Tuesday, May 22, 2012

"I" or "We"

I've found it difficult to remember at Mass that the new translation of the Creed begins with "I" rather than "we."

Of course, the "consubstantial with the Father" has caused its share of questions.

"What does that word mean?"

"It means, one in being with."

"Well, we were already saying that."

"I know, but I guess someone thought 'consubstantial' was more exact. But in that case we really should be saying homoousion --that's the word the bishops used at the Council of Nicea."

Wikepedia explains: Ancient Greek: ὁμοούσιος, from the Ancient Greek: ὁμός, homós, "same" and Ancient Greek: οὐσία, ousía, "essence, being."

But back to my "I" versus "We" problem.

The Latin version of the Nicean (Constantinople) Creed begins with "credo," which is rendered "I believe."

But the Catechism of the Catholic Church, took a different approach. It says:

"'I believe' (Apostles Creed) is the faith of the Church professed personally by each believer, principally during Baptism.

"'We believe' (Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed) is the faith of the Church confessed by the bishops assembled in council or more generally by the liturgical assembly of believers.

"'I believe' is also the Church, our mother, responding to God by faith as she teaches us to say both 'I believe' and 'We believe'" (#167).

Pope Benedict quoted article 167 of the Catholic Catechism in his Apostolic Letter Porta Fidei, announcing a Year of Faith (October 11, 2012 to November 24, 2013). He seems to agree that we should be saying "we believe" at Mass.

The "We" reflects the assembly of believers.

I wish the translators of the Mass had been influenced by the Catechism.

My sense of the liturgy, as I stand with the congregation to recall the tenets of our belief, naturally calls for "We believe."

Friday, May 11, 2012

The World --Friend or Foe?

Are those who oppose the reforms of Vatican II conservative or liberal?

In the 50 years since the Second Vatican Council the label "conservative" has been applied to those who want to go back to the Church as it was in the 1950s: Tridentine Mass, decisively clerical leadership, and papal (curial) control of Church doctrine and discipline.

Those who want to see a more vigorous application of the reforms proposed by the Council are labeled "liberals."

Even during the Council's sessions the majority of the bishops were described as "progressives" and the minority were called "traditionalists."

One can argue whether those labels are accurate. A true conservative could be one who wants to go back to the practices of the Church as they were at the beginning: liturgy in the vernacular, popular election of bishops, married priests, biblically based theology and catechesis.

A liberal, then, would be one who wants to hold fast to the changes in the Church, especially those of the Middle Ages: Latin (papal) liturgy, centralization in Rome, European cultural accretions, emphasis on the separation of clergy and laity.

In that light today's conservatives are really liberals, and the liberals are really the conservatives.

More recently discussions (disagreements) about Vatican II have been couched in terms of continuity versus event (aka discontinuity).

 Some commentators prefer to emphasize Vatican II as an event, as a moment of major change, a rupture; in opposition are those who emphasize the continuity of Vatican II teachings with the teachings of past councils.

Very few proponents of Vatican II have suggested that the Council broke with the previous magisterium. Those who hail the pastoral orientation of Vatican II and mark significant change in the practices and orientation of the Council do not think it caused a rupture.

The pivotal question revolves around the idea of development of doctrine. Pope John XXIII reminded the Council fathers that doctrine does not change but the way in which the truth is expressed may have to change in order to express the truth accurately.

Today's theologians, however, tend to avoid both liberal/conservative and continuity/discontinuity. They see a difference that goes beyond change or no change, beyond preference for the past versus possibilities for the future, beyond clerical vs. lay,  married priests vs. celibacy, curia vs. synod of bishops, event vs. continuity.

The division between those who promote Vatican II and those who shy away from it is perhaps based more on attitude toward the world.

Is the world fundamentally good, or fundamentally evil?

The Council Fathers between 1962 and 1965 gave the Church a review and revision of Catholic theology and practice. In the past 50 years the Church has had the opportunity to reflect upon that gift and decide whether to receive it, reject it, or take some parts and leave others.

Many of the current tensions in the Church stem from how the Council has been received. It is possible to analyze the Council's reception based on the attitudes of those receiving it. Those who think of the world in friendly terms tend to affirm and promote Vatican II, while those who think of the world as a hostile environment tend to be critical and hesitant.

