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Dear visitor: Summer is here, and you may be thinking about a well-deserved vacation, family get-togethers, BBQs with neighborhood friends. More than likely, making a donation to Catholic Answers is not on your radar right now. But this is exactly the time we most need your help. The “summer slowdown” in donations is upon us, but the work of spreading the gospel and explaining and defending the Faith never takes a break. Your gift today will change lives and save souls for Christ this summer! The reward is eternal. Thank you and God bless.

Roman Congregations

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Roman Congregations, the.—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 (Sacrce 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 connection 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 poenitentiarii 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” (January 22, 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: (I) for Holy Inquisition; (2) for the Signature of Grace; (3) for the erection of churches and consistorial provisions; (4) for the abundance of supplies and prosperity of the Church‘s temporal dominions; (5) for sacred rites and ceremonies; (6) for equipping the fleet and maintaining it for the defense of the Church‘s dominions; (7) for an index of forbidden books; (8) for the execution and interpretation of the Council of Trent; (9) for relieving the ills of the States of the Church; (10) for the University of the Roman study (or school); (11) for regulations of religious orders; (12) for regulations of bishops and other prelates; (13) for taking care of roads, bridges, and waters; (14) for the Vatican printing-press; (15) 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 Romance Curiae 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 June 29, 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 over-shadowed 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 connection. 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 (normce 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 normce peculiares and the normce 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 sanctae inquisitionis hcereticce pravitatis. Benedict XIV calls it Romance Universalis Inquisitionis Congregatio (Const. “Sollicita”). Later it had the official title Suprema Congregatio sanctae romance 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 July 21, 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 curiae 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 (consultors 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 offensivce, “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 “Normae 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: “Haec 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 offenses 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 connection 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 (December 17, 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 odor of sanctity at Perugia in 1507; and he adds: “Ce genre de causes est devenu ensuite l’apanage de la congregation des Rites; mais si la vraie saintete echappe actuellement a la juridiction de l’inquisition, ce tribunal a conserve le privilege de juger la fausse saintete. Dans cet ordre d’idees nous trouvons les proces, qui se font en tour de Rome pour examiner les prophesies et revelations” (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 congregation—a most prudent measure indeed, for the protection of the good name of individuals in a congregation which must deal with most grievous offenses against the Faith. Grimaldi (op. cit.) rightly says, speaking of the secrecy of the Holy Office: “Le saint-office ayant s’occuper des delits commis non seulement contre la foi, mais encore d’autres qui ne relevent que de tresloin de l’intelligence, it s’ensuit qu’etre cite a ce tribunal n’est pas une recommendation, et en sortir, meme par la porte d’un acquitement, ne sera jamais un titre de gloire. Aussi doit-on benir ce mystere qui protege celui qui comparait devant ce tribunal, et dont le proces se deroule sans qu’aucune phase n’en ait transpire clans le public” (As the Holy Office has to deal not only with offenses 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 sure 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 decisions doctrinales et disciplinaires du Saint-Siege”, Paris, 1907, ch. ix,—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, § 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 (peritu8 toyatus). 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 cardinaldean 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 consult-ors, 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 honors 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 as-signed 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 Poenitentiaria; 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.

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.

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 January 26, 1563), by a Motu Proprio of August 2, 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 provincial councils had consultors from 1849, and these consultors in course of time were employed in the transaction of the business of the Congregation of the Council. The recent Constitution, which suppressed the special congregation for the synods, endowed the Congregation of the Council with consultors, to be selected by the pope, some of whom must be conversant with matters of administration.

