The number one trusted online resource for Catholic values
A+ A A-

Some Useful Terms - Envoys Canon Law 101


An aid to understanding My Journey out of the Lefebvre Schism.

The following list of terms is meant to accompany the Envoy magazine article:
My Journey out of the Lefebvre Schism

vatican789Anathema: A formal condemnation by the Church of a certain theological position that is contrary to Catholic faith and morals.

Canon law: The implementation and interpretation of law within the Church. This allows the Church to function smoothly in carrying out her work of saving souls.

Censure: Another name for a medicinal penalty, or a penalty intended to help the offender repent and return to the heart of the Church. The Code of Canon Law presently contains three censures: suspension, interdict, and excommunication.

CIEL: French acronym for the "International Center of Liturgical Study," ciel is also the French word for "heaven." One of the most dynamic lay initiatives to arise from the Ecclesia Dei movement, CIEL is a group of young intellectuals seeking to promote non-polemical academic dialogue on the 1962 liturgy, while strengthening the Ecclesia Dei movement's foundation in the Second Vatican Council, fidelity to the Holy See and diocesan bishops, and communion with the rest of the Church. In October 2000, CIEL launched an official United States delegation.

Code of Canon Law: A legal compilation of seven books that contain the basic laws of the Latin Church. (Eastern Catholics have their own Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches.) The seven books are as follows: General Norms; People of God; The Teaching Office of the Church; The Sanctifying Office of the Church; Temporal Goods; Penal Law; and Procedural Law.

Custom: A common practice arising within a church community that through constant repetition becomes the law within that community, even if the custom is not written down anywhere. Canon law holds that custom is the best interpreter of the law. For example, it is the custom in some parishes to kneel for consecration before the Sanctus, whereas it is the custom in other parishes to kneel after the Sanctus.

Discipline of the faith: A practice of the faith that is not of itself doctrinal, but is meant to help us observe the Church's teaching. In other words, it is something the Church asks us to do in order to help us focus on God's commandments.

Declare sentence: A public declaration by the competent Church authority that someone has incurred an automatic penalty according to canon law. This is different from an imposed penalty, in which a judge imposes a penalty after a Church trial.

Ecclesia Dei Adflicta: Pope John Paul II's 1988 apostolic constitution declaring Archbishop Lefebvre and the SSPX excommunicated. In order to help reconcile the traditionalists with the Church, this document also expands permission for bishops to allow the Tridentine Mass in their diocese.

Ecclesia Dei movement: A movement in full communion with the Roman Pontiff and the Catholic Church that adheres to the 1962 liturgical Missal according to the special permission granted by Pope John II in his 1988 Apostolic Constitution Ecclesia Dei Adflicta.

Episcopal vaganti: A wandering bishop not recognized by the Church, or a bishop who claims an official title not recognized by the Church.

Excommunication: The Church's highest censure or medicinal penalty, in which the offender is completely cut off from the daily life of the Church, including sacraments. Excommunication ferendae sententiae: An excommunication imposed as the result of a judgment of a church tribunal.

Excommunication latae sententiae: reserved to the Apostolic See: An automatic excommunication (latae sententiae) that only the Roman Pontiff and his Roman Congregations can remove (thus "reserved to the Apostolic See").

Expiatory penalty: A penalty imposed as a penance, in order to help the offender repair the damage he has done. For example, a Catholic doctor who has repented of the crime of abortion, and had his excommunication removed by the diocesan bishop, may be asked to read Pope Paul VI's papal encyclical Humanae Vitae as an expiatory penalty.

Faculty: The power and permission from the Church to carry out certain acts, such as hearing confessions.

Ferendae sententiae: A penalty imposed after a Church trial in which the offender has been judged guilty of some crime.

General Norms: The first book of the Code of Canon Law, which contains all the basic legal principles through which the rest of canon law is interpreted. For example, canon 18 is a general norm stating that in the interpretation of canon law, those laws that give us favors are to include as many cases as possible, whereas laws that punish us are to include as few cases as possible.

Indult Mass: A Mass offered according to the 1962 Liturgical Missal with the permission of the legitimate diocesan bishop by a priest in full communion with Rome.

Jurisdiction: The power to carry out certain acts among a portion of Christ's faithful. For example, a priest has the jurisdiction to marry people in his parish, but needs the permission of the pastor in a parish across town before marrying people in that parish.

Latae sententiae: An automatic penalty imposed by virtue of the law. For example, a Catholic doctor who performs an abortion is excommunicated latae sententiae under canon law. So long as it is publicly proven he performed an abortion and has not repented, a bishop can simply declare the sentence of excommunication without going through the process of a Church trial.

Latin Church sui iuris: Formerly known as Latin Rite Catholics, the Latin Church sui iuris is composed of those Catholics who descend from the Catholic Church in the West, as opposed to the Christian East. For example, a Melkite Catholic would belong to the Melkite Church sui iuris. The Roman Catholic Church is composed of twenty-two Churches sui iuris.

Legislate: To pass a law (lex) with the intention of binding the faithful to that law. Licit/illicit status: The lawfulness or unlawfulness of a certain act that may or may not affect the validity of that act. For example, an SSPX priest says Mass illicitly because, according to the Catholic Church, it is unlawful for him to say Mass. However, his Mass is still valid because the bread and wine are transubstantiated into the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ when he says the words of consecration.

