Munus and Ministerium, a Canonical Study

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Munus and Ministerium: A Textual Study of their Usage
in the Code of Canon Law of 1983

by Br. Alexis Bugnolo

The study of Canon Law is a recondite field for nearly everyone in the Church except Canon Lawyers. And even for Canon Lawyers, most of whom are prepared to work in the Marriage Tribunals of the Church, most of the Code of Canon Law is not frequently referred to.

However, when it comes to the problems of determining the validity of a canonical act, the expertise among Canon Lawyers becomes even more difficult to find, since the circumstances and problems in a single canonical act touch upon a great number of Canons of the Code of Canon Law, and thus require the profound knowledge and experience of years of problem solving to be readily recognized.

For this reason, though popularly many Catholics are amazed that after 6 years there can still be questions and doubts about the validity of the Act of Renunciation declared by Pope Benedict XVI on February 11, 2013, it actually is not so surprising when one knows just a little about the complexity of the problems presented by the document which contains that Act.

First of all, the Latin of the Act, which is the only official and canonical text, is rife with errors of Latin Grammar. All the translations of the Act which have ever been done, save for a few, cover those errors with a good deal of indulgence, because it is clear that whoever wrote the Latin was not so fluent in writing Latin as they thought, a thing only the experts at such an art can detect.

Even myself, who have translated thousands of pages of Latin into English, and whose expertise is more in making Latin intelligible as read, than in writing intelligible Latin according to the rules of Latin grammar can see this. However, we are not talking about literary indulgences when we speak of the canonical value or signification of a text.

For centuries it was a constant principle of interpretation, that if a canonical act in Latin contained errors it was not to be construed as valid, but had to be redone. Unfortunately for the Church, Cardinal Sodano and whatever Cardinals or Canonists examined the text of the Act prior to the public announcement of its signification utterly failed on this point, as will be seen during this conference.

This is because if there are multiple errors or any error, the Cardinal was allowed and even obliged under canons 40 and 41 to ask that the text be corrected.

This evening, however, we are not going to talk about the lack of good Latinity in the text of the Act nor of the other errors which make the text unintelligible to fluent Latinists who think like the Romans of Cicero’s day when they see Latin written, but rather, of the signification of Canon 332 §2, in its fundamental clause of condition, where it says in the Latin, Si contingat ut Romanus Pontifex muneri suo renuntiet, which in good English is, If it happen that the Roman Pontiff renounce his munus….

The entire condition for a Papal Renunciation of Office in the Code of Canon Law promulgated by Pope John Paul II is founded on this first clause of Canon 332 §2.  It behooves us, therefore, when any say that the Renunciation was valid or invalid, to first read this Canon and understand when a renunciation takes place and when it does not take place.

For this purpose, in this first intervention at this Conference, I will speak about the meaning of the two words, Munus and Ministerium, in the Code of Canon Law.  I will speak of both, because, in Canon 332 §2 Pope John Paul II wrote munus and in the Act of Renunciation, Pope Benedict XVI renounced ministerium.

This study is not an idle one, or even only of academic interest. It is required by Canon Law, because in Canon 17, it says, that when there arises a doubt about the signification of a canon, one is to have recourse to the Code of Canon Law, the sources of canonical tradition and the Mind of the Legislator (Pope John Paul II) in determining the authentic meaning.

According to Canon 17 the words of Canoon 332 §2, therefore, are to be understood properly. Therefore, let us examine the Code to see what is the proper meaning of the words munus and ministerium.

Ministerium in the Code of Canon Law

This study is something everyone with the Internet can do. Because there exists an indexed copy of the Latin text of the Code on line at Intratext.com.  In the Alphabetic index of which one can find hyperlinked, all the words found in the Code, in their different Latin forms.

For the word Ministerium, there are 6 forms found:  Ministeria, Ministerii, Ministeriis, Ministerio, Ministeriorum, Ministerium.  Respectively they occur 7, 13, 3, 17, 3, 25 times each in the Code.

Let us take a look at each, briefly.

Ministeria:

The Nominative and Accusative Plural:  Occurs 7 times. In canons 230, 232, 233,  237, 385, 611 and 1035.  Each of these refer to one or more of the sacred ministries or services exercised during the Divine Liturgy, whether by priests, lectors, acolytes etc..

