Canon 844

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Canon 844 is a Catholic Church canon law contained within the 1983 Code of Canon Law (1983 CIC), [lower-alpha 1] which defines the licit administration and reception of certain sacraments of the Catholic Church in normative and in particular exceptional circumstances, known in canonical theory as communicatio in sacris.

Thomas Condon wrote, in The Sanctifying Function of the Diocesan Bishop Especially in Relationship with Pastors, that this canon "empowers the bishop to regulate sacramental sharing for Catholics who might need to approach a non-Catholic minister; ... the canon enjoins the bishop to prevent a spirit of indifferentism from emerging because of sacramental sharing." [3] (p248) Condon wrote that Frederick R. McManus "noted that 'the intent of the canon is clear, namely to define the outer limits of permissible sharing of sacraments, aside from any question of validity or invalidity'." [3] (p251) The Second Vatican Council's decree on ecumenism, Unitatis Redintegratio (UR), states that "worship in common (communicatio in sacris) is not to be considered as a means to be used indiscriminately for the restoration of Christian unity." [4] (n.8) In that context, John Beal's et al. New commentary on the Code of Canon Law notes that this canon does not address the specific question of "the seriousness of the need" on occasions of worship in common such as a marriage or funeral or similar ecumenical activities. [5]


The structure of Canon 844, described in Ernest Caparros' et al. Code of Canon Law Annotated, is that the "general principle is established" first, then this canon "considers three situations of facts" which are exceptions, and finally this canon "regulates the lawful exercise of the normative activity in a particular area." [6]

In Ecclesia de Eucharistia (EE), Pope John Paul II asked the Roman Curia "to prepare a more specific document, including prescriptions of a juridical nature," [7] which Daniel Merz wrote, in The Liturgy Documents, were "in light of liturgical abuses in violation of liturgical norms." [8] Within several months, in 2004, the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments (CCDDS) gave those instructions in Redemptionis Sacramentum (RS). [9] Merz made clear that RS "should be understood as binding norms for interpreting and carrying out the liturgical laws" and "is intended to be read as a companion to" EE. [8] The instruction, in RS pertaining to this canon, is that "Catholic ministers licitly administer the Sacraments only to the Catholic faithful, who likewise receive them licitly only from Catholic ministers, except for those situations for which provision is made in" Canon 844 §§24, and Canon 861 §2. [9] [lower-alpha 2] Furthermore, "the conditions comprising" Canon 844 §4, "from which no dispensation can be given, [lower-alpha 3] cannot be separated; thus, it is necessary that all of these conditions be present together." [9]


The principle found in section one of Canon 844 is that "Catholic ministers administer the sacraments licitly to Catholic members of the Christian faithful alone." [1] (can.844§1) "Paragraph one governs the licit, rather than the valid administration of sacraments to Catholics," according to Condon. [3] (p251) This principle covers all sacraments of the Catholic Church. "The general principle is clear" as Caparros et al. describes that "Catholic ministers may lawfully administer the sacraments to Catholic faithful, who in their turn may only receive them lawfully from Catholic ministers." [6]

Exception one

The first exception is cited in section one. Baptism, according to the 1983 CIC, "is necessary for salvation" and is "the gateway to the sacraments"; through it, the recipient is "configured to Christ" by a sacramental character and "incorporated into the Church". [1] (can.849) [10] (n123) The first exception to Canon 844 is that if "an ordinary minister is absent or impeded, a catechist or another person designated for this function by the local ordinary, or in a case of necessity any person with the right intention, confers baptism licitly." [1] (can.844§1, can.861§2) [lower-alpha 4] So, for the §1 exception all of these conditions must be present together for licitness:

Exception two

The second exception is found in section two. "Whenever necessity requires it or true spiritual advantage suggests it, and provided that danger of error or of indifferentism is avoided, the Christian faithful for whom it is physically or morally impossible to approach a Catholic minister are permitted to receive the sacraments of penance, Eucharist, and anointing of the sick from non-Catholic ministers in whose Churches these sacraments are valid." [1] (can.844§2) [lower-alpha 6] Peter Vere pointed out "that the word 'Church' in" Canon 844 §2 is capitalized. "The canon does not say that Catholics may receive the aforementioned sacraments from 'non-Catholic ministers in whose churches these sacraments are valid.' In interpreting this canon," Vere wrote, "it is important" to pay attention to the "legal norms" within the 1983 CIC. Vere considered Canon 16 §1 and Canon 17: [11] Canon 16 §1 "means that the canons contained within the" 1983 CIC "are legitimately interpreted by" the legislator, i.e. Pope John Paul II "and his successors", and "those whom he has delegated to interpret the" 1983 CIC. [1] (can.16§1) [11] Canon 17 "means that the canons must be understood according to both the text and the context in which they find themselves. In cases of doubt, one should seek references elsewhere as to what was the purpose of the law, and the mind of the legislator in passing the law." [1] (can.17) [11] Applying the "legal norms" of Canon 16 §1 and Canon 17 to Canon 844 §2, "we see that the intention of the legislator, within the context of the canon, is to permit Catholics under certain circumstance to receive the sacraments from non-Catholic ministers of Churches in which the sacraments are valid. This is not a permission to receive the sacraments from non-Catholic ministers in whose churches the sacraments are valid. The difference being that the sacraments must be valid owing to the denominational Church to which the non-Catholic minister belongs, and not merely from the validity of the minister's ordination. For example, one could not receive the sacraments from a priest validly ordained within the Catholic Church who later defected from the Catholic Faith and now ministers within the Episcopalian ecclesial communion. Nor could one approach a validly-ordained non-Catholic minister who ministers the sacraments independently of the jurisdiction of a Church in which these sacraments are valid." So, Vere wrote, applying the "legal norms" of Canon 17, "we must look at parallel laws to see what the legislator means by the term 'Church' when granting permission under" Canon 844 §2 "to receive the sacraments from non-Catholic ministers in whose Churches they are valid." [11]

