Alzheimer’s and Becoming Catholic

A woman suffering from moderate Alzheimer’s began attending RCIA. She is a baptized non-Catholic. She lived with her son (a Catholic) who diligently brought her classes. The catechesis she was receiving was tailored to her abilities (can. 777, 4°). Her condition began deteriorating quickly and her inability to remember her young grandson and son made peaceable living impossible. She was moved to a memory care facility.  At the facility she speaks of herself as being Catholic. Can this woman enter full communion with the Catholic Church? 

Yes, of course! Holy Mother Church would never deny someone the grace of full communion. But, how does one make sense of it canonically. The act by which a baptized non-Catholic enters into full communion is simply the public, juridic manifestation of one’s intention to become Catholic (cf. Huels, Liturgy and Law, 76). One must distinguish between this act, which is the constitutive element for valid reception into the Church, and the the liturgical act, namely the Rite of Reception in the RCIA ritual. This is important because it means valid entrance into the Church is not dependent on one’s ability to fully perform the rite. All that is necessary is that she manifests her intention to become Catholic before competent ecclesiastical authority. The competent authority need not do anything besides knowingly witness the person’s manifestation of intention (Huels, Liturgy and Law, 77).

With that in mind, I think there are a two options.

A) Alzheimer’s disease in its moderate and severe stages places a person in danger of death. Every baptized but unconfirmed person is capable of receiving confirmation and in instances of danger of death a person is to be confirmed immediately regardless if one has the use of reason (cann. 891 and 889 §2). Additionally, baptized non-Catholics who are in danger of death can receive the sacraments of penance, Eucharist, and anointing if they demonstrate a Catholic faith and spontaneously ask for them (can. 844 §4), at least implicitly prior to losing their faculties (can. 1006). This woman’s participation in RCIA and her self-identification as a Catholic manifests her intention to become Catholic, suitably demonstrates a Catholic faith in the sacraments, and implicitly expresses her desire to receive the fullness of sacramental grace. Her reception into the Church takes place implicitly by her reception of confirmation by a Catholic minister (cf. Huels, The Pastoral Companion, 84).

B) Another possible route follows from the canon 99, which canonically equates persons who habitually lack the use of reason to infants. These persons are not responsible for themselves (non sui compos) because they lack the use of reason (cann. 97 and 99). A person with Alzheimer’s disease will become progressively less capable of personal responsibility as the disease progresses. To understand the canonical significance of the deterioration, we must consider the spectrum canon law uses to describe juridic capability.

  1. Adults. They are person over 18 who have the full exercise of their rights and are fully responsible for themselves (cann. 97 and 98 §1).
  2. Adult persons who have some impairment in the use of reason but still possess sufficient use of reason to marry (can. 1095, 1°).
  3. Adult persons of diminished mental capacity (minus firmae mentis). They can speak for themselves regarding their own delicts but normally act through a guardian/curator especially in the administration of temporal goods (can. 1478 §4).
  4. Minors over the age of 14. They can speak for themselves in spiritual matters (1478 §3) such as freely choosing in which sui iuris church to be baptized (can. 111 §2). In all other things they must act through a guardian/curator.
  5. Minors with the use of reason. The law presumes one has the use of reason after age 7 (can. 97 §2). These persons persons exercise their rights in a limited fashion through their guardian (can. 98 §2). They can, for example, ask for baptism with their parents consent (RCIA [USA] 252).
  6. Those who lack the use of reason and are completely incapable of personal responsibility (non sui compos). Their guardian/curator acts for them in absolutely all matters (cann. 97 §2; 98 §2; and 99).

These last three stages (4, 5, 6) can be respectively thought of as the mental ability of an adolescent, the mental ability of a 7 year-old, and the mental ability of a baby. From the above, it would seem that the mental capability necessary for a baptized Protestant to validly be received into the Catholic Church on his or her own (that is, publicly manifest his intention to become Catholic in a juridically cognizable fashion) would that of an adolescent (stage 4). This is because reception into the Catholic Church necessary means freely submitting oneself to her laws and beliefs, the same things that distinguish one sui iuris church from another. A person in stage 5 could do so through a guardian/curator. A person in stage 6 becomes Catholic simply at the declaration of his or her guardian/curator (cf. Huels, Liturgy and Law, 95).