Ministerii:

The Genitive. Occurs 13 times.  In canons 233 twice, 276, 278, 519, 551, 756, 759, 1370, 1373, 1375 1389, 1548.  These refer to the sacred service (canons 233, in canon 271 §2, 1, to the duties of the pastoral ministry (ministerii pastoralis  officia as in canon 276, 278 or 551) which sanctify the priest, and specifically in relation to munus in several canons:

In Canon 519, where it says of the duties of the Pastor of a Parish:

Can. 519 – Parochus est pastor proprius paroeciae sibi commissae, cura pastorali communitatis sibi concreditae fungens sub auctoritate Episcopi dioecesani, cuius in partem ministerii Christi vocatus est, ut pro eadem communitate munera exsequatur docendi, sanctificandi et regendi, cooperantibus etiam aliis presbyteris vel diaconis atque operam conferentibus christifidelibus laicis, ad normam iuris.

Which in English is:

Canon 519:  The parish priest is the pastor of the parish assigned to him, exercising (fungens) the pastoral care of the community entrusted to him under the authority of the Diocesan Bishop, in a portion of whose ministry in Christ (in partem ministerii Chirsti) he has been called, so that he might execute (exsequatur) the munera of teaching, sanctifying and ruling for the same community, with the cooperation also of the other priests and/or deacons and faithful laity assisting in the work, according to the norm of law.

Let us note, first of all, that here the Code distinguishes between the munera of teaching, santifying and ruling from the entire ministry of Christ a part of which is shared by the Bishop.

And again in Canon 756, when it speaks of the munus of  announcing the Gospel, it says, after speaking of the duty of the Roman Pontiff in this regard in conjunction with the College of Bishops:

756 § 2.  Quoad Ecclesiam particularem sibi concreditam illud munus exercent singuli Episcopi, qui quidem totius ministerii verbi in eadem sunt moderatores; quandoque vero aliqui Episcopi coniunctim illud explent quoad diversas simul Ecclesias, ad normam iuris.

Which in English is:

756 §2  In regard to the particular Church entrusted to him, every Bishop, who is indeed the moderater of the whole ministry of the word to it, exercises (exercent) this munus; but also when any Bishop fulfills that conjointly in regard to the diverse Churches, according to the norm of law.

Let us note here simply that the Code distinguishes between the exercise of a munus and the ministerium of preaching the word.

Again in canon 759, ministerii is used regarding the preaching of the word. In Canon 1370 it is used in reference to the contempt of ecclesiastical power or ministry. In canon 1373, it is spoken of in regard the an act of ecclesiastical power or ministry. In canon 1548 in regard to the exercise of the sacred ministry of the clergy.

In canon 1389, it is spoken of in the context of power, munus and ministry. Let us take a closer look:

Can. 1389 – § 1.  Ecclesiastica potestate vel munere abutens pro actus vel omissionis gravitate puniatur, non exclusa officii privatione, nisi in eum abusum iam poena sit lege vel praecepto constituta.

2. Qui vero, ex culpabili neglegentia, ecclesiasticae potestatis vel ministerii vel muneris actum illegitime cum damno alieno ponit vel omittit, iusta poena puniatur.

Which in English is:

Canon 1389 §1  Let the one abusing Ecclesiastical power and/or munus be punished in proportion to the gravity of the act and/or omission, not excluding privation of office, unless for that abuse there has already been established a punishment by law and/or precept.

2. However, Let him who, out of culpable negligence, illegitimately posits and/or omits an act of ecclesiastical power and/or ministry and/or of munus, with damage to another, be punished with a just punishment.

Let us note here that the Code in a penal precept distinguishes between: potestas, ministerium and munus. This implies that in at least one proper sense of each of these terms, they can be understood to signify something different or distinct from the other.

This finishes the study of the occurences of ministerii.

Ministeriis

The ablative and dative plural form. Occurs 3 times.   In canons 274 and 674, where it refers to the sacred ministry of the priesthood and to the ministries exercised in parish life, respectively.

And in Canon 1331 §1, 3, where the one excommunicated is forbidden to exercise all ecclesiastical duties (officiis) and/or ministries and/or munera (muneribus) The Latin is:

Can. 1331 – § 1.  Excommunicatus vetatur:

1 ullam habere participationem ministerialem in celebrandis Eucharistiae Sacrificio vel  quibuslibet aliis cultus caerimoniis;

2 sacramenta vel sacramentalia celebrare et sacramenta recipere;

3 ecclesiasticis officiis vel ministeriis vel muneribus quibuslibet fungi vel actus regiminis ponere.

The English  is:

Canon 1331 §1.  An excommunicate is forbidden:

  1. from having any ministerial participation in the celebrating of the Sacrifice of the Eucharist and/or in any other ceremonies of worship
  2. from celebrating the Sacraments and/or sacramentals and from receiving the Sacraments;
  3. from exercising (fungi) ecclesiastical officia and/or ministeria and/or munera and/or from positing acts of governance.

