A blog by the magazine's editors and contributors


Pontifex legibus solutus?

Conservatives and traditionalists need not be the only ones to raise questions about some of Pope Francis's liturgical innovations, whether it was his including women and Muslims among those whose feet he washed or in the reduction of the readings for the Easter Vigil. But shouldn't we all be concerned when they are justified by the idea that, after all, the pope is the supreme law-giver and so is not bound by Church law?

There is an old Latin legal term for this: princeps legibus solutus, which Blacks legal dictionary translates as: Released from the laws; not bound by the laws. An expression applied in the Roman civil law to the emperor. As the example given shows, it is a very dangerous principle to allow into ecclesiology. At Vatican II, when no. 22 of Lumen gentium was being discussed, Pope Paul VI proposed introducing into a sentence about the pope's relationship to the college of bishops that in deciding whether to call the bishops to a collegial act a pope was bound to the Lord alone [uni Domino devinctus]. The Doctrinal Commission refused this addition for two reasons: (1) its intent was already assured by statements about the pope's freedom and independence, meaning by this that there is no higher human authority which the Roman Pontiff has to observe; and (2) because the formula is over-simplified. For the Roman Pontiff is also bound to observe revelation itself, the basic structure of the Church, the sacraments, the definitions of previous Councils, etc.; all such things cant be counted. Formulas of this sort, using only, have to be treated with the greatest circumspection; otherwise countless difficulties arise.The Commission was pointing to elements that bind the pope in the exercise of his role. A pope is not legibus solutus. Would we not like to propose some conditions on what Pius XII's claim that the pope alone has the right to permit or establish any liturgical practice, to introduce or approve new rites, or to make any changes in them he considers necessary? Can we be content with the view that the Pope is not bound by Church law when he does something we like, but ought to be bound by Church law when he does something we don't like?

So if one wishes to applaud some of the new pope's departures from Church law, before one gets too enthusiastic, it might be well to recall that it was also a pope who not so long ago tempted people to flee to the mountains when he obtruded the Divine Mercy devotion into Eastertide (see Mk 13:14).



Commenting Guidelines

Re: It is the ultimate dream of liberals to restrict papal authority, just as they hope to see restrictions on bishops and the reduction of priests and priesthood to ministry. - Fr. Z's Blog It would be interesting to find out how Fr. Z understands priesthood in the Catholic Church. We (and maybe he) will discover that he is out of synch with this popes understanding of priesthood as he has been teaching us by his words and actions these past few weeks.It seems to me that Fr. Z should be on the alert about his lifestyle and the fact that he appears to be his accountable to no one but himself and his blog readership. It may not be so acceptable in the upcoming change of leadership in the Vatican.

in what sense is he not an absolute monarch?Simple: he has no power because he has no army. He cannot force us to do what we don't want to do, nor to not do what we want to do. We can ignore his statements, as we have been ignoring HV, and nothing bad will happen to us. He only has as much authority as we are willing to grant him.If he shared his authority more, people like me would be more willing to comply, so he might in reality increase his power by apparently diminishing it by sharing it.

Fr. Joe,Excellent post - and your last comment (4/3/2013 - 4:21 pm) should be noted by readers as the real question of substance raised here.As you know, Joe, the question of how to handle a pope who dissents from an essential and defined teaching on faith and morals is one raised (and variously answered) by many of the modern theologians such as M. Cano and R. Bellarmine. But their answers don't really solve the problem, in my opinion. You extend this quesition here to include also how to handle a pope who acts contrary to universal law in matters of discipline and governance as well. It's a question that has been urgent at different historical times in the Church, especially during the Conciliarist debates in the 15th century.Looking at historical examples, it seems that popes who - wittingly or not - acted or taught contrary to (or as if they were above) the law were only handled posthumously. By "handled" I mean juridically and by "law" I mean established, promulgated enunciations in essential matters of faith, morals, discipline, and government. To mention one well-known example: Pope Honorius and the monothelite issue.All that said, I believe that a pope is *not* above the law and it seems that the pope *cannot* be above the law. And yet, to enforce papal violations of the law, there has to be some structure or body firmly in place that can take juridical action (judge, impose penalties, etc.) in such cases. And there doesn't appear to be an explicit structure like this in the Church yet - save the juridical acts of popes and councils executed after the death of the pope in question.I think this conundrum is only intensified by the fact that Lumen Gentium (a. 22) affirms the teaching of Vatican I (Pastor Aeternus) on the pope being subject of supreme jurisdiction and by adding that the college of bishops "in union with their head the roman pontiff and *never without* this head" is also the subject of supreme and full power over the universal church." This seems to say that the college can take universal juridical action, but never without the pope. Would it be possible for the college to take, not universal, but particular juridical action against a pope (like that executed by a local council or synod)?I'm very grateful that you started this discussion here as it's something I've been puzzling about for a good while now. It seems like it's a double-bind or a catch-22, as long as the pope in question is still alive.Perhaps what would have to happen regarding a pope acting flagrantly above the law would be to have bishops formally confront that pope (not just privately, but - of course - they should confront him privately at first and if that fails, then publically and formally) with charges and a formal request to make amends or step down. I'm not sure that's the right thing to do - I can foresee all sorts of mayhem ensuing if this kind of solution were not very carefully circumscribed and regulated. But is that a viable option?In any event, it doesn't seem like we're in such a situation with Francis (though I appreciate your comments on JPII and Divine Mercy Sunday - other papal acts can be adduced as well). Still, it certainly is an urgent question for the Orthodox-Catholic dialogue. What topic(s) are you all currently working on this cycle?Thanks again!- Mike

