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THE NEW CODE OF CANON LAW

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NUNS AND SISTERS

BY REV. J. KINANE, D.C.L.

III

OBLIGATIONS

THE first canon in the chapter on the obligations of Religious is of very little practical importance for our present purpose. All religious,' it states, are bound to the common obligations of clerics treated of in Canons 124142, except it appears otherwise from the context or from the nature of the case' (c. 592). Now, from the nature of things, very few of these canons can affect nuns and sisters. In the rare cases in which they do bind them, as, for example, in regard to occupations and amusements unbecoming their state, their own sense of propriety will constitute a safe guide as to the nature and extent of the obligation. The next canon is a much more important one; it prescribes that all religious, Superioresses as well as subjects, are bound not only to faithfully and integrally observe the vows of which they have made profession, but also to order their lives in accordance with the rules and constitutions of their Institute, and so tend to the perfection of their state' (c. 593). The obligation to observe the vows exists from the very nature of the case, and so would exist, even though there were no special canon on the point. We have already dealt in our last article with some slight changes, introduced by the Code, in connexion with the vow of poverty. As no modifications have been made in regard to the obligations imposed by the other two vows, there is no need to dwell on this subject further.

From the very nature of the case, too, religious are bound to order their lives in accordance with the rules and constitutions of their Institute. Entrance into the religious state, of its very nature, binds them to tend towards perfection, and the Church recognizes conformity with the

rules and constitutions as the ordinary means of effecting this purpose. To state, however, that religious are bound to order their lives in accordance with the rule, does not at all imply that they are bound to observe each and every portion of it. The general tenor of their lives may be quite in accordance with the rules-that is all that is here prescribed-even though religious violate occasionally individual rules. Frequent lapses, therefore, are necessary to infringe upon this precept; and a general contempt of rule must be manifested, or serious danger of expulsion must be incurred, before it is gravely violated.2

Although the duty of tending towards perfection does not at all imply that individual rules bind in conscience, yet they sometimes do so of their own very nature. If, indeed, they were merely counsels or exhortations, they have, of course, no binding force; but, when they are strict ecclesiastical laws, as is usually the case, an obligation in conscience is necessarily connected with them. But, even in this latter case, the nature of the obligation is not always the same. In some Institutes the rules and constitutions are ordinary moral laws imposing a grave obligation in grave matter and a light obligation in light matter; in others they always impose a merely venial obligation; whilst in others-we think they are the great majoritythey are purely penal laws, that is to say, they bind in conscience, not to observe the rules themselves, but to suffer the punishments attached to their violation.

"In every religious Institute, all must carefully observe the common life, even in matters of food, clothing, and furniture' (c. 594, §1). From the time of the Council of Trent the Church has frequently insisted upon the observance of the common life as a part of religious discipline.* Nevertheless, contrary customs have grown up in certain Institutes, in virtue of which individual members of a community are allowed to possess money or property distinct from that of the community, and use it for their own private purposes. These customs are, we think, subject to the general rule contained in Canon 5. Consequently the higher Superiors may tolerate those that are immemorial

1 Cf. Vermeersch, De Religiosis, Tom. i. n. 224, et seq.

2 Cf. ibid.

3 Sеsɓ. 25, c. 2, De Reg.

4 Cf. Decret. S. C. super Disciplina Reg., 1695; Litterae Ency., Pii IX, 1851; Piat, Prael. Juris Reg., Tom. i., q. 276; Vermeersch, op. cit. n. 281.

or centenary, if circumstances render it inadvisable to remove them. This point, however, is not of much importance for Institutes of women, as amongst them the common life has been very generally observed. It must be remembered that the radical ownership of property, without its use and administration, permitted by simple profession, is not opposed in any way to the strictest observance of the common life. The same is also true of the reservation of their personal clothing for the exclusive use of individuals; in fact, hygienic reasons make this proceeding a necessity." The furniture allowed to religious for the adornment of their cells or rooms must be in accordance with the poverty which they profess (c. 594, § 3).

We have already seen that whatever religious acquire by their own industry after simple profession, or in any other way after solemn profession, belongs to their Institute. It should be immediately incorporated in the goods of the house, or of the Province, or of the Institute, and all the money and letters should be deposited in a common safe (c. 594, § 2).

Canon 595 deals with the exercises of piety which form portion of the religious life. It, however, imposes obligations directly only upon Superioresses; so far as the ordinary rank and file are concerned, its regulations are merely directive :

'§ 1. Superioresses must take care that all religious :'1°. Make an annual retreat.' The duration of the retreat is not determined; and, hence, this will be a matter for the constitutions or for the Superioresses themselves.

