Interpreting liturgical documents

It seems that other threads have drifted into this arena of discussion, so I thought I’d start a thread on this.

Quite often, different documents get discussed as to how they are interpreted on this liturgical matter or that. Many times as well, there are sections that are somewhat vague and left open for interpretation.

My question for discussion is who has the authority to interpret such documents? Everyone? Clergy? Scholars?

I would think the bishop would be the final authority if there were a dispute. Barring that, the local pastor. Differences of opinion between bishops would naturally be brought up at conferences.

Often, the Vatican will purposely leave some rules vague (because there maybe some wiggle room, or some situations that it is okay, or because there are cultural reasons that it would be acceptable, etc.) In cases such as this, the Bishop has the final say so. It’s actually surprising how much say-so a bishop has for what goes on in his diocese liturgy-wise.
When the Bishop has not made a ruling on a particular question in regards to the Liturgy, the pastor would be the next choice. He is the pastor of that parish, and therefore (hopefully) knows the needs of his parishoners in regards to the Liturgy.

However, it is all Catholics’ Liturgy, and therefore all Catholics should be prepared to attack severe liturgical abuse when it occures (emphasis on severe. There are some minor liturgical abuses that become nitpicking, makes us miss the point of the Mass, and/or causes more problems than benefits). Therefore, the laity must, at the same time, understand the liturgical documents.

While there is a heirarchy, it is not a strict heirarchy (the laity should approach the priest and, if necessary, the bishop if the priest is doing something such as adlibing the words of Consecration). There are other times when it is best just to accept the pastor’s or bishop’s ruling or dicision something, even if we think it goes against liturgical law (in minor things, of course, and not those of a serious nature).

[LIST]
*]Pope has ultimate authority.
*]CDW&DS has literal authority.
*]The individual Bishop interprets for the diocese within the limits set by higher authority
*]Where given the authority Bishops’ Committees can interpret on certain issues.
[/LIST]

For the most part Church documents are written on the principle that early US law held to: the plain reading is usually the correct one. There are some guidelines for reading certain elements (rubrics for the posture of the people are not meant to be overly binding, rubrics for the priest are absolutely binding), so anyone with a little time can understand them correctly.

It is also important to note that vague is not necessarily the same as open to interpretation. [edited]

Other people have given good answers above, but there is something you do need to think about when looking at something like Canon Law. The Vatican, like most of Europe uses the CIvil Law system, unlike Canada, the US, and the UK who use the Common Law system. You can’t look at them the same way you’d look at an American law.

The Catholic Church is not a Church of the written letter that everyone interprets for themselves. He have no record of anything that Jesus wrote. Rather he told his disciples all authority is given to you. This apostolic authority is carried today by the Holy Father, in union with all the bishops.

That is the ultimate way the Church operates. Now, this authority can and must be delegated to others to see that everything is done. First, of course, the bishop can allow priests to operate under his authority. He in turn may need to delegate to staff members or laymen. They in turn can ask help of others all the way down to the magic eight ball I use for picking hymns.

Now, this authority can also work back up through this chain to the bishop, since all that happens is under his direct authority. Now there are some areas where the lay people have been permitted to appeal even higher than the bishops. These areas are spelled out in canon law.

Now as to the documents. Who interprets them? Anyone who is in a position to make decisions along that chain may interpret them in order to aid his decision. Who else? Any can decide for themselves for the purpose of debate, if they like to do that. If one wants to question something done in liturgy to a priest or even a bishop, then at that point the person hearing the plea will act in accord to his understanding. For most items, this will stop with the bishop.

Actually unlike parts of Canada. Quebec uses the Civil Law system for all non-criminal law within provincial jurisdiction. The rest of Canada is Common Law.

That’s a very good question! It seems to be a question that many “serious” Catholics do not grasp. Ultimately in most cases your local bishop is the man who is responsible for interpreting and enforcing Church documents.

Some people will get very exercised over a given issue that is either very vague, not formally defined at all or they dig-up some obscure document they feel supports their own personal position. What they should do instead in such cases is talk to their bishop.

Sorry, I was trying to be too general. I also missed Louisiana which is similar to Quebec.

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