Chrism Mass During Sede Vacante

Pope Francis accepted our archbishop’s resignation last December. He then was appointed as the administrator until the new bishop has been appointed.

Apr 10, 2014

By Father Edward McNamara, LC
Q: Pope Francis accepted our archbishop’s resignation last December. He then was appointed as the administrator until the new bishop has been appointed. From diocesan “sede vacante” time, the priests in the dioceses have omitted our bishop’s name in the Eucharistic Prayer. My question: During the diocesan “sede vacante,” can the bishop emeritus celebrate the Chrism Mass with the priests of the diocese – with the understanding that the Chrism Mass is the symbol of the unity between the bishop and his diocesan priests? – B.E., Malaysia

A: If I have understood correctly the situation outlined by our reader, the bishop’s resignation was accepted by the Pope and then he was appointed administrator by the Holy Father. In this case the bishop would be, properly speaking, the apostolic administrator of the diocese until his successor is appointed.

In this case then, the bishop retains all the powers proper to the diocesan bishop. The apostolic administrator, whether the see is vacant or not, is named during the Eucharistic Prayer, and he would also preside over the Chrism Mass.

The figure of temporary apostolic administrator is used quite frequently today, in spite of not being mentioned in the current Code of Canon Law. He is usually a bishop named to govern a diocese for a certain period. Apart from the case of the bishop emeritus, when a bishop is transferred to another diocese he is sometimes appointed apostolic administrator of his former diocese. This appointment is sometimes until he takes procession of the new diocese, although on occasion it is until a successor is appointed, so that for a time he effectively governs two dioceses.

In some circumstances the pope will appoint a bishop of a nearby diocese as apostolic administrator of a diocese, so that it may be governed by someone having all the powers of the bishop’s office. This is usually only done when particular difficulties exist.

If the pope does not make any such provision, then the period of diocesan vacancy begins as soon as the bishop’s resignation or transfer is announced.

In accordance with Canon Law a diocesan administrator is elected by the diocesan council of consultors to administer the vacant see until a new bishop is appointed and takes possession. The diocesan administrator is usually a priest but could also be an auxiliary bishop who is not a candidate for succession to the vacant see.

He is not mentioned in the Eucharistic Prayer. If he is the only auxiliary bishop, then he may be mentioned as such in the same manner as before the vacancy.

The diocesan administrator has most of the bishop’s powers with some restrictions. He cannot change written dispositions made by the former bishop nor introduce important innovations. Nor can he do anything that requires episcopal ordination.

If the diocesan administrator is an auxiliary bishop, then he may celebrate the Chrism Mass. If he is a priest, then he may invite a bishop to preside over the Mass and bless the holy oils. Or he could choose not to hold the Chrism Mass, and just procure the oils from a neighbouring diocese. For example, in one Irish diocese there was no Chrism Mass during a vacancy from 2009 to 2013. In 2013 the apostolic nuncio presided over the Chrism Mass, in which the oils to be used in the ordination of the bishop-elect were duly consecrated.

Both solutions are possible. It is true that the unity of the presbytery around the bishops is especially underlined during the Chrism Mass. But the Mass also serves a practical purpose that remains even when the see is vacant.

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