The progression of Alzheimer’s will take a person through all these stages of juridic capability. When one compares the stages of canonical capability with the commonly outlined stages of Alzheimer’s disease (, the following conclusions seem appropriate:

  • Alzheimer’s stages 1 & 2 do not affect a person’s juridic capability.
  • Alzheimer’s stage 3 renders one diminished in mental capacity and in need of a guardian/curator for temporal goods administration.
  • Alzheimer’s stages 4 & 5 means one acts through a guardian/curator, but may well be able to make decisions in spiritual matters on one’s own depending on the precise progression of the disease in that individual.
  • Alzheimer’s stages 6 and 7 render one completely non sui compos. Their guardian/curator acts for them in all things.

So going back to the original question, if the woman is in stage 6 or 7 Alzheimer’s, then her entrance into the Church comes via a declaration of whoever has legal guardianship of her person (cf. Huels, Liturgy and Law, 95). If she is in stage 5, her self-identification as Catholic combined with her guardian’s statement regarding her desires would be enough to manifest her intention to become Catholic. It seems most likely that if she is in stage 4 she is still fully capable of acting canonically on her own with respect to entering the Church.


Naming the Bishop in Eucharistic Prayers

Today I want to address the naming of the diocesan bishop in the Eucharistic prayers or the Canon in the 1962 missal. Under most circumstances, the naming of the pope and the diocesan bishop is rather routine and looks the same in both forms of the mass. In the ordinary form of the mass, the naming of the pope and diocesan bishop is governed by 2002 GIRM 149. First it covers what a bishop says when he celebrates in his own diocese and then when he is in another bishop’s diocese. Of interest to me is the next paragraph which states that:

The Diocesan Bishop, or one who is equivalent to the Diocesan Bishop in law, must be mentioend by means of this formula: together with your servant N., our Pope, and N., our Bishop (or Vicar, Prelate, Prefect, Abbot).

In the extraordinary form, the naming of the pope and diocesan bishop is determined by Ritus servandus VIII, 2:

2. […] When he says “et Antistite nostro N.,” he specifies the name of the Patriarch, Archbishop, or Ordinary Bishop in the respective Diocese, and not the name of any other Superior, even if the Celebrant is entirely exempt, or under the jurisdiction of another Bishop. If, however, the Bishop who is Ordinary of that place, in which the Mass is being celebrated, is deceased, these words are omitted, and are omitted even by those who are celebrating at Rome. […]

One will immediately notice that the 1962 missal tries to provide direction for when a diocese is occupied and when it is vacant, but it is silent with regards to vicars and prefects and other transitional situations. The new law, while being very helpful about how a bishop can reference himself and others and what is done is non-diocesan territories, is entirely silent about what happens when the see is vacant. What happens in the situations that fall into these holes in the law is where this topic gets interesting.

I want to dive into these differences because they affect those priests who celebrate both the ordinary form and extraordinary forms of the mass. As I explored earlier with regard to deacons, the differences in ecclesiology that underpin the discipline of the ordinary and extraordinary forms can, at times, produce results that are opposite to each other. And, because the Summorum pontificum derogates from liturgical laws promulgated after 1962 and which are incompatible with the rubrics of the pre-1962 liturgical books (cf. Universae Ecclesia [UE] n. 28), priests have no choice but to juggle these differences.

Extraordinary Form

As early as 1722, it was the opinion of the Sacred Congregation of Rites that during a vacancy, that name of the administrator of a diocese should not be mentioned in the Canon (S.R.C. Decree 2274 [3952], Sarsinaten, n. 5). This was repeated in S.R.C. 3047, n. 4 and 4288, n. 2. Following the promulgation of the 1917 Code of Canon Law, the same congregation answered a dubium whether apostolic vicars and apostolic prefects should be named in the Canon, because they enjoy in virtue of 1917 CIC 294 the same rights within their territory as territorial bishops. Relying on 1917 CIC 2 (liturgical laws retain their force unless expressly changed by the code) and a distinction made in 1917 CIC 308 between vicars and prefects augmented with episcopal character, the Congregation of Rites responded negatively (S.R.C. Dubium, 8 Mar 1919, AAS 11 [1919], p. 145). The one exception rubricists made was in allowing apostolic administrators who are of episcopal character and who are permanently constituted over a territory to be named in the Canon because 1917 CIC 315 extends to them the same rights, honors, and honorific privileges that residential bishops enjoy (Cf. O’Connell, The Celebration of the Mass [Bruce: Milwaukee, 1964], 259).

