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1155 Thu 23 Aug 2001

I have been drafting a reply to an issue raised on www.catholic-pages.com about a priest not saying one of the prayers at Mass:

Dear Susan,

Perhaps the problem is what to do about the frequent problem of the liturgical books not being followed.

According to the 1983 Code of Canon Law, Canon 846.1 "The liturgical books, approved by the competent authority, are to be faithfully followed in the celebration of the sacraments. Accordingly, no one may on a personal initiative add to or omit or alter anything in those books."

This reflects what the first document of Vatican II said in 1963, "... no other person, not even a priest, may add, remove, or change anything in the liturgy on his own authority." (Sacrosanctum Concilium 22).

Before people are ordained they should take the "Oath of Fidelity", which includes: "I shall follow and foster the common discipline of the whole Church and I shall observe all ecclesiastical laws, especially those which are contained in the Code of Canon Law."

This is not a new problem, but similar things are found in the Old Testament. For example 1 Samuel 2:12-14 describes two priests: "Now the sons of Eli were scoundrels; they had no regard for the LORD or for the duties of the priests to the people. When anyone offered sacrifice the priest's servant would come, while the meat was boiling, with a three-pronged fork in his hand, and he would thrust it into the pan, or kettle or cauldron, or pot; all that the fork brought up the priest would take for himself. That is what they did at Shiloh to all the Israelites who came there." It continues to describe the problems and concludes: "Thus the sin of the young me was very great in the sight of the LORD; for they treated the offerings of the LORD with contempt."

There tends to be a cycle in the Old Testament history of failing to follow the law, problems occurring, repentance and a new attempt to follow the law.

Why do people fail to follow laws? Take speeding as an example. Ignorance of the speed limit is possible. By speeding there is an individual advantage, less time traveling. Perhaps people admire the skill and courage associated with traveling faster. There is a special status in having a fast car. The driver may be intent on achieving something they regard as important. Perhaps speeding can reflect a frustration because of a delay. Often there will be a process of assessing the costs and benefits in deciding to speed by weighing up the likelihood of a fine, community disapproval, or an accident.

In the case of speeding the cost to the community is fairly clear. At least in Australia, the state spends a lot on advertising, speed cameras, and police. The community sees the benefit of this, because of the high cost of accidents and injuries. But in the case of the Church community, the importance of following the liturgical laws seems not to be clearly recognized.

I think Gandhi said "We must become the change we want to see in the world." According to the Ceremonial of Bishops, n 68a "a bow of the head is made at the name of Jesus, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and the saint in whose honor the Mass or the liturgy of the hours is being celebrated". I do not see many people doing it or teaching it. But I do it.

Learning the Church's laws is quite difficult and expensive - buying books that change quite regularly. Confronting priests over their failure to follow the Church's laws is also likely to have a personal cost. You are probably quite limited in what you can do. Even if you fix one problem, there will be others. But it would be better to do something than nothing.

Copyright J.R. Lilburne, 23 August 2001.