by Mgr Ralph Brown
• Mgr Ralph Brown, VG, JCD, is the President of the Canon Law Society of Great Britain and Ireland; and Vicar General in the Archdiocese of Westminster. MUCH HAS already been written about the new Code of Canon Law.
It was formally promulgated this year on January 25, and since that time the Latin text has been widely available for study. For the first time, however, permission has been given by the Holy See for the Code to be translated into the vernacular, and September 19 saw the publication of the English translation, prepared by the Canon Law Society of Great Britain and Ireland (with the assistance of the Canon Law Society of Australia and New Zealand and the Canadian Canon Law Society).
This is the first time the whole of the People of God will be able to read the laws of the Code; and no longer will it be the sole preserve of Intinists or expert canon lawyers!
Possibly the contents will suprise some people; probably because they would have been unfamiliar with the ramification of the old legislation. On the other hand, people who are familiar with the documents of Vatican II, and especially the decrees and instructions which implemented the council teaching, will find that parts of the Code do not seem to be new at all. That is, of course, because the Code enshrines a great deal of the detail which was published between 1966 and 1979, to put the Council into effect.
The new Code becomes law on the first Sunday of Advent this year. At that time the previous (1917) Code will be entirely abrogated, and the new law operative.
One of the special features which should be singled out as making a considerable change from the 1917 Code Is the number of areas where the local Episcopal Conference has been told either to formulate more specific details for the functioning of the law; or else it has been empowered in certain matters to change or vary the dispositions of the new law.
One extremely interesting example of this which affects the whole of the People of God (laity and clergy) concerns the stress given in the Code to the need for all christians to do penance.
The law prescribes that the usual way this should be done is by observing abstinence from meat on Fridays. But it also says that: "The Episcopal Conference can in whole or in part substitute in place of fasting and abstinence other forms of penance, especially works of charity and exercises of piety".
A further characteristic of the new law concerns the (very proper) recognition of the rights as well as the duties of the People of God; and particularly the laity. In the 1917
Code there was only one "right" of the laity referred to.; and that was the right to receive the Sacraments. There are now twenty-four canons given over to these rights and duties, something which has already been referred to as the "new bifi of rights".
The manner is which this is arranged In the Code Is interesting. Sixteen canons deal with the rights and obligations of all the faithful (laity and clergy); and then eight further canons are devoted to the rights of the laity as such.
In this latter section, there Is a canon which indicates that suitable lay persons can be asked to assist the Church In all manner of capacities — advising on pastoral, financial and administrative matters; assisting in various aspects of the liturgy; taking their place in diocesan pastoral councils, synods, particular councils and in diocesan and parish finance councils; assisting in the preparation of couples for marriage; remedial counselling; and in all areas of teaching.
One canon seems to me to provide a setting
for all this: It is the one which says that all Christ's faithful "have the right, indeed at times the duty, In keeping with their knowledge, competence and position, to manifest to the sacred pastors (i.e. their hishops and priests) their views on matters which concern the good of the Church . . ((an.,212 § 3).
In general although no one could say that this is a perfect Code (and one assumes there could never be such), these areas which epecially refer to the laity do clearly reflect the thinking of Vatican II; and identify the role of the lay members of the People of God.
It was said (with considerable truth) time hack that the 1917 Code hurdly mentioned women; and when it did it wasn't very complimentary. Clearly this was in the mind of one of the journalists present on January 25 this year at the Vatican press conference on the promulgation of the Code.
The journalist asked Archbishop CastilloLure (the Pro-Prefect of the Pontifical Commission for the Revision of the Code) what he had to say about the role of women in the new Code. The archbishop replied: "Apart frogn being ordained as priests, deacons, acolytes and lectors, anything a lay man can do in the new Code, a lay woman can also do".
This is reflected in the English translation of the Code by means of the use of "he or she". 1 think the implications arising from this mean that the implementation of the Code should be extremely interesting!