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The Roman Congregations

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Certain departments have been organized by the Holy See at various times to assist it in the transaction of those affairs which canonical discipline and the individual interests of the faithful bring to Rome. Of these the most important are, without doubt, the Roman Congregations ( Sacræ Cardinalium Congregationes ), as is evident from the mere consideration of the dignity of their membership, consisting, as it does, of cardinals who are officially the chief collaborators of the sovereign pontiff in the administration of the affairs of the Universal Church. Nevertheless it should be noted that cardinals have not always participated in the administration of ecclesiastical affairs in the same way. A research on the various usages that have obtained in this connexion would lead us too far from our present subject, but is taken up under CARDINAL ; PAPAL CONSISTORY.

The Roman Congregations originated in the necessity, felt from the beginning, of studying the questions submitted for pontifical decision, in order to sift the legal questions arising and to establish matters of fact duly. This work, at first entrusted to the papal chaplains, was afterwards divided between the p nitentiarii and the auditores , according as questions of the internal or the external forum (i.e., jurisdiction ) were to be considered. Thereafter, cardinals in greater or less number were associated with them. Often, however, they were not merely entrusted with the preparation of the case, but were given authority to decide it. As, on the other hand, the increased numbers of cases to be passed upon occupied a great number of persons, while the proper administration of justice required that those persons should be of the most experienced, it appeared to be advisable, if not necessary, to divide this business into various and distinct groups. This division would evidently facilitate the selection of wise and experienced men in all branches of ecclesiastical affairs. Hence also a natural division into executive cases, assigned to the offices ( officia ), judicial cases, reserved to the tribunals, and administrative cases, committed to the Roman Congregations.

Sixtus V was the first to distribute this administrative business among different congregations of cardinals ; and in his Constitution "Immensa" (22 Jan., 1588) he generalized the idea, already conceived and partly reduced to practice by some of his predecessors, of committing one or another case or a group of cases to the examination, or to the decision, of several cardinals. By a judicious division of administrative matters, he established that permanent organization of these departments of the Curia, which since then have rendered such great services to the Church. The congregations at first established by Sixtus V were officially designated as:

  • for Holy Inquisition ;
  • for the Signature of Grace ;
  • for the erection of churches and consistorial provisions;
  • for the abundance of supplies and prosperity of the Church's temporal dominions;
  • for sacred rites and ceremonies ;
  • for equipping the fleet and maintaining it for the defence of the Church's dominions;
  • for an index of forbidden books;
  • for the execution and interpretation of the Council of Trent ;
  • for relieving the ills of the States of the Church ;
  • for the University of the Roman study (or school );
  • for regulations of religious orders;
  • for regulations of bishops and other prelates ;
  • for taking care of roads, bridges, and waters;
  • for the Vatican printing-press;
  • for regulations of the affairs of the Church's temporal dominions.
  • From this it will be seen that, while the chief end of the Congregations of Cardinals was to assist the sovereign pontiff in the administration of the affairs of the Church, some of these congregations were created to assist in the administration of the temporal States of the Holy See . The number of these varied according to circumstances and the requirements of the moment; in the time of Cardinal De Luca there were about nineteen of them, as he himself tells us in his admirable work "Relatio Romanæ Curiæ forensis", without counting other congregations of a lower order, consisting of prelates, as were, for example, the "Congregatio baronum et montium" and the "Congregatio computorum".