I wonder: How many readers heard the full slate of readings for the Easter Vigil? My parish did five. And: The Congregation for Divine Worship told Cardinal O'Malley in '05 that a bishop could decide to include women in the washing of the feet, "for pastoral reasons." In addition, the USCCB acknowledges that it's common practice for women to be included in that ritual.Does the 1988 opinion of the Congregation for Divine Worship amount to church law?

I remember as an alter server way back in the 1970s only doing between 4-5 readings at the Easter Vigil. Women being included in the foot washing is pretty standard practice in pretty much any church I've attended, though I concede I've never been to a papal Mass. Our parish has over the years has included families, young adults, teenagers, elderly, male and female. I have always assumed to signify that all are included in the Church and the Church is servant to all.

Let me hasten to point out that I am less interested in whether women or Muslims ought to be included in the foot-washing than in the principle I've heard stated more than once that places the pope above the law. I think it's a very dangerous notion.

And to your point, what about MPs such as Summorum Pontificum that have created more disuntiy than unity (appears to be closer to a hermeneutic of rupture than of continuity?). A MP that created two forms of the one rite for the first (?) time in our experience and over the objections of almost all episcopal conferences.

Do I detect some fear that Pope Francis might change the trajectory of the previous two popes? I couldn't agree more that, considering the colorful history of the papacy, having the pope unaccountable to the human institution is dangerous. However, although Pope Francis has done much to change the "tone" in the Vatican, and perhaps has bent tradition, I have read of nothing he has done that is a violation of Church law.Perhaps Mr. Komonchak needs to relax and have faith that our new Pope is at least as interested in the welfare of the Church as Mr. K. is.

I'm confused. Is doing something not allowed by the liturgical rubrics properly called a breach of church *law*? Is there some notion of felonies vs. misdemeanors? Also, a different interpretation of Pope Francis's actions, to the extent that they violated a rule, is that he wants to extend a certain flexibility to everyone - far from claiming exclusive above-the-law status for the pope. (But the above-the-law idea has been oft mentioned, sometimes uncritically.)

Ms. Hayes:Mr. Komonchak also hopes what you hope. No, there's no hidden agenda here. I welcome a new "tone," but hope for much more.I'm a member of the North American Orthodox-Catholic Dialogue and we've recently spent a few years discussing papal primacy, so I'm acutely aware of the difficulties that an unfettered papacy represents for an eventual reunion. The Orthodox regularly pose the question: In what way is the pope not an absolute monarch, legibus solutus? What would you say in reply?

