Church (Canon Law)

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A church ( Latin ecclesia ) is defined in canon law as a consecrated place intended for worship and publicly accessible to the faithful ( can. 1214 CIC ). In contrast to this, the chapel or oratory (from the Latin oratorium “prayer room”) is “for the divine service for the benefit of a community or a group of believers meeting there” ( can. 1223 CIC ), the private chapel ( Latin sacellum privatum) in favor of one or more persons ( can. 1226 CIC ).

The establishment of a church, chapel or private chapel requires the approval of the responsible professor . A church is properly furnished and given an unchangeable title, the patronage, during the consecration of the church , but sometimes only by a blessing . No consecration is planned for chapels and private chapels, but a blessing is appropriate.

If it is no longer possible to use it as a place of worship or if there are serious reasons for it, a church or chapel can, with the consent of the ordinary, be given back by profaning "profane, but not unworthy use" ( can. 1222 CIC ).

Further references in canon law

Settlements in the order should, according to can. 608 CIC “have at least one chapel in which the Eucharist is celebrated and kept, so that it really is the center of the community”. In can. 733 §2 CIC is associated with the consent to the establishment of a settlement for a society of apostolic life "to have at least one chapel in which the Most Holy Eucharist is celebrated and kept."

According to can. 857 CIC , a baptism should be celebrated in a church or chapel except in an emergency . Every parish church must have a baptismal font ; other churches or chapels may also have one ( can. 858 CIC ).


The legal terminology mostly corresponds to the structural distinction between large churches and smaller chapels . Nevertheless, there are also larger church buildings that only have the status of a chapel, or small chapels with church status. Also, side chapels of a big church may be legally independent oratorios within the meaning of CIC.


In the Code of Canon Law mentioned churches with special legal status are cathedrals (episcopal churches), collegiate (collegiate churches) and parish churches . Solemn consecration is prescribed especially for cathedral and parish churches ( can. 1217 CIC ). The branch churches not specifically mentioned in the code of law (even earlier) have a special function for pastoral care ; the legal status of a permanent vicariate (vicaria perpetua) , which was previously usually associated with such dependent churches, ceased to exist with the entry into force of the Codex Iuris Canonici in 1983 (can. 1427 CIC / 17 ). The honorary title of a basilica given by the Pope to particularly important churches is also no longer mentioned in the current Codex (can. 1180 CIC / 17 ).

In the course of the community structural reforms in many German and Austrian dioceses, parishes have been merged in recent years or previous parishes have been grouped into larger units (such as parish associations or “pastoral care rooms”) or merged into large parishes. Often, former parish churches are re-declared as branch churches. For example, there are only a few large parishes left in the dioceses of Essen and Cologne , which in turn are subdivided into “parishes” - understandable as parish districts. The previous parish churches, now called “parish churches” or - if no parish is assigned to them - “other churches” are usually legally managed as subsidiary churches of the parent parish or parish churches of the large parish. Since the details of the reforms are handled and implemented very differently in the various German-speaking dioceses, there is no uniform regulation here.


The CIC of 1983 defines in can. 1224 CIC a chapel ( Latin oratorium ) as a "place which, with the permission of the Ordinary, is intended for worship for the benefit of a community or a group of believers meeting there, to which other believers can also have access with the consent of the competent superior". It may only be established with the permission of the diocesan bishop , who has checked beforehand whether it is “appropriately furnished” ( can. 1224 CIC ).

In contrast to churches, chapels are not consecrated but can be blessed . To do this, however, the rooms “must be reserved for worship and free from all domestic use” ( can. 1229 CIC ).

In chapels (oratory) , services can be celebrated and the sacraments can be administered ( can. 1229 CIC ). In large parishes, for example, a chapel can have its own baptismal font "for the benefit of the faithful" if the diocesan bishop approves it ( cann. 858 § 2 CIC ). The Holy of Holies must be kept in the chapel of a religious community ( can. 934 CIC ). In chapels, including the oratorios in monasteries, the prescribed collections for parish, diocesan, national or ecclesiastical projects take place if the oratorios “are actually always open to the faithful” ( can. 1266 CIC ).

Private chapel

Court chapel Kompatsch, Tyrol, type of a private chapel

According to can. 1226 CIC is a private chapel ( Latin sacellum ) for the worship “intended for one or more physical persons” and must be authorized by the local ordinary . Mass celebrations and other celebrations of worship also require his permission ( can. 1228 CIC ); the Holy of Holies can be kept in a private chapel with the permission of the bishop ( can. 934 CIC ).

Codex Iuris Canonici 1917

The Codex Iuris Canonici 1917 , which was valid until 1983, differentiated between three types of chapels (oratorios):

  • Privatorium : only certain people were allowed to use it, such as a bishop or a family and their guests
  • semi-public oratory : which was open to the faithful under certain conditions
  • public oratorios : established for the benefit of all believers

The 1983 definition corresponds to that of the semi- public oratorio , whereas the public oratorio has disappeared.

Mess chapel

The customary in Austria distinction in chapel and measuring chapel is historical in nature, the latter more refers to bands that regularly for the Holy Mass be used. Other chapels in the canonical and legal sense are listed under “chapel”. “Messkapelle” can be found widespread in Austria, more rarely also in southern Germany, Switzerland and South Tyrol, still as an addition to church names. This also corresponds to the designation as a village chapel or local chapel , as the main place of prayer in a smaller place whose local church has no canonical status as a church, but whose residents also did not go to the next town with church to worship (or only to high mass ).

In England the name chantry chapel ('Messkapelle') can still be found today . A mass scholarship was donated to these chapels , which was mostly donated to the memory of the deceased.

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Gerd Lohaus: Structural reform of the parishes in the diocese of Essen. Ecclesiological guidelines. In: Spirit and Life . Vol. 79, No. 6, 2006, pp. 458-466, online .
  2. cf. VO 45. Electronic Schematism: Changes. In: Ordinance sheet of the Archdiocese of Salzburg. Vol. 95: Ordinances of 2012. No. 6, June 2012, ZDB -ID 568041-4 , pp. 68-69, digitized version (PDF; 1.91 MB) ( Memento of the original from June 6, 2014 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. ,; Reference in PDF p. 76. @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /
  3. the parish registers of the Austrian dioceses generally only give the chapels, other chapels are not listed.
  4. ^ Simon Roffey: Chantry chapels and the medieval strategies for the afterlife. Tempus, Stroud 2008, ISBN 978-0-7524-4571-7 .
    George H. Cook: Mediaeval chantries and chantry chapels. Revised edition. Phoenix House, London 1963.
    see also Chantry , English Wikipedia