"The most important document that clarifies the mind and intention of the legislator," wrote Vere, is the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity's (PCPCU) Directory for the application of principles and norms on ecumenism (1993 ED) which contains "parallel laws" that "clarify the intention of the legislator with regards to" this canon. [10] [11] So, for the §2 exception all of these conditions must be present together for licitness:

Vere considered 1993 ED Norm 123, Norm 130, Norm 131, and Norm 132. Vere identified the fact that, in conformity with Norm 123, "Catholics may enjoy the full benefit of" Canon 844 §2 "when approaching a minister of a non-Catholic Eastern Church in which the sacraments are valid, in order to receive the sacraments." On the other hand, explains Vere, Norm 123 "does not apply when approaching the minister of a non-Catholic Western Church in which the sacraments are valid. Rather, this situation is covered under" the "much stricter" Norm 132. Accordingly, "before a Catholic may legally approach a non-Catholic minister within a Western Church in which the sacraments are valid, he must meet the further requirements of certain circumstances defined in" the 1993 ED. [10] (n130132) [11] Considering that Norm 132 "specifies Church in the universal sense, and not Church sui iuris ," Vere points out that, "this norm cannot be interpreted in the sense that the Catholic is unable to approach a Catholic priest of his own liturgical rite."

Society of St. Pius X

Vere wrote in 1999 that with respect to the canonical situation of the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX), "this prohibition has been confirmed" by the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei (PCED), that Masses celebrated by the SSPX "are also valid, but it is considered morally illicit for the faithful to participate in these Masses unless they are physically or morally impeded from participating in a Mass celebrated by a Catholic priest in good standing." [11] [lower-alpha 9] Vere writes that the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei (PCED), which, in some cases, "has been delegated the power of authentic interpretation of" Canon 844 §2, "does not consider the lack of opportunity to assist at a Tridentine Mass sufficient cause to receive the sacraments from a Lefebvrite cleric." For this reason, "in light of" Canons 1617 and Norms 130132, "one cannot invoke" Canon 844 §2 "in order to receive the sacraments from a Lefebvrite priest simply because a Tridentine Mass is lacking." [11]

"Furthermore," because the SSPX does not claim ecclesiastical jurisdiction, wrote Vere, "the Catholic Church is not certain at the present whether the SSPX constitutes a Church like the Eastern Orthodox or the Polish National Catholic Church, or whether the SSPX is simply a loose federation of acephalous (independent) priests and episcopal vagantes (wandering bishops) like the Old Catholic Movement in North America. Thus where to classify the SSPX schism at the moment represents an internal dilemma for the Church," [11] According to the PCPCU the 1993 ED "is not concerned with the" SSPX. "The situation of the members of" the SSPX "is an internal matter of the Catholic Church" and the SSPX "is not another Church or Ecclesial Community in the meaning used in the" 1993 ED. [lower-alpha 10] Analogously the Tribunal of the Roman Rota wrote about "dealing with a priest belonging in virtue of ordination to the" SSPX, "which lacked the necessary canonical legitimacy in the Church at the time of the celebration of the marriage," under the circumstances, accordingly "was like an acephalous or transient or 'freelance' priest, and consequently, did not seek from anyone the faculty [...]" [lower-alpha 11]

Because "the Holy See has prudently chosen not to classify the SSPX as a Church," Vere wrote, "one cannot invoke" Canon 844 §2 "or the conditions of" Norm 123 or Norms 130132 "in order to receive the sacraments from SSPX ministers." [11] [lower-alpha 12]

Exception three

The third exception is found in section three. "Catholic ministers administer the sacraments of penance, Eucharist, and anointing of the sick licitly to members of Eastern Churches which do not have full communion with the Catholic Church if they seek such on their own accord and are properly disposed. This is also valid for members of other Churches which in the judgment of the Apostolic See are in the same condition in regard to the sacraments as these Eastern Churches." [1] (can.844§3) [lower-alpha 13] So, for the §3 exception all of these conditions must be present together for licitness:

Exception four

The fourth exception is found in section four. "If the danger of death is present or if, in the judgment of the diocesan bishop or conference of bishops, some other grave necessity urges it, Catholic ministers administer these same sacraments licitly also to other Christians not having full communion with the Catholic Church, who cannot approach a minister of their own community and who seek such on their own accord, provided that they manifest Catholic faith in respect to these sacraments and are properly disposed." [1] (can.844§4) [lower-alpha 14] So, for the §4 exception all of these conditions must be present together for licitness:

a case of a grave necessity, in the judgment of the diocesan bishop or conference of bishops.


