Friday, September 6, 2013

The Cost of Discipleship

Followme2Recently I heard a story shared by one of the African Bishops who attended the Synod on ‘The New Evangelization.’ In this bishop’s diocese there was a maximum security prison. He decided that he should visit this prison to minister to any Catholics who might be there. The prison was underground and had no windows. The bishop journeyed deeper and deeper into the darkness of the prison before he eventually heard some singing and he was taken to a lighted room with a number of prisoners in it. The bishop became angry when he saw how many men were in the room and he confronted them asking, “Please tell me why so many Catholics are here in this prison for serious criminals?” Pointing to one of the prisoners, the other men replied, “Bishop, not one of us was Catholic before we met this man. We were so struck by his peace here in the prison that we all wanted to be like him. We are following him.”

In today’s Gospel reading Jesus challenges the great crowds that are following him to take stock of the cost of his discipleship. Jesus says, “If anyone comes to me without hating his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26). Jesus is not literally telling us to hate our families but warning us that Jesus must be our first love. If there is a conflict between loving Christ and respecting or honoring our family, the cost of discipleship is to renounce our family for the sake of the kingdom. Jesus continues, “Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:27). Being a disciple comes with a cost. We must be willing to suffer. Notice the two aspects of discipleship highlighted in these verses. Jesus says. “If anyone comes to me. . .” and then in the next verse he says, “come after me.” Our faith is both a beginning and an ongoing journey. Our modern culture, which is perhaps influenced by certain types of Protestantism, tends to focus only on the initial decision or the ‘altar call.’ If the focus is only on the beginning, then we will fail to grow and continue the work of conversion than God has started in our heart.

During the Nazi occupation of Germany, the German Lutheran pastor, Dietrich Bonhoeffer complained against those who professed faith in Christ but allowed the Nazis to control the German State Church and to commit atrocities against the Jews. He helped found a dissident free ‘Confessing Church’ and eventually was executed in a concentration camp for his views. Bonhoeffer believed that our faith should impact the Christian’s role in the secular world. He called the separation of faith and living, “cheap grace.” In 1937 Bonhoeffer wrote, “Cheap grace is the mortal enemy of our church. Our struggle today is for costly grace” (The Cost of Discipleship). Have we committed ourselves to intentionally following Jesus?

The Fathers of the Second Vatican Council noted a similar problem at the time of the council. They complain about the error of those, “who imagine they can plunge themselves into earthly affairs in such a way as to imply that these are altogether divorced from the religious life. This split between the faith which many profess and their daily lives deserves to be counted among the more serious errors of our age” (GS 43).

In this Sunday’s Gospel, Jesus is calling us to live one unified life in him. We must not have a separate family, political or business life and a private religious life. We must follow after him completely even if it is a costly call of discipleship. Jesus gives two illustrations on counting this cost and then he concludes, “In the same way, anyone of you who does not renounce all his possessions cannot be my disciple.”

Once again this is not a call to hate our family, or to despise the world and all earthly possessions. The cost of discipleship is a daily endeavor, it means keeping Jesus at the center of our world. One traditional practice for this spiritual accounting is the examination of conscience. St. Ignatius of Loyola proposed a method involving five simple steps. First, begin by making an act of thanksgiving (Luke 17:15-16a). Next, pray and ask God for the grace to know ourselves and to have the courage to correct our faults. Thirdly, take a few minutes to review the hours of our day noting our faults in thought, word, deeds and omissions. Fourth, pray and ask God’s pardon for our sins. Finally make a resolution to improve ourselves in some small point of struggle during the next day (Spiritual Exercises, 43).

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity

Joan_Baez_1963One of the more celebrated achievements of Second Vatican Council was to give the Church a clearer understanding of the nature and role of the lay faithful. Who are the lay faithful?

Answers to this question have witnessed two false extremes. While debating the draft of the Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity, one Austrian bishop illustrated a point by telling the assembly that when he looked up “layman” in an old theological dictionary the entry said, “see clergy.” One false extreme is clericalism—in which the role of the lay person is reduced to nothing more than supporting the work of the clergy. The opposite extreme is the false belief that the Fathers of Second Vatican Council wished to do away with the hierarchy altogether and create a so-called “circle church” where everyone is equal and no one has an office of leadership. The documents of the council do not support either of these extreme positions. Twenty years after the council, the 1987 Synod of Bishops clarified a balanced view of role of the lay faithful resulting in Blessed John Paul II’s Apostolic Exhortation Christifideles laici.

In 1964, The Dogmatic Constitution on the Church had already defined the ‘laity’;

. . . to mean all the faithful except those in holy orders and those in the state of religious life specially approved by the Church. These faithful are by baptism made one body with Christ and are constituted among the People of God; they are in their own way made sharers in the priestly, prophetical, and kingly functions of Christ. . . (LG 31; AA 2).

This constitution highlights the profound gift given to the lay faithful through baptism which makes them one with Christ and sharers in the “priestly, prophetical, and kingly” ministries of Christ. This sharing does not involve the ‘sacred powers’ that are conferred in the Sacrament of Ordination but none-the-less it results in a unique ‘vocation’ and ‘apostolate’ (LG 31, AA 1). One of the key ideas is that the lay vocation is to be ‘secular’ and is to “seek the kingdom of God by engaging in temporal affairs and by ordering them according to the plan of God” (LG 31). While the lay faithful can and must perform may vital roles within the life of the Church the primary vocation of the lay faithful is performed in the midst of the secular world. The Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity, develops this notion further noting that the apostolate of the laity is exercised;

. . . by their activity directed to the evangelization and sanctification of men and to the penetrating and perfecting of the temporal order through the spirit of the Gospel. In this way, their temporal activity openly bears witness to Christ and promotes the salvation of men. Since the laity, in accordance with their state of life, live in the midst of the world and its concerns, they are called by God to exercise their apostolate in the world like leaven, with the ardor of the spirit of Christ (AA 2).

All of the faithful, both clergy, religious and lay faithful share in the one vocation to holiness (LG 39) exercised in different ways in keeping with their individual callings. The lay faithful have a specialized apostolate to evangelize and sanctify their daily lives and their secular vocations. This is accomplished through the work of “the Holy Spirit Who sanctifies the people of God through ministry and the sacraments” (AA 3). The Holy Spirit gives the faithful special gifts (cf. 1 Cor. 12:7). These charisms of the Holy Spirit are given to be exercised both “in the Church and in the world for the good of men and the building up of the Church” (AA 3).

All too often, the focus of these spiritual gifts is only on their use ‘in the Church’ and not also on the more fundamental apostolate of evangelizing and sanctifying our daily lives and the temporal order. This can lead to a false compartmentalizing of life. A specialized ‘lay spirituality’ emerges in the minds of the council Fathers. They urge that;

“The success of the lay apostolate depends upon the laity's living union with Christ . . . This life of intimate union with Christ in the Church is nourished by spiritual aids which are common to all the faithful, especially active participation in the sacred liturgy. These are to be used by the laity in such a way that while correctly fulfilling their secular duties in the ordinary conditions of life, they do not separate union with Christ from their life but rather performing their work according to God's will they grow in that union (AA 4).

It is not enough to simply live virtuous lives in the midst of the world, although that is important, we must join our daily lives to Christ. The temporal affairs of the world include the, “prosperity of the family, culture, economic matters, the arts and professions, the laws of the political community, international relations, and other matters of this kind, as well as their development and progress” (AA 7). “The laity must take up the renewal of the temporal order as their own special obligation” (AA 7). The council Fathers recognize that, “in the course of history, the use of temporal things has been marred by serious vices” and the whole Church has the duty to rectify distortions in the temporal order directing them to God through Christ (AA 7). Pastors must form the laity in the necessary moral and spiritual principles to renew the temporal order in Christ. This formation should be uniquely tailored to the lay vocation. The Fathers note that the apostolic formation of the laity “is specially characterized by the distinctively secular and particular quality of the lay state and by its own form of the spiritual life” (AA 29). Preparation for the lay apostolate involves lifelong well rounded human, spiritual and theological formation and is aided by lay groups and associations dedicated to the lay apostolate (AA 29-30).

