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Canberra-Goulburn's Archbishop Carroll

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The Australian Catholic bishops were in Rome in March 2004 for their quinquennial ad limina visit to the Pope. Upon his return, Archbishop Frank Carroll of Canberra-Goulburn purported to authorise a departure from the Church's prescription of Sunday Mass for the faithful of his Archdiocese on the weekend 15th-16th May 2004 to facilitate the conduct of the Archdiocese's 'Synod 2004'. In the Archdiocese's publication Catholic Voice for May, the following appeared--

Attendance of the Archdiocese's priests at the Synod is so important for the good of the local Church that it justifies parishes arranging the conduct of lay-led Liturgies of the Word and Communion Service for the weekend of 15-16 May, Archbishop Francis Carroll says.

A special liturgy has been prepared by the Archdiocesan Liturgical Commission and is being distributed to all parishes. Suitable preparation of parishioners is to be provided before the Synod weekend . [1]

The Archbishop did two things: 1) he indicated that many or most priests in the Archdiocese would not be available to offer Mass for the faithful on Sunday, 16 th May or on its vigil; and, 2) he purported to relieve the faithful from the obligation to attend Mass that Sunday.

Canon 1246 § 1 of the Church's Code of Canon Law says--

The Lord's Day, on which the paschal mystery is celebrated, is by apostolic tradition to be observed in the universal Church as the primary holy day of obligation.

Canon 1247 says--

On Sundays and other holy days of obligation, the faithful are obliged to assist at Mass.

Canon 1244 § 1 says--

Only the supreme ecclesiastical authority can establish, transfer or suppress holy days or days of penance which are applicable to the universal Church, without prejudice to the provisions of canon 1246 § 2.

Canon 1246 § 2 provides no mandate for an archbishop to suppress the Sunday obligation. It authorises an episcopal conference to suppress certain holy days of obligation, but only with the prior approval of the Apostolic See. Accordingly, 1) it does not authorise an archbishop to act unilaterally; 2) it does not authorise him to suppress a holy day of obligation: it authorises only an episcopal conference to do so; 3) it does not authorise the suppression of the Sunday obligation; 4) it does not authorise an episcopal conference even to suppress a holy day of obligation, without the approval of the Apostolic See.

However, Canon 87 gives a power of dispensation. It says--

Whenever he judges that it contributes to their spiritual welfare, the diocesan Bishop can dispense the faithful from disciplinary laws, both universal laws and those particular laws made by the supreme ecclesiastical authority for his territory or his subjects.

In the absence of a judgement by Archbishop Carroll that the dispensation from the Church's obligation of Sunday Mass contributed to the spiritual welfare of the faithful, he did not have power to give such an authorisation. Given the seriousness of the obligation, the reason given would have to have been of a similar degree of seriousness. The words quoted above-- Attendance of the Archdiocese's priests at the Synod is so important for the good of the local Church that it justifies parishes arranging the conduct of lay-led Liturgies --did not amount to such a judgement. Nor did the reason they contain approach the seriousness necessary for such a dispensation.

Redemptionis Sacramentum

Coincidentally with the Archbishop's action, the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments , with the approval of His Holiness, issued on 25 th March 2004 a comprehensive instruction on certain matters to be observed, or to be avoided, regarding the Most Holy Eucharist, Redemptionis Sacramentum . It includes the following paragraphs-

115. The abuse is reprobated by which the celebration of Holy Mass for the people is suspended in an arbitrary manner contrary to the norms of the Roman Missal and the healthy tradition of the Roman Rite, on the pretext of promoting a "fast from the Eucharist".


162. On the day known as the Lord's Day, the Church faithful gathers together to commemorate the Lord's Resurrection and the whole Paschal Mystery, especially by the celebration of Mass. For "no Christian community is built up unless it is rooted in and hinges upon the celebration of the Most Holy Eucharist". Hence it is the Christian people's right to have the Eucharist celebrated for them on Sunday, and whenever holy days of obligation or other major feasts occur, and even daily insofar as this is possible.

163. All Priests, to whom the Priesthood and the Eucharist are entrusted for the sake of others, should remember that they are enjoined to provide the faithful with the opportunity to satisfy the obligation of participating at Mass on Sundays. For their part, the lay faithful have the right, barring a case of real impossibility, that no Priest should ever refuse either to celebrate Mass for the people or to have it celebrated by another Priest if the people otherwise would not be able to satisfy the obligation of participating at Mass on Sunday or the other days of precept.

These paragraphs support the contention that Archbishop Carroll's action was an abuse of the Church's norms.

* *

In his report during the ad limina visit Archbishop Carroll said, inter alia-- [T]he Holy Father is in better form than he was last October and has been quite animated in his conversations. I gave him a copy of the newly published Our Story (of the Archdiocesan Church of Canberra and Goulburn) and he asked a number of questions about the situation, eg of family life and vocations in our local Church. I assured him of our loyalty and prayer and he gave his Apostolic Blessing to us all.

In his ad limina address to the Australian bishops on the very day following the promulgation of Redemptionis Sacramentum , 26 th March 2004, Pope John Paul II said--

The Church's witness to the hope that she holds (cf. 1 Peter 3:15) is especially powerful when she gathers together for worship. Sunday Mass, because of its special solemnity, the obligatory presence of the faithful, and its celebration on the day when Christ conquered death, expresses with great emphasis the Eucharist's inherent ecclesial dimension: the mystery of the Church is made present in a most tangible way (cf. "Dies Domini," 34). Consequently Sunday is the "supreme day of faith," "an indispensable day," "the day of Christian hope!"

Any weakening in the Sunday observance of Holy Mass weakens Christian discipleship and dims the light of witness to Christ's presence in our world. [2]

How remarkable, that almost the first act of the Archbishop on his return from Rome should be the effective rejection of this admonition of His Holiness. How remarkable that he should judge that a meeting of clergy, religious and archdiocesan hangers-on was more important than the participation of the faithful of the Archdiocese in the re-presentation of the supreme sacrifice of Calvary.

Happily, it would seem that the Archbishop's proposal foundered. A large number of priests did not attend 'Synod 2004'. Of those who did, many provided for priests to say Mass for the faithful in their absence. Moreover, Cardinal Arinze, Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, is understood to have intervened.

Michael Baker