Ordinary Form

The first edition of the post-conciliar missal provided no direction regarding who may be mentioned in the Eucharistic prayer. The Congregation for Divine Worship addressed this omission in 1972 with the decree Cum de nomine (AAS 64 [1972], pp. 692-694), which forms the basis of the current language in the GIRM. Reflecting the increased awareness of local and universal communion which the documents of Vatican II highlight, the decree reads

[the] mention of the bishop in the eucharistic prayer is not simply or mainly a matter of honor but of communion and charity […]. Such considerations obviously apply also those who, whether marked by episcopal consecration or not, preside over some community of the people of God.

The decree goes on to say that the follow must be named: a territorial bishop, a bishop still retaining administration of one diocese after being transferred, apostolic administrators who is a bishop whether permanent or temporary whether a see is vacant or not, apostolic vicars and prefects, and a prelate or abbot nullius having jurisdiction over a territory not attached to any diocese.

In the American Experience

In the American context, the only tricky situation that one is going to encounter is a vacant diocese with either a diocesan administrator or an apostolic administrator. A diocese is vacant if the bishop dies, takes possession of a new see (i.e. is transferred), is granted retirement, or is removed from office (cf. 1983 CIC 416). One of three situations follow:

A) If the Holy See names an apostolic administrator who is a bishop to administer a diocese, he is certainty named in the ordinary form. In the extraordinary form, it’s a bit less clear since the canonical distinctions upon which the 1962 rubricists relied are no longer present in the 1983 code, which doesn’t even discuss apostolic administrators. It might depend on the details of his appointment. There is some precedent for naming apostolic administrators in the Canon, so it would not be entirely improper, especially if one has a view toward organic development in the liturgy, to also name an apostolic administrator who is a bishop in the extraordinary form.

B) If a diocesan administrator is elected by the college of consultors (cf. 1983 CIC 421), if he is a bishop, he is named in the ordinary form; if he is not, he wouldn’t and the line “and N., our bishop” would be omitted entirely. In the extraordinary form, a diocesan administrator is not mentioned at all and the Latin phrase would be omitted.

C) When a bishop is transferred, from the time of the announcement of his transfer until he takes possession of the new see, he is still technically bishop of his current see but his power is limited to that of a diocesan administrator (cf. 1983 CIC 418, §2). Because he is still the bishop of the see, the 1972 CDW decree stipulated he must be named. The extraordinary form would do the same since who possesses a see is a matter for the Code of Canon Law, from which Summorum Pontificum does not derogate (UE, n. 27). When he does finally take possession of the new see, he ceases to be bishop of his former diocese and that diocese is then vacant. At that point, he would cease to be named in both the ordinary or extraordinary forms.

An Interesting Alternative

I mentioned at the start that Summorum Pontificum derogates from laws connected to the sacred Rites promulgated after 1962 and which are incompatible with the rubrics of the pre-1962 liturgy. As one may have noticed at the outset, what the liturgical laws actually say is rather limited. One may ask the question, in this very narrow matter, how much of the post-conciliar law is actually incompatible with the pre-conciliar law?

Certainly, the provisions in the post-conciliar law allowing for apostolic vicars and prefects and abbots nullius are incompatible with the pre-conciliar law since it calls for an alteration of the Canon from Antistite nostro N. to Vicario, Praelato, Praefecto, Abbate nostro N.. The same goes for the post-conciliar law allowing for the naming of auxiliary and coadjutor bishops as well as a bishop referencing himself and the local bishop, since all these require insertions or adaptations of the Canon text. The post-conciliar situation with regards to diocesan and apostolic administrators who happen to be bishops is different. Since neither the post-conciliar rubrics nor the pre-conciliar rubrics provide for this situation, there can be not incompatibility of law. Moreover, there is no alteration of the Canon text(antistite being a synonym for episcopo). The post-conciliar practice is based on the interpretation of the Congregation for Divine Worship as explained in Cum de nomine regarding the purpose of naming the bishop, while the pre-conciliar practice is based on earlier interpretations of the same congregation (before its name was changed). The more recent interpretation should carry more weight not only because it is more recent, but because more accurately reflects the doctrinal and canonical reality of the Church today.

