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Tuesday, February 28, 2017
Text of Vatican II talk: 'What was the Council all about?'
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¬†This evening at 8pm, the second in the series of Advent Talks on Vatican II: Forty Years On, takes place at Holy Apostles, 47 Cumberland Street, Pimlico SW1. The speaker will be Rev Nicholas Schofield, from Our Lady of Willesden, who will speak on: 'Sacrosanctum Concillium - Why did the Mass change?' Last week, parish priest Fr Pat Browne and Rev Mark Vickers introduced the series. The text of Rev Mark's talk on 'What was the Council all about?' follows below: "Today, venerable brethren, is a day of joy for Mother Church: through God's most kindly Providence the longed-for day has dawned for the solemn opening of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, here at St. Peter's shrine." Those were the words with which Blessed Pope John XXIII opened the Second Vatican Council at St Peter's on 11 October 1962. Forty years ago last month. The most important moment in the history of the Church in the twentieth century. For some of you, a moment of great excitement, still fresh in your memories. For others of us, it is more than a lifetime ago. What was the Council all about? I began by asking members of the parish here in Pimlico. Given that we are talking of an event forty years ago, inevitably, most of those I spoke to were at least in their sixties. I asked them what the Second Vatican Council had meant to the life of a parish here in England. What had the Council changed in the life of the Church? The first answer I got was always the same. The Mass. The Mass had changed. From Latin to English. The priest faces the people. There are laymen and women acting as Eucharistic ministers. People's reactions are mixed. There is more activity and less reverence at Mass. It is good that the ordinary people can understand what is being said at Mass, but it is sad that, as more and more people travel overseas, we can't go into a Catholic Church and find the Mass just the same all round the world. Some of the translations of the Bible seem to have changed. There is Communion in the hand and the laity can receive both the Host and the Precious Blood. Changing the saints days and the Church seasons upset some people. Sometimes it seems that Mass is more about having fun than worshipping God. The next thing people mentioned was the change in the relationship between the priest and the people. Everyone seemed to appreciate that priests are more approachable, that the laity are consulted more. There was less enthusiasm about priests and nuns being less identifiable in the street and where they were needed. The Church is going out to people more. In the old days no one ever saw the Pope unless they went to Rome. The travels of Paul VI and John Paul II are a good thing. People appreciate the fact that there is ecumenical contact with other Christians and people of other faiths. There is more discussion, which most people are happy - but not if that means we are free to make up or own mind whether or not something is sinful. Young people seem to know less about their faith. An important point that someone picked up on was that doctrine hasn't changed. Whatever might have changed, the Church is still the Church. It was fascinating to listening to what people had to say. Some of the changes they described were a direct result of the Council. Others had nothing to do with it. Indeed, some changes have happened despite what the Council itself said. If people here in Pimlico have different reactions to the Second Vatican Council, that is not surprising. So do many theologians, writers and priests. For some it is the best thing that ever happened to the Church, opening it up to the modern world. Some think that the Council did not go far enough. Others would disagree violently. They have a very negative view of the Council. They see it as a break with everything that went before, the point at which "everything went wrong." How do we make sense of these conflicting opinions. Who is right? Is anyone right? The first thing to remember is that whenever there has been a major upheaval in the Church, it has always taken time for the dust to settle, sometimes a generation or two. It might not sound particularly helpful for those of us who have to live in the here and now, but it really is true that the Church thinks in terms of centuries. It takes time for the Church to interpret, and for ordinary Christians to accept, what a Council was all about. It was true for the Councils of the early Church. It was true for Vatican I in the nineteenth century. There is no reason why it should be any different for the Second Vatican Council. If we can take heart from that, it does not mean that we just sit back and wait for that dust to settle. We ourselves have a duty to study, to understand and to integrate into our own lives what the Council was really about. There are too many people, from either one side or the other, who say, "Vatican II says this" or "Vatican II says that" whilst obviously having no clear idea what the Council actually said. Vatican II is used far too much as political football by individuals attempting to give some sort of justification to their own personal opinions. I believe that Pope John Paul II will be seen as one of the great Popes of the Second Vatican Council. Unlike John XXIII or Paul VI, of course, he was not actually Pope at the time of the Council itself; although he was present as one of the bishops, one of the Council Fathers. Yet it has fallen to John Paul II, probably more than to his predecessors, to interpret and implement the Second Vatican Council. He has urged Catholics to overcome "biased and partial interpretations."