When is it moral to break Canon Law?

The answer that the Pharisees of today give is ‘Never’. But that answer is contrary to the teaching of Jesus Christ. For our Lord gave us the example of David and his soldiers, who ate the bread of the Presence that was reserved for the priests only. It was contrary to the rules established by God in the Old Testament for anyone but the priests to eat this bread. So why would Jesus, the Son of God, approve of David’s action breaking that law?

{2:24} But the Pharisees said to him, “Behold, why are they doing what is not lawful on the Sabbaths?”
{2:25} And he said to them: “Have you never read what David did, when he had need and was hungry, both he and those who were with him?
{2:26} How he went into the house of God, under the high priest Abiathar, and ate the bread of the Presence, which it was not lawful to eat, except for the priests, and how he gave it to those who were with him?”
{2:27} And he said to them: “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.
{2:28} And so, the Son of man is Lord, even of the Sabbath.”

It is because there is a distinction between the eternal moral law, the breaking of which is always a sin, and the law of discipline (rules, rulings, liturgical norms, the rules of a religious order, the rules established by a diocese or parish, etc.). The eternal moral law is doctrine on matters of morals and is unchanging. The eternal moral law is the Justice inherent in the very Nature of God. And so God is always offended by any violation of the eternal moral law. But the law of discipline is changeable, dispensable, and allows for exceptions based on the intentions and circumstances facing an individual.

Canon law contains some direct expressions of doctrine on matters of faith and morals. If those particular Canons did not exist, the doctrines would still be in force. And so there is no dispensation from such a Canon. However, the rest of Canon Law, the Canons that are per se of the law of the Church and not of the eternal moral law, can be changed, dispensed, and even be at times broken by the faithful without sin or fault.

{12:5} Or have you not read in the law, that on the Sabbaths the priests in the temple violate the Sabbath, and they are without guilt?
{12:6} But I say to you, that something greater than the temple is here.
{12:7} And if you knew what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,’ you would never have condemned the innocent.

Jesus also gives the example of the priests in the temple who violate the Sabbath, by working on that day, and yet are without sin or fault; they are innocent. And the disciples who were rubbing the grains from the grain field and eating them, in effect working on the Sabbath, were also innocent. Jesus rejected the Pharisaical interpretation of the law against working on the Sabbath. But it is not only a question of correct interpretation. When David and his men broke the law against eating the bread of the Presence, it was not a question of interpretation. They broke the law of the Old Testament, which can be considered analogous to Canon Law, a type of Canon Law established in Divine Revelation. And yet they were innocent: without sin or fault in doing do. For the will of God is above Canon Law. Therefore, sometimes the faithful can break Canon Law, without a dispensation and without any clause in the Law giving them discretion, yet without sin or fault.

More on this topic in later posts.

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