In that case then, at least in the American experience, what a priest does when he reaches that point in the Eucharistic prayer or the Canon will be the almost same regardless of the form of the mass being celebrated.

Follow up to Two-obligations-with-one-Mass Debate

Last week, the Immaculate Conception fell on a Monday and the question was raised whether, in light of can. 1248 §1, one could satisfy both obligations by attending one Mass on Sunday evening. The canonist Dr. Peters put that question to rest rather thoroughly on his blog.

At the end of his post he made reference to a 1974 dubium to the Congregation of Clergy on the matter, which was included in the Bishops’ Committee on the Liturgy Newletter for that month. For completeness and in the hopes of putting this finally to rest especially for those who would like an authoritative statement on the matter, I post the text of the relevant part of that USCCB’s newsletter, as cited by Peters. Perhaps, at some point I’ll hunt down the original dubium if I can, but it wouldn’t change anything.

Fulfillment of Holyday and Sunday Mass Precept

   In reply to inquiries it received, the Congregation for the Clergy clarified the matter of simultaneous fulfillment of holyday and Sunday obligations by attendance at the evening vigil mass.
   By way of example the following dubium was presented: “Whether the faithful who attend Mass on Saturday, 15 August, would fulfill the double precept of hearing Mass on Saturday, feast of the Assumption, and Sunday, 16 August”?
   The Congregation responded “Negative” to the above case and all analogous cases.
   The indult by which the faculty is given to fulfill the obligation of attending Mass on the evening of a Saturday or of a feast day of obligation is generally granted in view of rendering easier the fulfillment of such a precept, without prejudice of keeping every Lord’s Day holy.

(BCL Newsletter  vol. 10, n. 11 (Nov 1974); reprinted in USCCB, 35 Years of the BCL Newsletter, p. 450.)

One’s ability to fulfill the obligation to attend Mass on the preceding evening is now, obviously, a matter of law and not of indult, but the point of the last paragraph remains: the object is to make it easier to fulfill one’s obligations, not eliminate one’s obligations.

All Souls Day Continued

Following up on my previous post, what about priests who are obliged to celebrate both forms of the Mass on both days?

Canon 905 establishes that priests may celebrate only one Mass per day. Two exceptions are envisioned. Written into section 1 is the exception “in cases where the law permits him to celebrate or concelebrate more than once on the same day.” The law, in this case, would be GIRM, 3rd ed., no. 205 which includes Christmas Day (c) and All Souls Day (d), and which incorporates the rules regarding intentions and stipends for All Souls Day established by Incruentum altaris sacrificum. The other exception is found in section 2, which allows a local ordinary for a just cause to allow bination on all days and, if pastoral necessity requires, it trination on Sundays and holy days of obligation. The intention and stipends stemming from this exception are governed by can. 951.

A priest who is obliged to celebrate both forms of the Mass on the same day presumably has the faculty to binate and trinate per can. 905, §2. No priest is required to take advantage of the All Souls Day exception to can. 905, but if he does, he must follow the rules laid down by Incruentum altaris sacrificum. This is all the more true on All Souls Days that fall on Sunday when the priest already has the faculty to trinate on Sunday. A priest with this faculty may elect to trinate in virtue of the exception found in section 2 or in virtue of the exception found in section 1. If he chooses the latter, he must be free to apply one Mass to all the faithful departed and one for the Pope’s intentions. But if he is obliged to offer two Masses for specific intentions (which due to circumstances he cannot transfer to another day), it seems then that he cannot take advantage of the All Souls Day exception—although this has no practical effect on him because he may still offer a third Mass in virtue of the grant by his local ordinary for whatever intention he wish.

The same principles apply to Monday, November 3, All Souls Day (EF), if a priest is obliged to celebrate the OF of the Mass. Even if he was not free to apply his OF Mass for his own intentions, this does not disrupt the norms of Incruentum altaris sacrificum, which allowed for one stipend Mass for any intention. This priest would be free to say two more Masses that day, but only in the EF because only in the EF form is Monday All Souls Day. If a priest, however, is obliged to celebrate two Masses (OF) for specific donor intentions, it would seem correct that he be able to celebrate a third Mass that day. This is because his two OF Masses were in virtue of the sec. 2 exception to canon 905 and his third Mass would be in virtue of the sec. 1 exception, again, as long as he celebrates it in the EF. This third Mass would, of course, be without stipend and for either the Pope’s intentions or—perhaps more fittingly—for all the faithful departed.