The Purpose of Divine Revelation

shipOn November 18th, 1965 the Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation (Dei Verbum) was endorsed by 2,344/2350 votes from the council fathers. This was a peaceful end to what had been a three year long debate on the floor of the council. The title Dei Verbum means "The Word of God" in Latin. The draft schema of this constitution went through a series of very fruitful editorial changes before finally receiving a positive endorsement by the vast majority of bishops at the council. The council fathers explain the purpose of this constitution as follows;

In His goodness and wisdom God chose to reveal Himself and to make known to us the hidden purpose of His will (see Eph. 1:9) by which through Christ, the Word made flesh, man might in the Holy Spirit have access to the Father and come to share in the divine nature (see Eph. 2:18; 2 Peter 1:4). (DV 2)

The purpose of divine revelation is found in the mystery of God’s will. There are two spiritual benefits mentioned: ‘access to the Father in the Holy Spirit’ and ‘participation in the divine nature’. Ultimately this mystery involves our very communion with the Holy Trinity.

The word ‘revelation’ comes from the Latin revelare ‘to unveil’ what is hidden. God has not allowed his presence to remain hidden. It was his eternal desire to reveal himself and his plan of salvation to us by allowing us to share in his divine life.

It was the constant unfulfilled desire of the Old Testament saints to “see the face of God.” This desire is now fulfilled in Christ. The incarnate Christ becomes the face of God which can be seen. “No one has ever seen God. The only Son, God, who is at the Father’s side, has revealed him (John 1:18). Although God chose to reveal himself through both words and deeds to the people he chose for himself, our finite ability to comprehend God leaves this knowledge in a state of mystery. We can only know through God’s revelation and by analogy. We learn about God’s love through the analogy of human love. God is like the very best loving father, he is like a young groom in love with his bride or the love shared between friends. Such human loves make us capable of some small understanding of God’s own love. Through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, God has communicated his truth and holiness to us by means of what St. John Chrysostom, calls a wonderful “condescension” of the Eternal Wisdom (Gen, 3,8 (Hom. 17:1). God has adapted his speech to our needs so that we can know Him. As the Fathers of Second Vatican Council note: “Indeed the words of God, expressed in the words of men, are in every way like human language, just as the Word of the eternal Father, when he took on himself the flesh of human weakness, became like men” (DV 13).

We can also seek to know God through creation, especially in the human person which is a reflection of the image of God. The apostle Paul notes, “Ever since the creation of the world, his invisible attributes of eternal power and divinity have been able to be understood and perceived in what has been made. As a result, they have not excuse.” (Romans 1:20). God as creator leaves his mark on his creatures and through this mark we can learn something of God’s existence. God’s revelation through creation is called natural revelation (CCC 27-49, DV 3). We hold as a matter of faith that it is possible to know God through this type of revelation.

Although God does reveal things about himself through his creation he has also directly revealed himself through words and deeds in history. “In times past, God spoke in partial and various ways to our ancestors through the prophets; in these last days, he spoke to us through a son” (Hebrews 1:1-2). Our record of this activity is found in the Sacred Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments. To distinguish this activity from natural revelation we call this divine revelation. The ultimate fulfillment of the desire to see God’s face occurs in the Incarnation. As Christ tells his disciples, “If you know me, then you will also know my Father. From now on you do know him and have seen him” (John 14:7).

God has chosen to reveal himself gradually in what has been called the ‘Divine pedagogy’ (CCC 53, n. 5; GDC 139-147). Retrieving certain concepts from the Church Fathers, we must see God’s own pedagogy as a model of a “school of Faith” which embraces the entire Christina life (GDC 33). In the Old Testament God begins to announce prophetically the coming of Christ, Our Redeemer and the messianic kingdom. The Fathers of the Second Vatican Council remind us that initially this revelation is “imperfect and ephemeral” (DV 15). It was matched to the ability of the People of God to understand. Gradually God guided his people to a fuller understanding of himself aided by the action of the Holy Spirit.

We can now behold the face of God in Christ. Christ who knows the Father as the Only Begotten Son reveals the Father to us and allows us to join in his own prayer and communion with the Father. The fullest revelation of God’s love for us is seen in the Jesus death (John 15:13) which is anticipated in the institution of the Eucharist and re-presented in each Eucharistic celebration (CCC 1366).

Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition

800px-Vatican_StPaul_StatueAs we contemplate the vast complexity of the universe beyond our solar system, or the equally intricate details of microbial life we are struck by the humble limits of our knowledge. As finite human creatures we cannot hope to fully understand God but we can know him by His divine mystery revealed to us. Divine revelation is God’s self-communication to man – the unveiling of the invisible inner life of God Himself: “The eternal life which dwelt with the Father and was made visible to us.” (DV 1, cf. 1 John 1:2) God can reveal Himself through His creation, through the words of his prophets, or ultimately though the very Person of Jesus Christ. It is the face of Christ which reveals God most fully to man (GS 22).

God reveals his own inner life because He wants to share it with us! He wants us to partake of the richness of infinite love! “God’s will was that men should . . . become sharers in the divine nature” (DV 2). Specifically, this is why the Father sent His Son into the world: “For God so loved the word that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him might not perish but might have eternal life” (John 3:16). Also, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10).

God’s motivation for revealing Himself is purely His own love for us. Love is the whole motive of Revelation! “But God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8). How does God communicate this revelation to us?

God reveals Himself in word and deed. Ultimately the human words God uses to speak to us become fully manifest as the human person of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is the “Word of the Eternal Father” who took on “the flesh of human weakness” in order to reveal the Father’s love to us in its fullness (DV 13). The revelation of God is the Divine pedagogy in the Father (GDC 139), which becomes the pedagogy of the Son (GDC 140) and finally the pedagogy of the Spirit as this teaching is passed on to Christ’s disciples in the Church (GDC 141-143).

The Apostle Paul writes; “For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus, on the night he was handed over, took bread, and, after he had given thanks, broke it and said, ‘This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’” (1 Corinthians 11:23-24). To transmit means to ‘pass down’ or ‘hand on.’ These expressions come from the world of discipleship. A disciple was expected to preserve and ‘pass down’ the tradition of his master or rabbi. The words of the Institution of the Eucharist are part of the essential apostolic tradition St. Paul ‘received’ and ‘handed on.’ The process through which God reveals himself in the Sacred Scripture is called divine inspiration. While the precise inner working remains a mystery, we have the combined activity of normal human authors who use “their powers and abilities” . . . “as true authors” (DV 11) and the work of God himself who remains the primary author of what is written through the Holy Spirit. The fathers of the second Vatican council note: “Those divinely revealed realities which are contained and presented in Sacred Scripture have been committed to writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit” (DV 11). The inspiration of the Holy Spirit guarantees the truth of what is said when it is understood in the context of apostolic tradition.

“For man to be able to enter into real intimacy with Him, God willed both to reveal Himself to man and to give him the grace of being able to welcome this revelation in faith” (CCC 35). Not only does God reveal himself in a special and clear way through divine revelation, but he also makes possible the acceptance of His revelation through the power of grace working in our souls. Without the grace to accept this revelation, it would not be a help to man. Yet, God does not merely reveal those truths which are unknowable through human reason alone, for example the Triune nature of the Godhead. He also reveals those truths knowable by reason alone that man can know them easily and surely (CCC 38). Sacred Scripture not only speaks of creation from nothing, but also the love of God and His perfection, truths which can be discerned from reason alone.

God’s revelation includes both the written deposit found in Sacred Scripture and the living traditions pass on by the successors of the apostles in the Church. The whole content of Divine Revelation, written and oral, entrusted to the Church is called the deposit of faith. The fathers of the Second Vatican note, “Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture form one sacred deposit of the Word of God” (DV 10). We can distinguish between Sacred Scripture as “The word of God as consigned to writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit” (DV 9) and Sacred Tradition “the Word of God entrusted by Christ the Lord and the Holy Spirit to the Apostles” and handed on to their successors in its full purity (DV 9).