The regulation is found in section five. "For the cases mentioned in §§2, 3, and 4, the diocesan bishop or conference of bishops is not to issue general norms except after consultation at least with the local competent authority of the interested non-Catholic Church or community." [1] (can.844§5)1993 ED states that "it is strongly recommended that the diocesan Bishop, taking into account any norms which may have been established for this matter by the Episcopal Conference or by the Synods of Eastern Catholic Churches, establish general norms for judging situations of grave and pressing need and for verifying the conditions" [10] (n.130) Beal et al. elaborated that in consideration of the ethic of reciprocity, "the underlying purpose" in §5 is "not to act unilaterally" but the language "is carefully constructed to leave the diocesan bishop" or conference of bishops "free to act in individual cases" or issue norms regardless of any consultation with another Church or Ecclesial Community. [5] "The course to be adopted, with due regard to all the circumstances of time, place, and persons," UR states, "is to be decided by local episcopal authority, unless otherwise provided for by the Bishops' Conference according to its statutes, or by the Holy See." [4] (n.8)


  1. The canons pertain only to the Latin Church. [1] (can.1) The parallel law which pertains to the other sui iuris Churches which collectively make up the Eastern Catholic Churches in the Catholic Church is Canon 671 contained within the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches. [2]
  2. According to RS, see 1983 CIC, n. 844 §1; [1] (can.844§1)EE, nn. 45-46; 1993 ED, nn. 130-131. [9]
  3. According to RS, see EE, n. 46. [7] [9]
  4. Baptism "is validly conferred only by a washing of true water with the proper form of words." [1] (can.849) For the essential rite of the sacrament see "CCC, 12391240". [1] (can.850, can.853)
  5. In case of "danger of death" specifically, other canons state that, an infant recipient "of Catholic parents or even of non-Catholic parents is baptized licitly [...] even against the will of the parents" and "without delay;" [1] (can.868§2, 867§2) while an adult recipient in such a case "can be baptized if, having some knowledge of the principal truths of the faith, the person has manifested in any way at all the intention to receive baptism and promises to observe the commandments of the Christian religion." [1] (can.865§2)
  6. See "CCC, 1400".
  7. In case of "danger of death" specifically, a different canon states that, a priest without the faculty to hear confessions "absolves validly and licitly any penitents whatsoever [...] from any censures and sins, even if an approved priest is present." [1] (can.976) In case of "danger of death" specifically, the 1993 ED states that a Catholic recipient "may ask for" penance, Eucharist, and anointing of the sick "only from a minister in whose Church these sacraments are valid or from one who is known to be validly ordained according to the Catholic teaching on ordination." [10] (n.130132)
  8. The Caparros et al. commentary is an English language translation of a Spanish language edition. The published English language translation of the quoted excerpt is "far from being simply a means of satisfying exclusively personal aspirations" [12]
  9. Catholic Church. Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei; Perl, Camille (1995-09-29). [letter]. Rome. Protocol number 117/95. Archived from the original on 2000-03-06. Retrieved 2014-01-23. Quoted by Vere. [11]
  10. Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity; Cassidy, Edward (1994-03-05). [letter]. Vatican City. Protocol number 2336/94. Quoted by Vere. [11]
  11. Apostolic Tribunal of the Roman Rota (1995) [1992-12-15]. "coram Antoni Stankiewicz". Studia Canonica. Ottawa, ON: Saint Paul University. 29 (2). ISSN   0039-310X. Quoted by Vere. [11]
  12. "Hence as the law must be understood according to the interpretation of the legislator, and as the interpretation of the legislator is not favourable to Catholics receiving the sacraments from Lefebvrite non-Catholic ministers except in danger of death or where one is physically or morally impeded from approaching a Catholic minister of any liturgical rite, Catholics are not legally permitted to receive the sacraments from the SSPX." [11]
  13. See "CCC, 1399".
  14. See "CCC, 1401".

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  7. 1 2 Pope John Paul II (2003-04-17). Ecclesia de Eucharistia (Papal encyclical letter). nn. 4546.
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Further reading

Only information that conforms to the 2004 changes found in RS can be considered current.

Only information that conforms to the 2004 changes found in RS can be considered current.