Oh the complications that stem from having two out-of-synch calendars…

Three Masses on All Souls Day

This year November 2 (Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed) falls on a Sunday, and this leads to a peculiar situation, namely All Souls Day will be celebrated on two days all depending on which calendar one is using. In the Ordinary Form (OF) of the Roman Rite, according to the Universal Norms on the Liturgical Calendar and the General Roman Calendar, All Souls Day trumps the Thirty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time (cf. Table of Liturgical Days, nn. 3 and 6). In the Extraordinary Form (EF), however, according to rubrics of the 1962 Roman Missal, the Twenty-First Sunday after Pentecost trumps All Souls Day (cf. Rubricae Generales, ch. III, no. 16 b), which then gets transferred to Monday, November 3rd. This difference in dates does not affect priests which celebrate exclusively only one form of the Roman Rite. However, for those priests who take advantage of Summorum Pontificum, does this repetition mean that he is allowed to celebrate three masses on All Souls Day both on Sunday and then again on Monday?

Originally, the celebration of three Masses on All Souls Day was a privilege granted by Benedict XIV to only priests living in lands controlled by the kings of Spain and Portugal. In the Apostolic Constitution Incruentum altaris sacrificium, Pope Benedict XV extended this to the entire Church. This constitution was incorporated into the provisions of 1917 CIC 806, §1. This permission, however, was not specifically included in the 1983 CIC and was not found in the first two editions of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, and so it was an open question whether Benedict XV’s constitution applied to the Post-Conciliar Mass. (See CLSA Comm. 2, p. 1101 note 25 for the canonical situation prior the GIRM 3rd ed.) The third edition of the GIRM, however, clarified that the permission for trination on All Souls Day according to the norms of Incruentum altaris sacrificium applied also to the Ordinary Form (cf. GIRM 3rd ed., 204 d).

This brings us to the question posed above. Does a priest who celebrates OF and EF Masses get to celebrate three masses on both November 2 and November 3 of this year? I think the answer is yes. There can be little doubt that the celebration of Mass for the poor souls in Purgatory is a favorable concession by the Holy See to all priests. The fact that Incruentum altaris sacrificium restricts the priest to only one stipend and requires one Mass be said for the intention of all the Faithful Departed suggests the beneficiaries of this favor are the Poor Souls, not the priest himself. Following the well establish canonical principle that odious things be restricted and favorable things broadened (cf. Regula juris 15), it seems only right that this concession in favor of and for the benefit of the souls in Purgatory be enjoyed both on November 2 (OF) and November 3 (EF). “Broad interpretation is normative when the law is favorable.” (CLSA Comm. 2, p. 75).

It is important to remember, however, that the principle favores ampliandi, odia restringenda is an interpretive tool designed to help apply a law to circumstances not envisioned by the legislator and not a means to vitiate the law itself. It is clear that the legislator in both Incruentum altaris sacrificium and in the GIRM, 3rd ed., foresaw there being only one form of the Roman Rite in normative use. Neither could have predicted that there’d be two forms of the Roman Rite, equally legitimate and equally available to priests of the Roman Rite. Priests who, however, for whatever reason celebrate only one form of the Mass fit into the circumstances envisioned by Benedict XV and John Paul II. It would be contrary to the law, then, to suggest that even in these circumstances three Masses may be said on November 2 and November 3, because only one of those dates is All Souls Day for a one-form priest.

One might argue that because Incruentum altaris sacrificium is an exception to 1983 CIC 905, §1, it should be interpreted strictly per can. 18, which specifically states that laws “which […] contain an exception from the law are subject to strict interpretation.” Does this mean then that any exceptions written into the law should be applied to as narrow a situation as possible? It depends. Many canons contain an exception when “necessity” requires it. In some contexts the exception restricts a right, in others it is for the benefit of the faithful. Should one judge exceptions that impact a true good of the faithful like those that don’t? It seems proper that can. 18 should also be interpreted according the maxim favores ampliandi, odia restringenda, such that “favorale laws, even if they are exceptions to the rule, are subject not to strict but to broad interpretation” (CLSA Comm. 2, p. 76). So while one cannot expand the permission to trinate on All Souls Day to days that are not All Souls Day, it seems right to allow the permission to trinate on All Souls Day to apply to both days when All Souls Day occurs twice in a given year.