The competency of this congregation, extending to the interpretation and to the execution of the Decrees of the Council of Trent, which relate to almost all the branches of canon law, was very great. When the Rota ceased to exercise judicial functions, matrimonial causes were referred to the Congregation of the Council. There were also added to this congregation a Commission of prelates, established by Benedict XIV, for the examination of the reports of bishops on the state of their dioceses (which was commonly called “the Little Council”), and the special congregation, mentioned above, created by Pius IX, for the revision of provincial councils. At present, the interpretation of the Decrees of the Council of Trent is no longer of the exclusive competency of the Congregation of the Council, but is shared by each congregation within the limits of its particular jurisdiction. On the other hand, the tribunals of the Curia may, upon occasion, interpret those Decrees judicially, in their application to concrete cases. The present competency of the Congregation of the Council, although differing a good deal from what it formerly was, is nevertheless extensive. In general this congregation has the supervision of discipline of the secular clergy and of the Christian people. From which it may be seen that, while this congregation has lost jurisdiction in many matters that formerly pertained to it—the sacraments, the religious orders, matrimonial causes, and other matters—it has almost absorbed the business of the former Congregation of Bishops and Regulars—in so far as relates to bishops. It has charge of the observance of ecclesiastical precepts; consequently, fasting, abstinence, tithes, and the observance of feast days are within its jurisdiction, and to it recourse must be had for dispensations in those matters. Parish priests and canons, pious sodalities, pious unions, beneficent societies, stipends for Masses, rural banks, diocesan tributes, ecclesiastical benefices, and kindred interests are also under its jurisdiction. In brief, it exercises jurisdiction over diocesan activities in regard to both clergy and laity, as the Congregation of the Consistory exercises authority over the diocese in relation to its constitution, its conservation, and its development.

In this congregation, as in others, matters of greater importance are considered by the full congregation of the cardinals; among these matters are the interpretation of laws in doubtful cases, the granting of unusual dispensations, the revision of provincial councils, and the like. Matters of less moment are determined by the congresso. To give an idea of the methods of procedure, it may be said, for example, that in the revision of a provincial council, all the records of the council are referred to a consultor, who is required to give a written opinion upon them. This report is printed, and is distributed to at least five other consultors, if not to all of the consultors, together with the records of the council. After the private preparation which each is bound to make, the chosen consultors, or the entire college of consultors, meet and, in as many sessions as the case may require, discuss all the Acts of the council. The written opinion above referred to, with a report of the discussion of the consultors and of the proposed corrections and modifications, is then submitted to the full congregation of the cardinals, who, in turn, examine all the records of the matter, order the corrections to be made, and approve the council.


—Sixtus V first erected by a Brief of May 17, 1586, and afterwards, by the Constitution “Immensa”, confirmed, a congregation “super consultationibus regularium” distinct from the congregation “super consultationibus episcoporum et aliorum praelatorum” mentioned in the same Constitution. In 1601 these two congregations were already combined in the Congregation of Bishops and Regulars, to which, in course of time, were united three other congregations whose functions were closely related. These three were: the Congregation on the State of Religious (super state regularium), created by Innocent X on August 15, 1652, for the reformation of regulars in Italy, and suppressed by Innocent XII on August 4, 1698; the Congregation on Regular Discipline (super disciplina regutari), instituted by Innocent XII on July 18, 1695, for the reformation of regulars not only in Italy but throughout the whole world; the Congregation on the State of the Regular Orders (super stalu regularium ordinum), created by Pius IX on June 17, 1847. The last-named and the one on regular discipline were suppressed by Pius X, by the Motu Proprio of May 26, 1906, which united these congregations with that of Bishops and Regulars. The new Constitution of Pius X abolishes the Congregation of Regulars and Bishops and transfers that part of its business which concerns bishops to the Congregation of the Council, and that part of it which concerns regulars to a congregation (congregatio negotiis religiosorum sodalium praeposita) created by the new Constitution, and which, by common usage sanctioned by the legend on the official seal of the congregation, has received the name of Congregation of Religious.

This body has the usual organization of the Roman Congregations. It is formed of several cardinals, who are chosen by the pope, and one of whom is the prefect of the congregation; these cardinals are assisted by a secretary and a sub-secretary, who are the major officials of the congregation, and by several minor officials. In regard to the latter it is to be noted that, as the amount of its business necessitates a division of the congregation into three parts (as in the case of the Congregation of the Sacraments), the highest dignitaries among the minor officials are the three assistants who are placed over the three sections. One of these sections has to deal with matters relating to religious orders; another, with the business of religious congregations or associations of men, of whatever nature those associations may be; the third, with business relating to congregations of women. This congregation also has a college of consultors.

The Constitution of Pius X clearly defines the competency of this congregation, which is to pass judgment upon all matters relating to religious persons of either sex, whether bound by solemn or by simple vows, or to those persons who, although they be not religious in the canonical sense of the word, live as religious—such as the oblates of certain communities of men or of women, who, without being bound by vows, live a common life under an approved rule. The third orders, consisting of seculars, are also under this congregation. It decides in litigations between members of religious orders, or between religious and bishops, and it is the competent tribunal in cases which have to be dealt with in the way of discipline (in via disciplinari) where a religious appears either as plaintiff or as defendant. Hence it is to be inferred, and indeed is expressly stated in the Constitution, that causes which have to be dealt with in the judicial way must be referred to the Rota, the rights of the Holy Office being always safeguarded. Finally, all common law dispensations to regulars pertain to this congregation, excepting dispensation from the Eucharistic fast, which, as said above, pertains to the Congregation of the Sacraments. The Congregation of Religious is alone competent to approve new religious institutes and their constitutions, as well as to modify institutes already approved, and these being matters of grave importance, the full congregation deals with them.