Let us note again, that the Code distinguishes in this negative precept the terms Officia, Ministeria and Munera. This means, very significantly, that in the Mind of the Legislator, there is a proper sense in which these terms can each be understood as excluding the other. All three are named to make the signification of the negative precept comprehensive of all possible significations.

Ministerio

 The Ablative and Dative singular form. Occurs 17 times. Canons 252, 271, 281, 386 refer to the ministries exercised in the liturgy or apostolate. Canon 545 uses ministerio in reference to the pastoral ministry being proffered, 548 likewise in reference to the pastor of a parish, 559 likewise. Canon 713 refers to the priestly ministry, canons 757, 760 and 836 to the ministry of the word. Canon 899 to the priestly ministry of Christ. Canon 1036 speaks of the need a Bishop has to have knowledge that a candidate for ordination has a willingness to dedicate himself to the life long service which is the duty of orders.

Canon 1722, which has to deal with canonical trials, speaks again of the sacred ministerium, officium and munus exercised (arcere) of the one accused. Distinguishing all three terms to make a comprehensive statement of what can be interdicted by a penalty.

This far for the 17 instances of ministerio.

Ministeriorum

The genitive plural form. Occurs 3 times. In canon 230 in regard to the conferral of ministries of acolyte and lector upon laymen. In canon 499 in regard to having members of the Presbyteral Council of the Diocese include priests with a variety of ministries exercised all over the diocese. And in canon 1050, in regard to those to be ordained, that they have a document showing they have willingly accepted a live long ministry in sacred service.

And finally the Nominative Singular form.

MINISTERIUM

Of which there are 25 occurrences in the Code.

First and most significantly in Canon 41, the very canon that Cardinal Sodano had to act upon when examining the Act of Renunciation by Pope Benedict.

The Latin reads:

Can. 41 — Exsecutor actus administrativi cui committitur merum exsecutionis ministerium, exsecutionem huius actus denegare non potest, nisi manifesto appareat eundem actum esse nullum aut alia ex gravi causa sustineri non posse aut condiciones in ipso actu administrativo appositas non esse adimpletas; si tamen actus administrativi exsecutio adiunctorum personae aut loci ratione videatur inopportuna, exsecutor exsecutionem intermittat; quibus in casibus statim certiorem faciat auctoritatem quae actum edidit.

The English reads:

Canon 41: The executor of an administrative act to whom there has been committed the mere ministry (ministerium) of execution, cannot refuse execution of the act, unless the same act appears to be null from (something) manifest [manifesto] or cannot be sustained for any grave cause or the conditions in the administrative act itself do not seem to be able to have been fulfilled: however, if the execution of the administrative act seems inopportune by reason of place or adjoined persons, let the executor omit the execution; in which cases let him immediately bring the matter to the attention of (certiorem faciat) the authority which published the act.

Then, ministerium occurs again in canon 230, in reference to the ministry of the word, where officia is used in the sense of duties. In canon 245, in regard to the pastoral ministry and teaching missionaries the ministry. In Canon 249 again in regard to the pastoral ministry, in 255 in regard to the ministry of teaching, sanctifying etc.., in 256, 257, 271, 324 in regard to the sacred ministry of priests, in Canon 392 in regard to the ministries of the word. In Canon 509 in regard to the ministry exercised by the Canons of the Cathedral Chapter. In Canon 545 in regard to the parish ministry, in canon 533 in regard to the ministry exercised by a Vicar. In canons 618 and 654 in regard to the power received by religious superiors through the ministry of the Church. In Canon 1025, 1041, and 1051 to the usefulness of a candidate for orders for service (ministerium) to the Church. In Canon 1375 to those who exercise power and/or ecclesiastical ministry.

Ministerium occurs significantly in canon 1384, regard to the penalites a priest can incurr.

Can. 1384 – Qui, praeter casus, de quibus in cann. 1378-1383, sacerdotale munus vel aliud sacrum ministerium illegitime exsequitur, iusta poena puniri potest.

Which in English is:

Canon 1384  Who, besides the cases, concerning which in canons 1378 to 1383 the priestly munus and/or any other sacred ministerium is illegitimately executed, can be punished with a just punishment.

The Code explicitly distinguishes between munus and ministerium as entirely different and or distinct aspects of priestly being and action.

To finish off, the Code mentions Ministerium, again in Canon 1481 in regard to the ministry of lawyers, 1502 and 1634 to the ministry of judges, and in 1740 to ministry of the pastor of a parish.

This completes the entire citation of the Code on the word Ministry in all its Latin Forms, singular and plural.

