Thursday, December 9, 2010

Vatican II's Golden Anniversary

There is the perception among some Catholics that the Church's leadership wants to take the Church back to what it was before the Second Vatican Council.

Some clergy lean toward the theology, dress, liturgical style and clericalism of the pre-Vatican II Church.

Pope Benedict XVI decides, on his personal initiative (motu proprio), to allow a return to use of the Tridentine (Latin) liturgy.

The Vatican Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments requires English-speaking Catholics to use a new (and highly criticized) English translation of the Sacramentary (the book of prayers for Mass) beginning in Advent of 2011.

The meetings of Synods of Bishops at the Vatican fall far short of the hope for collegiality raised by the Council fathers.

I once asked a priest/historian if it is possible that the spirit and change of Vatican II might be just a momentary blip on the screen of Church history. Will we go back to the way it was?

He said, "No," and went on to explain that the pattern of history shows a period of reaction following significant change. He told me that we should expect to find people who want to return to the seeming security of the pre-Vatican II Church, but once a change has taken place history does not allow restoration to the past.

The Church has been promised the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and Jesus has assured us, "I will be with you always." The theology and renewal reflected in the documents and spirit of the Second Vatican Council cannot be rendered void; those decisions were instructed for the good of the Church and the promotion of the Gospel.

In his book Receiving the Council, canon lawyer Ladislaus Orsy, SJ, reminded his readers that when the Council fathers gathered in St. Peter's Basilica they prayed the traditional acclamation Adsumus, "we are present and listening."

Orsy proposes that the years 2012 to 2015 should be solemnly declared the years of the Council, that the entire people of God ("from the bishops to the last of the faithful," Lumen Gentium 12, quoting St. Augustine) should observe this golden anniversary with that same prayer. He pleads, "Let the cry Adsumus, 'we are present and attentive,' resound --not within the walls of St. Peter's Basilica but throughout the face of the earth."

And I would add a suggestion for still another prayer, namely, that the Church be set free from fear. The Bible is replete with heaven's plea, "Do not be afraid." 1 John 4:18 teaches, "There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear because fear has to do with punishment, and so one who fears is not yet perfect in love." I suspect that efforts to restore the Church to what it was prior to Vatican II are motivated largely by fear.

Going back to old ways does not ensure preservation of dogma nor reclamation of devotion. It is paradoxical but true that things must change to stay the same. That is what Pope John XXIII meant when he made the distinction between the truths of dogma and the language that is used to present them.

Calling a refrigerator "the ice-box" or an automobile "a machine" may have a certain nostalgic appeal, but as descriptions they are antiquated and inadequate for this age.

Vatican II set a course for the future. Lay participation in the mission and ministry of the Church is sanctioned and here to stay. Recognition of and cooperation with other religions and churches in the ecumenical movement do not pose a threat to the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church.

When Father Orsy suggests that "For communities and individuals to enter into the dynamics of the Council is to expose themselves to the ever-surprising action of the Spirit," I say, "From your mouth to God's ears."

Let preparations for the golden anniversary begin! And do not be afraid!

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