—This is the abbreviated title of the congregation officially known as Sacra Congregatio de propaganda fide, or christiano nomini propagando, the chief functions of which concern the regulation of ecclesiastical affairs in what are commonly known as “missionary countries”. It had its origin in a commission of cardinals established under Gregory XIII (1572-85), which became a congregation properly so called under Gregory XV (1621-23). Before the Constitution “Sapienti consilio” (June 29, 1908) came into force, the Congregation of Propaganda had jurisdiction over several countries in which normal Catholic hierarchies of the Latin Rite were established, but the Constitution adopted, in general, the plan of leaving to Propaganda only those countries or districts (excepting for the Oriental rites mentioned below) where ecclesiastical authority is vested in vicars or prefects Apostolic. Thus, Great Britain, the United States, Canada, Holland, and the Duchy of Luxemburg were removed from the jurisdiction of Propaganda, although, as an exception to the general rule, Australia, where a normal hierarchy exists, was allowed to remain under that jurisdiction. Besides its territorial jurisdiction, however, the congregation is invested with a personal jurisdiction over the spiritual affairs of all Catholics, in any part of the world, who belong to any of the Oriental rites. (A full account of the history, scope, methods, and work of this congregation will be found in the separate article Sacred Congregation of Propaganda.)


—There has always been felt in the Church, especially since the invention of printing, the necessity of preventing the faithful from reading books that might ruin either faith or morals. As early as 1501 a Constitution of Alexander VI, addressed to the four ecclesiastical provinces of Germany, contains very wise prescriptions, later confirmed and extended to the whole world by Leo X in the Fifth Council of the Lateran (1515). In keeping with these laws, catalogues of the books prohibited were published by private enterprise, and sometimes with ecclesiastical authority, not, however, the supreme authority of the Church. Among these mention should be made of the three of Louvain, 1546 (approved by the emperor and published by the university), 1550, and 1558; that of Spain; that of Paris, published by the Sorbonne in 1542; that of Cologne, published by the university in 1549; that of Venice, published by Casa, the Apostolic nuncio, in 1549, and another, published in 1554 by the Inquisition; that of Florence, 1552, also published by the Inquisition; that of Milan, published in 1554 by the archbishop.

The custom of forming these indexes having been established (the catalogues being sometimes arranged alphabetically) there soon asserted itself the necessity for a general index under the supreme authority of the Church, and Paul IV commissioned the Holy Office to prepare such an index, which was accordingly published in 1557, and again, more accurately, in 1559. Later appeared the Tridentine Index, so called because its publication was ordered by the great council. It was approved and published by Pius IV in 1564. This index was often reprinted, always with new additions, and it is now followed, having been modified and corrected by Leo XIII who, in 1900, published it with his Constitution “Officiorum ac munerum”, in which he abolished the old laws and established new ones for the condemnation and for the preliminary censure of books.

In 1571 Pius V created the Congregation for the Reform of the Index and for the Correction of Books (de reformando indice et corrigendis libris). In the following year Gregory XIV gave a better form to this congregation, which Sixtus V confirmed by his Constitution “Immensa”. It retains its primitive organization to the present day, the Constitution of Pius X having introduced no notable alterations. Like all the other congregations it consists of a number of cardinals, one of whom is its prefect; the master of the Sacred Palace (a Dominican) is ex officio its assistant. Pius V, by a Motu Proprio of 1570, had already amply authorized that functionary to correct published books. Another Dominican is the secretary of the Congregation of the Index, which has a college of consultors whose office is to deliver written opinions on the books submitted to their judgment by the congregation. The Congregation of the Index censures and condemns books which it considers dangerous to faith or morals. Its jurisdiction is universal, extending to all Catholics. It can therefore grant permission for the reading of a book that has been condemned, or for the publication of corrected editions of books that have been proscribed. Its functions are naturally related to those of the Holy Office, of which it may with some reason be considered an appendix or auxiliary congregation. The Constitution of Pius X provides that, notwithstanding the strict secrecy to which the officers of both congregations are held, they may communicate to each other, upon occasion, those proceedings which relate to the prohibition of books, though they may communicate nothing else. One change made by Pius X in the functions of this congregation considerably widens the scope of its activities: the traditional rule was that the Index did not condemn any book which had not been denounced to it; now, on the contrary, the congregation is charged with the work of seeking out pernicious publications, and, after mature examination, condemning and proscribing them.