“Holy Scripture is the utterance of God, in so far as it was written down under the Holy Spirit’s inspiration; while sacred Tradition hands on in its entirety the word of God, that was committed to the apostles, by Christ our Lord and the Holy Spirit to their successors, in order that being enlightened by the Spirit of Truth, they may in their preaching faithfully preserve, set forth and disseminate it” (DV 9, GDC 139-143). Both Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition “spring from the same divine fountain, and so in some manner merge into a unity, and tend towards the same end” (DV 9). Sacred Scripture was intended to be rooted and understood in the context of apostolic discipleship or the succession of the apostles. As Blessed John Paul II reminds us, “at the heart of catechesis we find, in essence, a Person, the Person of Jesus of Nazareth” (CT 5). We are joined through Baptism to Christ’s own living and ongoing discipleship in the Church “as sharers in the divine nature” (DV 2).

The Church in the Midst of the World

st augustine detailIn 1965 the Fathers of Second Vatican Council complained about Catholics, “who imagine they can plunge themselves into earthly affairs in such a way as to imply that these are altogether divorced from the religious life.” They remarked that “this split between the faith which many profess and their daily lives deserves to be counted among the more serious errors of our age.” (Gaudium et Spes 43). Clearly these words are still very true today.

The Council Fathers produced two Constitutions on the Church. They followed a distinction borrowed from Trinitarian theology. The actions of the Church were described in terms of the interior works or the nature of the Church versus the Church’s exterior works or mission in the world.

The Dogmatic Constitution on the Church (Lumen Gentium) was intended to describe the nature of the Church itself, while a new schema was drafted to describe the Church in relation to the world. This new schema was eventually named Gaudium et Spes (The Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World).

In order to understand this outward directed mission, the Fathers highlighted the deepest understanding of what it means to be human. Each of us desires true and eternal happiness, or the integral fulfillment of the human condition. While the human condition offers many false substitutes, Christ is the ultimate foundation of our happiness (GS 10). The Council sought to solve fundamental human questions in the light of Christ “in order to shed light on the mystery of man and to cooperate in finding the solution to the outstanding problems of our time” (GS 10).

The fundamental truth is that “only in the mystery of the incarnate Word does the mystery of man take on light” (GS 22). The Fathers note that, “the root reason for human dignity lies in man's call to communion with God.” and that “…many of our contemporaries have never recognized this intimate and vital link with God, or have explicitly rejected it. Thus atheism must be accounted among the most serious problems of this age, and is deserving of closer examination.” The problem of systematic unbelief has not lessened in our time.

One highly significant facet of the mission of the Church in the world is the role of the lay faithful who are called to carry out “all their earthly activities . . . humane, domestic, professional, social and technical enterprises by gathering them into one vital synthesis with religious values” (GS 43). The lay faithful are called to be Christ in the midst of the world, in their daily life and professions. The General Directory of Catechesis notes;

The formation of lay catechists cannot ignore the specific character of the laity in the Church, and cannot be regarded as merely a synthesis of the mission received by priests and religious. Rather, "their apostolic training acquires a special character precisely from the secular nature of the lay state and from its particular type of spirituality" (GDC 237).

The relationship between Christ and culture has generally followed three patterns. One pattern is to attempt to remove oneself from the world, to live in a kind of a monastery in the desert or on a mountain. While such a calling has definite merit, especially for prayer, it is not the vision of the council for the lay person. A second model involves an uncritical assimilation to culture either by abandoning faith or by compartmentalizing or privatizing it so that it has no relevance to daily life. This view was condemned as serious error by the Council Fathers (GS 43). The final proposal is to allow Christ to transform culture through the daily lives of the faithful. This view requires us to be “in the midst of the world” but to fuse our life to our faith in a vital synthesis which transforms culture and bears witness to Christ.

I am reminded of a story told to me by a priest who had lived for a number of years in Europe. He knew Catholic women of deep faith in the city of Milan, Italy who had spent her life working as a designer in the fashion industry. One day while she was visit a fellow fashion designer she noticed that his newest line of apparel where created out of nearly transparent fabric with no attempt in the design at layering or some other method of making the outfit be less revealing. This concerned her deeply because this had potential to influence the whole fashion industry and thus impact the culture of Europe. I was told she looked at him and placed her hand under the fabric and holding it up asked him, “Would you dress you wife in this?” He thought for second and then replied, “No, I wouldn’t.” After she left his studio he apparently got on the phone and reordered his fabric in light of her comments. The presence of this Catholic fashion designer in the midst of a highly secular profession allowed Christ to be present and to transform this small part of culture. The council envisioned the transformation of all human culture as the lay faithful bear witness in every honest and upright vocation.

Norman Tanner, observes that there was a definite shift in emphasis as the Council began "proposing itself and the Catholic Church as moral points of reference for contemporary society" This was a deliberate attempt to seriously respond to Pope John XXIII's desire that the Council be pastoral in character. The schema was initially presented to the council by Cardinal Cento and Bishop Guano on behalf of the mixed commission that prepared it. Cardinal Cento proposed that the Council should conduct a dialogue with the people of our time. Bishop Gauno noted that "the Church had the right and duty to respond to the needs and aspirations of the world." He also observed that the council should be "a sign and vehicle of this dialogue between the Church and mankind." Cardinal Angelo Scola observes that "the category of dialogue as explored by the Magisterium of Paul VI in the Encyclical Escclesium suam provided the keystone for the development of this different way of looking at reality" He notes further that "it was in the nature of a pastoral Constitution to remain open to later developments."

There are two difficulties which arise from the idea of promoting a dialogue between the Church and the world. The first involves the doctrinal complexity of the relationship between the Church and the world. What does 'world' mean? What is meant by 'Church'? Secondly how does one find the balance between the unchanging principles of the faith and the contingencies of the present historical reality?

Cardinal Scola highlights two fundamental principles which relate to both the content and the method of Gaudium et spes. First, the teaching of this Constitution is based on a Christocentric anthropology, or an understanding of the human person which is centered on Christ. Secondly it is founded on a pastoral dimension which is attentive to the "signs of the times" and seeking the best way to present Christ to the human family.

Clear examples of a Christocentric anthropology is seen in a great number of passages from Gaudium et spes such as GS 10, 22, 32, 38-39, 40-41, and 45.

Cardinal Scola notes that the nexus between dialogue and Christocentric anthropology is seen most explicitly in GS 10;

The Church also maintains that beneath all changes there are many realities which do not change and which have their ultimate foundation in Christ, Who is the same yesterday and today, yes and forever (Cf. Heb 13:8). Hence under the light of Christ, the image of the unseen God, the firstborn of every creature, (Cf. Col 1:15) the council wishes to speak to all men in order to shed light on the mystery of man and to cooperate in finding the solution to the outstanding problems of our time. (Gaudium et spes 10).

Although the council provides many sections of Gaudium et spes which clearly offer features of an objective Christocentric anthropology they are fragmentary and seen "in embryo." Cardinal Scola's point mentioned above may be revisited; he notes "it was in the nature of a pastoral Constitution to remain open to later developments." Commenting on the reception of the Constitution after the council he notes that there is still an imperative need for "an organic reconsideration of the subject." The work of the Council that began in embryo needs to be continued to be developed by the Church and fully worked out as an objective Christocentric anthropology of the human person.

The second important dimension Cardinal Scola mentions is the pastoral dimension. This theme is expressed in terms of dialogue and resonates with themes of aggioramento and of the signs of the times. In his Encyclical Escclesium suam Pope Paul VI calls theme of aggioramento the guiding principle of the Council.

Pope Paul VI notes;

We cannot forget Pope John XXIII's word aggiornamento which We have adopted as expressing the aim and object of Our own pontificate. Besides ratifying it and confirming it as the guiding principle of the Ecumenical Council, We want to bring it to the notice of the whole Church. It should prove a stimulus to the Church to increase its ever growing vitality and its ability to take stock of itself and give careful consideration to the signs of the times, always and everywhere "proving all things and holding fast that which is good" (Cf. 1 Thes 5. 21.) with the enthusiasm of youth.

