Visitors - Come on in and say hello!

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Valid and Invalid, Licit vs Illicit in Canon Law

I'm working on studying for my Canon Law exam, and as a result, a friend and I had a discussion yesterday on the difference between Valid/Invalid, Licit/Illicit. She wasn't real clear on the concept, and I wasn't clear in explaining it, which lead me to believe, of course, that I also wasn't clear in my understanding!  I tried to look at it through a common and timely issue; that of the SSPX.  

But, alas, that scenario is too complicated and I'd rather not "reason" something through when I haven't had enough of Canon Law to do so with any REAL intelligence.  And, really, there's a lot of people out there on all sides who are well-read but not authoritatively versed in Canon Law even though they are pretending to be so.  Their pontificating is quite off-putting and confusing. Thus, as a disclaimer, I will NOT discuss the SSPX with regard to this topic.  

I took some time to think about the terms, though, pondering it through, taking also into consideration what our professor taught us in his notes and lecture. 

Validity versus Invalidity is a question of whether Jesus is actually present in that act, or especially (in my mind), a Sacrament.  Something that is Valid has all the juridic effects (i.e. all the effects of the law), while an Invalid act does NOT have the juridic effects.   

Licit versus Illicit doesn't leave us the question of whether Jesus is there or not; rather, the question becomes: is Jesus there and pleased, or is He MAD?   An act that is licit is done according to the norm of the law (ie the GIRM, Redemptionis Sacramentum, etc.) or whether it is NOT done according to the law.   Thus, an act can be illicit but still retain validity.  That would be a way of saying that Jesus is present but very upset! 

I was trying to think of a way to explain this in other terms, and so, the following is what I came up with this morning while I was brushing my teeth:


Let's say that you are a child and you pretty much have standing permission, within certain defined and obvious parameters, to ride your bike to the corner store every day after school and get a candy bar or bag of chips or a pop or something.  And you have to take your little brother and little sister with you because they are your willing responsibility and how you make your allowance.  This is routine, you're in charge of them and that's part of the understanding.  

And as you ride with them down the sidewalk to the store, you wave at Harry the Barber who is reading the newspaper next to his barber pole, and you pass Mrs. Green at the vegetable stand a few more doors down, and they all know you and know that it's OK for you to be doing this.  They know your Mom, you see, and because this town is kind of a big family, they're also looking out for you.   And because of this, they also know that this trip to the store is a valid act, done with the Mother's blessing and permission, which, in effect, means that she is present with you on these trips.  

Now, if they saw you driving Mom's car down the road with baby sister on the hood at 3 am, they would ALSO know that this is VERY invalid and they'd be calling your Mom because this is CLEARLY outside of the boundaries and there's NO WAY this would have her blessing! 

Now, as far as Licit/Illicit goes, let's say that you got home from school and just before you left to take your daily trip to the store, you got a call from your Mother, who said that you should wait because she didn't want you to take your little sister that day.  She wanted you to wait until she got home from work because of something to do with your little sister. 

But, instead of being obedient to that command, you copped an attitude, got on your bikes, and all three went to the store as usual.  Now, Harry the Barber and Mrs. Green the vegetable lady wouldn't know the difference, and would wave as they always do. 

And, in fact, that ride to the store would have all the same juridic effects as that of every other day; it would in fact, be taking place.  You would in fact be paying actual money for your actual snack, and your act would be witnessed by others.  And so, in effect, your Mother would still be with you because this is a normal function of your day, except for one thing....the fact that you are doing it as usual on that day is in DIRECT DISOBEDIENCE to a particular law or directive laid down by your Mother, which renders that trip to the store ILLICIT.  

In other words...Jesus is there but He. Is. MAD!  And, my son....YOU ARE SOOOO GROUNDED!  

So, we could say that the just penalty of the the betrayal of the Mother's trust is Excommunication, which you have enacted of your own accord. Because, in fact, your baby sister was supposed to be going to the doctor for an important diagnoses and because you took her away from her mother she missed her appointment and is going to become very, very sick...because of YOUR disobedience.  So...firstly, listen to your Mother! 

So, you're grounded (excommunicated), and certain things need to be in play in order for you to be able to act in the same capacity. You have to admit that what you have done is wrong, you have to apologize for that wrong, and that you understand the effect of your action.  (there's actually more to this so don't take this paragraph to be canonical...and it's not on this test, anyway.)    