The procedure of the congregation was accurately determined by an instruction of Clement VIII and by a Constitution (July 9, 1753) of Benedict XIV. The consultor or consultors selected for the examination of a book to be judged, having made their written report, if it appears that the book should be condemned, a preparatory congregation is held, which consists of the Master of the Sacred Palace, the Secretary of the Index, and six consultors, versed in the matter of which the book treats and selected by the cardinal prefect. At this meeting, the passages of the publication of which complaint is made are diligently examined, and the question whether or not they contain errors is discussed. The secretary prepares an accurate report of the views of the preparatory congregation, and then refers it to the full congregation of the cardinals, at which the cause is carefully examined and final judgment is rendered. Benedict XIV required great consideration to be shown to any distinguished Catholic writer who enjoyed a good name. Not only did this pope prescribe that the work of such a writer should not be condemned without some formula calculated to mitigate the severity of the condemnation, such as donec corrigatur, or donec expurgetur (“ until it be corrected,” “until it be expurgated”), but, he provided that the matter should first be referred to the author himself, and his attention called to the objectionable passages. If the author then refused to deal with the congregation, or rejected the corrections that were required, the decree of condemnation was to be published. If, however, the author prepared a new edition, the decree of condemnation was not to be published, unless a great number of the copies containing the errors had been circulated, in which case, of course, the public welfare would require the publication of the decree; but the pope provided that it should be made clear that only the first edition was comprised in the condemnation.


—This congregation was established by Sixtus V in his Constitution “Immensa”, to which frequent reference has already been made. The organization of the Congregation of Rites does not differ from that of other Roman congregations, there being a certain number of cardinals, assisted by a secretary and a surrogate (sostituto), and also by an adequate number of minor officials. Besides these, the Congregation of Rites, in view of special functions to which reference will be made further on, has a great number of prelates, officials, and consultors. The order of precedence among the consultors is determined by length of service in their office. The prelate-officials sit in the following order: first, after the secretary of the congregation, is the sacristan to His Holiness, after whom comes one of the Apostolic prothonotaries permanently attached to this office, next is the dean of the Rota, with the two oldest auditors, after these the master of the Sacred Palace, the promotor of the Faith, and the assessor, or sub-promotor. Although there are no ex-officio consultors, that is, no consultors who by reason of their office in the Curia are entitled to sit among the consultors of this congregation, there are, nevertheless, certain religious orders—the Friars Minor, the Servites, the Barnabites, the Jesuits—which have obtained from different popes the privilege of being represented by one member each in this college of consultors.

The Congregation of Rites has a double function. It is charged with the direction of the Liturgy of the Latin Church, and therefore, with the supervision of the performance of the rites prescribed by the Church for the celebration of the sacred mysteries and other ecclesiastical functions and offices, and also, with the granting of all privileges, personal or local, temporary or perpetual, which relate to the rites or ceremonies of the Church. It is manifest that the duties of this congregation are of the highest importance: they are concerned with the solemnity of the worship offered to God, the maintenance of the Faith, and the development of devotion and of Christian sentiment among the faithful. The same congregation has another charge of no less importance: the decision of causes of beatification and canonization of servants of God, and of the veneration of their relics.