Deacons and Summorum Pontificum

As ordination season is just around the corner, I was asked by a soon-to-be deacon to what extent can a deacon use the 1952 Roman Ritual, which was the ritual in force in 1962, in light of Summorum Pontificum? The short answer is not much. It goes almost without saying that the role of the deacon envision by the 1917 CIC (and mirrored by the pre-Conciliar liturgical laws) is fairly minimal and the 1983 CIC marks a sizable increase in the role of the deacon in the sacramental life of the Church. It’s these differing visions of the diaconate in the Church that is at the root of the above question.

Prior to the instruction Universae Ecclesiae it was uncertain whether post-1962 changes in the law had effect on pre-1962 liturgies performed after the Conciliar revisions of the liturgy. The instruction has clarified that the motu proprio derogates from liturgical laws promulgated after 1962 and which are incompatible with the rubrics of the pre-1962 liturgical books (cf. UE n. 28). In other words, these books stand on their own and should not be revamped to match post-Conciliar practice. The pre-Conciliar ritual books mention deacons in three areas: baptism, distribution of Holy Communion, and blessings.

We’ll begin with blessings because the change—actually, the lack of change in the law between the 1983 and 1917 codes in this area—impacts the deacon’s ability to function in the other three rites. The current law, 1983 CIC can. 1169, §3 reads almost exactly like the prior law, 1917 CIC c. 1147, §4. Compare 1983 CIC 1169, §3 “A deacon can impart only those blessings expressly permitted by law” with 1917 CIC 1147, §4 “Deacons and lectors can validly and licitly impart only those blessings that are expressly permitted to them in the law.” Both codes leave it up to the individual liturgical books to dictate what blessings a deacon could give and which he could not.

With respect to baptism, 1983 CIC 861, §1 states that the deacon is an ordinary minister of baptism. This is a change from 1917 CIC 741, which designated a deacon as an extraordinary minister of baptism. This change, in practice, has little effect on the ceremonial role of the deacon. Even in the 1952 Roman Ritual, the deacon is instructed to follow the ritual exactly as if he were a priest with the exception that the deacon cannot bless the salt and water required for the rite, and so is dependent on a priest having done this beforehand (cf. 1952 RR, Order of Bapt. of Children, n. 27; Order of Bapt. of Adults, n. 51; Supplying Cerem. for a Bapt. Child, n. 25; Supplying Cerem. for a Bapt. Adult, n. 44) Because the current law on diaconal blessings is the same as the prior law, this exception has the same force today as it had prior to the 1983 code, even though the deacon is now an ordinary minister of baptism.

With respect to Holy Communion, 1983 CIC 910, §1 establishes that the deacon is an ordinary minister of Holy Communion. This is a change from 1917 CIC 845, §2, which stated that the deacon was an extraordinary minister of communion, who needed the permission of the pastor or local ordinary and a legitimate reason in order to distribute communion. With the change from extraordinary to ordinary minister, the deacon now would no longer need permission and a legitimate reason in order to distribute communion. Ceremonially there is no change. The 1952 Roman Ritual allowed the deacon to distribute communion using the same ritual as a priest (cf. 1952 RR, Order of Administering Holy Comm. outside Mass, n. 10) and could also give the blessing found at the end of the rite (see Cod. Comm., Resp. 13 July 1930). Similarly, the ritual allowed the deacon to administer Viaticum (cf. 1952 RR, Order of Communion to the Sick, n. 29). That this included the blessing within the rite was made clear, first, by an 1858 response by the Sacred Congregation of Rites (see S.R.C. 5270, Tonkini Occidentalis [14 Aug 1858]), and then, by 1917 CIC 1274, §2.