    Other congregations were added by different popes, until the present organization was established by Pius X in his Constitution "Sapienti consilio" of 29 June, 1908, according to which there are thirteen congregations, counting that of the Propaganda as only one. As, however, the last-named congregation is divided into two parts: Congregation of the Propaganda for Affairs of the Latin Rite, and Congregation of the Propaganda for Affairs of the Oriental Rites, it may well be considered as two congregations; so that the total number of the congregations is fourteen. Sixtus V granted ordinary jurisdiction to each of the congregations which he instituted within the limits of the cases assigned to it, reserving to himself and to his successors the presidency of some of the more important congregations, such as the Congregation of the Holy Inquisition and that of the Signature of Grace. As time went on, the congregations of cardinals, which at first dealt exclusively with administrative matters, came to pass upon the legal points of the cases submitted to them, until the congregations overshadowed the ecclesiastical tribunals and even the Roman Rota in fact almost took their places. In time the transaction of business was impeded by the cumulation of jurisdictions, different congregations exercising jurisdiction rendering decisions, and enacting laws in the same matters; Pius X resolved to define the competency of each congregation more precisely and to provide otherwise for the better exercise of its functions. It would not be possible to relate here all the changes effected in this connexion. The reader seeking detailed information may consult the commentaries that have already appeared on the Constitution "Sapienti consilio" (see General Bibliography at the end of this article). Mention will be made here of only the chief among those innovations which, besides the principal one of the demarcation of competency, are to be found in the following provisions.

    All decisions of the sacred congregations require pontifical approval, unless special powers have been given previously by the pope. The officials of the congregations are divided into two classes: minor officers who are to be chosen by competitive examination and named by a letter of the cardinal prefect, and major officers, freely selected by the pope, and named by a note of the cardinal secretary of State. There is to be henceforth no cumulation of offices in the hands of one individual, not only to satisfy the requirements of distributive justice, but also because the tenure of several offices by the same person often results in detriment to the service. Wherefore, it is forbidden for an officer of one of the congregations to serve in any way as an agent, or as a procurator or advocate, in his own department or in any other ecclesiastical tribunal. The competency of the congresso in each congregation is determined. The congresso consists of the major officers under the presidency of the cardinal who presides over the congregation. It deals with the matters of less importance among those that are before the congregation, while those of greater moment must be referred to the full congregations of cardinals. It is also the business of the congresso to prepare for their discussion those matters that are to be considered by the full congregation. On the other hand, the congresso is charged with the execution of the orders of the full congregation that have received the approval of the pope. As examples of matters of greater importance which must be considered by the full congregation, the special rules ( normæ peculiares ) mention the solution of doubts or of questions that may arise in regard to the interpretation of ecclesiastical laws, the examination of important administrative controversies, and kindred matters. The normæ peculiares and the normæ communes , together with the Constitution "Sapienti consilio", constitute the entire code of the new organization of the Roman ecclesiastical departments.


    As the Roman Inquisition ( Romana Inquisitio ) this congregation is of very ancient origin, dating from Innocent III (1194-1216), although some authorities attribute its establishment to Lucius III (1181-85). In the beginning of the thirteenth century Innocent III established at Rome an inquisitorial tribunal against the Albigenses and other innovators of the south of France. From its first title of Romana Inquisitio was derived the usage of calling this body Congregation of the Holy Roman Universal Inquisition. Sixtus V, in the Bull "Immensa", calls it Congregatio pro S. inquisitione and also Congregatio sanct inquisitionis hæreticæ pravitatis . Benedict XIV calls it Romanæ Universalis Inquisitionis Congregatio (Const. "Sollicita"). Later it had the official title Suprema Congregatio sanctæ romanæ et universalis inquisitionis . Pius X in his recent Constitution calls it, simply, Congregatio S. Officii . The qualification of Suprema was omitted, possibly to avoid the appearance of an inequality of dignity among the congregations, they being all of the same rank and dignity, since they are composed of cardinals. According to Leitner, the name Inquisition was suppressed in order to shield this congregation from the hatred inspired by that name. It retains, therefore, the title of Holy Office, so well suited to the most holy office to which it is assigned, namely, that of removing the faithful from the danger of deviation from the Faith through the influence of false doctrine. In 1251 Innocent IV gave the Dominicans charge of this tribunal. In view of the progress of the Reformation, Paul III, by the Bull "Licet ab initio", of 21 July, 1542, declared the Roman Inquisition to be the supreme tribunal for the whole world; and he assigned to it six cardinals. Simier (La curie romaine, cf. S. n. I) is of opinion that Paul III appointed the six cardinals of S. Clemente, S. Sisto, S. Balbina, S. Cecilia, S. Marcello, and S. Silvestro general inquisitors, with universal powers, not, however, to act collegialiter , as a tribunal, but individually and independently of one another. The Constitution "Licet ab initio" lends itself to that interpretation. But the Holy Office did not begin its existence as a congregation until 1558, in the reign of Paul IV. As time went on, the number of cardinals assigned to the Holy Office was increased, and the tribunal took a form like that of the other congregations. Formerly a cardinal used to be selected to preside over the Holy Office with the title of prefect; the first to be appointed to this charge was Cardinal Michele Ghislieri, afterwards Pius V . The prefecture of the congregation, however, has long been reserved by the pope to himself.