In summation, we can see already that the Code distinguishes between proper senses of ministerium and munus, habitually throughout its canons and uses ministerium always for a service to be rendered by a layman, priest, Bishop, lawyer, judge or to or by the Church Herself. It never uses ministerium as an office or title or dignity or charge.

Munus in the Code of Canon Law

Munus is a very common term in the Code of Canon Law, occurring a total of 188 times.

The Latin forms which appear in the Code are Munus (77 times), Muneris (26 times), Muneri (2 times), Munere (48 times), Munera (20 times) Munerum (6 times) and Muneribus (9 times).

While the length of this conference does not me to cite them all, I will refer to the most important occurrences.

I will omit citing Canon 331, 333, 334 and 749, where speaking of the Papal Office, the code uses the words Munus. In no other canons does it speak of the Papal office per se, except in Canon 332 §2, which governs Papal renunciations, where it also uses munus.

But as to the proper sense of munus in the Code, let us look at the most significant usages:

First as regards predication, where the Mind of the Legislator indicates when any given proper sense of this term can be said to be a another term.

This occurs only once in canon 145, §1

Can. 145 – § 1. Officium ecclesiasticum est quodlibet munus ordinatione sive divina sive ecclesiastica stabiliter constitutum in finem spiritualem exercendum.

Which in English is:

Canon 145 § 1.  An ecclesiastical office (officium) is any munus constituted by divine or ecclesiastical ordinance as to be exercised for a spiritual end.

Second, as regards the canons governing the events of Feb. 11, 2013, there is  Canon 40, which Cardinal Sodano and his assistants had to refer to in the moments following the Consistory of Feb 11, 2013:

Can. 40 — Exsecutor alicuius actus administrativi invalide suo munere fungitur, antequam litteras receperit earumque authenticitatem et integritatem recognoverit, nisi praevia earundem notitia ad ipsum auctoritate eundem actum edentis transmissa fuerit.

In English:

Canon 40: The executor of any administrative act invalidly conducts his munus (suo munero), before he receives the document (letteras) and certifies (recognoverit) its integrity and authenticity, unless previous knowledge of it has been transmitted to him by the authority publishing the act itself.

Third, as regards to the distinction of munus and the fulfillment of a duty of office, there is Canon 1484, §1 in regard to the offices of Procurator and Advocate in a Tribunal of Eccleisastical Jurisdiction:

Can. 1484 – § 1.  Procurator et advocatus antequam munus suscipiant, mandatum authenticum apud tribunal deponere debent.

Which in English is:

Canon 1484 §1.  The procurator and advocate ought to deposit a copy of their authentic mandate with the Tribunal, before they undertake their munus.

Note here, significantly, that the Code associates the mandate to exercise an office with the undertaking of the munus (munus). Negatively, therefore, what is implied by this canon is that when one lays down his mandate, there is a renunciation of the munus.

Finally, in regard to possibile synonyms for munus, in the Code we have Canon 1331, §2, n. 4, which is one of the most significant in the entire code, as we shall see: There is forbidden the promotion of those who are excommunicated:

4 nequit valide consequi dignitatem, officium aliudve munus in Ecclesia

Which in English reads:

  1. He cannot validly obtain a dignity, office and/or any munus in the Church.

If there was every any doubt about the Mind of the Legislator of the proper sense of terms in the Code of Canon law regarding what Munus means, this canon answers it by equating dignity, office and munus as things to which one cannot be promoted!

Note well, ministerium is not included in that list!  thus Ministerium does not signify a dignity, office or munus!

This study of Munis and Ministerium in the Code thus concludes, for the lack of time. We have seen that the Code distinguishes clearly between the terms of officium, munus, ministerium, potestas and dignitas. It predicates officium of munus alone, It equates dignitas and munus and officium. It distinguishes between potestas and ministerium.

The only sane conclusion is, therefore, that munus and ministerium are distinct terms with different meanings. They cannot substitute for one another in any sentence in which their proper senses are employed. Munus can substitute for officium, when officium means that which regards a title or dignity or ecclesiastical office.

Thus in Canon 332 §2, where the Canon reads, Si contingat ut Romanus Pontifex muneri suo renuntiet. The Code is not speaking of ministerium, and if it is speaking of any other terms, it is speaking of a dignitas or officium. But the papal office is a dignitas, officium and a munus.  thus Canon 332 §2 is using munus in its proper sense and referring to the papal office.

——

(This is a transcript of my first talk at the Conference on the Renunciation of Pope Benedict XVI, which took place at Rome on Oct 21, 2019, the full transcript of which is found here)

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