No, what comes to my mind while reading Francis’ words in context were not examples of persons who ask “only” whether it is licit to do this or that or only whether the Church has such and such power (for few people are so narrow as to have only such concerns), but instead, the number of times over the years that persons have framed questions to me such as: where does canon law expressly prohibit contraception? (no where); when has a pope solemnly condemned the Pill? (never); what paragraph in the Catechism says I can’t attend a Catholic’s wedding outside the Church? (none); or where did Vatican II condemn ‘same-sex marriage’ (it didn’t).
In each instance (I could recite many others) wherein I answered these questions negatively—as one, who strives for the precision that truth requires, must answer them—that negative reply is triumphantly taken as endorsement of a license to act oppositely of what the Church unquestionably holds and believes in such matters! My immediate attempts to point out that a narrow reading of ecclesiastical documentation does not always get at the fullness of the Catholic faith which believing Christians must embrace, are dismissed as personal opinion.
I think this is interesting if read in the light of the Liturgy and Sacraments forum. Too often we find ourselves digging up documents, or demanding documentation, of what we can and can’t do in the liturgy. Sometimes we say it’s not permitted, because we can’t find it addressed. Sometimes we say it’s an abuse. Sometimes we see priests and bishops who appear to be acting contrary to the law and yet how could hundreds of them be wrong? So sometimes it is necessary to step back and look at the bigger picture.
Some of the online games I play have a catch-all clause in the Terms of Service known as “Spirit of the Game”. This is frequently invoked by people against someone who is seen to be cheating or griefing or just doing something we don’t like, but it isn’t specifically prohibited by the rules, and we say they are acting contrary to the Spirit of the Game. The same can be said of liturgy. Sometimes this is a dangerous concept; of course as I wrote this I conjured up that dreadful image of the Spirit of Vatican II. On the other hand there is the book, Spirit of the Liturgy, by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger. Inspiration of the Holy Spirit can be an elusive thing, and very contentious. We need to practice much prayer and discernment in order to determine whether those things we wish to do comport with the true spirit of liturgy, that desire for right belief and right worship that is written on the heart of every human being.