I was introduced to Canon 838 and surrounding. My understanding is that the bishop is free to do whatever he wants liturgically provided that the Apostolic See has not decreed to the contrary. Of course, he is meant to preserve the heritage of the Church, but in a strictly legal sense he gains a lot of leeway.
I’m pretty sure that the Missale Romanum has authority from the Apostolic See and thus outranks the bishop. Does the GIRM also outrank the bishop? Also, do declarations by the USCCB that are contrary to the GIRM and/or Missal outrank either of these? Are there specific texts/canons that make the hierarchy clear?
I wanted to consult a good canonist on this one.
Here is what I have come up with from my consultation.
In the Latin Church the moderation of the liturgy lies primarily with the Holy See. That said can. 838 establishes that the diocesan bishop has a moderating role over the liturgy “according to the norm of law” (par. 1) and “within the limits of his competence” (par. 4).
The General Institution (not Instruction) of the Roman Missal is an essential part of the the Missale Romanum.
In English the GIRM (or variously IGRM) is often mistranslated as the General Instruction (I have done that a lot). Thus, some liturgists and canonists want to apply to it the principles of canon 34. The General Institution of the Roman Missal is part and parcel of the whole. The things which are established as normative by the General Institution, as well as the approved text of the Missal itself, are not subject to alteration by an individual diocesan bishop.
The adaptations to the GIRM made by bishops’ conferences are subject to recognitio by the Holy See.
If the bishops as a conference wish to alter some portion of the Missal or the GIRM they can only do so with that recognitio – which is not exactly a permission, but rather an acknowledgment that the proposed adaptation is reasonable and within the competence of the bishops’ conference. Not all the proposals of bishops’ conferences around the world have been granted a recognitio. Some proposals from the USCCB, once given recognitio, have had that recognitio withdrawn (e.g. the proposal to allow the Precious Blood to be consecrated in a flagon and then poured, after consecration, into individual chalices was granted recognitio, then, after Redemptionis Sacramentum, this recognitio was withdrawn.). Once granted that recognitio, the proposed adaptations have the same force, in that territory, as the GIRM itself. Until they don’t, apparently. We have to pay attention to changes.
An individual diocesan bishop’s role in directing the liturgy is left to those areas of the liturgy that have not been regulated by a higher authority.
For example, a diocesan bishop could regulate that only white wine be used for Holy Mass, or that every altar in his diocese be rectangular. If he wished to derogate from some norm in either the universal norms or the adaptations approved by the bishops’ conference, he would need the direct approval from the Holy See. Such derogations are seldom granted. The bishop would need a good reason. In matters of the calendar, for example, he would probably get a good hearing from Rome if he wanted to emphasize some locally important feast or saint.
Canon 838 is pretty clear in laying out the hierarchy of authority over the liturgy.
The presumption is that the bishop will not seek to do harm to the liturgy. Rather, in keeping with the whole of the legislation and of the Missal itself, it is presumed that the bishop will see his role as that of preserving the liturgy from abuse and recognizing the right of the faithful to the authentic liturgy of the Church (can. 214).
If an individual bishop exceeds his authority, or uses it capriciously, the faithful have the right to seek recourse to a higher authority. That authority is the Congregation for Divine Worship in Rome. The law gives the bishop lots of latitude. Some have abused that latitude. Yet the latitude comes from the fact that a bishop is a successor to the Apostles, not merely the Pope’s branch manager.
There is a tension here, no doubt, but the principles are clear. In specific instances of abuses, people have recourse.
I am sure this will earn me another shout from Fishwrap as “TEMPLE POLICE!” I can live with that.