At times like this I think about my old copy (Muhlenberg Press, 1960) of Luther's Letter to the Nobility of the German Nation. It has the most disturbingly official footnote on Luther's charge that "if the pope were so scandalously bad as to lead crowds of souls to the devil, still he could not be deposed." The footnote quotes from the canons: "A Pontifex indubitatus cannot lawfully be deposed or judged either by a council or by the whole world, even if he is so scandalous as to lead people with him by crowds into the possession of hell." In Luther's words, "Be astonished, O heaven; shudder, O earth! Behold, O Christians, what Rome is!" On the other hand, I have a friend here in the Diocese of Charleston who likes to conclude these discussions by quoting a different canon from the old 1917 code--in the hearing of confessions the "honor of God" must be balanced against "the welfare of souls." Mercy accompanies justice inseparably, and the care of souls is why we're all here in church. While I agree with Fr. Komonchak that surely we have come far beyond that papacy confronting Luther, surely there must be some room for discretion as the welfare of souls may call for it? For a pope, as for any ordained minister?A different note, though. I think the presence of Muslims at the Mass on Thursday was really wonderful. But, in a prison, under what circumstances did they attend? I assume it was their free choice, but I haven't seen it confirmed by any reports and I've been curious. As much as it cheers me to see the Holy Father offer this sign of respect and humble service, I found myself wondering why Muslims were at the Mass of the Lord's Supper in the first place. They oughtn't to be excluded, but neither should they have been coerced or compelled. Has anybody seen reporting on that question?

I accept that shortening the Genesis reading at the Easter Vigil is not at all on the same par as saying that the Missale of 1962 was not abrogated by Paul VI. (And I have strong doubts about the latter claim.) That said, I don't think there is any provision in liturgical law that allows for shortening the Genesis reading at the Easter Vigil. (Limiting the readings before the Gospel to five is allowed.) But it's the slippery slope that concerns me. With Father Komonchak, I find invoking the principle, as some have done, worrying, no matter who is the particular pope.

Before one ever gets to the issue of a Pope's authority with respect to canon law, one must first address the issue of the weight of canon law. The Pope is not a law unto himself, but neither is canon law a law unto itself.Canon law is not supreme. It is not doctrine, it is not dogma, it is not sacramental. Canon law is not the master, but the servant. It is at the service of the Church. The Pope could repeal the entirety of the code of canon law tomorrow and in doing so, he would not be acting improperly. It would be completely within his authority to do so.On the other hand, the Pope would have absolutely no authority whatsoever to decree that the Creed was abolished, that instead of a Trinity, there was only a Duality, or that the Eucharist is merely a symbol after all.The Pope is not above doctrine, he is not above truth. But canon law is neither even if in some places it quotes from and cites doctrinal matters. It is merely a set of useful rules that might be set aside by the Pope - he is Peter - when he deems it appropriate.

So if one wishes to applaud some of the new Popes departures from Church law

Facts not in evidence, Fr. K. I have not gone into the weeds on these matters, however, it seems to me that whether it is the foot washing or the reduction of readings, neither of these were outside of the scope of the authority of any Bishop, including the Bishop of Rome to modify. Indeed, it had already been done countless times by many bishops, including the Pope when he was bishop in Argentina.So, he has not departed from Church law; he has modified certain practices and customs as per the authority given in the law itself to Bishops. In the modification of the foot washing ceremony, he is showing by way of public example, how the Church needs to interpret its mission as service not only to those "inside" but to the wider world. The custom of celebrating in the cathedral was changed to the prison for obvious symbolic reasons. Ditto for the Muslim woman.There are many forms of symbolism that the ceremony takes. In some parishes, the pastor washes the feet of the ministers in the church to illustrate the idea of service.As for the reduction of readings, I am not a fan of that move, but, here again, he is within the scope of his authority.Besides, in law there is the principle of epikeia that permits a law as not applying in a particular case because of circumstances unforeseen by the lawmaker.This gets into the area of interpretation of legislative texts and I am sure some of the lawyers on board may have some perspectives on that question.

Fr. Komonchak's comments and Bill De Haas's, seem fair and prudent to me. And wouldn't it be a good moment to begin to think about setting some limits on governance by Papal proclamation while we have a Pope who might accept them?

John Page - had the wonderful privilege of reading the first reading from Genesis at the Easter Vigil.....pastor let me choose short or long version; and, of course, chose the long version as did the second reader.We only had five lessons - excuse was 15 baptisms plus 20 confirmations plus bilingual at times, etc with large number of young families in attendance.