    Like all the other congregations, the Holy Office has officials of the second order. The first of these is the assessor, one of the highest officers of the Curia ; next comes the commissary, always a Dominican. Sometimes, as an exception, these two officials are invested with the episcopal character. Among the other officers who complete the personnel of the Holy Office are a vice-commissary, a first associate (socius), and a second associate, all Dominicans, also a sommista , a fiscal advocate, an advocatus reorum and some notaries.

    It may appear strange that so many positions in this congregation are filled by Dominicans. The reason is to be found in the great solicitude of Pius V for the Holy Office, which solicitude led him to reserve all these functions for his fellow-Dominicans, especially those of the Province of Lombardy, to which he himself had belonged, and in whose members he reposed great confidence. It is to be observed that, whereas the assessor now takes precedence of the commissary, the contrary order obtained in former times, even in the days of Cardinal De Luca (Relatio curiæ forensis disc., 14, n. 6), for the commissary had the faculties of a true judge in ordinary, while the assessor was merely an assessor or consultor, as in other tribunals. According to Simier (La curie romaine, ch. i, n. I) this change occurred towards the middle of the seventeenth century. Besides the officers already mentioned, the Holy Office, like most other congregations, has a number of consultors, chosen from among the most esteemed and learned prelates and religious. Some are ex officio consultors by virtue of a right anciently granted; these are called natural consultors ( consultori nati ). They are the Master General of the Order of Preachers , the Master of the Sacred Palace (of the same order by a privilege granted by Pius V ), and a religious of the Order of Friars Minor added by Sixtus V, himself a Friar Minor.

    This congregation also has certain officers peculiar to itself, required by the nature of its attributes. They are the qualifiers ( qualificatores ), explained by the function of these officials, theologians whose duty it is to propose to the cardinals the particular note or censure by which objectionable propositions are to be condemned, since all such propositions do not affect the Faith in the same degree, and therefore are condemned by the Holy Office not in a general, but in a specific way, being termed heretical, erroneous, temerarious, false, injurious, calumnious, scandalous, or qualified by the ancient special phrase piarum aurium offensiv , "offensive to pious ears". Since the promulgation of the recent Constitution by the reigning pope, giving a new organization to the Curia, while all that has been referred to in regard to the internal status of this congregation has remained, a new division, to deal with indulgences, has been added to the Holy Office. For this division a congresso has also been established. Although no mention is made in the basic constitution of a congress ( congresso ) for the main part of this congregation, the Holy Office itself, the fact that it is said in the "Normæ peculiares" that the Holy Office shall retain its former methods of procedure insures to it a kind of congress analogous to that of the other congregations and consisting of the assessor, the commissary, the first associate, and a few other officers. Its duties are to examine the various cases, and to decide which of them must be submitted to the congregation of the consultors and which others may be disposed of without further proceedings, as is the case in matters of minor importance or of well-established precedent. The Decree often makes it clear that the case has been determined in this way, as when use is made of the formula: "D. N... Papa.. per facultates R. P. D. Assessori S. Off. impertitas..." The congresso of the new division consists of the cardinal, secretary, the assessor, the commissary, and the surrogate for indulgences.