DISCLAIMER:  The above (hopefully fictional) scenario is NOT meant to parody ANYTHING in real life, but only explain things in entertaining terms which maybe I'll remember when I'll take the test. If my understanding is flawed, please tell me so before I take the test! And suggest changes to the scenario that would make the example proper.  


Joe of St. Thérèse said...

Your example makes total sense to me, here's another one I like using for Valid/invalid, licit/ilicit.

Say that you're making a cake (I just got through eating, so food is on my mind, haha) and say that you use instead of baking soda pellets of acid (hypothetical example), there is not a cake being made (invalid) because the form (the ingredients essential to the cake) has been changed.

Say also that your friend (this one right here) wanted a chocolate cake (and he does), but you instead make him a vanilla cake. The act is valid (the cake is still made) but illicit, since I didn't ask for a vanilla cake (me being grateful I'll still eat it, Likewise Jesus, since you didn't change the words, he's still going to be there :), inspite of the cool-aid pitcher)

Adoro said...

Now, that's getting deeper into the sacramental theology portion, which I'm not doing for Canon Law (wanting to stick specifically to the canons themselves). But yes, that's good in linking to specifically sacramental theology.


Warren said...

What interests me about something being Valid, and/or Licit is that:

(a) The church (rather modestly) only intends by Canon law, to make the principles inherent in divine revelation, concretely applicable to the governance of the church.

(b) In the particular case of a celebration of Mass, by nobody in particular, being valid, but not licit, one understands that the Church recognizes that the valid conditions exist for the sacrament itself, without the necessary conditions for a complete unity (catholicity) in that celebration.

So, for example, Eastern Orthodox churches are recognized as having valid apostolic succession, and thus a valid sacrament of Holy Orders, and thus, a valid minister, for the sacrament of the Eucharist. Thus, their mass ('Divine Liturgy') is canonically valid.

Is it licit for a Roman Catholic to receive, according to Roman Catholic law? That is a separate question. That the questions are separable, and on what conditions such separations hang, are, I think, the entire point of even having such distinctions.


Maggie said...

I like this example! Quite a good way to put things in laymen's terms.

mallys said...

Especially for kids. :)

Adoro said...

Warren ~ All great questions. But always keep in mind...Canon Law CANNOT be interpreted outside of the light of moral law, the other teachings of the Church, etc. That's what informs the Law, and the Law sheds light on the other stuff.

Maggie ~ Thanks!

Mallys ~ Do you work with kids/ have need to explain this to them? Glad it helps, in any case!

Unknown said...

I don't always understand the distinctions, but I have been present at Masses where a canon lawyer would be interested in giving an opinion as to validity and licitness. I have seen these incidents.

Assume that the celebrant in each of these cases is validly ordained and authorized to say Mass in the diocese.

1. The priest substitutes his own words for some of the words prescribed by the General Instructions of the Roman Missal (GIRM).

2. The priest omits a required prayer (the Gloria on Sundays, for example).

3. The priest allows a layperson to read the Gospel and/or give the homily.

4. The priest allows a layperson to hold the chalice as he consecrates the Precious Blood.

5. The priest has the congregation say the words of consecration along with him.

6. The priest substitutes the words of Consecration "and gave it to His disciples" with "and gave it to His friends."

7. The priest uses pita bread for the Consecration.

8. The priest receives Communion from an Extraordinary Minister.

9. The priest allows communicants to intinct (dip) their Consecrated Host into a chalice set on a table near the altar or in the chalice held by an EMHC.

10. The priest neglects to properly purify the chalice and the ciborium/paten after Holy Communion.

11. I haven't seen this one, but it has been in the news: The priest substitutes the words of Baptism "Father, Son and Holy Spirit" with "I baptize you in the name of the Creator, the Redeemer and the Sanctifier."

12. On Father Z's blog today: The priest substitutes the words "I absolve you" with "I forgive you" at the end of a Confession.

I don't expect you to give the answers to these, Adoro. But I think that these examples show how incredibly important the words and actions of the Sacraments can be.

Adoro said...

Ray, you have a mix there of valid and invalid and mostly illicit things. So, here goes, although someone more knowledgable than I should check the answers:

1. What words? If words of the consecration = likely invalid sacrament.

2. Illicit

3. Illicit

4. Illicit, I think. If the words of consecration are there, it might still be a Valid sacrament, but I would worry about that one.