I agree with the uneasiness. I wish Pope Francis explained the meaning of his actions. We are left to guess what he has in mind, with people advancing that he "seems to" want to do this or that. Does he think that he's above the rules? Does he have a particularly Jesuistical interpretation of the foot washing rules that makes his actions conform to the rules? Does he support pastoral flexibility and bending the rules, within some undefined scope? Is it a trial balloon before changing the rules? We don't know.George D: the foot washing thread explains that the term "viri" is present in the texts. In the US the bishops decided to make an exception and allow women. But Francis is the pope, not a bishop in the US. I would say that he does appear to be going against the letter of the rule. In the foot washing thread Rita wrote: "Pope Francis simply seems to be continuing to do what he did as Archbishop of Buenos Aires". But it's different now. When he was archbishop of Buenos Aires, he had a certain latitude to bend or break the rules as he judged appropriate: one knew that if he had gone too far off, something would have happened to bring him back within acceptable norms. Now that he is pope, the mechanism is not clear. Ideally, if things were working well, he ought to be much more scrupulous than before in following church rules. There's a saying in French: "L'exactitude est la politesse des rois" - "punctuality is the politeness of kings". That's because, if kings show up late, since they have absolute power they will suffer no consequences from their lack of punctuality. Well - I read somewhere that pope Francis has a habit of being late. It's as though he didn't realize that his new role is giving him new constraints. He's behaving as though he were still a bishop and not a pope. Charming, but a little bit destabilizing. We are left a little bit uneasy.I do get a certain enjoyment out of that very unease, though. Maybe it's good for us.

And wouldnt it be a good moment to begin to think about setting some limits on governance by Papal proclamation while we have a Pope who might accept them?

Absolutely! However, I think that Pope Benedict's MP, Summorum Pontificum, was a clarification of that very point. Benedict argues that previous liturgies were never abrograted when reforms from Rome occurred. Instead, the previous practice was allowed to continue so as not to disrupt local communities. Gradually, uniformity of practice emerged. In this, I think that he is correct. Rome did not, or should not impose its will on the universal church. For Rome, sure; for the universal church - not so fast.Arguably, it was the pontificate of Paul VI that was too rushed and autocratic in its implementation of necessary liturgical reform.And I don't think diversity frustrates unity. As PJP II once said, uniformity is not unity.

It seems to me that you can argue either side on this issue because Lumen Gentium is self-contradictory on the matter. Here is from Ch 3, sect. 22:" pope's power of primacy over all, both pastors and faithful, remains whole and intact. In virtue of his office, that is as Vicar of Christ and pastor of the whole Church, the Roman Pontiff has full, supreme and universal power over the Church. And he is always free to exercise this power. The order of bishops, which succeeds to the college of apostles and gives this apostolic body continued existence, is also the subject of supreme and full power over the universal Church, provided we understand this body together with its head the Roman Pontiff and never without this head.(27*)"To say that the Pope has 'full, supreme and universal power" over the Church PERIOD couldn't be a stronger affirmation of his absolute power. He *always* has power over *everything*. All that the follo2int sentences add is that when the bishops agree with the pope they participate in his absolute power. You can argue that these words don't intend what they apparently say. But unless there is ambiguity about the words "always" and "universal" there is no way of getting out of the independence of the Pope's power apart from the bishops, though the bishops' power is not independent of the Pope's.You can also say that in other places "the Church" says otherwise, that the Bishop of Rome is not an absolute ruler. But all this does is add another horn to the dilemma.

Bender: You wrote: "The Pope could repeal the entirety of the code of canon law tomorrow and in doing so, he would not be acting improperly. It would be completely within his authority to do so."The Code of Canon Law is not simply a set of rules. It also contains statements about the constitution of the Church, about the basic rights and duties of Christians, about procedures for justice, and a whole bunch of other things. The Pope cannot simply repeal all this. For example, do you think it's in the power of the Pope to repeal canons 208-223, which set out the rights and obligations of Christians?

No question that Joe K has a point. I like what George D wrote alluding to Summorum Pontificum: " Rome did not, or should not impose its will on the universal church. For Rome, sure; for the universal church not so fast." So the Divine Mercy feast can go for Rome, with imput from the Romans, but not for the Universal church. What Francis did was in the spirit of charity and we all know that "Charity covers a multitude of sins."Perhaps we should not get too worked up about these differences and concentrate of 1Cor: 13. After all what was Jesus doing talking to the Samaritan Woman and didn't Paul and Peter differ on rules on food? The four Evangelists tell the story of Jesus from very different viewpoints.There used to be a time when many thought that if a Saint said it it must be true. Now we admit that the most famous, Augustine, made some serious mistakes.