    The Congregation of the Holy Office defends Catholic teaching in matters of faith and morals : "Hæc S. Congregatio . . .doctrinam fidei et morum tutatur." Whence it follows, and is explicitly affirmed in the "Sapienti consilio", that the Holy Office deals with all matters which, directly or indirectly, concern faith and morals ; it judges heresy, and the offences that lead to suspicion of heresy ; it applies the canonical punishments incurred by heretics, schismatics, and the like. In this the Holy Office differs from all the other congregations, which are without judicial power, or, at least, may exercise it only at the request of the parties interested, while the Holy Office has both judicial and administrative power, since the legislator rightly believed that the congregation exclusively empowered to pass upon a doctrine, and qualify and condemn it as heretical, should also be the judge in heretical and kindred cases. From the fact that the purpose of this congregation is to defend the Faith, it follows that dispensation from the impediments of disparity of worship and of mixed religion (which by their nature imperil faith, and which, by Divine law itself is granted only upon guarantees given by the non-Catholic party) pertains to the Holy Office. The same is true of the Pauline privilege. And as the judicial causes connected with this privilege and with impediments of disparity of worship and mixed religion have a remote connexion with the Faith, it was declared that these causes belonged to the jurisdiction of the Holy Office (see decision of the Cong. of the Consistory, January, 1910). With regard, however, to the substantial form of the celebration of mixed marriages, the pope withdrew all authority from this congregation, wishing article 11 of the Decree "Ne temere" to remain in force.

    The Holy Office formerly had a more ample jurisdiction, acquired by spontaneous development as time went on. Thus it dispensed from abstinence, from fasting, and from the observance of feasts (all of which now pertains to the Congregation of the Council); it dispensed from vows made in religious institutions, a function now exercised by the Congregation of Religious, and it dealt with the nomination of bishops, according to the Motu Proprio of Pius X (17 December, 1903), which business now belongs to the Congregation of the Consistory. In former times the Holy Office even dealt with causes of canonization, a matter which is now assigned to the Congregation of Rites. Grimaldi (op. cit. infra in general bibliography) gives as an example of such cases the Decree of the Holy Office in confirmation of the cult of the Blessed Colomba of Rieti , who died in the odour of sanctity at Perugia in 1507; and he adds: "Ce genre de causes est devenu ensuite l'apanage de la congrégation des Rites ; mais si la vraie sainteté échappe actuellement à la juridiction de l' inquisition, ce tribunal a conservé le privilège de juger la fausse sainteté. Dans cet ordre d'idées nous trouvons les procès, qui se font en cour de Rome pour examiner les prophéties et révélations" (Causes of this kind afterwards became the province of the Congregation of Rites. But if true sanctity is no longer the jurisdiction of the Inquisition, that tribunal has kept the privilege of judging questions of spurious sanctity. Of this order are the processes carried on in the Roman Curia to examine prophesies and revelations). All persons are subject to the Holy Office except cardinals, who may be judged only by the pope.

    Mention should be made of the strict secrecy which characterizes the proceedings of this congregationa most prudent measure indeed, for the protection of the good name of individuals in a congregation which must deal with most grievous offences against the Faith. Grimaldi (op. cit.) rightly says, speaking of the secrecy of the Holy Office: "Le saint-office ayant à s'occuper des délits commis non seulement contre la foi, mais encore d'autres qui ne relèvent que de très loin de l'intelligence, il s'ensuit qu'être cité à ce tribunal n'est pas une recommendation, et en sortir même par la porte d'un acquitement, ne sera jamais un titre de gloire. Aussi doit-on bénir ce mystère qui protège celui qui comparait devant ce tribunal, et dont le procès se déroule sans qu'aucune phase n'en ait transpiré dans le public" (As the Holy Office has to deal not only with offences against the Faith, but also with others which are very remotely connected with the intelligence, it follows that to be cited before this tribunal is no recommendation, and to leave it, even by the door of acquittal, will never be a title to glory. We should bless that mystery which protects him who appears before the tribunal and whose trial proceeds without any phase of it becoming public).

