The Code of Canon Law, 1917

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The Code of Canon Law, 1917

A new Code of Canon Law, based on the previous Codex Juris Canonici, was promulgated under Pope Benedict XV in 1917 and remained in force until 1983. The Code underwent a number of relaxations under influence of the Second Vatican Council.

Source: Codex Iuris Canonici, ed. Herder, Freiburg 1918. Translation from the Latin by John Wijngaards.

Women take their domicile from their husbands

Canon 93, § 1 “A wife who is not legitimately separated from her husband, automatically retains her husband's domicile.”

Only men can hold ecclesiastical orders and offices

Canon 118. “Only [male] clerics can hold the power of order or ecclesiastical jurisdiction, or obtain benefices and ecclesiastical pensions”.

Women cannot be full members of pious organizations

Canon 709, § 2.. “[With regard to confraternities or pious unions established to promote devotional or charitable works], women cannot be given membership in them, except for the purpose of gaining the indulgences and spiritual graces granted to the male members.”

Women are the last choice of minister for baptism

Canon 742 § 1. “In case of emergency, any one can baptize.”
Canon 742 § 2.“But if there is a priest, he is preferred to a deacon, a deacon to a subdeacon, a cleric to a lay man and a man to a woman, unless it is more convenient that a woman rather than a man baptize, for decency's sake, or if a woman is better acquainted with the form and mode of baptizing.”

Women may not distribute holy communion

Canon 845, par. 1.. “The ordinary minister of holy communion is only the priest.”
Canon 845. par. 2. “The extraordinary minister of holy communion is the deacon, with permission of the local bishop or the parish priest, only to be granted for a serious reason, which may legitimately be presumed in a case of emergency.”

Relaxation. On the basis of a general Instruction , Fidei Custos, released by the Congregation of Sacraments on April 30, 1969, which concerns extraordinary distribution of Communion, lay women as well as nuns may be in principle empowered to distribute Communion, under certain conditions. But according to the order of succession described in § 3 of the Instruction, by which the choice is made for extraordinary distributors, lay women are listed in the last place. According to § 5 of the Instruction, they are to be used only in emergencies, when a more suitable person cannot be found—which can only mean a man or at least a nun! “... A woman of special devoutness may be chosen in emergencies, namely whenever any other suitable person cannot be found. ”

Girls or women may not be Mass servers at the altar

Canon 813, § 2. “The mass server should not be a woman, unless no man can be found and there is a good reason, and then on this understanding that the woman responds from a distance and does in no way approach the altar.”

Re-endorsement. “How far the liturgical task of women, to which baptism gives them a right and duty will go, still needs to be studied further; but, in the actual organization of the liturgy, women do not fulfil a ministry around the altar, that is certain. For their ministry depends on the will of the Church and the Catholic Church has not ever entrusted liturgical ministry to women. Therefore, every arbitrary innovation in this matter shall be considered a grave infringement of ecclesiastical discipline and will need to be suppressed with firmness.” (Liturgical Commission, 25 January 1966).

“According to the liturgical norms handed on in the Church, women, whether young girls, married women or nuns, are forbidden to serve the priest at the altar, whether in church, in a home, a convent, a college or an institute for women” (Third Instruction on the implementation of the Constituion on the Liturgy, Acta Apostolicae Sedis 62 (1970) p. 700).

Only men can be ordained to Holy Orders

Canon 968, § 1. “Only a baptized male can receive sacred ordination.”

Men and women should sit separately in church

Canon 1262, § 1. “It is desirable that, in harmony with ancient Church order, the women in church be separated from the men.”

Women should have their heads veiled in church

Canon 1262, § 2. “Men should attend Mass, either in church or outside church, with bare heads, unless approved local custom or special circumstances suggest otherwise; women, however, should have their heads veiled and should be modestly dressed, especially when they approach the table of the Lord.”

Sacred linen must first be washed by men, before women touch them

Canon 1306, § 1. “Chalices, patens, purificators, palls and corporals before being washed should only be touched by clerics who are responsible for maintaining them. ”
Canon 1306, § 2. “The first washing of purificators etc. should only be undertaken by a cleric of the higher orders.”

Relaxation. The moto proprio “Pastorale Munus” of Pope VI, 30 November 1963, allowed local Bishops to give permission also to clerics of minor orders, lay religious and pious women to perform the first washing of pawls, corporals and purificators (Acta Apostolicae Sedis 56 (1964) p. 10).

Women may not preach in church

Canon 1342, § 2“All lay people are forbidden to preach in church, even if they belong to religious congregations.”

Relaxation. Vatican II, Constitution on the Liturgy, allowed an exception. “The sacred celebration of the Word of God should be promoted .... especially which lack a priest, in which case a deacon or another man delegated by the Bishop can conduct the celebration.” (1964)

In 1965 the Consilium ad exsequendam Constitutionem de sacra Liturgia gave a negative answer to the modest question whether an appropriately prepared woman could take over the lector’s office in a mass for women alone: the office of lector, it was answered, is a liturgical duty, which is conferred upon men only. For this reason the Epistle is to be read by the celebrant in the case mentioned. Notitiae, pub. by the Consilium ad exsequendam Constitutionem de Sacra Liturgia, 1, 1965, pp. 139-140, n. 41 and n. 42.

Women may not read out Sacred Scripture in church

Relaxation. The “General Introduction to the Roman Missal”, Institutio Generalis Missalis Romani, ch. 3, art. 66, which was released in 1969, gives permission to the Bishops’ Conference to allow women to read the lessons preceding that of the Gospel, while remaining outside the sanctuary, in case no man qualified for the duty of lector is present. ( Missale Romanum, Typis Polyglottis Vaticanus, 1970, p. 45. ) The discrimination against woman contained in this regulation cannot be overlooked: she is admitted to the function of lector only in emergency, and the sanctuary is taboo for her.

The “Third Instruction concerning the orderly implementation of the Constitution on the Liturgy, ” of November 5, 1970: declared in no. 7a that the Bishops’ Conference may decide where the woman is to stand for the reading. Acta Apostolicae Sedis 62 (1970), p. 700.

Women need to act through a male procurator

“[In the canonization process] anyone of the faithful can request that a case be instigated . . . . Men can act through themselves or through a properly appointed procurator; women only through a procurator”, Canon 2004, § 1


John Wijngaards



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