Are priests and bishops employees of the Holy See? I don’t think so. I doubt our US court system will ultimately allow a lawsuit to go forward on the grounds that they are Vatican employees.
But still, I sure wouldn’t want to be called into court as a witness in this case. (I can relax, I think – I rather doubt they’ll be looking for the liturgical angle on this.) I imagine a rather painful round of being questioned by a lawyer from the other side:
* * * * *
May the priest allow lay people to purify the Communion vessels in the sacristy after Mass? No, he does not have the legal authority.
May the Bishop give authority to priests to permit lay purification? No, he may not.
Who decided this issue? The Holy Father personally decreed recently that purification of vessels may not be done by laity.
So the decision of the Holy Father on this small detail is binding on every Catholic parish and community of the world? Yes.
Did the Second Vatican Council give bishops’ conferences the right of final approval for liturgical translations? Yes.
Did the Council provide for review or approval of translations by the Holy See? No; the discussion at the Council shows that this was explicitly not given to the Holy See by the Council fathers.
How are vernacular liturgical texts now approved? The Holy See has decided, in successive decisions since Vatican II, that it has the right of approval, then recognitio, and finally the right to impose its own translations upon conferences.
Did the bishops of the world have a say in these legal changes? No. A cardinal from the U.S. who sits on the Roman Sacred Congregation for Divine Worship was taken by surprise when the document with that last change appeared on the Vatican website in 2001.
May a priest licitly decide to use only one chalice for the Eucharistic prayer, and then pour sacred species from a flagon into several chalices at the Agnus Dei of the Mass? No. The Holy See has decreed that if several chalices are used, wine must be poured into the chalices at the offertory and may not be poured after being consecrated.
* * * * *
The Holy See can’t have it both ways – increasing liturgical centralism and downright micromanagement on the one hand, legal protestations of the independence of bishops and priests on the other. It would be nice if the Catholic Church were to move to a more balanced model of governance, not just to avoid hugely expensive legal settlements, but to renew herself from within her own deep traditions and from the teachings of the Second Vatican Council. But however it comes about, I’ll take it.
I want to think seriously about this issue all morning. Then, I’m going to ask the Pope for a slightly longer lunch break.