With all due respect, I really can't understand why these particular actions would make anyone think Pope Francis may be at risk of overstepping his authority and think himself superior to church law(!). Still, I'm old enough to remember similar alarms being sounded when Pope John XXIII began making what now look like mild ecumenical gestures compared to the celebrated acts of his successors, e.g., John Paul II. I hadn't thought any pope committed to dogmatic orthodoxy could ever shake things up as John did way back then. Now, I'm thinking it is possible after all.

It is an interesting idea that the Bishop of Rome is and ought to be more constrained than other bishops, although we cannot say exactly by what. Noblesse oblige? Sensus fidelium? Canon law? The promptings of the Spirit? If nothing is agreed upon and well established, then does anything truly constrain him but his own judgment and goodwill?Well, probably not laws. The original princeps, the Roman emperor, was legibus solutus, but he was still constrained by the need to keep the population fed and minimally content, to collect taxes, to fend off rivals, and to guard his borders. Modern popes don't face exactly those problems, but there is still some risk of schism and the increasing danger of rebellion or irrelevance either in changing too much or too little.The Church and the world are so diverse and so easily offended today, that a pope is unlikely to please anyone all of the time. Already Francis is being examined on all sides and criticized not for decisions of substance, for he has made none, but for gestures and symbols.Poor man.

What grounds canon law? Scripture? Tradition? The exigencies of ruling? Surely it isn't self-justifying. Who makes it? Certainly not the bishops plus pope in Council, not usually, at any rate. (Who are these people who keep telling us what to do and not to do? Where do the canon law legislators get their authority? Does the Pope have to sign all a "bill" for it to constitute a law?

A correction, though I think we are way beyond this point.There is a shorter form of the Genesis reading, as Bill deHaas has pointed out. (After several decades of attending the Vigil, I've never heard it.) And, in case of necessity, there can be as few as two readings before the reading from Romans and the Gospel.But I am still concerned about the principle. I stand with Claire. Symbols and gestures are not incidentals left up to the pope of the day. Change them, fine, but with some order and explanation.

And George D - your comment that Benedict supported his SP by saying that earlier liturgies were never abrogated. This is a point of contention and most liturgy experts, etc. would say that Benedict *invented* something here - Paul VI in 1969 clearly abrogated the 1962 missal and did most other popes after missal reforms (the council of Trent laid out a couple of liturgical changes but left it to the pope/curia to actually do this - two popes later and with the formation of the Congregation of Rites, we eventually got what we now label the Tridentine Rite - all other rites *with some local exceptions* were abrogated.Benedict's SP violated a number of patterns - after almost 40 years of a reformed liturgy, he tried to bring back and justify an abrogated mass - talk about unintended consequences. Moreover, and following what you say George D about how an implementation should be regional/local/etc. Benedict's SP was made over the vocal oppostiion of almost all episcopal conferences. So, you cite his SP as an example but, would argue, that SP is the opposite of what you cite.

If this whole discussion is premised on the claim that liturgical law was violated by washing women's feet, it shows a misunderstanding of the case.This is a willful misunderstanding on the part of those who wish to hold to a male-only foot washing. They wish it to be understood to be a law. Men-only. That's what they see as the law. They are not eager to see the pope as a law-breaker. Therefore, they say the pope is above the law and can do as he pleases.A dangerous principle indeed.But this isn't the case in the foot washing. There is nothing intrinsically "unwashable" about women't feet. The whole argument rests upon the reading of a single word, "viri" to mean exclusive of women. Nonsense. It doesn't say and never said women's feet can't be washed. It says nothing whatsoever about women's feet. The pastoral interpretation of that rubric is open. And it has indeed been interpreted variously. Above the law, my - uh - foot. The pope is the bishop of Rome, and is interpreting this rubric according to pastoral discretion. A much better interpretation for pastoral use, too, I might add. Cardinal Sean O'Malley asked Rome about this, and they said he is able to interpret this issue according to pastoral need. The bishop of Rome is not "breaking the law" by doing likewise.

If Francis is the bishop of Rome and the vicar of Peter (not the vicar of Christ), tradition suggests there might be some pontifical screw-ups for which Francis/Peter can seek forgiveness.

I am going to disagree with my friends Claire and John here. This is not a case of symbols being changed arbitrarily, willy-nilly, to make us all nervous. The symbolism of washing the feet is being rendered more accessible, and closer to the INTENTION OF THE RITE by including both men and women. To be bound by the letter with no regard for the spirit of the actual ritual in question is to make of liturgy an idolatrous undertaking.

