Today and in the coming weeks, I will explore the concept of ecclesiastical office – an indispensable means through which the Church carries out its mission of salvation.
Canon 145 §1 defines an ecclesiastical office as “any function constituted in a stable manner by divine or ecclesiastical ordinance to be exercised for a spiritual purpose”.
There are four features of an ecclesiastical office. First, it is a function or a position of responsibility involving defined rights and obligations.
Second, it is constituted in a stable manner, that is, the continuity of the post is guaranteed so that it survives indefinitely if the holder of the post changes, or if the post becomes vacant. An office does not depend on the charisma or gifts of a particular officeholder. A stable manner also entails a determinate or indeterminate period (tenure) on the part of the officeholder. In the light of this, one who replaces another person ought to continue from where his or her predecessor stopped.
Third, it is established by a divine or ecclesiastical ordinance. Example of offices established by divine institution is the office of the Pope, the College of Bishops and the office of a diocesan bishop. Offices established by an ecclesiastical ordinance include the College of Cardinals, parish priests, Vicars general etc.
Fourth, it is established for a spiritual purpose. Therefore, although every function performed in the Church is ultimately for a spiritual purpose, not all functions are constituted as offices. For instance, teachers in our schools help in Christian education, but their function is not an ecclesiastical office. However, the office of the principal in a mission school is an ecclesiastical office.
An ecclesiastical office can be acquired through (a) free conferral by the competent ecclesiastical authority (Can. 157), appointment by the competent authority of someone who has been presented in accordance with the law (Cann. 158-163), (c) simple election and acceptance when the law does not require confirmation (Can. 187) (d) confirmation or admission by the competent authority following an election or postulation (Cann 179; 180-183).
Within a diocese, most of the ecclesiastical offices are provided by the free conferral of the diocesan bishop. Free conferral means that the diocesan bishop freely chooses to appoint one to an office without the person asking for it or a group presenting the person as a candidate.
An ecclesiastical office validly conferred is lost through the expiry of the term fixed by law, by reaching the age determined by law, by resignation, by transfer, by removal, and by privation (Cann. 184 -196).
Canon 156 states: “The provision of any office is to be put in writing”. This is why we get official letters when we are appointed to a parish, seminary, mission school, or an office in the diocesan curia. This letter contains the office one is appointed to, overview of the duties of the office, the tenure, and other details. Of course, the duration of service can change for pastoral reasons.
May God continue to help us.🙏🏾