“You’re kidding, right? What could possibly be cool about a huge book of rules and regulations. Most Catholics have never even seen the book and couldn’t care less what’s in it.
OK. I know it’s not on everybody’s book shelf but I’m more interested in the contents than in the book itself. Every Catholic is impacted by the Code of Canon Law whether they know it or not. I hate to pick on McDonald’s again, (see Et Cum Spiritu Tuo)but you may recall in an earlier post I pointed out that every single McDonald’s in the world is operated according to a set of rules. Big Macs come with special sauce. Quarter Pounders come with catsup, mustard, and pickles. All of those rules are written down somewhere. The same goes for the Church.
If you’ve ever had a Catholic wedding, you’ve been affected by the Code. If you’ve been baptized, if you’ve been confirmed, if you belong to a parish, you’re affected by the Code. Every single aspect of Catholicism is covered. Granted it’s hard to read. Granted it can be confusing. But that’s why we have canon lawyers. These men, just like civil lawyers, are trained on what’s in the code and how to interpret it.
Here’s the thing. The Church is 2,000 years old, the oldest institution on earth. You don’t last for 20 centuries if everybody’s running around doing their own thing. We have over a billion members. Think of the chaos if we were all free agents.
As a deacon, there are some things I can do and many more things I can’t. For example, I can marry you, but in each case I have to be delegated by the pastor of the church where the wedding takes place. Even priests have to be delegated if they perform a wedding at a parish other than their own. Only a pastor, acting in his own church, can perform a valid wedding without delegation from someone. He’s already received that power from the bishop when he was assigned to his parish.
So, to make myself clear: The huge book isn’t so cool. Some canon lawyers are cool, but some aren’t. Surprisingly, most of the ones I know are very cool. It’s what the Code does that’s cool. Where the Catechism of the Catholic Church is the handbook for lay Catholics, the Code of Canon Law is the handbook for the clergy. When a Catholic girl from Chicago and a Buddhist guy from Houston walk into my church in Saint Louis and announce that they want to be married with the ceremony performed by the bride’s uncle who’s a priest living in Las Vegas and, oh, by the way, the potential groom has been married before, I may not know exactly what to do (other than hide under my desk), but I know where to find out. It’s in the book.
The Code of Canon law is very cool.
Note: There’s a searchable online version of the Code if you don’t want to invest the money to get your own copy.