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.

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