Cardinal Scola highlights three problems which arise from the above two themes.

1. The need to find a language adequate to express the dialogical (pastoral) dimension of the Council.

2. The problem of the pastoral nature of doctrine (particularly Magisterial pronouncements).

3. The question of the relationship between Christ as absolute Truth and the need for the "respect of the insuperable freedom of each person."

Do All Good Atheists Go to Heaven?

Pope-FrancisRecently in a daily homily in the Chapel of Domus Sanctae Marthae, Pope Francis commented on the idea that all people are capable of ‘doing good.’ The Holy Father refuted the notion that “those who do not have the truth, cannot do good.” In order to clearly emphasize the universal ability of all humanity to do good, Pope Francis notes emphatically;

"The Lord has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the Blood of Christ: all of us, not just Catholics. Everyone! ‘Father, the atheists?’ Even the atheists. Everyone! . . . We must meet one another doing good. ‘But I don’t believe, Father, I am an atheist!’ But do good: we will meet one another there.”

The Holy Father highlights two points here. Firstly that “doing good” is a principle that unites all humanity and creates a “culture of encounter” that unites us. ‘Doing good’ is a duty which flows from the depths of the human conscience. Further he emphasizes that Christ died for all of humanity. He notes,

“The Lord has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the Blood of Christ: all of us, not just Catholics. Everyone! ‘Father, the atheists?’ Even the atheists. Everyone!”

The Huff Post responded to this remark with apparent alarm, by reporting,

Pope Francis rocked some religious and atheist minds today when he declared that everyone was redeemed through Jesus, including atheists.

Such inaccurate reporting even prompted an official Vatican clarification on the subject. The Catholic Church teaches the universal availability of Christ’s atonement to all people. The idea that Christ died for all is found in Sacred Scripture and is a firm part of Catholic belief. We read in St. Paul’s first letter to Timothy;

This is good and pleasing to God our savior, who wills everyone to be saved and to come to knowledge of the truth. For there is one God. There is also one mediator between God and the human race, Christ Jesus, himself human, who gave himself as ransom for all (1 Timothy 2:3-6).

In a similar manner, St. Peter’s writes,

The Lord does not delay his promise, as some regard “delay,” but he is patient with you, not wishing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9).

The Catechism notes,

“The Church, following the apostles, teaches that Christ died for all men without exception: ‘There is not, never has been, and never will be a single human being for whom Christ did not suffer.’” (CCC 605).

This doctrine is central to the teachings of Second Vatican Council. The Council fathers note;

All this holds true not only for Christians, but for all men of good will in whose hearts grace works in an unseen way (LG 16). For, since Christ died for all men,(Romans 8:32) and since the ultimate vocation of man is in fact one, and divine, we ought to believe that the Holy Spirit in a manner known only to God offers to every man the possibility of being associated with this paschal mystery (GS 22).

If we understand Pope Francis through these words, we can see that even atheists “of good will in whose hearts grace works in an unseen way” are offered “the possibility of being associated” with the redeeming work of Christ. Does this “possibility of being associated” with Christ require an explicit faith manifest through the Church? The keystone text on this issue is found in the Constitution on the Church which notes;

Those also can attain to salvation who through no fault of their own do not know the Gospel of Christ or His Church, yet sincerely seek God and moved by grace strive by their deeds to do His will as it is known to them through the dictates of conscience. Nor does Divine Providence deny the helps necessary for salvation to those who, without blame on their part, have not yet arrived at an explicit knowledge of God and with His grace strive to live a good life. Whatever good or truth is found amongst them is looked upon by the Church as a preparation for the Gospel (LG 16).

The Church recognizes two extremes of error related to this doctrine. On the one extreme is the error of those who say that only those with explicit faith manifest through the Church may be saved. On the other side is the error of believing, with full assurance, that all will be saved regardless of their cooperation with the Divine will. Blessed John Paul II commented,

It is necessary to keep these two truths together, namely, the real possibility of salvation in Christ for all mankind and the necessity of the Church for salvation. Both these truths help us to understand the one mystery of salvation, so that we can come to know God's mercy and our own responsibility. Salvation, which always remains a gift of the Holy Spirit, requires man's cooperation, both to save himself and to save others (Redemptoris missio 9).

Even the very generous words of the Second Vatican Council Constitution on the Church (LG 16) contain specific conditions for those who may obtain salvation outside the Church. Their lack of knowledge of the Gospel must be “through no fault of their own” (LG 16) and they must “sincerely seek God” even if perhaps not yet arriving “at an explicit knowledge of God” (LG 16). They must also be “moved by grace . . . to do His will as it is known to them through the dictates of conscience (LG 16). Moved by grace each of us should desire to ‘do good.’ Pope Francis says, “If we meet there, doing good, and we go slowly, gently, little by little, we will make that culture of encounter” which may become the one mystery of salvation even for those who do not yet explicitly know Christ or it may lead to an encounter with those who directly proclaim this mystery on behalf of the Church.

  [Reformatted from the published version in the Catholic Key 45.12 June 2013]

The Universal Call to Holiness

During the prayers of the Mass we hear the priest say;

You are indeed Holy, O Lord, the fount of all holiness.

Make holy, therefore, these gifts, we pray, by sending down your Spirit upon them like the dewfall, so that they may become for us the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ (Eucharistic Prayer II).

In the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church the council fathers define the Church as the “the universal sacrament of salvation” through which the faithful are joined to Christ and are nourished with His own Body and Blood (LG 48). By being joined to Christ through Baptism, Confirmation and reception of tSt-Augustine-readinghe Holy Eucharist and we become one with Christ.

St. Augustine comments on the deeper significance of our oneness or communion with Christ in his commentary on Psalm 26. He notes that the practice of anointing in the Old Testament was normally reserved for either the king or the priest. But Christ now holds both offices as both Priest and King in virtue of his anointing or literally being the Messiah or Anointed one. Speaking of Christ, St. Augustine observes, “But not only was our Head anointed; but his body was too, we ourselves. . . . From this it is obvious that we are the body of Christ, being all anointed. In him all of us belong to Christ, but we are Christ too, because in some sense the whole Christ is Head and body” (Exposition 2 of Psalm 26).

We not only become like Christ in Baptism but we actually become a New Creation which is joined to the New Adam—Christ Jesus. This is not a mere exterior conformity but an interior transformation which results in us in a sense becoming Christ himself.

St. Augustine notes that, “all who have been anointed by his chrism we can rightly call christs and yet there is one Christ: the whole body with its Head” (City of God XVII, 4). As the Catechism reminds us; “The ministerial or hierarchical priesthood of bishops and priests, and the common priesthood of all the faithful participate, "each in its own proper way, in the one priesthood of Christ" (CCC 1547).

Our participation in the Holy Eucharist makes us partakers of the “fount of all holiness” and in the person of the ‘Holy One of God’ (John 6:69). Christ shares his priestly soul with us. The council Fathers emphasize this even of the laity, “The supreme and eternal Priest, Christ Jesus, since he wills to continue his witness and service also through the laity, vivifies them in this Spirit and increasingly urges them on to every good and perfect work” (LG 34).

As a result of this the council fathers inserted an entire chapter on the ‘Universal Call to Holiness.’ (LG 39-42). By virtue of our Baptism, every single Christian, regardless of their state of life, is called to be holy. As the council fathers note; “Therefore in the Church, everyone whether belonging to the hierarchy, or being cared for by it, is called to holiness, according to the saying of the Apostle: ‘For this is the will of God, your sanctification’ (1 Thessalonians 4:3; cf. Ephesians 1:4)” ( LG 39). Although there are many different gifts and vocations in the Church, no one can escape the call to holiness. We might be tempted to differentiate priests and religious from laity and to think that the laity are just ordinary folk who have no special calling. We do not want to down play the unique call to holiness of bishops, priests and deacons, or of those who live as religious. Yet these callings do not let ordinary Catholics off the hook. There are no exclusions from the call to holiness. As the fathers note, “The classes and duties of life are many, but holiness is one—that sanctity which is cultivated by all who are moved by the Spirit of God, and who obey the voice of the Father and worship God the Father in spirit and in truth” (LG 41).

