| Canonical Studies, 1992, pp. 48-64
(Fr. Joseph Irimpan)
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Pope John Paul II, while promulgating the New Code of Conon Law in 1983 through the Apostolic constitution “Sacrae Disciplinae Leges” made the following statement: “In fact a Code of Canon Law is absolutely necessary for the Church. Since the Church is established in the form of a social and visible unit, it needs rules, so that its hierarchical and organic structure may be visible; that its exercise of the functions divinely entrusted to it, particularly of sacred power and of the administration of the sacraments, is properly ordered; that the mutual relationships of Christ’s faithful are reconciled in justice based on charity, with the rights of each person safeguarded and defined, and lastly, that the common initiatives which are undertaken so that christian life may be ever more perfectly carried out, are supported strengthened and promoted by canonical laws”. This vital impact of Canon Law on the existence and mission of the Church calls for the necessity of a deep awareness of the same by the future ministers.

1. The Function and role of Canon Law in the Church

The Congregation for Catholic Education published a document in 1975, “On the Teaching of Canon Law to those preparing to be Priests”. For the first part of this paper we rely mainly on this document. The document, while dealing with the function and role of Canon Law, explains the Dogmatic Constitution, ‘Lumen Gentium’, sets forth a deeper understanding of the Church in her two-fold aspects: charismatic and institutional. The outlook here is, above all, Christocentric, that is the Church is seen as the continuation of the Incarnation and of the Easter Mystery. Among the co-essential elements of the Church, the first place is given to the communication of the Divine Life. The sacramental and hierarchical structure of the Church serves as means to this end, namely to the communication of the Divine Life.

The Council, after emphasizing the sacramental structure of the Church, has underlined the fact that both the Society which is constituted by an organic hierarchy and the Mystical Body of Christ, the visible community and the supernatural entity, form only one complex reality, an element that is twofold, human and divine. The Church is compared by analogy to the mystery of the Incarnate Word: “Just as the assumed nature inseparably united to the Divine Word serves Him as a living instrument of salvation, so, in a similar way, does the communal structure of the Church serve Christ’s Spirit, who vivifies her by building up her Body” (Lumen Gentium, n. 8); “ (The Church) united on behalf of heavenly values and enriches by them … has been constituted and organized in the world as a Society by Christ and is equipped with those means which befit her as a visible and social unity. Thus the Church, one and at the same time a visible community and a spiritual community, goes forward together with humanity…” (Gaudium et Spes, ‘Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World’, n. 40).

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