"Where It is Custom"? Canon Law Question

The Church allows some practices “where it is custom”. For example, using a Sanctus candle at Low Mass, using black vestments at an OF funeral, saying the Confiteor before Communion in the TLM.

What does the Church define as “where it is custom”? Can someone go into detail and explain? Thank you.

Per the Code of Canon Law:

Can. 23 Only that custom introduced by a community of the faithful and approved by the legislator according to the norm of the following canons has the force of law.

Can. 24 §1. No custom which is contrary to divine law can obtain the force of law.
§2. A custom contrary to or beyond canon law (praeter ius canonicum) cannot obtain the force of law unless it is reasonable; a custom which is expressly reprobated in the law, however, is not reasonable.

Can. 25 No custom obtains the force of law unless it has been observed with the intention of introducing a law by a community capable at least of receiving law.

Can. 26 Unless the competent legislator has specifically approved it, a custom contrary to the canon law now in force or one beyond a canonical law (praeter legem canonicam) obtains the force of law only if it has been legitimately observed for thirty continuous and complete years. Only a centenary or immemorial custom, however, can prevail against a canonical law which contains a clause prohibiting future customs.

Can. 27 Custom is the best interpreter of laws.

Can. 28 Without prejudice to the prescript of can. 5, a contrary custom or law revokes a custom which is contrary to or beyond the law (praeter legem). Unless it makes express mention of them, however, a law does not revoke centenary or immemorial customs, nor does a universal law revoke particular customs.

That’s the boundaries thereof. I’ll poke around, I think I can find my notes from Canon Law class on what a custom is etc.


You ask good questions. The question I would have on this is that since the Code went into effect in 1984, does that mean all customs recognized since 1954 or before will hold true until further notice? Seems as if it’s cheating a bit to have any custom developed since then protected.

And the Code comes to the rescue to answer your question:

Can. 5 §1. Universal or particular customs presently in force which are contrary to the prescripts of these canons and are reprobated by the canons of this Code are absolutely suppressed and are not permitted to revive in the future. Other contrary customs are also considered suppressed unless the Code expressly provides otherwise or unless they are centenary or immemorial customs which can be tolerated if, in the judgment of the ordinary, they cannot be removed due to the circumstances of places and persons.
§2. Universal or particular customs beyond the law (praeter ius) which are in force until now are preserved.


This would be a “custom” that is recognized by the local Ordinary (usually meaning the Bishop of that Diocese).

I will go into detail and explain, by way of an example. In Ireland, their patron Saint’s observance (St. Patrick’s Day, celebrated on March 17) usually falls in the season of Lent. Many Catholic individuals and Parishes honor this day with a dinner of corned beef and hash. But - if the day occurs on a Friday in Lent, then celebrants have a problem, because of the beef thing on a Friday (especially in Lent).

A Bishop may recognize a significant Irish community within his Diocese (even if it is not in Ireland) and dispense the usual Friday abstinence to permit the “customary” Irish meal in honor of St. Patrick’s Day. This happened in my own (Arch)Diocese, where our (Arch)Bishop dispensed the “Friday Obligation” on a St. Patrick’s Day that occurred on a Friday in Lent. Technically, we could eat burgers at Wendy’s on that day, but we could also attend one of the many “corned beef and hash dinners” that many Parishes host each year.

So, speaking hypothetically, if an FSSP priest in the United States wanted to use a Sanctus candle at Low Mass, could he? Would he need permission in order to use it?

If the Sanctus candle was part of the rubrics in effect in 1962, then Summorum Pontificum would indicate that yes, it would be used. I don’t think it’s a matter of custom in that case so much as it is the law as in force now (per that motu proprio and what it allows for).


Actually, SP does not mention anything about the Sanctus candle. It’s use was made optional in 1960, as it was technically required at Low Mass, but no priest followed the rubrics, even in Rome, so the Holy See made it optional, and permitted it “where it is custom”.

The 1962 Missal makes no mention of the Sanctus candle. But, it is mentioned in Pope John XXIII’s Code of Rubrics.

Does this mean it’s not allowed at all?

If the Code of Rubrics of John XXIII was what was in force in 1962, then per the provisions of Summorum Pontificum, that’s what you do.


So, since it may be used, the “custom” part is irrelevant? So could a priest use the Sanctus candle at Low Mass freely?

Yes. In this case, there is already an allowance made by the document SP, that whatever was in force in 1962 is allowed to be used now, so the question of custom becomes moot. And generally, custom refers to something more localized, whereas, as I understand it, the use of the Sanctus candle at Low Mass, by more recent centuries had become a standard usage.


DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit www.catholic.com.