'2°. Daily assist at Mass, except legitimately impeded, make the meditation, and faithfully perform the other exercises of piety prescribed by the rules and constitutions. '3°. Approach the sacrament of Penance at least once a week.

§ 2. Superioresses should promote amongst their subjects the frequent, even daily, reception of Holy Communion; and liberty must be given to every properly disposed religious to approach frequently, even daily, the most Holy Eucharist. As Canon 863 contains a virtual approbation of the decree on frequent Communion issued by our late Holy Father, Pope Pius X, it follows that the conditions there prescribed as necessary and sufficient for the daily

1 Cf. Normae, § 128; Battandier, Guide Canonique, n. 227. VOL. XIII-8

reception of the Holy Eucharist will still hold. Under the new discipline, therefore, the only indispensable requirements are freedom from mortal sin, a pure intention, and the advice of a confessor.

'§ 3. If, however, a religious has, since her last sacramental confession, given scandal to the community, or committed a serious external fault, the Superioress can forbid her to receive Holy Communion until she shall have again approached the sacrament of Penance.' As a general rule, the individual herself and her confessor are the sole judges on the question of fitness to receive Holy Communion; the Superioress has not a word to say to the matter. This section enunciates an exception to the rule, and is in full accord with the general principle that public sinners are to be excluded from the reception of the Blessed Eucharist until they have done penance and removed the scandal which they have given. The expression, grave external fault,' is somewhat ambiguous. We take it, however, that, in accordance with the general principles on this subject, 'external' is here equivalent to 'public'; otherwise the action of the Superioress might clash with the natural right of the subject to her reputation. The point, however, is not of too much importance, as a grave external fault is nearly always public in a religious community.

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§ 4. If in any Institute, whether of solemn or simple vows, the rules or constitutions, or even the calendars, assign or prescribe certain fixed days for the reception of Holy Communion, such regulations are to be regarded as merely directive.' Hence, if religious refrain from receiving Holy Communion on these occasions, their omissions are not in the least sinful. The very self-same regulation is to be found in the decree on frequent Communion already referred

to.

The obligation in regard to dress is practically unchanged. All religious,' it is stated, shall wear the habit proper to their Institute both inside and outside the house, except, in the judgment of the higher Superioress, or, in case of urgency, even of the local Superioress, a grave cause excuses' (c. 596).

The next obligation dealt with is that of enclosure. As the papal enclosure, binding on strict Orders of nuns, is of very little practical importance for this country, and as besides it remains practically unmodified by the Code, we may confine our attention to this obligation as it affects

Congregations, whether with diocesan or papal approval. The subject is treated in Canons 604-607. The first section of Canon 604 states that in the houses also of religious Congregations, whether with papal or diocesan approval, the law of enclosure must be observed so that no one of the other sex may be admitted there, excepting those mentioned in . Canon 600, and others whom the Superioresses consider may, for just and reasonable motives, be admitted.'

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It is not determined, either here or subsequently, how far the law of enclosure should extend; and, hence, just as in the past, there is room for a variety of discipline. In some Congregations it affects the whole house, just as in the case of strict Orders; whereas in others it affects merely a part. Writing on this subject, Battandier thinks that this partial enclosure should contain at least the community room, the dormitory, and the infirmary. This, however, is merely an opinion: there is no legislation on the point. According to the section which we have just quoted, those of the opposite sex are to be excluded from the portion of the house subject to the law of enclosure with the exception of the following persons:

1°. The local Ordinary visiting the convent or other Visitators delegated by him, but only for the purpose of inspection and on condition that they be accompanied by one cleric of mature age.

2o. The Confessor or his substitute can, with due precautions, enter the enclosure to administer the sacraments to the sick, or to assist the dying.

3°. Rulers of States with their retinue; and also Cardinals.

4°. The Superioress, after taking due precautions, can permit the doctor, the surgeon, and others whose work is necessary, to enter the enclosure, having previously obtained at least the habitual approval of the local Ordinary; but if urgent necessity does not allow time to seek this approval, she may presume the permission.

5°. Others also, for just and reasonable causes, may be admitted by the Superioress, with, however, the restriction mentioned in the preceding number.

Even to places outside of the enclosure, reserved for

1 Op. cit. n. 28. 'En général cependant, cette partie réservée devrait contenir la salle des exercices ou de communauté, les dortoirs ou les cellules des sœurs et l'infirmerie.'

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