Fr. Komonchak:"But shouldnt we all be concerned when they are justified by the idea that, after all, the pope is the supreme law-giver and so is not bound by Church law."Who has justified the popes actions in that way? Does the person or group have the authority or credentials to make such a justification? I would worry if Pope Francis would justify his actions by saying that HE is not bound by Church law.

" the new Popes departures from Church law " are -- what departures from Church law exactly?The rubrics explicitly provide for using fewer than the full number of readings at the Easter Vigil.It comes down to washing women's feet and that alone, does it not?It's disingenuous to bring up the Pope's "departures from Church law" while "leaving aside" the question of washing women's feet, if that's the sole example of such "departures from Church law." Or are there other examples?

It seems to me that the issue of departing from the rubrics of the liturgy is not a useful case for debating Pontifex legibus solutus.Rubrics are not Canon Law. As Canon 838 says, the liturgy depends solely upon the Apostolic See:Can. 838 1 The ordering and guidance of the sacred liturgy depends solely upon the authority of the Church, namely, that of the Apostolic See and, as provided by law, that of the diocesan Bishop. 2 It is the prerogative of the Apostolic See to regulate the sacred liturgy of the universal Church, to publish liturgical books and review their vernacular translations, and to be watchful that liturgical regulations are everywhere faithfully observed. If a bishop wanted to permit foot washing of women, children and non-Catholics in his diocese, he could apply to Rome for an indult or other permissionHere is an article by Ed Peters pointing out that "[I]t is common knowledge that permissions have been granted to individual bishops to permit women to have their feet washed". other sources I have read that those permissions go back at least prior to Lent of 2005. Obviously, if the Pope wants to wash feet beyond "viri selecti" he doesn't write to his own Prefect of the CDW asking permission. He does it on his own authority.

Rita: This whole discussion is not premised on the claim that liturgical law was violated by washing womens feet, but on the argument presented by those who think that is the case and find it fine because the pope is the supreme law-giver and so can change it at will.

Rita: I bet that pope Francis agrees with you that replacing "viri" by "homines" is closer to the intention of the rite - that "viri" is a mistake of sorts. He, the pope, can change that word. For the pope, wouldn't that be a better response? Then there is the question of his washing the feet of a young Muslim. The text you linked to in the other thread ( ) has a couple of mentions of general charity, but also has several more mentions of mutual charity between Christians or between disciples of Christ (starting with the gospel!). It's even less clear there that by washing the feet of a non-Christian he is accurately conforming to the intention of the rite. If the rite truly is or really ought to be about general charity, then that needs clarification. He's the pope: it seems to me that it would be better if he asked that those rules be updated. I still find that he is acting like a bishop more than like a pope. Don't you agree?

The other complaint from the traditionalist blogs is that Francis bows rather than genuflecting at the consecration. Again, I don't think this is a suitable case for discussing "Pontifex legibus solutus."

John: are you saying that the pope's correct attitude should be: "If I wish to go against some liturgical rubrics, I may do as I please, because I am the pope, but if others wish to do it, they have to ask me first for permission even if they want to do precisely the same thing that I am doing"?

First, would agree with those who have finally realized that arguing about rubrics misses the point. SC laid out liturgical principles (or intentions as Rita state above) and SC laid out that these principles relied upon the presider/community to implement so that our liturgies were full, active, and complete.Claire - would suggest that Rita is trying to indicate that rubrics do not lay out every possible liturgical action, decision, etc. and that when a rubric says *viri*, it doesn't mean that it restricts the mandatum to men only - it could be read in a different way. (another example in the 1980s was restricting altar servers to male only - eventually, CDW and canon law stipulated that this was a misreading (limitation) of the original rubric and didn't need an indult. (But, that hasn't stopped the rubrical literalists such as Morlino or Olmsted)Thus, to read rubrics or demand that things such as *viri* be revised to say *homines* is just another example of her comment - it becomes an *idolatrous undertaking*. Ed Peters is a good example of a canon lawyer who interprets based up a black and white reading rather than seeing canon law or even rubrics as *servants* to the pastoral situation. He places canon law (keep in mind that the new canon law took effect in 1983) over more primary church and conciliar documents such as SC. (some canon law experts decry the fact that the 1983 code did a poor job of reflecting the theology, attitude, and approach laid out in the VII council)

