowing).

Don Camillo SSC said...

Your argument is faultless, Father;
an opinion is probable if it has been put forward by (even a few) moralists/canonists/liturgists of repute, and has not been expressly repudiated by higher authority.
It is thus probable that at least some, and possibly many, rubrics are merely directive, and so not a matter of conscience at all: they are (shall we say) advice not commands.
Too often in the past the performance of liturgy has been reduced to the mechanical following of rubrics, with no concern for the purpose underlying them. We then get liturgy that is rubrically "correct", but lacking in any real sense of worship.

Fr John Hunwicke said...

O'Connell, The Celebration of Mass, with cross-references to many other canonists and rubricists, is my main source.

Timothy Graham said...

Dear Father,

The postscript got a cheer. The provisions of Angl.Coet. to bring our Anglicanism with us do not simply apply to where we were in 2009, but to the whole period of disunity and those liturgical developments in both the form of celebration and the liturgical texts themselves, as forces "impelling towards Catholic unity". The Ordinariate has a valid liturgical tradition and logic that can be applied to our current Rite & guide its development: "according to the liturgical books proper to the Anglican tradition".

I suppose one could also argue that certain ancient words & gestures contain within them - and not just in general meaning but also in form - more modern modes of signification... e.g. a genuflection may contain both the meaning of, and the bodily form of, a bow of the head. I'm sure a lot could be done along these lines if one was creative. One can imagine an altar that looked very Sarum with two large candles, but also five very small scented tea-lights. They are cheap in bulk at Tesco at this time of year...

Matthew Roth said...

Never again shall I bother my pastor about my turning the pages at Solemn High Mass while serving as MC...

Anselm said...

Your thoughts on custom are interesting. It is indeed possible for customs to develop, even in the ordinariate liturgy, which have, in time, and provided other conditions are fulfilled, vis legem. However, in respect of Catholic Canon Law and Catholic liturgy, is the 'high church' Anglican community capable (capax) of initiating a liturgical custom which becomes immemorial ? Not sure if it is logical to transfer your argument to what I presume is Anglican canon law/regulations. Law has a different source from custom, and I don't think we recognise the legality of the law you cited in the Catholic Church. But, you were musing, and there is certainly no harm in that or in asking the interesting questions that you do :)