Medicinal penalty: A penalty not so much intended to punish the offender as to force him to repent and be restored to the Church. For example, a Catholic doctor who commits an abortion is excommunicated in order to force him to repent of his crime. Once he is truly repentant, he has the right to have the excommunication removed and to receive an expiatory penalty.

Mere ecclesiastical law: A law of the Church that is only disciplinary in nature and thus can be changed or dispensed from to meet the needs of the Church. For example, the law that a Catholic cannot marry a catechumen is merely an ecclesiastical law. The bishop can dispense from this law for a good reason.

Mystici Corporis: Pope Pius XII's papal encyclical on the Church as the Mystical Body of Christ.

Novus Ordo Missae: The liturgical missal revised by Pope Paul VI after the Second Vatican Council, which is presently used in the Latin Church sui iuris.

Papal mandate: The approval given by the Roman Pontiff to a bishop in order to licitly consecrate another bishop.

Penalty: A punishment given by the legitimate Church authority to someone who acts contrary to canon law.

Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter (FSSP): A society of apostolic life, similar to a religious order, composed of priests who have been entrusted by Pope John Paul II with the apostolate of ministering the sacraments to Catholics according to the 1962 liturgical missal. It is the largest and best-known priestly institute to arise out of the Ecclesia Dei movement.

Promulgate: To put forward a new law or teaching within the Church. Quo Primum Tempore: St. Pius V's papal bull codifying the Latin liturgy around the time of the Council of Trent.

Roman Pontiff: The bishop of Rome, who occupies the see founded by St. Peter and St. Paul, and who succeeds St. Peter as visible head of the Church. "You mean the Pope?" Not necessarily, because St. Peter founded the See of Antioch before coming to Rome, and thus traditionally, some of the Eastern Patriarchs also legitimately claim the title "Pope." However, there is only one Roman Pontiff in the Church at any given time.

Schism: To break communion with or refuse to subject oneself to the Roman Pontiff or the Church in communion with him.

Sedevacantist: One who believes the Chair of Peter has been empty (sede vacante) since at least the time of the Second Vatican Council. Most sedevacantists, in fact, believe the last valid pope was Pius XII.

Society of St. John (SSJ): A society of apostolic life founded in the Diocese of Scranton, Pennsylvania, with the aspiration of restoring Catholic culture in secular society. Along with the FSSP, the SSJ is one of the most popular institutes of consecrated life working within the Ecclesia Dei movement in North America.

Society of St. Pius X (SSPX): The society of priests and seminarians founded by Archbishop Lefebvre to preserve the pre-Vatican II liturgy. Soon thereafter, they came to reject the Second Vatican Council. In 1988, the SSPX followed Lefebvre into schism when he consecrated four SSPX priests as bishops without Rome's approval.

State of necessity: An emergency situation in which canon law no longer applies because of a greater need for the good of souls. For example, because of Communist persecution in China, a bishop there can ordain a seminarian to the priesthood without requiring that he first finish all his seminary studies.

Subjection to the Roman Pontiff: To submit oneself in obedience to the teaching and discipline of the Pope in Rome.

Supplied jurisdiction: An emergency or unknown situation in which the Church provides jurisdiction in a certain case that is otherwise lacking. For example, a newly ordained priest lacks the faculty to hear confessions because he hasn't passed his jurisdiction exam yet. Suppose that on his way to his jurisdiction exam he comes across a car accident in which a Catholic is seriously injured. The Church would supply this newly ordained priest with jurisdiction to hear the dying Catholic's confession.

Supreme Legislator: The Roman Pontiff when he's using his authority to legislate or interpret canon law.

Suspension: A censure of a cleric in which his rights, obligations and faculties arising from holy orders are removed. For example, a suspended priest is no longer permitted to celebrate Mass or hear confessions.

Tradition: The deposit of faith left by Christ and His apostles, which has been passed down to us through the Church, whose job it is to mediate and interpret for the faithful. Traditional Mass: A Mass offered according to the 1962 liturgical missal, the last liturgical missal before the reforms of Pope Paul VI.

Traditionalist movement: A movement seeking to preserve, and in some cases completely restore, the Tridentine Mass within the Latin Church sui iuris. It is divided into various camps, both inside and outside the Catholic Church.

Tridentine Mass: Another commonly used name for the 1962 Missal which, apart from some minor changes, closely resembles the liturgical missal codified by Pope St. Pius V around the time of the Council of Trent in the sixteenth century.

Valid/invalid status: Validity determines the effectiveness of the act one is attempting to carry out, regardless of whether such an act is licit or illicit (canonically legal or illegal). For example, we've already noted that a Mass is valid when said by an SSPX priest, although illicit. However, if a layman were to dress up as a priest and attempt to celebrate Mass in public, such a Mass would be not only illicit, but invalid as well - it would lack the effects of a true Mass. This is because a non-ordained person cannot transubstantiate the bread and wine into the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ.

This is J. Fraser Field, Founder of CERC. I hope you appreciated this piece. We curate these articles especially for believers like you.

Please show your appreciation by making a $3 donation. CERC is entirely reader supported.



Some useful terms - Envoy's Canon Law 101: An aid to understanding "My Journey out of the Lefebvre Schism". Envoy (March 2001).

Reprinted courtesy of Envoy Magazine.

The Author

Copyright © 2001 Envoy

Subscribe to our Weekly Update

* indicates required