In summary, the deacon can baptize (using previously blessed salt and water), administer Holy Communion and Viaticum, and impart only those blessings expressly allowed to him. The fullest listing I have been able to find of what blessings are expressly given to a deacon in the pre-Conciliar discipline is in Werz-Vidal’s commentary (see Ius Canonicum, vol. IV, p. 396-397). It states that a deacon can bless the Easter Candle (which was understood to be blessed by the incensing and singing of the Exsultet). He can likewise impart the blessings found in the rite of baptism and the supplying ceremonies (as discussed above) and bless a sick person in the context of administering Viaticum (as mentioned above). To this we would have to add the blessing in the context of communion outside mass (see Code Comm., resp. 13 July 1930). He specifically cannot give Benediction (see S.R.C. 5402, Angelopolitana [11 Sept 1847]).

One interesting question remains. Do today’s deacons have the power to bless bread and fruit? Wernz-Vidal suggested in a footnote that pre-Conciliar deacons also had been given the power to bless bread and fruits, the blessing of which was expressly given to lectors in the pre-Conciliar ordination liturgy of lectors, under the principle that the higher order possessed the lower orders. The question boiled down to whether the bishop’s words at the ordination expressly gave them the power per 1917 CIC 1147, §4. Today, of course, there is not order of lectors. And while one might say today’s deacons possess the post-Conciliar ministry of lector, they certainly do not possess the pre-Conciliar order of lector which was abolished over thirty years ago. Thus, any privileges which were accorded to pre-Conciliar lectors must, I think, be said to have expired, meaning deacons ordained today do not have the power to bless bread and fruit even if it might have been possible in the pre-Conciliar era. This, I think, might an example of the 1983 CIC trumping those pre-Conciliar provisions incompatible with the present law (cf. Universae Ecclesiae, n. 27).

Changing views on vernacular readings

It is interesting to note for historical purposes how the acceptability of vernacular readings during the Mass of Bl. John XXIII seems to have radically changed in the last few years. In fact, a marked change in the praxis of the Pontifical Commission “Ecclesia Dei” (PCED) can be seen starting in 2009. Since the practice of the Roman Curia is canonically relevant when resolving lacunae and doubts of law (see cann. 17 & 19), I trace below the development and change in the PCED’s practice with regard to the use of vernacular readings and post-conciliar lectionaries in masses using the 1962 Roman Missal.

The Pontifical Commission “Ecclesia Dei”, established by John Paul II’s motu proprio Ecclesia Dei adflicta at first advanced a very accepting view. Writing to the American bishops in 1991, the president of the PCED, Card. Mayer, suggested that “the new lectionary in the vernacular could be used as a way of ‘providing a richer fare for the faithful at the table of God’s Word’ in masses celebrated according to the 1962 missal” (Origins 21:9 (July 18, 1991) 144–145). These were only “guidelines and suggestions”, as Card. Mayer wrote, and so their adoption and, indeed, legal permissibility depended on the local bishop. I believe a few bishops did adopted the practice for their usus antiquior communities.

This twofold permission — readings in the vernacular and the use of the post-conciliar lectionary in the 1962 mass — seems to have also been the idea behind Summorom Pontificum, art. 6, which reads:

In Masses celebrated with a congregation [lit. people] according to the Missal of Bl. John XXIII, the readings may also/even [etiam] be given in the vernacular, using editions recognised by the Apostolic See.

Following the promulgation of Summorum Pontificum, there was much debate how to translate etiam and to what exactly did “editions recognized by the Apostolic See” refer. In light of PCED’s earlier understanding — evidenced by Card. Mayer’s 1991 letter — a strong argument could be made that art. 6 allowed for the post-conciliar lectionary — which carried the Vatican’s recognitio — to be used. Additionally, it indeed seemed that past PCED practice pointed to an understanding of etiam to mean “also” in the sense of either Latin or English.

This understanding is confirmed by a private reply given by the PCED in response to proposed doubts. In a letter to Card. Hoyos dated 24 March 2008, an American asked:

      (1) Can readings be given in the vernacular in the context of the Liturgy? Does Article 6 uphold the practice of duplicating the readings reading them in the context of the Liturgy in Latin, then before a homily in the vernacular, or does it allow them to be read from the Altar in the vernacular?
      (2) Also, can local editions of the Missal that refer back to the 1962 Missal could be used for this purpose (i.e. the one that came out in the US in early 1964. For example, a Missal faithful to the rubrics of the 1962 Missal, but with a vernacular proper. This was given approval for use in the US by the Holy See.

