The Second Vatican Council — in various jubilee commemorations – is now the official scapegoat for traditionalist Catholic frustrations.
Our current traditionalist-in-chief, Pope Benedict XVI, is working overtime these days to re-write the history of Vatican II, to misinterpret its significance, and to undo its accomplishments.
On October 11th, the Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, published Pope Benedict’s recollections of Vatican II. His remarks are a clear-cut example of Catholic Newspeak: the current medium of expression for the world-view and mental habits proper to the devotees of pre-Vatican II church theology and practice. “The council fathers neither could nor wished to create a new or different church,” the Pope said. “They had neither the authority nor the mandate to do so. That is why a hermeneutic of rupture is so absurd and is contrary to the spirit and the will of the council fathers.”
Hermeneutics is a process of interpretation. It is nothing new of course. People of every age, if their eyes and ears are open to the world around them, necessarily interpret and express their faith experience in the thought patterns of their own language and culture.
Pope John XXIII, when he announced there would be an ecumenical council, said the church needed a lot of hermeneutics….in his words a lot of aggiornamento: updating! He said the church should not be afraid to open its windows to the world.
Contrary to what we hear and read in Vatican Newspeak, Vatican II did change the church; and thanks to Vatican II the church did change its official teachings.
Vatican II brought good news.
A nineteenth century Catholic, for instance, would be amazed at the transformation of the papacy. Pope Pius IX, who denounced democracy and progress, would have been surprised at the thought of a Pope traveling around the world and upholding human rights and justice.
Our self-understanding as church has changed from that of a clergy-controlled monolithic institution to the church as the People of God…….what a tremendous change. We have shifted from a vertical legalistic model — where bishops are managers — to a horizontal community of faith model, where we are all brothers and sisters. We are still working out an effective collegial way of doing things; but we know we must now do it together.
What was once a triumphalist “fortress church” (fighting against “non-Catholics” and “unbelievers”) is now, thanks to Vatican II, a listening community. We acknowledge that we don’t have all the answers; and we must be engaged in dialogue with non-Christian religions as well as with other Christian churches.
Within the Catholic Church, as well, there have been significant changes: We have a new code of canon law. New instruments of episcopal collegiality and subsidiarity have been put into place. The church today is not a democracy BUT it is not an authoritarian monarchy either! It is a communion, which should be governed by mutual respect, charity, and openness to the world around us.
The vernacular has been introduced into our Eucharistic liturgy and the other sacraments; and I know very few people who would wish to return to the old Latin liturgy.
Vatican II stressed the dignity of the human person…….Human life (life in this world) is neither evil nor a threat to Christian belief. Vatican II stressed an incarnational theology: “And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us…” Vatican II saw our daily human life as the place where we meet the living God. That’s why in our liturgy the presider now faces the congregation and not the back wall.
Vatican II changed the image of the church from a medieval authoritarian monarchy to a community of brothers and sisters where “collegiality” should be the practice for governance and decision-making. We see the face of Christ in the eyes of our neighbors.
A new and critical attitude towards the Bible was affirmed at Vatican II. This was a big step and a tremendous change in our Catholic biblical understanding. The Roman Catholic Church, at Vatican II, rejected a literalist understanding of biblical texts and stressed a historical critical understanding. The bishops at Vatican I (1870), for example, insisted that Moses was the author of the first five books of the Old Testament. The bishops at Vatican II understood that such a belief was totally impossible, if not absolutely foolish.
The pre-Vatican II church saw the church and the world at variance with one another and, to some degree, as enemies. Vatican II said that we need to listen to the signs of the times, because it is in this world that we meet and live with God.
Vatican II said as well that human sexuality is not tinged with sin but good. It changed the Catholic understanding of the “ends of marriage” and stressed and that the primary goal of married love is not just generating children but growth in mutual love, support, and joy. Sexual intimacy is grace-filled.
Yes. Vatican II brought good news….. In the church’s relationship with the not Catholic world, it changed Catholic teaching in very significant ways. I mention two big changes in official Catholic teaching: first in its affirmation of God’s ongoing covenant with the Jewish people (see Lumen Gentium and Nostra Aetate), and second, in its affirmation of religious freedom, which previous popes had explicitly condemned. These two reversals in church teaching (a hermeneutic of discontinuity?) contravened at least 1,500 years of church teaching and practice.
Newspeak traditionalists insist that the bishops at Vatican II never really intended to change the church or its theology or its liturgy. It has all been one big terrible mistake. Vatican-inspired revisionists are working feverishly to reverse the Catholic clock.
Many people now suspect the “New Evangelization” is a Vatican PR stunt to bring back a 19th century Catholic ethos and insist that the post Vatican II changes never should have happened. Certainly our American Cardinal from Washington DC sees it that way.
“This current situation is rooted in the upheavals of the 1970s and 80s, decades in which there was manifest poor catechesis or miscatechesis at so many levels of education,” Cardinal Wuerl said a few days ago in Rome, and he further stressed: “We faced the hermeneutic of discontinuity that permeated so much of the milieu of centers of higher education and was also reflected in aberrational liturgical practice. Entire generations have become disassociated from the support systems that facilitated the transmission of faith.” More fundamentalist Catholic Newspeak.
Nevertheless……Clocks break when you turn them back. And some things cannot be turned back.
Vatican II stressed the place and roles of lay women and men. Whether some people like it or not……our Roman Catholic Church, more and more, is going to be directed by lay people, especially in parishes, schools, and pastoral ministry. Vatican II’s “universal call to holiness” has motivated lay women and men to take very seriously their baptismal call to ministry in the church and mission in the world. They are educated, competent, and have long since supplanted clergy as religious educators, theologians, chaplains, and other kinds of pastoral ministers.
The old clerical stronghold on ministry and holiness has been irreparably ruptured. There’s no going back. And right now, there’s no telling where it will lead. But we believe we are not alone. We are not orphans; and God’s spirit is with us.
Catholic Newspeak, however, continues to draw media attention. Archbishop Jose H. Gomez of Los Angeles is in Rome for the Synod on the New Evangelization. Before hurrying off to lunch, a couple days ago, he told reporters: “the teachings of the Catholic Church have not changed, society has changed.”
More ministry of misinformation…….With all due respect to the LA archbishop, he is not just whistling in the Vatican wind. He is wrong. Archbishop Gomez, Cardinal Wuerl, and Pope Benedict are neither evil nor wicked men; but they are manipulating facts to support their own revisionist and regressive agenda.
Indeed, society has changed; but the church has changed as well. It must change. Change is a fact of life. Only museum pieces are static.
More and more, I fear, our grand old church looks more like a museum than a spiritual home for human habitation.
We need to open those windows again……..