[1] That is the challenge the Pope has set us at the beginning of the Third Millennium. We can only begin to implement the Second Vatican Council if we know what the Council said. That's the point Cardinal Ratzinger makes, "The true inheritance of the Council lies in its texts. When one interprets them soundly and thoroughly, then one is preserved from extremes in both directions." [2] We need to study the texts carefully, prayerfully, as members of the Church. In a very small way, that is what this series of six talks is about. Let's start at the beginning. Why does the Church have Councils? It is because, after His Ascension to heaven, Jesus does not cease to speak to His People. Everything necessary for salvation was disclosed in the three years of the public ministry, yet God did not abandon His People at the end of that short period. New problems arise, new issues unthought of by man two thousand years ago. Cloning, weapons of mass destruction, a whole range of ethical issues thrown up by advances in medical technology. Has God nothing to say about the concerns of the modern world? Of course He has. But how do we know God's Will in such matters? For strict Protestants, it is simply a question of what the Bible says, as interpreted by private conscience. The problem, of course, is who interprets the Bible - and on what authority? There can be as many interpretations as there are Christians. And that is one reason why traditional Protestantism has been overwhelmed by liberal secularism. Most Christians, however, accept the need for something more. They accept that Jesus instituted the Church to guide His People through the difficulties and perplexities that lay ahead. For Catholics, of course, one of the greatest gifts to the Church is the Petrine ministry. We believe that the Pope has a special role, as the successor of St. Peter, in leading and shepherding the Church. Other Christians do not accept that, at least in the form in which we understand it. However, most Christians - Catholics, Orthodox and Anglicans - would accept, at least in principle, that there is another way in which binding decisions can be taken at the highest level. This is through the gathering of all the bishops of the Church in a Council. Vatican II itself said that such a gathering of bishops has "supreme and full authority over the universal Church."[3] Of course, there are differences. The Orthodox and the Anglicans accept the Councils of the early Church - which dealt, most importantly, in understanding Who is Jesus really was, Son of God and true God and true man - but they do not accept more recent Councils. It seems rather strange to me to accept, in principle, the Councils of the first seven hundred years of the Church - but, in practice, to say that there have been no binding Councils subsequently. Of course, we are only too painfully aware of the divisions between Christians which have led to this failure to recognise more recent Councils. For Catholics, the validity of the decisions of Councils require that they must be taken by bishops in communion with Rome and then those decisions have to be confirmed or recognised by the Pope. Catholics talk about 'ecumenical Councils.' Vatican II was 'an ecumenical Council.' That can be confusing. Ecumenical Councils are not a gathering of the representatives of the different Christian denominations. The only full participants are Catholic bishops. A Council is 'ecumenical' because all the bishops throughout the world who are in communion with the Pope have the right and duty to attend the Council. Because the fullness of truth subsists in the Catholic Church, then such a Council is ecumenical. Vatican II was unusual in that there were, in fact, representatives of other Christian traditions, such as the Church of England, present. They were there, however, as observers - not participants. When we talk about 'the Council Fathers,' we are speaking of the 2,200 Catholic bishops who attended the Council. John XXIII's announcement that he was calling a Council came as a huge surprise. There were Catholics who thought that there would never be another Council of the universal Church. The First Vatican Council, eighty years earlier, had recognised the Pope,s right to speak infallibly, to be protected from falling into error, in certain, defined situations, on matters of faith and morals. If the Pope can act in this way, people argued, what was the point in bringing two thousand bishops together? John XXIII disagreed. He said that "the decision to hold an ecumenical Council came to [him] in the first instance in a sudden flash of inspiration."[4] He told the Cardinals of his decision in January 1959 and three years of preparation began. People didn't know what to expect. Traditionally, Councils have been called because the Church has been in crisis or has been faced by some external threat. The early Councils of the Church were called to combat various heresies, the Council of Trent was a response to the emergence of Protestantism and the need for reform in the Church. Vatican I was at least partly about the relationship between the faith and reason in the light of the scientific discoveries of the nineteenth century. There was no comparable crisis in 1959. Internally, the Church had enjoyed over two generations of comparative peace and growth. Why did anyone need a Council? To the extent people had any expectations, I think that they thought that Vatican II was going to be a demonstration of Catholic superiority, a triumphant spectacle of the Church gathering around the Supreme Pontiff. This was the era of the Cold War, so perhaps there would be a condemnation of Communism - or possibly the definition of a new dogma concerning Our Lady. This would be essentially an exercise in self-congratulation. The Roman Curia, who had the responsibility for drawing up the draft documentation for the bishops to consider, thought that this was going to be the case. The vast majority of bishops coming to Rome in 1962 thought the same. Very few people expected any significant change. The Holy Spirit had other things in mind. What did John XXIII have in mind? It is fair to say that, at one level, the Pope himself did not expect major change. The Church can never be untrue to herself and to the Gospel message. He specifically stated that the Council was about pastoral matters rather than doctrine. It was the Council's "intention to give the world the whole of [Catholic] doctrine which, notwithstanding every difficulty and contradiction, has become the common heritage of mankind - to transmit it in all its purity, undiluted, undistorted."