5. As long as the priest says the words properly, it's still valid. But the act of having the congregations ay the words is invalid and illicit both. Meaning...if it is ONLY the congregation saying the words, they (we) have no supernatural authority so the consecration would nto take place. Otherwise, it's illicit, and we should NOT be doing things to piss off God!

6. Still valid, but illicit.

7. Good chance of being invalid.

8. Illicit and shameful

9. Illicit, liturgical abuse, shameful, and rampant abuse of Our Lord and Savior

10. Illicit

11. Invalid. Those people have to be contacted in order to be baptized because there were not so before. The formula you cited is Sabellianism, ie Modalism and was declared a heresy in the first few centries of the Church. And if that "baptism" is what occurred, then any subsequent sacraments received are ALSO invalid.

12. Not sure about that one if it invalidates or not, ask a priest! A good one who has been properly formed!


Unknown said...

Thank you, Adoro!

That must have been a lot of effort. But I have been thinking about these issues for a long time in my unwanted role of "liturgy cop."

I try not to judge, but I was told once by someone I respect that my nature in life is to be a "detached critic." I do that naturally a lot.

Thanks again.


Adoro said...

Ray ~ Actually, no. I think you just complicate the matter with a misunderstanding of what's MOST important in the Mass. I'm not justifying something that is an abuse, but rather, our main question needs to be, with regard to the it VALID or NOT? And if NOT, then we need to DO something about that.

The other stuff is liturgical abuse, and that's a whole different topic, because under Canon Law, we have the RIGHT to attend a Mass that is celebrated properly. Meaning the priest has no right to change things even if they don't invalidate the Mass. If he does this, he infringes on the rights of the faithful, EVEN if the "faithful" endorse the monkey business.

The Church, as you know, is NOT a Democracy, and the only reason people endorse such an idea is because of solid ignorance as to what the Church is and what she isn't.

I could go on but should stop...

Joe of St. Thérèse said...

Forgive wouldn't incompass the full meaning of the latin absolvo. As I was reading, it means to acquit of a crime...That being said, the intent covers that half...Ego te absolvo peccatis the proper form for the Latin rite. To change the word to forgive for example we'd want to say invalid, but it wouldn't be since the substance of the Sacrament hasn't changed...This might take some clarification from the CDF

Anonymous said...

7. The priest uses pita bread for the Consecration.

Is the Pita bread made out of wheat?

I ask this question because we were, for years in our church, victims of liberal, kumbaya lunacy.

One of the things they decided to do to foster community was to bake their own altar bread and serve it in little bread baskets rather than cibora, and on Holy Thursday, no less!

This was fine the first year, but then they decided that this altar bread was kind of tasteless, so from then on, they added honey.

When I learned how things were supposed to be, I was furious! For the past 11 years or so, on the commemoration of the first Mass I didn't even receive valid communion.

Todd Flowerday from Catholic Sensibility set me straight, and I had to eat crow (and crow tastes much better eaten warm :)).

The rule is, if it appears for all intents and purposes wheat bread, then it is valid but not necessarily licit. Liciety (is that the word) is determined by whether it is unlevened bread which contains only wheat.

We have ultra-low gluten hosts for a few celiac sufferers in our church. These are both licit and valid, because they have .0001% gluten (or something to that effect) that makes it bread.

Rice hosts, on the other hand are both invalid and illicit.

Sandra said...

Glad I found you. This Saturday I went to a First Communion Mass in a church I no longer attend. The priest had the kids come up around the altar during consecration and had a boy hold up the chalice during the doxology. I couldn't bear to watch. A lay person poured the pitcher of the Blood of Christ into the cups for distribution and the priest took communion at the same time as the Extraordinary Ministers of the Eucharist. I have never seen him clean out the sacred vessels for daily or Sunday Mass. I've drafted a letter to the Bishop on this and just want to make sure I'm not out of line. I'm so thankful my daughter is making her First Holy Communion next week elsewhere.

Adoro said...

Sandra ~ Thank for your comment. You should first address the issue with the priest, which you can do in writing, and make sure you date it and retain a copy. If you go straight to the Bishop, what's going to happen is that at the chancery they will ask you if you first spoke with the priest, and they'll tell you to do so. If you can say that you've done that and you've given him time to respond to you (he has 3 months), then you can provide that proof, or any response he has, if it's a negative one. At that point, the Bishop will have 3 months to respond to your very legitimate complaint.

Good luck!