Massimo Faggioli,  professor of theology at the University of St Thomas (St Paul MN) describes the relationship between Church and world as "a core issue of the council."

He says, "It is not an overstatement to affirm that this issue was the origin of a major rift in the interpretation of the council, a rift much more visible after the council than during it."

And the two sides of this rift are labeled "neo-Augustinian" and "neo-Thomistic."

Scholar Ormand Rush explains, "The Augustinian school is wanting to set church and world in a situation of rivals; it sees the world in a negative light; evil and sin so abound in the world that the church should always be suspicious and distrustful of it."

Rush describes the Thomistic view as reflecting openness to the world. It is not the Thomism of neo-Scholasticism, but it emphasizes responding to the "signs of the times" and living out faith in a very real world. It is a neo-Thomism inasmuch as it is using Aquinas's attentiveness to the world.

Perhaps the litmus test of whether one is neo-Thomistic or neo-Augustianian is how one receives Vatican II's Gaudium et Spes (The Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World): "The joy and hope, the sorrows and anxieties of people today...are also the joy and hope, the sorrows and anxieties of the disciples of Christ..."(1). And "Christians can have nothing more at heart than to be of ever more generous and effective service to humanity in the modern world" (93).

The majority of bishops at Vatican II would be labeled "neo-Thomistic."

Massimo Faggioli's new book Vatican II The Battle For Meaning (Paulist Press, 2012) is a worthy read.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

People Change

One of the priests who served as a theology expert at the Second Vatican Council wrote in the 1960s a retrospect on the opening days of the council's first session in October of 1962.

He remembered a "certain feeling of exhilaration in the opening of the Council in Rome, the mysterious sense of new beginnings that has a way of stirring man and propelling him forward."

He sensed "the imminence of an event of historic significance."

He experienced the "diversity of tongues...the prospect of rich new encounters, the promise of what was coming."

Father also acknowledged a "strange ambivalence of feelings" in experiencing the opening ceremonies.

"The mighty basilica, the grandeur of the ancient liturgy, the colorful diversity of the visitors from all over the world --all this was magnificently impressive," he wrote. "Yet there was, on the other hand, an undeniable uneasiness, whose most obvious symptom was annoyance with the endlessly long ceremonies."

He realized that the liturgy did not involve all who were present. "Did it make any sense," he asked, "for 2,500 bishops, not to mention the other faithful there, to be relegated to the role of mere spectators at a ceremony in which only the celebrants and the Sistine Choir had a voice?"

His criticism continued, "Was not the fact that the active participation of those present was not required symptomatic of a wrong that needed remedy?"

Happily, he noted further, things were different only a couple months later, when at the ceremonies on the last day of the first session, "the responses and other fixed parts were sung in unison by the bishops and all those present. This was the result of the bishops' own initiative."

He also celebrated the day when the bishops were to elect members to the council's various commissions. The assembly objected to the curia's schedule and postponed the election until the bishops had time to think over their choices and consult with one another about the best candidates. Clearly the 2500 members of this meeting did not know one another. This proposal met with what Father called "a lively ovation, despite the official prohibition against applause."

This decision, he explained, allowed for a broader representation, what he described as "horizontal Catholicity," something which he said had been lost in the Church's practical life.

And further, in this decision "the curia found a force to reckon with and a real partner in discussion...Now it became clear that, besides the official curia organs (subordinated to the pope), the body of bishops was a reality in its own right, infusing into the dialogue and the very life of the Church its own spiritual experience."

"Without saying much," Father wrote, "Pope John, by the influence of his personality, encouraged the Council to openness and candor...Here there emerged a new awarewness of how the Church could conduct a dialogue in fraternal frankness without violating the obedience that belongs to faith."

Catholics across the board, especially any who tend to criticize or reject Vatican II, would do well to experience even these fifty years later a first-hand account of the excitement, freedom, spirit and magisterium of Vatican II.

Reading the written experiences and analyses of a Council peritus (a person accepted and designated by the Council as an expert in a given field) is eye-opening and mind-expanding, allowing later generations access to the formulation of the Church's path for the future.

If you would like to read more of this first-hand account, find a copy of Theological Highlights of Vatican II by the peritus and eye-witness Joseph Ratzinger.