[5] Doctrinally, Vatican II was to be full square behind Trent and Vatican I. Yet, at the same time, John XXIII did intend real change. His passionate concern was to make the Catholic faith accessible and relevant to ordinary people, inside and outside the Church, to have a responsible dialogue with the modern world. This is what he said about the "certain and immutable" treasure of Catholic doctrine : ".. our duty is not just to guard this treasure, as though it were some museum-piece and we the curators, but earnestly and fearlessly to dedicate ourselves to the work that needs to be done in this modern age of ours What is needed at the present time is a new enthusiasm, a new joy and serenity of mind" [6] It is not easy for someone, like myself, born after the Council had finished to describe the pre-Conciliar Church. Certainly, one thinks of a Church that was confident, with a recognised body of doctrine, a structured set of devotions. The churches were full, there was a high level of loyalty. There was little talk of demoralisation, crisis or lack of identity. People felt secure in an overtly Catholic society. The Catholic Church of the 1950s may have been disciplined, impressive and well-organised, but I am not certain whether it could have been characterised by John XXIII's words "enthusiasm" and "joy." The criticism levelled against it was that it was complacent and inward-looking. People either came to the Church, submitted to its teaching and were saved, or they risked eternal damnation. There had been much new learning in the Church in the early twentieth century, particularly amongst the Jesuits and Dominicans of France and Germany - men like Yves Congar, Henri de Lubac, Hans Urs von Balthasar and Karl Rahner - yet little or none of this was reflected in the official teaching of the Church. So much of what was taught in seminary was a rather dusty parody of the Scholasticism of the Middle Ages. How did that engage with men and women living in age of Cold War, of industrialisation, of globalisation? John XXIII's response was twofold : ressourcement and aggiornamento. Two long, foreign words - but the key to understanding the Second Vatican Council. The last thing the Church was looking for was a revolution, a complete break with the past. Completely the opposite. The only way the Church can attract is by reflecting the light of Christ. She needs to go back to her roots. And that is what ressourcement is, going back to the sources. And those sources are the Tradition of the Church, Scripture and the writings of the Church Fathers, the men who followed the apostles and whose study, writing and preaching was informed by a deep contemplation, reading of Scripture and pastoral activity. The work of those French and German theologians whom I mentioned was thoroughly grounded in Scripture and the Church Fathers - and their work fed into the texts of Vatican II. One of the most obvious things about the Council documents is how well supported they are by references to Scripture and the early Church Fathers. The bishops at Vatican II did not dream up a new agenda, they returned to what is at the heart of our Christian and Catholic faith. If ressourcement is about going back to our roots, aggiornamento is, literally, about bringing it up to date. There is no point in carrying the Good News of Christ if it can only be understood by academics and experts. As John XXIII put it, we need to take our faith, and, without changing it, it should be "studied afresh and reformulated in contemporary terms." Ressourcement and aggiornamento those were John XXIII,s two great contributions to the Council. But there was a third. That was his openness to the world. For centuries the Church had felt threatened by the world - often with good reason - and she had defined herself in opposition to the world. It would have been easy for the Pope and the bishops to have spent their time thundering against Marxism and atheism. John XXIII chose a different way. He concentrated on what the Church was offering, not, in the first instance, on what it was opposing. "Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and His justice." He made it quite clear that "the Lord's truth is eternal" and that the Church hadn't changed her teaching, but she was prepared to change her methods. "Today Christ's Bride prefers the balm of mercy to the arm of severity. She believes that present needs are best served by explaining more fully her doctrines, rather than by publishing condemnations."[7] John XXIII's new and generous approach wasn't reflected in the draft documents prepared for the bishops' consideration as they arrived in Rome in October 1962. The documents had been produced by those brought up on the more traditional Scholasticism of the seminaries - men such as the octogenarian Cardinal Ottiavini and the Jesuit, Sebastian Tromp. Everyone expected these drafts to be rubber-stamped and the Council to be over by Christmas. The bureaucrats were running the Council, and they expected the bishops to fall into line. It was then that the Holy Spirit took over. Vatican officials had prepared lists of candidates for election to the commissions of the Council. These would be the men with the responsibility, in large part, for the running the Council. The bureaucrats wanted a quick vote and the whole thing put into motion along the lines they envisaged. The bishops, led by Cardinal Liťnart of Lille and Cardinal Frings of Cologne said, "No." They weren't going to be railroaded into anything, they wanted time to arrive at their own decisions. Then Cardinal Frings, in a speech written by a young Joseph Ratzinger, urged his fellow bishops to reject the inadequate draft documents. It was time to go back to the drawing