Thursday 11 October 2012

Vatican II and the Year of Faith

Today we begin celebrating the Year of Faith and the 50th Anniversary of the Second Vatican Council. The Pope asks that we renew our faith in light of that Council and the Catechism which followed it, but I wonder if we don’t first need to promote a correct understanding of the Council before we can renew ourselves in its light because, sad to say, it remains a source of division.

Surely we are happy to support Vatican II when read in the light of all the other Councils (the hermeneutic of continuity) since, being of the One True God who is “the same yesterday, today and forever” (Heb.13v8), it cannot contradict previous dogmatic teaching, only develop it; it can introduce new pastoral disciplines but not demand we unquestioningly accept those disciplines which are, after all, prudential judgments, not dogma.

Most sincere Catholics are likely wearied by folks on the extremes of the Vatican II debate; wearied by those who claim to support Vatican II yet will not live by its teachings and disciplines where those teachings and disciplines have a pre-1962 history, and wearied by those who reject it as inconsistent with pre-1962 teaching (if it were, would Archbishop Lefebvre have added his signature to its documents?).

What about a cursory, personal inventory of where we stand in regard to Vatican II; one understandable by the average Joe and the Prelate? I wonder if we could agree that:

That the Bishops rule the Church in union with the Pope: The order of bishops, which succeeds to the college of apostles and gives this apostolic body continued existence, is the subject of supreme and full power over the universal Church.

That the Pope remains superior to the Bishops both individually and collectively: The pope's power of primacy over all, both pastors and faithful, remains whole and intact. In virtue of his office as Vicar of Christ and pastor of the whole Church, the Roman Pontiff has full, supreme and universal power over the Church.

These are not contradictory positions: one subjugates Episcopal Authority, which the Pope has in common with every other Bishop, to Papal Authority, which the Pope alone possesses.

That laity are properly called to act in the world, yet can voice an opinion on Church matters and undertake ecclesial tasks: An individual layman, who must take on the renewal of the temporal order as their own special obligation led by the Gospel and the mind of the Church… is, by reason of knowledge, competence or outstanding ability which he may enjoy, permitted and sometimes obliged to express his opinion on things which pertain to the good of the Church.

That the ecclesial tasks undertaken by the laity are supervised by the clergy: Whether laity offer themselves spontaneously or are invited to act and cooperate directly with the hierarchy, they do so under the higher direction of the hierarchy itself (AA20 and 24).  

These are not necessarily contradictory statements either, but a recognition that while the laity can engage in ecclesial-centered tasks, they do so under the direction of the hierarchy since the authentic (proper) role of the laity is the renewing of the secular world with the light of the Gospel.

That the ordained teach and rule the people of God, and that they alone can confect the Eucharist: the ministerial priest, by the sacred power he enjoys, teaches and rules the priestly people; acting in the person of Christ, he makes present the Eucharistic sacrifice, and offers it to God in the name of all the people.

That the faithful, who exercise their priesthood by reception of the sacraments, unite their self-offering to the Sacrifice offered by the ordained: The faithful, in virtue of their royal priesthood, join in the offering of the Eucharist. They likewise exercise that priesthood in receiving the sacraments, in prayer and thanksgiving, in the witness of a holy life, and by self-denial and active charity (the exercise of the royal priesthood)

These statements are not contradictory. Since the priesthood of the ordained and of the laity differ from one another in essence and not only in degree, the exercise of their priesthoods differ.

That non-Catholics can be saved: Some, even many of the significant elements and endowments which together go to build up and give life to the Church itself, can exist outside the visible boundaries of the Catholic Church, yet...

That it is only the Catholic Church which saves: Non-Catholic communities suffer from defects, and although the Spirit of God has not refrained from using them as a means of salvation [they] derive their efficacy from the fullness of grace and truth entrusted to the Catholic Church”.

These are not contradictory statements but situate the effectiveness of non-Catholic religions in the context of the Catholic Church as the sole means of salvation established by Christ.

that the human person has a right to religious freedom; that this freedom means all men are to be immune from coercion on the part of individuals or social groups and any human power, in such wise that no one is to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his beliefs.

That all remain obliged to seek the Truth of the Catholic Church:  Religious freedom, which men demand as necessary to fulfill their duty to worship God, has to do with immunity from coercion in civil society. Therefore it leaves untouched traditional Catholic doctrine on the moral duty of men and societies toward the true religion and toward the one Church of Christ.