    For the discussion of matters before the Holy Office there are three kinds of reunions, or, as they are called, congregations. The first is the so-called congregation of the consultors at which the consultors and the greater officials of the congregation are present under the presidency of the assessor. This meeting is held on Monday of each week in the Palace of the Holy Office behind the colonnade of St. Peter's. The most important matters are discussed at this meeting, and the views of the consultors are given for the enlightenment of the cardinals of the Holy Office, who, on the following Wednesday, consider the same matters and pass judgment upon them at the congregation of cardinals which used to be held at the residence of the general of the Dominicans near Santa Maria sopra Minerva, but since 1870 has been held at the Palace of the Holy Office. The third congregation is held in the presence of the pope, who approves or modifies the decisions rendered by the cardinals on the previous day. This third congregation, formerly held every Thursday, is now held only on occasion of the most exceptional cases. Instead of the congregation, the assessor refers the decisions of the cardinals to the Holy Father on Wednesday evenings, after which the pope gives the final decision. It was formerly customary, both at the congregation of cardinals and at that of Thursdays in the presence of the pope ( coram Sanctissimo ), for the consultors to wait in the antechamber in case they might be called upon by the cardinals or the Holy Father for explanations. This custom has been abolished.

    As regards the doctrinal value of Decrees of the Holy Office it should be observed that canonists distinguish two kinds of approbation of an act of an inferior by a superior: first, approbation in common form ( in forma communi ), as it is sometimes called, which does not take from the act its nature and quality as an act of the inferior. Thus, for example, the decrees of a provincial council, although approved by the Congregation of the Council or by the Holy See, always remain provincial conciliar decrees. Secondly, specific approbation ( in forma specifica ), which takes from the act approved its character of an act of the inferior and makes it the act of the superior who approves it. This approbation is understood when, for example, the pope approves a Decree of the Holy Office ex certa scientia, motu proprio , or plenitudine suâ potestatis . Even when specifically approved by the pope, decrees of the Holy Office are not infallible. They call for a true assent, internal and sincere, but they do not impose an absolute assent, like the dogmatic definitions given by the pope as infallible teacher of the Faith. The reason is that, although an act of this congregation, when approved by the pope specifically, becomes an act of the sovereign pontiff, that act is not necessarily clothed with the infallible authority inherent in the Holy See , since the pope is free to make the act of an inferior his own without applying his pontifical prerogative to its performance. Similarly, when he acts of his own volition, he may teach ex cathedra or he may teach in a less decisive and solemn way. Examples of specific approbation of the Decrees of the Holy Office which yet lack the force of ex cathedra definitions are given by Choupin ("Valeur des décisions doctrinales et disciplinaires du Saint-Siège", Paris, 1907, ch. ix, sect. 9). The disciplinary Decrees of the Holy Office have the same force as those of the other congregations, that is, they are binding upon all the faithful if they be formally universal; and they are binding only upon the parties interested if they be merely personal, e.g., judicial sentences, which are law for the parties in the case. If, however, they be personal and at the same time equivalently universal, canonists are not fully agreed as to their force. For a discussion of this point see Choupin, op. cit., ch. iv, sect. 33, and the authors cited by him.


    This congregation was established by Sixtus V under the title of Congregation for the Erection of Churches and for Consistorial Provisions (pro erectione ecclesiarum et provisionibus consistorialibus). Its original organization was somewhat different from that of the modern congregations of cardinals. It was a mixed congregation composed of cardinals and of prelates, similar to the original Congregation of Propaganda (De Luca, op. cit., dis. 23). It had also a secretary who, as a rule, was not a prelate but an advocate ( peritus togatus ). As time went on it took the form of the other congregations, which consisted entirely of cardinals, to whom, in this congregation, two subaltern officers were added, one who filled the office of secretary and another who acted as surrogate ( sostituto ). These two prelates filled the same offices for the College of Cardinals. Originally, the cardinal dean was the prefect of this congregation, but later, the prefecture was reserved by the pope to himself. The recent Constitution of Pius X has in part changed the organization of this congregation. The prefecture is still retained by the sovereign pontiff, and the congregation is formed exclusively of cardinals, selected by the pope ; the secretary, however, is no longer a prelate but a cardinal priest, who is appointed by the Holy Father himself and who, as will be seen, has become one of the most important officers of the Curia. To the cardinal in control of the congregation is attached a prelate who has the title of assessor, and who, at the present time also, is the secretary of the Sacred College . There is, likewise, a surrogate. These are major officials, and therefore, together with the cardinal secretary, form the congresso . This congregation has numerous inferior officers. At present, its personnel is completed by several consultors, as had been the case in former times, before that office was suppressed. These consultors, with the exception of two, are selected by the pope ; the exceptions are the assessor of the Holy Office, and the secretary of the Congregation of Extraordinary Ecclesiastical Affairs, who are ex-officio consultors of the Congregation of the Consistory.

