THE CHAPTER OF CANONS
The chapter is a college of priests, called canons, whose primary function is to give God solemn worship in a cathedral or collegiate church (Codex Iuris Canonicis c. 503). This purpose is common to all chapters of canons, but a cathedral chapter has additional duties.
Canons existed at least five centuries before Monsignors. (The first mention of Monsignors took place in 1599). The phrase "chapter of canons" is found for the first time in pontifical documents of the 12th century, although it was already used in the correspondence of the popes and in private documents. The word indicates the function of serving as the bishop's counselor. In the early Church, the bishop, priests, and deacons took part in the government of the cathedral church, which was the only church in the diocese. Later, with the increase in the number of priests and churches, it became necessary for the priests of the episcopal city, and in particular for those of the cathedral church, to participate more closely in the government of the church together with the bishop. They were readily available on occasions of solemn liturgical ceremonies performed at the cathedral.
It was the cathedral clergy who assumed the government of the diocese during vacancy of the see and elected the new bishop. Until the 12th century the laity participated with the clergy in the election, but the Church soon reserved the election exclusively to the clergy of the cathedral. The chapter came to claim wider powers: to impose excommunications and interdicts; to confer benefices; to require the bishop to consult it; and to participate in provincial councils. This prompted the councils, and in particular the Council of Trent, to intervene in order to correct abuses and exaggerations. The primary sources of historical information concerning chapters are therefore the decrees of the councils and in particular the decretals.
According to the Codex Iuris Canonicis (c. 504), the erection, alteration, or suppression of a cathedral chapter is reserved to the Apostolic See. Certain members within a chapter have titles that involve both rights and duties. One of the canons must preside over the chapter, but the code does not specify how this person is to be designated. This matter is left to the chapter's statutes, as is the possibility that other offices may be established. Every cathedral chapter must have a canon penitentiary, who has ordinary jurisdiction to remit in the sacramental forum certain latae sententiae censures not reserved to the Apostolic See (Codex Iuris Canonicis c. 508).
In an ordinary assembly convoked by its president, the chapter must, at the very beginning, vote on a number of statutes for itself. These statutes are approved by the diocesan bishop (Codex Iuris Canonicis c. 505), and they establish rules of procedure for deliberations and other norms concerning liturgical and administrative functions (Codex Iuris Canonicis c. 506). In accordance with Can. 509 §1. After having heard the chapter, it is for the diocesan bishop, but not a diocesan administrator, to confer each and every canonry, both in a cathedral church and in a collegial church; every contrary privilege is revoked. It is for the same bishop to confirm the person elected by the chapter to preside over it. §2. A diocesan bishop is to confer canonries only upon priests outstanding in doctrine and integrity of life, who have laudably exercised the ministry.
The title of CANON is awarded in recognition of a long and dedicated service to the diocesan church. Honorary canons are members of the chapter in name but are non-residential. Generally speaking, canons are either canons residentiary (working at the cathedral) or canons honorary (non-cathedral clergy given the title as a mark of honor); and they may wear either a violet or violet-trimmed cassock. Canons are members of the bishop’s staff. Honorary canons within the Roman Catholic Church may still be nominated after the Second Vatican Council. Titular or honorary canons have the right to the honorific title of “Canon” in addition to the choir dress of a canon, which includes the mozetta, the ring and the pectoral cross.
The Very Reverend Canon Christopher Henyk belongs to one of the oldest College of Canons of Saint Florian’s Basilica in Krakow, Poland (est. 1184). Canon Henyk received his honorary title on February 13, 2019 from Abp. Marek Jedraszewski of Krakow, Poland with the permission and blessing of Bp. George V. Murry, S.J. of Youngstown, Ohio. Canon Henyk was installed as Canon on June 27, 2019 by Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz who was a private secretary to the Pope Saint John Paul II. Canon Henyk's coat of arms reads: Christo Duce Meo.