Friday, October 21, 2011

Rescinding Vatican II

Even as I look forward to celebrating the 50th anniversary of the first session of the Second Vatican Council, I am concerned that over the past five decades we have seen the slow dissolution of the effects of the aggiornomento we welcomed so cheerfully.

On the Council's opening day (October 11, 1962) Pope John XXIII told the assembly gathered in St. Peter's in Rome that it was imperative that the Church "bring herself up to date where required" and that "nowadays the bride of Christ prefers to make use of the medicine of mercy rather than of severity."

It seems to me that “being up to date” and “using the medicine of mercy” were such revolutionary ideas that some of the Church’s leadership feared the consequences of implementation. Within a few years of the Council’s conclusion the aggiornamento express was considerably slowed by Vatican warnings, fears, and control.

Rescissions and curbs have occurred in several areas, such as in the exercise of the authority of bishops' conferences, but perhaps the most obvious examples are in the area of sacred liturgy.
The first major focus of the Council was the Church's liturgy. At the close of the second session the Council definitively approved its first major document, Sacrosanctum Concilium, the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, with 2147 votes in favor, 4 against, and 1 abstention.

Neither the Constitution on the Liturgy nor the Council Fathers spelled out the details of the proposed renewal of the liturgy, but this document provided the principles for its renewal by subsequent commissions and committees.

The bishops agreed on such matters as:
1) the rites should be distinguished by a noble simplicity, within the people's powers of comprehension, not requiring much explanation (#34);

2) rigid uniformity should be avoided in matters that do not involve faith or the good of the whole community (#37);

3) territorial ecclesiastical authority, such as bishops' conferences, shall specify adaptations, especially regarding administration of the sacraments, the liturgical language, and sacred music (#39);

4) one of the prime guiding norms was to be the promotion of full, conscious, and active participation of the faithful (#14).

The work on renewal of the liturgy was quickly set in motion, and a major thrust of the renewal of the liturgy was inspired by decades of research into early Church liturgy. Looking back to the past, to how things used to be in the first centuries, gave permission and impetus to how the renewal could take shape.

In subtle ways, however, over the past twenty years, the changes prompted by the liturgical renewal have been revoked or undermined. For example, communion by intinction (the communicant could dip the sacred host into the precious blood) and the purification of sacred vessels by lay men and women are now verboten. And then, out of the blue, we were told we could no longer vocalize at Mass God's name (Yahweh). We can still say Jesus but we can’t say Yahweh!

Next Pope Benedict XVI issued a decree allowing the use of the old Tridentine Liturgy, the very rites the Council had revised. One of the Vatican Bureau has instriucted seminaries to offer an optional course for seminarians and priests who wish to use this extraordinary form, the Tridentine Mass

And now the Vatican has over-ridden the English translation of the Roman Missal formulated by the International Committee on English in the Liturgy (ICEL) and insists on a more literal translation of the Latin which smacks of rigid uniformity and is clearly a severe challenge to the comprehension of the priest-presider as well as the people. This new Roman translation is to be used beginning November 27, 2011.

And most recently, on September 21, 2011, the Diocese of Phoenix, Arizona, notified its Catholic faithful that communion from the cup would be restricted to special feasts and occasions. (Note that  on November 7, 2011, Bishop Thomas J. Olmstead rescinded this restriction and apologized for any "pastoral problems, hurt and confusion caused by mishandling the dialogue and communication about the norms.")

For many Catholics the Second Vatican Council is ancient history –it was held from 1962 to 1965. To me it seems like yesterday.

It is the most significant event in Church history in my lifetime. It released a spirit and put into writing a pattern for how the Church should fulfill its mission in the 21st century. Church law and the Catechism of the Catholic Church confirm that "the college of bishops exercises power over the universal Church in a solemn manner in an ecumenical council" (Canon 337; CCC 884).
To ignore it, to try to reverse it, is in my humble opinion counter-productive and a stifling of the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

Join the revolution. Support Vatican II. Read the documents and celebrate its 50th anniversary!

1 comment:

  1. I agree it is very good to read the actual documents with great care. Many things which came out after Vatican II ended were not driven by those actual documents, but what some wished had been in the documents that were voted on and approved. Thus we had many who made changes which were never part of any official approval. On top of that, any major changes after a meeting of this scope, will make some mistakes that have to be corrected and this is largely a correction.

    I pray that those who we have trusted to carry out the changes do wo with love and enthusiasm, but suspect many will not be able to put aside pride and vanity.