    The work of the congregation formerly was to prepare the matters to be proposed and examined in the Consistory, and to bestow such honours on ecclesiastics who sought them as it might seem fit to grant. The new constitution, however, has greatly extended the scope of the Congregation of the Consistory, to the degree that, although in that Constitution the latter is named second among the congregations, it might be considered the first in importance, on account of the great number of matters which have been assigned to it, and its great influence in the affairs of the Church from both the disciplinary and the administrative point of view. The Holy Office, however, retains its priority, whether by reason of ancient custom or because it deals with matters concerning the Faith. The great volume of the business which now falls to the Congregation of the Consistory and the great importance of the matters with which it has to deal have necessitated a division of the congregation into two very distinct parts, corresponding to two distinct classes of business. One section of the congregation has been formed for the purpose of preparing the business to be brought before the Consistory ; to establish in places, not subject to Propaganda, new dioceses and collegiate as well as cathedral chapters; to elect bishops, Apostolic administrators, suffragans or assistants of other bishops ; to prepare the processes in such cases and to examine the candidates in doctrine. As regards these processes, it may be observed that when the appointment is to be made in a place where the Holy See has a diplomatic representative, the preparation of the necessary documents is left to the office of the cardinal secretary of State, which is in a position more easily to obtain the necessary information and to collect the necessary documents. These documents and information are transmitted to the Congregation of the Consistory, which prepares the report, or official sheet, on the matter to be distributed among the cardinals. The other section of this congregation transacts all the business that relates to the government of dioceses not under Propaganda : within its scope is the supervision of bishops in regard to the fulfilment of their duties, the review of reports on the state of their Churches presented by bishops, announcements of apostolic visitations, the review of those previously made, and, with the approval of the sovereign pontiff, the prescription of necessary or opportune remedies; finally, the supervision of all that concerns the government, discipline, temporal administration, and studies in seminaries.

    It is clear that the legislator intended to give to the Congregation of the Consistory complete authority in all that relates to a diocese as a juridical institution, including its establishment and its conservation; whence the power of electing bishops, of supervising them in the performance of their duties, and of controlling the seminaries so intimately connected with the future of the dioceses. For the same reason it would appear that the Congregation of the Consistory has authority in all that pertains to the creation of diocesan societies or committees, rural banks, and kindred establishments within a diocese. On the other hand, a very high function was given to this congregation in the new organization of the Curia, namely, the power of settling any doubts in relation to the competency of the other congregations, exception being made for the Holy Office, which is empowered to determine for itself all such doubts. Nevertheless, the Holy Office did not disdain to submit to the judgment of the Congregation of the Consistory a question that arose in regard to the competency of the former, after the promulgation of the Constitution "Sapienti consilio", It is the duty of the Congregation of the Consistory to send to bishops the invitations to assist at solemn canonizations or other solemn pontifical ceremonies, according to ancient custom.

    Its proceedings are characterized by the same strict secrecy that marks the deliberations of the Holy Office. As to the division of business between the congresso and the full congregation of cardinals, the same arrangement obtains as in the other congregations, which is to leave to the congresso the matters of minor importance while matters of greater interest are considered in the full congregation. Among such matters are the nomination of bishops or of Apostolic administrators (except, in regard to the latter, in cases of urgency, in which the congresso acts alone), the creation of new dioceses, or the unification of existing ones, the erection of chapters, the drafting of general rules for the direction of seminaries, and other similar matters the enumeration of which would take us beyond the necessary limits of this article.