Perhaps the most misunderstood of notion of holiness is its application to the lay faithful. In the Decree of the Apostolate of the Laity, the council fathers note;

In the Church there is a diversity of ministry but a oneness of mission. Christ conferred on the Apostles and their successors the duty of teaching, sanctifying, and ruling in His name and power. But the laity likewise share in the priestly, prophetic, and royal office of Christ and therefore have their own share in the mission of the whole people of God in the Church and in the world.

They exercise the apostolate in fact by their activity directed to the evangelization and sanctification of men and to the penetrating and perfecting of the temporal order through the spirit of the Gospel. In this way, their temporal activity openly bears witness to Christ and promotes the salvation of men (AA 2).

The lay faithful are to be like leaven in the midst of the world. Our daily work then can be a means of our personal sanctification; a means of sanctifying others and a means of bringing about the sanctification of the whole world. One modern Saint who has emphasized these ideas is St. Josemaría Escrivá, the founder of Opus Dei.

At his canonization, Pope John Paul II called him the Saint of Ordinary Life. Saint Josemaría repeatedly emphasized: “you have to sanctify your work, be sanctified in your work, and sanctify through your work.” He noted that work is “the hinge on which our calling to holiness is fixed and turns” (Friends of God, n. 62). For the lay faithful, holiness begins in the daily grind of our ordinary life.

Lumen Gentium: The Mystery of the Church

Church 2Each of us derives a great deal of personal meaning from our family name, our work, and our friendships. If someone were to say to you, “Tell me about that person” we would refer to our personal knowledge of these qualities. When the Council Fathers wish to describe the nature of the Church in the Dogmatic Constitution Lumen Gentium, they began by examining ideas found in Sacred Scripture and in the Fathers of the Church. To some extent it was like discovering new qualities about someone we thought we knew well. In relation to our knowledge of God, we learn a great deal about him through our worship. It is very appropriate that this Constitution on the Church immediately follows the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy. In his earlier writings as a Cardinal, Pope Benedict notes that;

“The Constitution on the Church, which then followed as Council’s second text, should be seen as being inwardly bracketed together with it. The Church derives from adoration, from the task of glorifying God. Ecclesiology, of its nature, has to do with Liturgy.” (Pilgrim Fellowship of Faith, p. 126).

In an earlier session of the council, Bishop Emilio Guano, of Livorno suggested that the Pauline term, ‘mystery’ (Ephesians 5:32) would be an appropriate scriptural expression to describe the fact “that the external visibility of Church, like the holy human nature of Christ, both conceals and reveals the inner divine reality of the Church, a reality which surpasses all knowledge." Pope Paul VI opened the Second Session (September 29, 1963), with the words, "The Church is a mystery, a mystic reality, steeped in the presence of God." After much discussion the Fathers placed the title “The Mystery of the Church” before the first chapter of the Constitution repeatedly referred to the Church as a Mystery. For example in in LG 5 we read, “The Mystery of the holy Church is manifest in its very foundation” (cf. LG 5, 39, 44, and 63).

Bishop Kloppenburg, a Peritus of the Brazilian Bishops at Vatican II observes that the official explanation given to the bishops in 1964 read:

"The word 'mystery' in this context does not indicate simply that a thing is unknowable or hidden. Rather, as many authorities recognize today, it points to a transcendent, divine reality that has to do with salvation and that is in some sensible way revealed and manifested. The term, therefore, which is found in the Bible, is very suitable as a designation for the Church."

Bishop Kloppenburg notes that, “the expression, ‘the Church is a mystery,’ means that the Church is a divine, transcendent, and salvific reality which is visibly present among men.” The Greek word ‘mysterium’ has as its Latin equivalent ‘sacramentum.’ The definition of mystery is very close to that of the definition of sacraments as “efficacious signs of grace, instituted by Christ and entrusted to the Church, by which divine life is dispensed to us.” (CCC 1131).

The opening paragraph of Lumen Gentium notes; “. . . Since the Church is in Christ like a sacrament or as a sign and instrument both of a very closely knit union with God and of the unity of the whole human race, it desires now to unfold more fully to the faithful of the Church and to the whole world its own inner nature and universal mission.” (LG 1)

The Church is an instrument of sign in the world of God’s saving presence. Writing shortly after the council, Joseph Ratzinger comments;

“Instead of the legalistic view that sees revelation largely as the issuing of divine decrees, we have a sacramental view, which sees law and grace, word and deed, message and sign, the person and his utterance within one comprehensive unity of the mystery.” (Commentary on Vatican II, Vol. III., p. 171.)

The focus of this theme is on Christ as a witness or Light to the Nations, as the title Lumen Gentium suggests. As the Council Fathers suggest;

God gathered together as one all those who in faith look upon Jesus as the author of salvation and the source of unity and peace, and established them as the Church that for each and all it may be the visible sacrament of this saving unity. While it transcends all limits of time and confines of race, the Church is destined to extend to all regions of the earth and so enters into the history of mankind (LG 9).

The Church is the “the universal sacrament of salvation” through which the faithful are joined to Christ and become "partakers of His glorious life” who are nourished with His own Body and Blood (LG 48). The Greek word for this union or fellowship with Christ in his body is ‘koinōnia.’ It has been variously translated as ‘fellowship,’ ‘communion,’ or ‘participation.’

St. Paul uses this expression in 1 Corinthians;

“The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation (koinōnia) in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation (koinōnia) in the body of Christ? Because the loaf of bread is one, we, though many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf” (1 Corinthians 10:16-17).

ratzinger 1964Concerning this verse Cardinal Ratzinger observes that the word ‘koinōnia,’or ‘communion’ implies a sacramental dimension. A theology of the Church understood as ‘communion’ is in its inmost nature a Eucharistic understanding of the Church. At the Extraordinary Synod for the twentieth anniversary of Vatican II in 1985, the Fathers of the synod observed that the central and fundamental idea of the Vatican II documents was that of koinōnia/communion. They observe,

Fundamentally it is a matter of communion with God through Jesus Christ, in the Holy Spirit. This communion is had in the Word of God and in the sacraments. Baptism is the door and the foundation of communion in the Church. The Eucharist is the source and the culmination of the whole Christian life (cf. LG 11) The communion of the Eucharistic Body of Christ signifies and produces, that is, builds up, the intimate communion of all the faithful in the Body of Christ which is the Church (1 Cor. 10:16).

This ‘communion,’ (which the Fathers of the Church describe with the Latin term, ‘communio,’) is nothing less than a sharing in the inner exchange of love within the Trinity itself. We are transformed by our communion with Christ and as a result given a share in Christ’s mission to the world around us.

The Question of Language

Angel maynooth2In the popular imagination the move away from Latin in the Mass to modern English is one of the most striking results of Second Vatican council. Was this change really intended by the council Fathers or was it a mistake? At the council the use of modern language translations was a very contentious issue. The Bishops appear to have had three options;

  1. Retain Latin only universally (following Trent),
  2. Continue Latin with some limited vernacular,
  3. Allow a complete move to the use vernacular.

One person I know quoted the following section of, Sacrosanctum Concilium, in support of the idea that only very limited use of English (or other modern vernacular languages) was ever intended by the council Fathers.

“The use of the Latin tongue is to be maintained in the Latin rites, except where some special law obtains” (SC 36 §1).

MaximosIV-webOn the surface the Bishops appear to have voted to continue with Latin. Further research on the background of this question reveals a different answer. The use of modern languages in Mass was especially important to the Catholic Melkite rite who wanted permission to use English in its liturgies in the United States in 1960. The Catholic Melkite Patriarch Maximos IV appealed directly to the Pope and received permission to use English except for the Anaphora (March 31, 1960).