Claire, Chapter 9 of the GIRM is "Adaptations Within The Competence Of Bishops And Bishops Conferences" and allows individual bishops and conferences of bishops to adapt some specific items in the Missal to meet the pastoral needs of their people. Most of those adaptations require the recognitio of Rome before they can be implemented. The Mandatum isn't one of he items listed but, as Peters says, it is generally known that some bishops have reuested nd received permission to adapt it in their dioceses.So, yes, I do believe that a bishop who wants to adapt the rubrics to meet the pastoral needs of his diocese has to get permission from Rome. From what I have read, Cardinal O'Malley requested an indult in 2004 to include women in the Mandatum and was told by the CDW that he didn't need an indult and should do as he thought best for his diocese. He included women in 2005, as did Cardinal Bergoglio.John: are you saying that the popes correct attitude should be: If I wish to go against some liturgical rubrics, I may do as I please, because I am the pope I would phrase it as "if I determine that it is in the pastoral interest of the Church for me to adapt the rubrics when I perform a ceremony, i can do that on my own judgement since I am the only one who can authorize any adaptation by anyone" (when the CDW authorizes an adaptation by a bishop, they are acting on behalf of the Pope).

1. This whole business of bowing at the institutional narrative is rather silly. Anyone who watches the pope go down stairs surely realizes he has problems with his knees like many of the elderly (myself included). A knee replacement down the line wouldn't surprise me.2. The rubrics in the Lectionary for Mass gives wide latitude to the choice of readings. I didn't see any violation of these.3. The pope seems to have made a decision about not have papal liturgies lasting too long. I think they pulled this off just fine. And the Sacrament of Initiation was administered with dignity and warmth by the pope.4. The entire Triduum needs a good reworking. It still is a clip and paste from 1955.

Claire, the liturgy is a source of law, and I would be happy if Pope Francis changed viri to homines in order to settle what has been an unedifying and acrimonious dispute. In the same way that Pope John unilaterally deleted the word "perfidius" from the Good Friday prayer for the Jews, the pope could make this change if he simply grasps the nettle. But from the clarification offered by Fr. Lombardi, it sounds as if he doesn't have a problem with an all-male foot washing under other circumstances, so it is doubtful whether he will take the trouble, especially now, when he has only been pope for 3 weeks.Joe, thank you for the clarification. I found the post confusing, not least because "innovations" embraces much more than "law," but now I see that you wish to discuss the mentality or mental steps that some have used to explain the disjuncture between their expectations and the pope's actions. OK.

The other side of this question is whether the code of canon law and/or rubrics are somehow superior to the judgment of persons. Someone above already cited epikeia, which is a denial of law's inviolability. Man was not made for the Sabbath.Rita presents another version of this, the notion that the law may have been formulated incorrectly, using viri instead of homines. The code is not The Law, but a human rendition of the Divine that should not be treated as master of the church celebrating. Our conversation with God, our prayer, is guided by law, but is a greater knowledge of the Law than we can write in books. The code is bound by prayer.The foot washing issue would disappear if we went back to the traditional rite. Before 100 years ago, the antiphons for the foot washing alternated between the Last Supper and the stories of the women washing and anointing the feet of Jesus. Would people really exclude women from the foot washing if they were singing "the woman known as a sinner washed the feet of Jesus"? I suspect Francis has a sense of this side of the ritual, which is the basis for law and rubrics, not the result of them.

Reducing canon law or even rubrics to being *servants* of any pastoral situation weakens both the law and the rubric. Both then become the whim of the interpreter which makes the people dependent on he (or she) who does the interpretation. In the end this removes the liturgy from the people altogether. Fr. K's point is a good one and it was Benedict who carefully explained that a pope is the servant of the tradition not its master. I can understand why the Eastern Orthodox and so many devout Catholics are ill at ease when these kinds of things occur.

Fr. Coleman at America:"Most of my adult life, since Vatican II, at every parish I have either worshipped or celebrated Holy Thursday, the priest and others have washed the feet of men and women, boys, girls and elderly people. I have never in my life given much extra thought to this practice because it struck me that Jesus, of course, washes the feet of all those in need as a sign to us also to do likewise. That conservative and reactionary Catholics seemed aghast that Pope Francis, for the first time for a pope, washed the feet of women on Holy Thursday took me by surprise and stunned me! It literally stunned me in showing how out of touch so many in our church can sometimes be"

I don't know, Joe. You refer to the pope's "departures from church law," not people's perceptions of his alleged departures from church law. I think that's a bit confusing.

