Liturgy and Law: Liturgical Law in the System of Roman Catholic Canon Law

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Liturgy and Law: Liturgical Law in the System of Roman Catholic Canon Law John M. Huels. Wilson & Lafleur Ltée, 2006. 250 pages, paperback. ISBN 2-89127773-2. $34.95 (Canadian).

Liturgy and Law: Liturgical Law in the System of Roman Catholic Church Law is the latest in the Gratianus collection of canon law texts. Authored by John M. Huels, a tenured professor of canon law at Saint Paul University in Ontario, Canada, this book serves not only to place liturgical law in its appropriate context within the broader system of Catholic ecclesiastical law, it also provides clear, concise answers to many frequently asked questions on liturgical issues.

While I suspect this text will become a standard resource work for canonists and liturgists alike, it also belongs on the bookshelves of parish priests and chancery officials. Both of these latter groups are called upon frequently to answer liturgical questions that involve canonical subtleties, and the primary benefit of Liturgy and Law is not only that it provides the proper answers to common questions but also that Huels clearly and succinctly explains the why underlying the answers. In fact, a majority of the work focuses on the underlying principles needed to understand the development, interpretation, and adaptation of liturgical law properly.

It is difficult to overestimate the importance of this contribution to canonical literature, given the recent revision of the Roman Missal and the number of documents on the liturgy regularly issued by the dicasteries of the Roman Curia. Simply to identify whether or not a document is legislatively binding is often a challenge in itself before one can even attempt to interpret or apply it accurately.

Huels does an excellent job of illuminating complex canonical concepts, like custom, which are often invoked but frequently misunderstood. For example, canon twenty-four states, in part, that no custom contrary to or beyond canon law may obtain the force of law unless it is reasonable. Therefore, to understand the canon properly, one must be able to identify an unreasonable liturgical practice. Instead of leaving this as a merely subjective standard, Huels provides a concrete example from a recent document: Redemptionis Sacramentum, the instruction from the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments on certain matters to be observed or avoided regarding the Eucharist. …