Even before the council there were debates among those who wrote the schema, or prepatory documents brought to the council. The pre-conciliar Commission on the Missions proposed the following principle, “From Scripture we know that all languages are ordered towards the praise of Christ. Such praise is expressed especially in the liturgy, where the law of intelligibility of liturgical language for all gathered was stated by the Apostle. A diversity of customs and of rites has always existed in the Church, showing most clearly the riches of the Church’s unity.” (History of Vatican II, Vol. 1. 217). It would seem the motivation for this was not to reform European liturgies but to advance the gospel in missionary situations.

The pre-conciliar Commission on Liturgy established a sub-commission De lingua latina which was to consider three questions:

Whether Latin was to be fully retained; whether the use of the vernacular was to be allowed, and how clerics could be trained in Latin in order that they might understand and use it effectively (History, 1.218)

The Secretariat for Christian Unity proposed “the widest possible use of the vernacular” in the Mass and Sacraments. (History, 1.220). Cardinal Bea, the head of the commission, responded vigorously, “We must strongly oppose the idea that Latin is a sign of unity. It is more a sign of uniformity than a sign of unity.” (History, 1.220).

In December 1961, Pope John XXIII entered the debate by writing an apostolic letter in praise of the Pontifical Institute of Sacred Music and its defense of Latin in solemn liturgies. In February of 1962 the Pope signed the Apostolic Constitution Veterum sapientia which encouraged the teaching of Latin in clerical studies.

Many thought this settled the question and the draft schema brought to fathers read, “The use of Latin in western liturgy is absolutely to be preserved” but this was accompanied by continued calls for vernacular in the Mass, in the rituals, and especially for the in the Divine Office.

An interesting intervention at the council took place on this issue. During the debate the Melikite Patriarch Maximos IV Saigh rose and spoke to the council. He recommended changing the wording of the schema so that it would read that Latin was “the original and official language of the Roman rite” and that Episcopal conferences should have the power in this matter to “decide, subject to approval of the Holy See.” This speech was greeted very favorably. When the final text was approved, the fathers passed over the first request with very little change to the schema but included the second request. Again on a surface reading the council Fathers appear to have voted to continue the Latin tradition with only limited vernacular, but the second change made it possible for local bishops and Episcopal conferences to choose to implement much wider use of the vernacular at their discretion (with Vatican approval).

In order to understand the intension of the restriction; “The use of the Latin tongue is to be maintained in the Latin rites, except where some special law obtains” (SC 36 §1), one must also consider what is written later in the text. There are three places later in Sacrosanctum Concilium which affirm the authority of bishops and bishop’s conferences to make decisions in adapting the use of Latin. Unlike Trent which required uniformity, Sacrosanctum Concilium allows for regional diversity and the possibility for legitimate inculturation into modern languages such as English.

Having said this all of this, it is quite clear that the Bishops could not have predicted the sweeping changes that would occur as a result. The idea that the whole church would move to the vernacular rapidly and so completely was I think, not imagined. For example in SC 54 the council Fathers noted,

“Nevertheless 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.”

In relation to the three options presented above, the council fathers were clearly not trying to maintain Latin only. It is also not accurate to say they were only authorizing very limited use of vernacular. The Council authorized individual bishop’s conferences to decide on the use of the vernacular with the Holy See’s approval. It is also implied that any official changes that were made after the council must have had the Vatican’s approval. Strangely it is also not accurate to say the Bishops intended to allow a complete move to the use of vernacular. It is probably most accurate to say they intended to authorize diversity and the possibility of greater use of the modern languages but envisioned that Latin would continue to be used to some degree. The exact mixture of modern languages and Latin is not specified, but I suspect they intended a considerable amount of the Latin to remain.

Oriented Toward the Infinite Beauty of God


The first part of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy focuses on the meaning and beauty of the liturgy (SC 1-13), and the active participation of the faithful in the liturgy (SC 14-20). The remainder of the constitution focuses on specific reforms. In regard to these reforms, the Council Fathers note;



There must be no innovations unless the good of the Church genuinely and certainly requires them; and care must be taken that any new forms adopted should in some way grow organically from forms already existing (SC 23).

I would like to focus here on the reforms which relate to the use of sacred art in worship. The Book of Revelation which completes the text of the New Testament ends with a curious passage regarding the new heavenly Jerusalem of eternity. Speaking of the heavenly city, St. John writes;

The nations will walk by its light, and to it the kings of the earth will bring their treasure. During the day its gates will never be shut, and there will be no night there. The treasure and wealth of the nations will be brought there, but nothing unclean will enter it . . . (Revelation 21:24-27)

Most of us have never considered that some aspect of human culture or some human artifact might have eternal significance. To be counted in this category it would have to be some holy and pure ‘art’ which reflects the infinite beauty of God. Philosophers have viewed goodness, truth and beauty as three self-evident and interconnected qualities in our world. Theologians have seen these qualities as a reflection of God’s own perfections. God himself is the “original source of beauty.” (Wisdom 13:3). The Swiss theologian Hans Urs Von Balthasar complained that our modern world has tried to quietly jettison ‘beauty’ from this list. He warns that in a world where we can no longer see or reckon with beauty, “the good also loses its attractiveness” and “the self-evidence of why it must be carried out” is also damaged (Glory of the Lord, I:19).

The Council Fathers note in the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy that the fine arts are among the noblest human activities because their purpose is an attempt to portray by the work of human hands the infinite beauty of God (SC 122). They distinguish between religious art and sacred art which is much like the distinction between a poem and a prayer. The ‘sacred arts’ involve the “sacred imitation of God the Creator, and are concerned with works destined to be used in Catholic worship, to edify the faithful, and to foster their piety and their religious formation (SC 127).”

The Fathers note that at a diocesan level there are three separate areas of concern which are all interrelated; the sacred liturgy, sacred music and sacred art. The Council Fathers suggest that these areas of concern require thoughtful and coordinated leadership (SC 46). Today perhaps the most neglected and misunderstood aspect of worship is that of sacred art (SC 122-130).

The Fathers urge that we favor and encourage art “which is truly sacred” and which strives “after noble beauty rather than mere sumptuous display” (SC 124). Earlier, in reference to the rites of the liturgy, the Fathers used the expression “noble simplicity” (SC 34). This could lead someone to conclude that the Fathers of the council were advocating a minimalist or even anti-art stance. The idea that “noble simplicity” justifies a kind of Calvinist stripping of the altars and removing the statues and art, would be a clear misunderstanding. The expression “noble simplicity” is a catch phrase coined by the German archaeologist and art critic Johann Joachim Wincklemann (1717-1768). The expression in this context refers to Wincklemann’s observations about the elements of form and beauty found in classical Greek sculpture. Wincklemann inspired the Neo-classical movement in art which imitated the forms of classical Greek statuary. Noble simplicity would imply the use of the perfection of human beauty and “sedate grandeur in gesture and expression” which reveal the greatness of the soul beneath the passion of the figures.

Tempering such an understanding of art the Fathers note;

“The Church has not adopted any particular style of art as her very own; she has admitted styles from every period according to the natural talents and circumstances of peoples, and the needs of the various rites” (SC 123).

At the same time they also caution against a completely undisciplined and unprincipled notion of art,

“Let bishops carefully remove from the house of God and from other sacred places those works of artists which are repugnant to faith, morals, and Christian piety, and which offend true religious sense either by depraved forms or by lack of artistic worth, mediocrity and pretense” (SC 124).

The Fathers advocate a moderate and thoughtful use of sacred images (SC 125) and even the consultation of art experts (SC 126). Sacred art should have organic connection to the forms already existing in sacred tradition (SC 23), reveal the “infinite beauty of God” (SC 122) “edify the faithful”, and “foster their piety and their religious formation” (SC 127). As mentioned above, sacred art needs to join with the sacred liturgy and sacred music in “redounding to God’s praise and glory” with the “aim of turning men’s minds devoutly toward God” (SC 122). Sacred art is never merely art for art’s sake, but art in the service of the human soul as it contemplates the beauty of God.