In the process of beatification and canonization the most important official is the promotor of the Faith, whose chief duty it is to diligently examine the local investigations carried out by the authority of the bishops, or, at Rome, of the pope, and to bring out in them all that may in any way cast doubt upon the heroic virtue of the servant of God whose cause is under consideration. It is on account of this duty, which implies a systematic opposition to the proofs of sanctity, that the official in question has come to be popularly called “the devil’s advocate”. It is easy to see, however, that this office conduces to the splendor of the Church and to the honor of the Faith; for to declare a servant of God to be a saint is to propose him as a model to the faithful, and one cannot fail to see how necessary it is that this be done only in the case of one truly heroic, of whose virtue in the heroic degree the pontiff has acquired the greatest moral certainty that human means can establish. It is true that the assistance of the Holy Ghost cannot fail the head of the Church of Jesus Christ in a matter of this kind; but the sovereign pontiff is not on that account exempt from the obligation of acting in the premises with all the circumspection that human prudence requires. And in this effort to attain human certainty the pope is greatly assisted by the promotor of the Faith, who, after a preliminary study of the cause, has to propose objections in regard to the validity of the proceedings and the credibility of the testimony as well as all the objections possibly to be found in the life of the servant of God whose cause is being examined, and in the miracles alleged to have been performed by God at the intercession of that servant. These objections are presented in the three congregations, or meetings, held to consider the question of virtue, and in the other three which are held to consider the question of the miracles. The promotor of the Faith is always selected from among the Consistorial advocates, and always has the assistance of a sub-advocate who takes his place, upon occasion, and who in every instance acts in the name of the promotor. The latter official formerly had the power to appoint, and to remove, his assistant. Besides these two chief officials, the congregation has a special notary for that part of its functions which concerns canonization.

The congregations, or meetings held to consider the question of virtue, like those at which the question of miracles is considered, are generally three in number. The first of them is called the ante-preparatory, and is attended by the prelate-officials and the consultors, under the presidency of the cardinal relator of the cause, who does not vote, but who, upon the votes of the others who are present, determines whether the case deserves to go beyond this hearing. The second meeting, called the preparatory, is attended by all the cardinals of the congregation, by the prelate-officials, and by the consultors. At this meeting the cardinals do not vote, but, after hearing the votes of the others present, determine whether the cause may be carried to a discussion before the pope, which is done only when there is moral certainty of a successful issue. This meeting is the most interesting of all; in it the cause not infrequently falls to the ground. Assuming, however, that the cardinals do not throw out the case definitively, it very often happens that another preparatory meeting called nova prceparatoria is required, to elucidate some point relating to the virtue of the servant of God or to the miracles in question. Sometimes there is even a third meeting for the same purpose. The regular third meeting is called the general congregation. It is held under the presidency of the sovereign pontiff himself and is attended by all the cardinals who form the Congregation of Rites, the prelate-officials, and the consultors, all of whom vote—the consultors and the prelate-officials first, and then, when the consultors have withdrawn, the cardinals. The pope decides definitively; as a rule, however, he does not pronounce his judgment at once, but takes time to deliberate and to implore Divine light upon the question. Besides the above meetings, others, called ordinary and special ordinary, are held for the purpose of examining the proceedings and the proof of the fame of sanctity which is necessary for the introduction of a cause of beatification. (See also Beatification and Canonization.)

Returning to the first duty of this congregation, which is the supervision and direction of the Liturgy it may be said that the inspection, correction, and condemnation of liturgical books of whatever kind pertain to the Congregation of Rites (saving always the prerogatives of the Holy Office in matters of faith), as well as the approbation of new liturgical Offices and calendars, and especially the authoritative solution of all doubts which may arise on liturgical matters. Recourse must be had, therefore, to this congregation for all faculties, indulgences, and dispensations relating to liturgical functions. Thus, for example, it is for the Congregation of Rites to grant the faculty to bless sacred vestments, the authorization to expose upon the altar the image of one who has been beatified, or to dedicate an altar to such a servant of God, the right to wear special insignia during choral offices, etc. In the performance of these functions, the Congregation of Rites is assisted by three commissions, established within its own body. The first of these is the Liturgical Commission, created for the revision of Decrees concerning rites. This work was begun and finished by Leo XIII, the congregation publishing an authentic edition of its Decrees (1898-1900). Although the work for which it was created has been done, this commission remains, and is now consulted on more important questions which may arise concerning the sacred rites. The second commission, also instituted by Leo XIII, in 1902, is the Historico-Liturgical Commission, which has the function of judging historical questions concerning the sacred rites. The third is the Commission on Sacred Music, created by Pius X, in 1904, the functions of which are connected with the Motu Proprio on sacred music of 1903 and with other acts of Pius X on the same subject. (See the letter of December 8, 1903, to Cardinal Respighi, the Decree of January 8, 1904, the Motu Proprio of the April 25, 1904, on the Vatican edition of the liturgical books, and the other two Decrees of 11 and August 14, 1905.)


