It has been a busy few weeks for me in the parish and it looks like things will only get busier as Forty Hours Devotions begin this evening in preparation for our Corpus Christi procession. Then it will be on to closing school Masses and graduations with a few weddings thrown in before I begin packing my belongings to undertake a new assignment. So, in the meantime, I will answer a few questions that have come my way and make a plug for a fine group of men with whom I spent a few days visiting: the Canons Regular of St. John Cantius in Chicago. I was with them for some tutoring in how to celebrate the Missa cantata in the extraordinary form. The canons are a vibrant young community involved in many activities. One of them is offering workshops which train priests and seminarians how to celebrate and serve the extraordinary form. It is an invaluable service to the Church. They do it well, without any fussiness, without any pretension, simply out of a love for the liturgy in both forms (both of which they offer with extraordinary splendour and beauty in their parish church.) You can find more on their web site: www.canons-regular.org
One reader asked me about the duties of a Cathedral rector. This title is a bit of a misnomer. Sometimes the priest who is given charge of the Cathedral is called a rector. It seems to be an honourary title because he is the pastor of the Cathedral parish. In fact, several distinctions need to be made. The canons do not expressly deal with this subject as I will try to explain.
Canon law neither defines a cathedral nor deals directly with it. Cathedrals are the places where the bishop takes possession of his diocese (c. 382), in which the diocesan bishop is to celebrate Mass often (c. 389), where ordinations are to be celebrated (c. 1011), and where the funeral and burial of bishops are to occur (cc. 1178, 1242). As we can see, cathedrals are mentioned all over the code, but only in passing when dealing with other subjects.
The cathedral church, besides being the seat of the bishop, can also be a parish church. It doesn’t have to be, but it often is. If the cathedral is also a parish, then, properly speaking, a pastor is appointed to it. If the cathedral church is not a parish, then, properly speaking, a rector is appointed to it. Here the Code helps us out a bit (cc. 556-563).
Rectors according to c. 556, “are here understood to be priests to whom is entrusted the care of some church which is neither a parochial nor a capitular church, nor a church attached to the house of a religious community or a society of apostolic life which holds services in it.” Now that’s a mouthful. What does it mean?
Parish churches are clear enough. I don’t believe there are any capitular churches in North America; they are more common in Europe where canons (people, not laws!) are appointed. A chapter of canons is a college of priests who have the duty of celebrating the more solemn liturgical functions in a particular church (c. 503). You see canons in the major basilicas of Rome, for example. They are often vested in mantelleta and biretta for mass or vespers. Religious orders often have chapels (some the size of basilicas) where the faithful go to Mass. For example, we could think of a church on the campus of a Catholic university campus, like Notre Dame. It’s not a parish church, but people go there. It would have a rector, not a pastor, in charge. In other words, a rector is the priest in charge of a church which is not a parish, or a religious ‘chapel.’
A rector is limited in what he can do. Because his church is located within the territory of a parish, he must not interfere in the work or authority of the pastor. For example, he may not baptise; administer Viaticum, Confirmation in danger of death, or Anointing of the Sick; solemnise Marriage; conduct funerals; bless the baptismal font at Easter; or conduct processions outside the Church without the consent of the pastor. His church, in other words, is not to be a rival church to the parish. Perhaps the church is a shrine of some sort where the faithful gather. The rector looks after it; however, and this is a good reminder, those faithful still belong to a parish. The shrine and its liturgical functions ought not to substitute for participation in one’s proper parish.
Now, back to canon 556 and its definition of a rector. Did you notice that little word, “here” (hic in the official text)? Rectors are “here” understood to mean… In other words, rector is understood to mean something different “there” in other places in the Code. Unfortunately, there are no “other” places in the Code. Some poor editing of the Code? Perhaps. Is there another definition of rector that somehow never made it in the Code, like a Cathedral Rector? Maybe, but there doesn’t seem to be evidence for that. So a rector is in charge of a church which is not a parish.
To answer the question put to me by a new “rector” of a Cathedral, “What are my duties?”, I would answer, that your duties are those of a pastor because that is, in fact, what you are (unless your Cathedral is NOT also a parish.)