Fully Conscious, and Active Participation

templeOn December 4, 1963 the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy was approved by the Second Vatican Council by a vote of 2,147 to 4, but the reforms proposed by this document did not suddenly arise there on the floor of the Council. Pope Paul VI noted, “The liturgy was the first subject to be examined and the first, too, in a sense, in intrinsic worth and importance for the life of the Church.” Dr. Pamela Jackson has pointed out that this Constitution “did not suddenly appear out of nowhere, but was the culmination of over a hundred years of research, reflection, writing, and pastoral work of the Liturgical Movement.”

Beginning in the 1830’s, groups of people in various countries were participating in what has been called the Liturgical Movement. This movement was attempting to recover the original sources of the liturgy. As earlier as 1903 Pope St. Pius X commented that in order to acquire the Christian spirit the “first and most indispensable source” is “active participation in the sacred mysteries and in the public and solemn prayer of the Church” (On the Restoration of Sacred Music). In 1947 Pope Pius XII wrote Mediator Dei, the Church’s first encyclical on liturgy. He noted that “The worship rendered by the Church to God must be, in its entirety, both interior as well as exterior.” (Mediator Dei, 23). Pope Pius XII comments on how Christ himself offers the liturgy:

The sacred liturgy is, consequently, the public worship which our Redeemer as Head of the Church renders to the Father, as well as the worship which the community of the faithful renders to its Founder, and through Him to the heavenly Father. It is, in short, the worship rendered by the Mystical Body of Christ in the entirety of its Head and members.

He connects this idea to the re-presentation of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ and notes that the Church prolongs the ministry of Jesus by means of; the sacred liturgy, the sacraments and by offering to God, “the daily tribute of her prayer of praise.” (MD 3)

Our lives should be centered on the Eucharist, enriched by the other sacraments and overflowing with prayer and contemplation in the midst of the world. As the Fathers of Second Vatican Council later repeat; “Mother Church earnestly desires that all the faithful should be led to that fully conscious and active participation in liturgical celebrations which is demanded by the very nature of the liturgy.” (Sacrosanctum Concilium 14).

The ultimate purpose of the liturgy is to make present the Paschal Mystery.  The Fathers of the council note later in the Constitution that through the liturgy and the sacraments the faithful are given graces which sanctify almost every event in their lives and that “they are given access to the stream of divine grace which flows from the paschal mystery of the passion, death, the resurrection of Christ, the font from which all sacraments and sacramentals draw their power.” (SC 61).

The phrase “fully conscious, and active participation” became a kind of “sound bite” or “catch phrase” after the council but many people fail to note that the line continues “. . . which is demanded by the very nature of the liturgy.” (SC 14).

That which is “demanded by the very nature of the liturgy” has been carefully defined by the Constitution in paragraphs 5 through 13. We are called to reverently enter into the re-presentation of the Paschal Mystery to meet the risen Christ present in the minister, the proclamation of the Word, in His sacramental Body and Blood, and in his Body the Church.

In his work The Spirit of the Liturgy Pope Benedict reminds us that “active participation” does not mean that as many people as possible, as often as possible need to be externally involved but that everyone takes part in the sacred action of liturgy. Remember that the term “active participation” was originally used in 1903 and 1947 in relation to what we now call the Extraordinary Form of the Mass. As the Holy Father points out, “the word ‘participation’ refers to a principal action in which everyone has a ‘part’.” This action is primarily interior.

St. Augustine views our common partaking of the Eucharist as a participation or ‘communion’ with Christ’s sacrifice (1 Corinthians 10:16), and a sharing in Christ’s immortality. St. Paul refers to the notion of sacrifice in Roman’s twelve, where he writes:

I urge you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship. Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect. (Romans 12:1-2).

St. Augustine comments on this passage in his book the City of God.  He interprets this sacrifice as the soul rising up in contemplation of God and being transformed by this union. The soul becomes “a sacrifice when it offers itself to God, in order that, being inflamed by the fire of His love, it may receive of His beauty and become pleasing to Him, losing the shape of earthly desire, and being remolded in the image of permanent loveliness” (City of God, X.6).

The first part of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy concentrates on the meaning and beauty of the liturgy while the rest of the document proposes specific reforms. I will discuss some of these reforms in part two of this piece.

Pope Benedict’s Thoughts on Second Vatican Council, as he saw it.

Benedict prayingOn February 14th, 2013, Pope Benedict gave a warm unscripted talk the clergy of Rome. He reminisced about his time at the Second Vatican Council as an official peritus or expert.

Pope Benedict first addresses the reform of the liturgy noting that prior to the Council there had developed almost two parallel liturgies. He notes, “The priest with the altar-servers, who celebrated Mass according to the Missal, and the laity, who prayed during Mass using their own prayer books, at the same time, while knowing substantially what was happening on the altar.” The Fathers of the Council sought to renew the liturgy through “a rediscovery of the beauty, the profundity, the historical, human, and spiritual riches of the Missal.” Pope Benedict notes that “it became clear that it should not be merely a representative of the people, a young altar-server, saying ‘Et cum spiritu tuo’, and so on, but that there should truly be a dialogue between priest and people: truly the liturgy of the altar and the liturgy of the people should form one single liturgy, an active participation, such that the riches reach the people.”  He notes, “I find now, looking back, that it was a very good idea to begin with the liturgy, because in this way the primacy of God could appear, the primacy of adoration.”

Pope Benedict also highlights two great principles of the reform, intelligibility and active participation. He cautions the clergy against some common misunderstandings of these principles;

Unfortunately, these principles have also been misunderstood.  Intelligibility does not mean banality, because the great texts of the liturgy – even when, thanks be to God, they are spoken in our mother tongue – are not easily intelligible, they demand ongoing formation on the part of the Christian if he is to grow and enter ever more deeply into the mystery and so arrive at understanding.  . . . Only ongoing formation of hearts and minds can truly create intelligibility and participation that is something more than external activity, but rather the entry of the person, of my being, into the communion of the Church and thus into communion with Christ.

The second theme Pope Benedict addresses is that of the Church. He notes that the Council Fathers intended to follow Pius XII and complete the vision of the Church that had occurred at Vatican I by focusing on the Mystical Body of Christ. Pope Benedict observes, “People were beginning to realize that the Church is not simply an organization, something structured, juridical, institutional – it is that too – but rather an organism, a living reality that penetrates my soul . . . and a building block of the Church as such.”  He notes that in saying that “we are the Church” this notion was not intended to emphasize a particular “we” or a single group that calls itself Church.  Rather it “requires me to take my place within the great “we” of believers of all times and places.” To emphasize this in a structural manner among the bishops the word “collegiality” was adopted. This notion does not emphasize power but “the complementarity of the different elements” and “the completeness of the corpus of the Church with the bishops, the successors of the Apostles, as structural elements.” In addition to this the Fathers pointed to the theme of the Church as the “people of God.” Initially this is an Old Testament theme about Israel and only by entering into communion with Christ, and by being one with him, do the nations become God’s People.

Later what is clearly the central concept of the Council came to light as we reflected on this great theme. He notes that;

. . . the link between People of God and Body of Christ is precisely communion with Christ in Eucharistic fellowship.  This is where we become the Body of Christ: the relationship between People of God and Body of Christ creates a new reality – communion.

The third theme was the debate over the problem of Revelation. Benedict calls the Constitution on Divine Revelation “one of the finest and most innovative of the entire Council” with its insistence that “only in this communion of the living Church can one really understand and read the Scripture as the word of God.” Pope Benedict insists, “Only if we believe that these are not human words, but God’s words, and only if there is that living subject to which God spoke and speaks, can we interpret sacred Scripture properly.”

Finally Pope Benedict addresses the theme of Ecumenism found in several Declarations and the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World. He notes that the importance of these documents has been demonstrated only after decades and we are still working to understand their interlinked themes.