    This congregation, which owes its existence to the recent Constitution "Sapienti consilio", exercises a great influence upon ecclesiastical discipline through the authority given to it in its establishment, to regulate all sacramental discipline. Its numerous and important duties were formerly divided among the other congregations and offices. As regards matrimony, for example, causes of matrimony ratified and not consummated were referred to the Congregation of the Council, dispensations for the external forum were granted by the Dataria or, in certain cases, the P nitentiaria; many matters relating to the Sacrament of the Eucharist belonged to the Congregation of Rites. Many other examples could be cited; now, however, all such matters pertain to the Congregation of the Sacraments, excepting the rights of the Holy Office, as said above, and the power of the Congregation of Rites to determine all that concerns the ceremonies to be observed in the administration of the sacraments. With so wide and important a field of activities, this congregation required a special organization. Accordingly, besides its cardinals, one of whom is its prefect, it has a secretary, who deals with all the matters referred to it, and who was later given three sub-secretaries -- a feature in which it differs from all other congregations. Each one of these sub-secretaries is the director of one of the following sections of the congregation.

    A. The first section deals with all matrimonial dispensations, except those that imply disparity of religion, which pertain to the Holy Office. With regard to these dispensations it is important to note the distinction introduced by the Special Rules between impediments in the major degree and impediments in minor degree, and correspondingly between major and minor dispensations. Minor dispensations concern impediments of relationship or affinity of the third and the fourth degrees in the collateral line, whether of equal degrees, or of unequal degrees -- i.e., of the fourth degree with the third or of the third degree with the second. Minor dispensations are also given from impediments of affinity in the first degree, or in the second degree, whether simple or mixed -- i.e., of the first with the second degree -- when this impediment arises from illicit relations, or from spiritual kinship of whatever nature, or from impediments of public decorum, whether arising out of espousals or out of ratified marriage already dissolved by pontifical dispensation. Dispensations from these minor impediments are now granted ex rationalibus causis a S. Sede probatis, which means that none of the reasons formerly required, called canonical, are now necessary for obtaining the dispensations in question. Moreover, these dispensations are supposed to be given motu proprio and with certain knowledge, from which it follows that they are not vitiated by obreption or by subreption. The other impediments, and therefore the other dispensations are considered as of the major order, and the Special Rules show that the dispensations of this order more frequently granted are those relating to the impediment of consanguinity in the second collateral degree, or the mixed second or third degree with the first; those relating to affinity of the first or of the second equal collateral degree, or of the second or third with the first; finally, those relating to crime arising from adultery with a promise of future marriage.

    B. The second section of the Congregation of the Sacraments also deals exclusively with matrimony, and exercises its functions in all matters concerning that sacrament, except dispensations from impediments. Of its competency, therefore, are the concessions of sanatio in radice , the legitimation of illegitimate children, dispensations from marriage ratified and not consummated, the solution of doubts concerning matrimonial law, and the hearing of causes concerning the validity of marriages. In regard to the latter, however, it is to be noted that, the new Constitution on the Curia having established a complete separation between those departments which exercise judicial power and those which are administrative, and, on the other hand, the very nature of matrimonial causes making it impossible to determine them administratively, this power granted to the Congregation of the Sacraments should be interpreted reasonably, in such a way as not to be at variance with the spirit of the new Constitution. It seems, therefore, that this faculty should be held to signify only that, in special cases, in which the sovereign pontiff, for special reasons, might consider it desirable to withdraw a matrimonial cause from the Rota, and submit it to the judgment of a congregation, the Congregation of the Sacraments should be considered the competent congregation under such circumstances. It must be admitted, further, that if a matrimonial cause be brought before this congregation, the congregation may, if it please, hastily review any matrimonial cause brought before it and reject it, if found futile, ab ipso limine . If, however, the cause be found admissible, the congregation should refer it to the Rota (unless there be a special commission of the pope to the contrary), seeing that the very nature of causes concerning the matrimonial bond, in which not private interests are at issue but the public welfare, demands that those causes be determined judicially, and not administratively.

