Thursday, October 11, 2012

The Year of Faith Begins

Today inaugurates the Year of Faith called for by Pope Benedict.  It also marks the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council in 1962.  It's often said that the Church works in centuries, so we just have 50 more years to go until the Council is properly understood and properly implemented, right?  Perhaps.  Of course at this point in the Church there still rages the debates of the proper interpretation of the Council, with those on one side arguing for the "spirit" of the Council to be held in higher regard than the actual words of the documents.  On the other we have those who would even doubt the validity of the Council.  The truth as it always is, is of course somewhere in the middle.  Unless one has one's head in the sand, it's not hard to see that the process of change and growth in understanding of the Council is still ongoing.  Many younger clergy, religious, and laity are studying the documents thoroughly, through the lense of "continuity" as our Holy Father has called for, and working for a balanced understanding of the Council; working to correct many of the extreme responses (on both sides) that have taken place over the last 50 years (though I must acknowledge, the majority of the extreme responses do seem to have been to one direction over the other).  We pray that this ongoing process of renewal continues, under the inspiration and prayers of Blessed Pope John Paul II, and Pope Benedict.

As depicted above, the CCCB has issued a pastoral letter marking this auspicious occasion entitled, The Second Vatican Council: What was it and why is it important today?  The article on the document can be found here, and the document itself can be found here.  I'd like to offer some of my thoughts on this pastoral letter.  First of all, my kudos to the authors of the document for many of the fine points it makes, especially with regard to the proper interpretation of the Council:

"We see good fruit, however, where the Council is understood properly. This has been strongly emphasized by Pope Benedict XVI, who has pointed out that Vatican II, rather than being an event of 'discontinuity and rupture' with the Church before the Council, is to be viewed in continuity with the Church before it. It was not a break, but an act of reform. For this reason, we do not reject what came before the Council as being outdated, nor do we consider all that came after as inconsistent with the Church’s Tradition.  Moreover, we cannot appeal to the 'spirit' of the Council as if this were opposed to the 'letter' of the Council’s documents. The Church that existed before Vatican II is the same Church we belong to today. Yet it is also true that things did change after the Council."
"Rather than making the Church worldly or 'modern,' the Council’s job was something else entirely: it was 'to overcome erroneous or superfluous contradictions in order to present to our world the requirement of the Gospel in its full greatness  and purity.'"
The letter describes what a Council is, and a bit of the background to why Blessed Pope John XXIII called the Council in the first place.  My critique of this letter comes though in what is has to say, or doesn't say about the four Constitutions of the Council.  The paragraph on the Liturgy, I think, sadly misses the mark.  It does speak about some concerns with the liturgy before the Council, such as a lack of understanding of Latin by the laity (which is easily resolved through the use of a bilingual hand missal), and the hurried celebration by many priests (a genuine problem, but not the worst liturgical abuse out there, especially considering what came after the Council).  As always it emphasizes the "full, conscious, and active participation" of the laity, but fails to explain that this paragraph is to be interpreted primarily as interior participation, not exterior.  This paragraph also extols the near universal use of the vernacular, something not called for in Sacrosanctum Concilium.  Finally the paragraph seems to point out that the liturgy is a constantly changing thing, perhaps to justify the liturgical changes since the Council.  It fails to note however, that for 1500 years any structural changes to the liturgy were relatively minor, and the wholesale recreation of the liturgy following the Council is not called for in any of the documents.

As for images of the Church, triumphalism is bad, but I'd take a little triumphalism over the mistaken notion that so many Catholics have today, that the Catholic faith is just one among many.  With respect to the Universal Call to Holiness, it is true that some before the Council didn't understand this notion, but this idea did not begin with Vatican II, it is present in the preaching of saints down through the centuries even into the 20th century itself (it's a central feature of the preaching of St. Josemaria Escriva for one).  As for the paragraph on Salvation, again it seems to imply that the understanding that non-Christian religions have some value for evangelization was a brand new idea at Vatican II.  Someone might want to tell that to those who evangelized Asia and used their native religions and the truths found therein as their starting point.

There is much more that I could critique, but this article is getting too long already.  Once again I'd like to offer grateful thanks for the emphasis on the fact that we must understand the Second Vatican Council in light of the 1900 years that went before it.  Sadly though, the first part of the document seems largely to follow the theme that the Church began in 1962 with all of these new ideas, and so seems to contridict the latter half.  On the whole, worth a read as we begin this year of faith, but it should be an invitation to read the documents themselves and see what the Council really had to say.

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