This is an interesting news story:
A Canadian bishop has suspended celebration of the Novus Order by priests of the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits), because the priests will not comply with a diocesan directive barring the reception of Communion in the hand. Bishop Frederick Henry of Calgary imposed the policy, ordering the faithful to receive Communion on the tongue, out of respect for the Blessed Sacrament.
Reminded that the Vatican’s Congregation for Divine Worship has said that all Catholics have the right to receive Communion in the hand, Bishop Henry replied: “I am well aware of what the congregation has decided but quite frankly, it is not their call. It is mine.” He said that the Jesuits would be allowed to resume celebrating Mass in the ordinary form when respect for the Blessed Sacrament returns.
This, of course, is not what really happened. In actuality, the Bishop suspended the celebration of the extraordinary form of the Mass by the Society of St. Peter because they will not comply with directives barring reception of Communion on the tongue (implemented due to the Swine Flu).
But what if the story had been the way I wrote it? How would your reaction change? Whose “side” would you be on – the bishop’s or the Congregation’s? In a situation such as this, where two legitimate authorities – a bishop and a Vatican congregation – conflict, it is important to look at it objectively and not simply with an eye to how we want it to be resolved.
Personally, I have made no secret of my preference for communion on the tongue and my disagreement with some bishops’ overreaction to the Swine Flu. But does that mean that I think Bishop Henry is outside his rights when he ignores the directive of the Congregation for Divine Worship in this case? Not necessarily. A bishop has almost complete authority in his diocese, the “almost” qualifier reflecting the Pope’s universal jurisdiction. But does a Vatican congregation possess the Pope’s universal jurisdiction in all its decisions?
Based on my reading of Vatican II and the practice of the Church throughout its long history, it seems to me that a Vatican congregation does not have such complete authority over a bishop. Catholic ecclesiology teaches that the Pope has absolute jurisdiction over the whole Church, but how does his authority transfer to Vatican congregations?
But my bigger point isn’t whether the bishop or the Congregation has the higher authority in this instance. What I think important is that as Catholics we do not adapt our ecclesiology to who we happen to agree with in each situation. It might very well happen in the future that the story I invented above actually happens. Then who will we support? No matter the situation, we should be consistent: we must accept the legitimate authority in this matter regardless of whether we agree with their position. It is easy to be obedient when we agree with the authority, but it is Catholic to be obedient when we don’t.
For my part, I disagree with Bishop Henry barring communion on the tongue, but I don’t think he was outside his authority to do so.