    None of this, however, applies to dispensation from a ratified, but not consummated, marriage, because the nature of such a case requires that it be determined administratively, since it relates to the concession of a grace. This does not do away with the necessity of establishing beyond doubt the non-consummation, or the existence of the requisite conditions for the dispensation, since these conditions constitute the proof that the sovereign pontiff has power, in the concrete case under consideration, to grant the dispensation validly and licitly, and therefore come within the domain of administrative power. On the other hand the congregation is always free to refer to the Rota the establishment of the fact of non-consummation.

    C. The third section of this congregation deals with all matters concerning the other six sacraments than matrimony. It has authority in all matters touching the validity of ordinations, in all matters of discipline that concern these six sacraments and also the dispensations in such matters. In the Special Rules, as examples to illustrate the competency of this congregation, specification is made of some of the dispensations or graces reserved to it; these may be mentioned here for the guidance of those who may wish to apply to the Holy See. This section grants permission to preserve the Blessed Sacrament in churches or chapels which are not so authorized by common Law ; to celebrate Mass in private chapels, exercising over them due supervision; to celebrate Mass before dawn, after midday, or in the open air; to celebrate Mass on Holy Thursday, or the three Masses of Christmas, at night, in private chapels ; to wear a skull-cap or a wig either while celebrating Mass or in the exposition of the Blessed Sacrament ; to blind and partially blind priests to celebrate the Votive Mass of the Blessed Virgin; to celebrate Mass aboard ship; to consecrate a bishop on a day other than those established by the Pontifical, or to confer Holy orders extra tempora , that is, on other days than those appointed by law ; finally, to dispense the faithful -- even members of religious orders -- from the Eucharistic fast in cases of necessity.

    The competency of this congregation is limited in relation both to persons and to places; its authority does not extend to places subject to Propaganda, or to members of religious orders, who for dispensations, relating even to the sacraments, must go to the Congregation of Religious (an exception being made in regard to the Eucharistic fast, as stated above). As to the sacrament of matrimony, however, the competency of the Congregation of the Sacraments is universal in relation to place; objectively, however, all that concerns the impediments of mixed religion or of disparity of worship and the Pauline privilege pertains exclusively to the Holy Office.


    When the Council of Trent had brought its gigantic work to an end, the Fathers were greatly concerned for the practical application of their disciplinary decrees. The council therefore made a strong appeal to the sovereign pontiff to make provision for this important end, as is shown by the last (the twenty-fifth) session of the council, entitled De recipiendis et observandis decretis . Pius IV, in his zeal for the execution of the Decrees of the Council of Trent, besides other measures taken by him to this end (see the Constitution "Benedictus Deus" of 26 January, 1563), by a Motu Proprio of 2 August, 1564, commissioned eight cardinals to supervise the execution of the Tridentine Decrees and gave them ample faculties to that end, providing however, that cases of doubt or of difficulty, as he had already decreed in the Constitution "Benedictus Deus", should be referred to him. In this Motu Proprio, Pius IV referred to the congregation of cardinals thus created as "Congregatio super exsecutione et observatione S. Concilii Tridentini". As time went on, and in view of the interpretation of frequent doubts, the congregation received from the successors of Pius IV the power also to interpret the Decrees of the Council of Trent, so that Sixtus V, in his Constitution "Immensa", already calls it "Congregatio pro exsecutione et interpretatione Concilii Tridentini", a title given to it before his time. Gregory XIV afterwards conferred upon it authority to reply to questions in the name of the pope.

    The number of cardinals composing the Congregation of the Council was never restricted to eight, for to that number, which had been assigned by Pius IV, four more were soon added. The number was generally greater than the original eight, and always variable, depending upon circumstances and upon the wishes of the Holy Father. One of its cardinals has the office of prefect, it also has a secretary, and that office has always been filled by eminent men, some of them famous -- to take a few examples, Fagnano, Petra, and Prospero Lambertini, afterwards Benedict XIV. A sub-secretary and other minor officials complete the personnel of the Congregation of the Council. In its origin, and indeed until the new Constitution on the Curia, this congregation was without consultors, although a special congregation created by Pius IX for the revision of

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