—It is not quite certain who created this congregation. Many attribute its establishment to Sixtus V, others to his immediate predecessor, Gregory XIII. Haine says that the latter opinion is proved to be correct by the records of the congregation itself. Supposing this to be the case, the error of certain authors is apparent, when they consider this congregation to be little more than a branch of the Congregation of Rites or to have derived its existence from the latter. It is, on the contrary, more ancient than the last-named congregation, and deals directly with the highest division of the Liturgy, considering the personages whom it concerns. For this congregation is charged with the direction of all the papal ceremonies, as well as of the ceremonial of cardinals, whether in the pontifical court (aula) or chapel (cappella pontificia), or elsewhere. It is reasonable that a special congregation should have under its care ceremonies so august and solemn, since it is of the highest importance that when the supreme head of the Church participates in ecclesiastical functions attended by the most illustrious dignitaries of the Church, all should be in keeping with that decorum which befits their exalted character. As in all courts there is a grand master of ceremonies, charged with the direction of the sovereign’s acts on occasions of State, so it was necessary that at the pontifical Court there should be an authority to preside over such functions. This requirement is supplied by the Congregation of Ceremonies, which, besides the direction of liturgical functions, is charged with the direction of the pontifical court ceremonial for the reception of sovereigns or of ambassadors. It also communicates instructions to the legates of the Holy See for the maintenance of due decorum in transacting the affairs of their missions. This congregation also instructs the members of the Noble Guard and the ablegate who are sent to convey to new cardinals, living in Catholic states outside of Rome, the news of their promotion, together with the cardinal’s hat and the red biretta. It instructs newly-promoted cardinals, too, on the etiquette to be followed conformably with their new dignity. Finally, it solves the questions of precedence which arise among cardinals or among ambassadors to the Holy See.


—In former times, when questions of exceptional interest to the Church presented themselves, and circumstances required that they should in prudence be treated with secrecy, the popes were wont to establish special congregations of cardinals for the consideration of those matters. These congregations were called congregations of State. Pius VI, following this custom, on the occasion of the revolutionary conditions of France in 1793, established a congregation of this kind, which he called the Congregation for the Ecclesiastical Affairs of France (Congregatio super negotiis ecclesiasticis regni Galliarum), a title which Pius VII, in 1805, changed to Congregation for Extraordinary Ecclesiastical Affairs (Congregatio de negotiis ecclesiasticis extraordinariis). This congregation remained in existence until 1809, when the exile of Pius VII brought it to an end. In 1814, when Pius VII returned to Rome, the needs of the Church being still exceptional, the pope reestablished this congregation under the title of Extraordinary Congregation for the Ecclesiastical Affairs of the Catholic World (Congregatio extraordinaria praeposita negotiis ecclesiasticis orbis catholici). In 1827, however, the congregation reassumed its former name of Congregation for Extraordinary Ecclesiastical Affairs, which it retains to the present time. At the head of this congregation is the secretary of State, who presides over it not as prefect, but in virtue of his office; and although it has a secretary and a sub-secretary, the congregation nevertheless has no secretary’s office of its own, the first section of the office of the secretary of State serving the purpose. The scope of the powers of this congregation is not fixed. It was created for extraordinary affairs, and deals only with such matters as the sovereign pontiff, through his secretary of State, may submit to its study and judgment.


—Sixtus V, by his Constitution “Immensa”, established a special congregation for the Roman University (Congregatio pro universitate studii romani). This establishment of learning was founded by Boniface VIII in 1303; it was later known by the name of Sapienza, and in time became extinct. In 1824, Leo XII created a new congregation to preside over the studies not only of Rome, but of all the Pontifical States. After the events of 1870, this congregation remained intact, and acquired new importance. Consisting, like all the others, of an adequate number of cardinals, the Congregation of Studies has a secretary of its own, under whom are several officials, and a college of consultors. Pursuant to the provisions of the new Constitution of Pius X, the jurisdiction of this congregation is no longer limited to the Pontifical States, much less to Rome. On the contrary, the Congregation of Studies exercises its influence throughout the Catholic world; for it directs the studies of all the greater universities or faculties under the authority of the Church, not excepting those under religious orders or congregations. It grants the faculty of conferring academic degrees, which it may also confer itself, in which case they have the same value as those conferred by an ecclesiastical university. It authorizes the establishment of new universities as well as changes in the conditions of universities already established, the authorization in either case being given by means of a pontifical Brief. As in other congregations, all graver matters must be referred to the full congregation of cardinals, which therefore determines the establishment of new universities, the more important changes in universities already existing, and the graver questions which may present themselves for solution in such institutions, the general conduct of which it also directs. Matters of minor importance are determined by its congresso.