Speaking of the Eastern traditions, if the pope, and by extension, a servant of tradition and not its master, that message was lost on some Bishops in this area. I heard from a friend that the Catholic Bishops had asked the Eastern counterparts to not ordain so many married Eastern priests as it was causing some confusion.They apparently complied for the sake of good order (the Eastern rite is smaller here than when I was growing up with a lot of Ukrainian Catholics).Still, the point is that the law is that Eastern churches have the right to retain all of their liturgical and disciplinary traditions including married priests.In practice, the Roman Catholic bishops did not have a problem, not exactly violating their law, but certainly not acting according to its sprit.As I think about the question, yes certainly the law needs to be respected, and if you are acting apart from it, or seeming to, there should be and open and transparent rationale given. I get the symbolism of Pope Francis' action and support it. That is clear. What is less clear is the basis for the departure. The rationale given by Fr. Lombardi was convoluted and not transparent.

If a Pope's rule changing limits itself only to changing rules/laws made by other Popes, I don't think it puts the Pope outside the law, it instead maybe weakens the authority of the Pope to issue rules and laws on his own. It makes papal declarations seem like something more along the lines of an executive order, which can easily change with the next administration.If one doesn't think the Pope should be making the rules by himself, but that they should be collegial decisions, it might not be a bad thing.

"when he obtruded the Divine Mercy devotion into Eastertide"One more note. There were sound liturgical reasons why some people were / are concerned about Divine Mercy Sunday. They are: the Divine Mercy Novena begins on Good Friday, and carries on through the Triduum and up to the Second Sunday. This is a marked departure. The Paschal Trdiduum is the center and high point of the liturgical year and should be the focus of the Three Days. Second, the chief advocate for this devotion (I do not have the document in front of me, but could look it up) claimed that the Second Sunday of Easter is more important than Easter, because of divine mercy. The way of keeping the Easter feast is not bulletproof. Things like this can cause serious confusion those who are enthused with the new devotion. For reasons precisely like this case, the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy directed that devotions should be drawn up to be always in harmony with the liturgical year, which surpasses them all in importance. I don't know of anyone who "ran to the hills" over this, but if anyone wants to compare Divine Mercy Sunday to the decision not to wear choir dress for the apostolic blessing, I'd say this is apples and oranges. Changing a custom of papal court ceremonial or dress is hardly parallel to setting forth a new religious devotion for the Christian people that is intended in the eyes of its most fervent supporters to overshadow the Triduum.

"I still find that he is acting like a bishop more than like a pope. Dont you agree?"Claire, I failed to reply to this question above. Sorry. It's a tricky question to my mind, because the pope IS a bishop; the two are not alternatives. Does presiding in charity over all the churches mean that the pope ought to bow to expectations that he is a kind of absolute monarch whose every gesture is scrutinized as having consequence for the whole Christian world? Is that what acting "like a pope" means? Well, I'd hope not. Does he have to give up being a bishop in order to be the pope? Ideally, certainly not. And, to the topic of this post, is he a lawgiver in his every example? Of course not. The other popes of my lifetime have not modeled being the Bishop of Rome in a very strong way that has been obvious to me, so I think my frame of reference for what a pope acts like is affected by this lack.

And there are sound liturgical reasons why people are troubled by the pope acting in a way contrary to the rubrics. The suggestion could become that no rubric is ultimately binding because any celebrant can construe a pastoral reason to ignore them. This takes the liturgy of the Church away from the people.Benedict's approach to the liturgy seemed especially humble to me. He openly said that the pope is not the master of tradition but its servant.

Rita, you're right that he's a pope in addition to being a bishop. But he can take decisions that only pertain to the diocese of Rome, or decisions with global impact. It would be nice to at least know which is happening. John H., in situations in which bishops normally ask for an indult, you are saying that for him in his diocese, he does not have ask for it. When that happens, what are the implications for the other bishops? Is his way the new default recommendation? Or is it an option that is now allowed along with other possibilities without necessitating an indult any longer? Or do other bishops still need to ask for an indult in order to be allowed to do the same thing as the pope? It's confusing.Bill de Haas: are you sure that that's how pope Francis sees things? If he sees things differently then your interpretation of his actions might be wrong.