These determine that while man has a right to religious liberty he still has the duty to seek the Truth and the One True Church of Christ which subsists [originates and permanently exists] in the Catholic Church, governed by the successor of Peter and by the Bishops in communion with him.

That we are to follow our conscience: It is through his conscience that man sees and recognizes the demands of the divine law; he is bound to follow this conscience faithfully in all his activity so that he may come to God, who is his last end. Therefore, he must not be forced to act contrary to his conscience nor prevented from acting according to his conscience, especially in religious matters.

That conscience must be formed in light of the Church’s authoritative teaching: It can happen that moral conscience remains in ignorance and makes erroneous judgements about acts to be performed or already committed; and that this ignorance can often be imputed to personal responsibility. This is the case when a person takes little trouble to find out what is true and good, or when conscience is by degrees almost blinded through the habit of committing sin. Ignorance of Christ and his Gospel, bad example by others, enslavement to one's passions, assertion of a mistaken notion of autonomy of conscience, rejection of the Church's authority and teaching, lack of conversion and charity can be at the source of errors of judgment in moral conduct.

That the Pope’s teachings do not require ‘reception’ by the Church for validity: The Roman Pontiff, the head of the college of bishops, enjoys infallibility in virtue of his office, when, as the supreme shepherd and teacher of all the faithful, he confirms his brethren in their faith. His definitions are, of themselves and not from the consent of the Church, justly styled irreformable, since they are pronounced with the assistance of the Holy Spirit promised to him in blessed Peter, and therefore need no approval of others, nor do they allow an appeal to any other judgement. Religious submission of intellect and will must be shown in a special way to the authentic magisterium of the Roman Pontiff even when he is not speaking ex cathedra; in such a way that his supreme magisterium is acknowledged with reverence, and the judgments made by him sincerely adhered to, according to his manifest mind and will.

That use of the vernacular is acceptable and useful: A suitable place may be allotted to the mother tongue. This is to apply in the first place to the readings and "the common prayer”, but also, as local conditions may warrant, to those parts which pertain to the people, according to the norm laid down in Art. 36 of the Council’s Constitution.

That Latin is to remain in use even by the laity: Steps should be taken so that the faithful may also be able to say or to sing together in Latin those parts of the Ordinary of the Mass which pertain to them. Wherever a more extended use of the mother tongue within the Mass appears desirable, the regulation laid down in Art. 40 of [the Council’s Constitution] should be observed. Gregorian chant, as specially suited to the Roman liturgy, and all other things being equal [one to another], should be given pride of place in liturgical services.

That the Missal, as promulgated in 1969 by His Holiness Pope Paul VI in order to give concrete expression to the liturgical decrees of the Council retains both the altar-facing position for the priest from the offertory onwards and the reception of Holy Communion on the tongue, and therefore that these ought to be promoted in faithfulness to the Council, to the Missal, and to the memory and manifest intention of Pope Paul VI.

From the General Instruction:
Note No. 115 where the priest faces the people; No. 116 where he faces the altar, and No. 117 where Communion is obviously received on the tongue.

From the Rubrics of the Order of Mass
Note No. 133 where the priest faces the people and No. 134 where he turns back to facing the altar:

Have some of us wrong-footed ourselves in our walk with the Council?  It is my hope that the Year of Faith will help the whole Church to rediscover Vatican II in its continuity with Tradition. It was my hope the discussions between the SSPX and Rome would produce unity and a clarification of Vatican II's disputed and more difficult texts. Sadly that was not to be at the time.


  1. Thank you Father for the orthodox round up of Vatican council II. Though a fundamental question remains. Why should a Council of the Church require 'a correct interpretation'? All the preceeding Councils proclaim self evedintly what they mean. It used to be held that a teaching that required an interpretation was not a valid teaching - it may require elucidation ofcourse but not intepretation which implies a number of possible meanings.
    The Nota Preavia of Pope Paul VI to Lumen Gentium gives the game away as an external intervention of correction to a Council Document.

  2. Nemo, thank you for your comment.
    I would say that where Vatican II has been less than helpful is that its documents are long to enough to require, but did not receive, conclusions of “therefore, if anyone says...anathema sit". I suspect the voting would have been somewhat more difficult to bring to a conclusion had any ambiguities or contradictions been clarified by this time-honoured injunction. At a conference on Vatican II in 2010 Bishop Athanasius Schneider suggested a new syllabus of errors; I think this could be a good thing, that it would surely set boundaries for both ‘left’ and ‘right’, if we may use those pejorative terms.


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