—From the time of Sixtus IV, the care of the famous sanctuary of Loreto has been reserved exclusively to the Holy See, the arrangement having been confirmed by many successive pontiffs and especially by Julius II and Paul V. Innocent XII, in 1698, established a congregation of cardinals to preside over the affairs of the Sanctuary of Loreto; and this congregation was not abolished by the recent Constitution of Pius X, which, on the contrary, provides that the Congregation of Loreto shall remain distinct from the others, although united to the Congregation of the Council. Until the time of Gregory XVI, the Congregation of Loreto, which consists of a suitable number of cardinals, had the cardinal secretary of State for its prefect; now, however, this office is filled by prefect of the Congregation of the Council; while the secretary of the latter congregation is also secretary of the Congregation of Loreto, an office formerly belonging to the sub-datary. The competency of this congregation, until the reign of Pius VII, was extensive, since it included jurisdiction not only over the Holy House of Loreto and its property, but also over civil and criminal matters connected with that sanctuary. This jurisdiction was restricted by Pius VII, but was again extended by Leo XII. The new Constitution of Pius X does not define the powers of the Congregation of Loreto; they are certainly much diminished, however, by the events of the last fifty years in Italy, and now relate chiefly to the restorations of the basilica and supervision of the numerous pilgrimages to the shrine. The Congregation of the Council transacts the business of the Congregation of Loreto according to the rules of procedure in all other matters of its competency.


—When the ancient Basilica of St. Peter was crumbling through age, Julius II conceived the grand project of building a new temple in the place of the old one, after the plans of Bramante; and on the Saturday next after Easter, 1506, he laid its foundation stone. He realized the enormous expense that must be entailed by the realization of his project, which was to be accomplished by the charity of the faithful, convinced of the glory that would accrue to Jesus Christ and to His Church through the completion of so majestic a work. If in the Old Testament, God had wished a most sumptuous temple to stand in Jerusalem, it was right that in the New Testament another, most majestic, temple should rise to the glory of His Christ, the Man God. And, to encourage the faithful to contribute to so holy a work, the popes were bountiful in the concession of privileges and of indulgences in favor of the generous contributors to the great work. Clement VII, in 1523, established a college of sixty members which was charged with providing for the building of the basilica. This college having been suppressed, Clement VIII replaced it with a special congregation which he named the Congregation of the Fabric of St. Peter’s. From the time of Sixtus V, the cardinal archpriest of the basilica itself was the prefect of this congregation. Benedict XIV introduced considerable changes: he left to the congregation the constitution given it by Clement VIII, with its cardinal prefect, its numerous prelates and officials, such as the auditor and the treasurer of the Apostolic Camera, and others, but to this congregation he added a special one consisting of the cardinal prefect and three other cardinals, which was to have precedence in everything and to exercise and have the exclusive economical control of the basilica. The general congregation was to occupy itself thereafter only with contentious causes, since the Congregation of the Fabric still had jurisdiction in such cases, and in fact was the only competent tribunal for causes connected with the building. Pius IX, having abolished special tribunals, including that of the Fabric, saw that the general congregation was left without any province. He thereupon abolished the two congregations of Benedict XIV and established a single one, consisting not of three, but of more than three, cardinals, to which he confided the economical administration and the conservation of the basilica, adding to this charge that of the administration of many pious legacies and of Mass stipends, with authority to modify them according to circumstances. This congregation, therefore, was empowered to grant reductions of the obligations of Masses and permission to defer the celebration of these Masses for a longer time than that allowed by the rule; to allow the executors of pious legacies to make adjustments for past omissions, to delegate this power more or less extensively to bishops, and so forth.

Pius X, by his new Constitution, has restricted the competency of this congregation to the administration of the property, and to the maintenance of the basilica, a task by no means light, seeing that immense sums are expended upon it. Grimaldi (Les congregations romaines, xxii) asserts that the expense amounts to 190,000 lire (nearly $38,000) each year, which is not surprising, when it is considered that the lay employees of the basilica and those of the second class, called San Pietrini, alone amount to nearly 300 in number. Under the authority of this congregation is also the Studio del mosaico established by Sixtus V, and famous throughout the world for the perfection of its work and for the exquisite beauty of its art.


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