In closing Pope Benedict makes an important distinction between genuine intensions of the Council Fathers and what he calls the Council of the Media. Pope Benedict elaborates;

While the Council of the Fathers was conducted within the faith – it was a Council of faith seeking intellectus, seeking to understand itself and seeking to understand the signs of God at that time, seeking to respond to the challenge of God at that time and to find in the word of God a word for today and tomorrow – while all the Council, as I said, moved within the faith, as fides quaerens intellectum, the Council of the journalists, naturally, was not conducted within the faith, but within the categories of today's media, namely apart from faith, with a different hermeneutic. It was a political hermeneutic: for the media, the Council was a political struggle, a power struggle between different trends in the Church. It was obvious that the media would take the side of those who seemed to them more closely allied with their world. There were those who sought the decentralization of the Church, power for the bishops and then, through the expression “People of God”, power for the people, the laity.

The Hermeneutic of Reform?


Did Vatican II create a new Church? On December 22, 2005, Pope Benedict XVI gave a now famous Christmas message before the Roman Curia in which he cautioned against a widespread historical interpretation of the Second Vatican Council which posited that there was a break between the preconciliar vision of the Church and the post Vatican II vision of the Church. He described this as the "hermeneutic of discontinuity and rupture.” A hermeneutic is a method of interpreting history. Pope Benedict was expressing concern that certain scholars were treating Vatican II like a new political constitution that created a new Church which was radically different from the previous Church. Hearing this comment some have thought that Pope Benedict is arguing for what seems to the opposite view “a hermeneutic of continuity.” Recently , a professor at the Pontificia Università della Santa Croce in Rome, has pointed out that this is not the case. He notes;

In the Pope’s address, there is no such opposition between a "hermeneutic of discontinuity" and a "hermeneutic of continuity". Rather, as he explained: "In contrast with the hermeneutic of discontinuity is a hermeneutic of reform…" And in what lies the "nature of true reform"? According to the Holy Father, "in the interplay, on different levels, between continuity and discontinuity". (Nova et Vetera, English Edition, 9.4 2011)

In studying the documents of Second Vatican Council it is important to see the historical context of the council and to understand the manner in which the Fathers of the council brought ideas from various currents of contemporary thinking into their discussions. Fathers of the council did not directly use the term “reform.” Three terms were used at the council that touched on the notion of change. The first was the Italian term aggiornamento (Italian for ‘bring up to date’). This term came from Blessed John XXIII and should be understood in the context of his opening address to the council. The second term is a French word ressourcement (meaning ‘return to the sources’). This term had in mind a return to the text of Sacred Scripture and the writings of the Church Fathers in order to deepen our understanding of the Church. Although originally the ressourcement movement was thought to be somewhat of a novelty the movement began to know as the Nouvelle Théologie or French for New Theology. Many now famous theologians from this movement were involved directly or indirectly as ‘experts’ at the council: Hans Urs von Balthasar, Louis Bouyer, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Marie-Dominique Chenu, Yves Congar, Jean Daniélou, Étienne Gilson, Hans Küng, Henri de Lubac, Jean Mouroux , Karl Rahner, Joseph Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI) and Edward Schillebeeckx. After the council this loose movement fractured and Joseph Ratzinger, Henri de Lubac, Jean Daniélou, Hans Urs von Balthasar, and Louis Bouyer began to work together while other members of the movement became quite eccentric.

A third term is the English ‘development’ which had in mind the organic progress or unfolding of doctrine over time. A classic expression of this notion is seen in the work of Blessed John Henry Newman. The works of Newman were still quite new at the time of second Vatican Council so he is not directly quoted but his ideas were influential. Newman is quoted four times in the Catechism (CCC 157, 1723, 1778, and 2144).

Georgetown professor, John W. O’Malley points out;

The three words overlap in their meanings, but in general they look, respectively, to the present (aggiornamento), the future (development), and the past (ressourcement). They all are concerned with change and, in the context of a reluctance to admit change, operate as soft synonyms for it and soft synonyms for reform. (What Happened at Vatican II, p 37)

The key ongoing question for the implementation of Second Vatican Council is how much change and what nature of change was intended by the council? It seems clear that the current Holy Father intends ‘reform’ to include both continuity and discontinuity as we all seek “to live and think with the Church” (Perfectae Caritatis 6). The danger lies with those who deliberately place themselves at odds with the thinking of the Church by presuming to be her judge and to be her critic.

Correctly Interpreting Second Vatican Council

JohannesPaul2-portrait (1)In the year 2000 Pope John Paul II complained about misleading interpretations of Second Vatican Council which tried to highlight discontinuity with the past;

The Church has always known the rules for a correct hermeneutic of the contents of dogma. They are rules inscribed within the texture of faith and not outside it. To read the council supposing that it involves a rupture with the past-whereas in reality it situates itself in the line of the abiding faith-is decisively misleading. That which has been believed 'by all, always, and in every place' is the authentic newness that permits every epoch to feel itself enlightened by the word of God's revelation in Jesus Christ. (Pope John Paul II, 2000)[i]

Earlier in 1985 Pope John Paul II called and Extraordinary Synod of Bishops to discuss the interpretation of Second Council. Avery Cardinal Dulles has summarized the six principles adopted by this 1985 Synod as follows:

1. Each passage and document of the council must be interpreted in the context of all the others, so that the integral teaching of the council may be rightly grasped.

2. The four constitutions of the council (those on liturgy, church, revelation and church in the modern world) are the hermeneutical key to the other documents—namely, the council’s nine decrees and three declarations.

3. The pastoral import of the documents ought not to be separated from, or set in opposition to, their doctrinal content.

4. No opposition may be made between the spirit and the letter of Vatican II.

5. The council must be interpreted in continuity with the great tradition of the church, including earlier councils.

6. Vatican II should be accepted as illuminating the problems of our own day. (Dulles, America Magazine, 2/24/2003)

A trend which is hopefully now ‘out of fashion’, led some interpreters to compare list of attributes of the Church before the council to the same attributes of the Church after the council. Their point attempted to propose that the Church after the council is revolutionarily different, if not a completely different Church. Clearly the Church in Ireland in the 1200’s was quite different from that in Germany in the 1500’s or from that in France in the late 1800’s, but no one would say a different Church. The principles of the 1985 Synod would appear to rule out this interpretation of Second Vatican Council.

In 2008 Avery Cardinal Dulles wrote an essay on the Vatican II Constitution Lumen Gentium .[ii] Cardinal Dulles comments on certain modern views of the Council which attempt to popularize a radical interpretation of the Council's impact on Ecclesiology (the doctrine of the Church). The following chart is adapted from his essay, (p. 25).

Before the Council

After the Council

The Church is regarded as an institution founded by Christ with definite and immutable structures.

The Church as a pilgrim community constantly restructuring itself to suit the times.

The Church is regarded as necessary for salvation.

The Church is regarded as one of many places in which people could live a life of grace.

The Catholic Church saw herself as the sole legitimate Church.

The Church is regarded herself as one of many realizations of the Church of Christ, all imperfect.

The Church is saw herself as a divinely instituted monarchy in which all authority descended from the pope.

The Church is regarded as the People of God that governed itself through consensus.

Cardinal Dulles maintains; "All of these generalizations, I maintain, are false. They overlook the nuances both in the preconciliar period and in Vatican II." (p.25)

He notes, "Any aggiornamento that was accomplished was intrinsically connected with the principal of resourcement. “Every renewal of the Church," for the council, "essentially consists in an increase of fidelity to her own calling" (UR 6). (p. 26). As noted above, in 1985 Pope John Paul II convened an extraordinary assembly of the Synod of Bishop because he was concerned about misinterpretations of Vatican II. The final report of the Synod taught that the teachings of the council should be interpreted "in continuity with the great tradition of the Church" and which includes previous councils and popes. (p. 26)

As Pope Benedict XVI has noted the reform intended by Second Vatican Council was not a radical break with the past.

[i] From an address in Italian John Paul II, "Udienza al convegno internazionale di studio," in Il Concilio Vaticano II: Recezione e attualita, ed. Rino Fisichella (Rome: San Paolo, 2000), 739, as quoted in Dulles, p. 26.

[ii] Dulles, Avery Cardinal "Nature, Mission, and Structure of the Church" in Matthew L. Lamb and Matthew Levering, eds. Vatican II: Renewal Within Tradition. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008).