The PCED replied on 11 April 2008 (Prot. N. 14/2008) as follows:

      1. Article 6 of the Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum foresees the possibility of proclaiming the readings in the vernacular without having to proclaim them first in Latin.
      2. The readings may be proclaimed in English according to translations approved for liturgical use by the Holy See and the Bishops of the United States.

This reply seems to give blank permission for the use of the vernacular and post-conciliar lectionaries. The phrase at the end of question 1 referring to reading from the altar indicates that the writer was envisioning, at least, a sung mass, in which the celebrant reads both the epistle and the Gospel from the altar. At a solemn mass, the epistle — by the subdeacon — and the Gospel — by the deacon — both are done away form the altar. Given the lack of any qualification in the PCED’s reply to a question which referred to a sung mass, it must be concluded that as of 2008 the PCED had no problem with vernacular-only readings as sung masses, and presumably also solemn masses. Additionally, the reply makes clear that any translation of scripture approved by both the Holy See and the US bishop’s conference can be used the 1962 mass. This certainly includes post-conciliar translations. One issue that is not addressed in the PCED’s reply to question 2 is whether the post-conciliar lectionary three-year cycle can be substituted in for 1962 missal’s one-year cycle as suggested in 1991 by Card. Mayer.

By 2010, however, the PCED had changed its views on the acceptability of vernacular-only readings. The diocesan moderator for the extraordinary form of a certain Polish diocese wrote to Ecclesia Dei with several questions. His letter of 5 January 2010 contained a question relevant to this discussion. He asked (my translation of the German text):

      (5) May a simple layman or a minister proclaim the readings in the vernacular during the Holy Mass in the extraordinary form after the priest (who also speaks the vernacular) has read the texts in Latin?

The PCED replied back in Italian on 20 January 2010 (Prot. N. 13/2007) as follows (my translation):

      5. The reading of the epistle and the Gospel of the Mass should be be done by the same priest-celebrant, or by the deacon as envisioned by the liturgy [rubrics]; after their reading, the translations may be done by a layman.

This reply, I believe, reflects an view of vernacular readings closer to the 2011 instruction Universae Ecclesiae than to the PCED’s earlier practice, though I admit it is not clear cut. The question is as much concern with vernacular in place of Latin as with who should read the vernacular, hence the comment about the priest being equally capable of reading the vernacular. The reply follows by stressing that the epistle and Gospel should be read by the priest — not a layman — and that the translation may be read by a layman. The priest certainly can as is common in many places. This is all that can be said with any certainly about the reply.

The PCED’s comment about the deacon reading the Gospel is, however in my opinion, important because it clearly indicates that this response is equally applicable to solemn masses, in which the epistle is read by the subdeacon and the Gospel read by the deacon. This was not what the questioner had in mind because he indicates that the texts (plural) have been read by the priest. In any case, I think this reply implicitly reflects an understanding of vernacular readings that would be made explicit in the instruciton Universae Ecclesiae just one year later, namely that at high masses and sung masses the readings must be done as envisioned by the rubrics, and only afterwards may translations be included.

In 2011, the PCED published the instruction Universae Ecclesiae. The instruction directly bears upon the permissibility of post-conciliar lectionaries and vernacular-only readings at 1962 liturgies. Stating in no. 26 that in the extraordninary form, the readings may be done in Latin alone or in Latin followed by a vernacular translation. Only during a low mass, did the PCED allow for readings in the vernacular alone. Additionally, the instruction states in no. 24 that the 1962 liturgical books stand as they are and that these liturgies must be executed according to their rubrics in full. This latter paragraph completely rules out any use of the post-conciliar three-year cycle lectionary in place of the pre-conciliar one-year cycle.

As should be evident from the above, the 2011 instruction is a radical shift in the practice of the PCED, which as late as 2008 still reflected its 1991 practice. It is only since 2009, at the earliest, that the present PCED practice, as contained in the instruction Universae Ecclesiaea, began. It is interesting that in July 2009, Cardinal Hoyos was replaced by Cardinal Levada. To what degree, if any, did the change in praxis have to do with the change in the presidency of the PCED in 2009 is interesting question to contemplate.