board. John XXIII came down in favour of the bishops and against the bureaucrats. It was the making of the Second Vatican Council. Instead, of finishing by Christmas 1962, the Second Vatican Council lasted for four sessions spread out over three years. John XXIII died after the First Session, but his successor, Paul VI, continued his work. There were dozens of documents, covering almost every aspect of Church life, each, in its own way, attempting to deepen an understanding of the Catholic faith in a way that was accessible to the modern world. The way this series of talks has been structured reflects those documents. The four most important documents of the Second Vatican Council are called Constitutions. This talk is obviously by way of introduction, and the final one will attempt a summary. In between we have talks on each of those four Constitutions. The first Constitutional document is Sacrosanctum Concilium. (Vatican documents are written in Latin and are known by the first two or three words of the document. Sacrosanctum Concilium just means 'The sacred Council.') Sacrosanctum Concilium is all about the liturgy, including, but not only, the Mass. Our own Pope describes the objective of Sacrosanctum Concilium with respect to the liturgy as allowing "every member of the faithful to enter deeply into the mystery to grasp the beauty of praising the Triune God."[8] It was the first constitutional document to be formally approved - on 4 December 1963. It is perhaps not surprising, therefore, that parishioners in Pimlico picked on the liturgy as being the most obvious change resulting from Vatican II, especially when it has such a practical impact on parish life. I think they would be surprised, however, by some of the things the document actually said - and some of the things it didn't say - but I don't wish to steal any of the thunder from next week's speaker. He will be the Reverend Nicholas Schofield, a contemporary of mine in Rome who now works in the parish of Our Lady of Willesden. Nick is an engaging speaker, well-versed in this field. Liturgy, however, occupied relatively little space in the agenda of the Council. Despite the obvious consequences of the changes to the Mass, there are many who would say that the next major document of the Council, Lumen gentium ('The light of the nations'), was, in fact, its most significant work. The document concerns the Church, how she understands herself, her relationship to Christ and her relationship to the world. It is a point, I am sure, which will be made in two weeks, time, but it is worth pointing out now that the Lumen gentium, 'the Light of the nations' of the document's title refers not to the Church, but to Christ; and it is the Church's role and duty to reflect that light to the world. Lumen gentium is a marvellous document, wide-ranging and well worth reading. The First Vatican Council, which had to be abandoned as Garibaldi invaded Rome, broke off abruptly after considering the Pope's position in the Church. Vatican II was, therefore, completing unfinished business on going to look at the position of bishops and of all God's people. Our speaker will be Fr Ian Kerr, the parish priest of Burford in Oxfordshire, better known across the world as the most famous living scholar on Cardinal Newman. He has also written a Catholic Truth Society pamphlet on the New Movements in the Church which draws heavily on this document, Lumen gentium. Fr Kerr is a larger than life figure, a highly entertaining speaker, with whom there is rarely a dull moment. If you only come to one more talk in this series, you might consider making it his offering in two weeks' time. The next major document is Dei Verbum, the Son of God. The heart of the document is the question of how we can come to know God, how does He transmit the content of Revelation to us. This needs to be seen against a Catholic suspicion of the Bible, which was viewed, wrongly, as a Protestant book. Dei Verbum sought to 'put the Word of God at the heart of the Church,s life with renewed awareness.' [9] We are exceptionally fortunate in our speakers because we have another recognised authority coming to speak to us in three weeks, time, Dom Laurence O'Keefe, the Benedictine Abbot of Ramsgate Abbey and a noted Scripture scholar. The last of the Council's main documents is Gaudium et Spes ('the joy and hope'). Those Latin words may sound familiar; they are the motto of our own Cardinal. Gaudium et Spes is one of the longest of the Council's documents. It is all about the Church in the modern world and covers a wide range of subjects : the consequences of man,s being made in the image of God; it talks about atheism, social justice and equality, marriage and the family, culture and economics, war and international aid. The document is characterised by an optimistic and inclusive tone which may not have been typical of the Church before. This is an example, talking about peace and voluntary service : it is "hoped that Catholics will endeavour to co-operate actively and positively both with their separated brethren, who profess the charity of the Gospel along with them, and with all men who desire true peace." [10] Again, we are fortunate to continue a list of speakers drawn from the great and the good. Addressing us on Gaudium et Spes, will be John Wilkins, editor of The Tablet. The person with the difficult task of trying to draw all the threads together is Fr Philip Miller when on 19 December he attempts as assessment of Vatican II, 'Success or failure?' I couldn't think of anyone more able than Fr Philip to do this. He is born and bred in the Diocese of Westminster and has a doctorate from Cambridge in Astrophysics. Having worked in the parish of Enfield, he is now hospital chaplain of the Royal London and Bart's. He is a clear and practical speaker. In giving this series of talks, I hope that we can achieve two things. The first is to make known a little better what the Second Vatican Council actually said as opposed to what people think it said. The second is to see the Council in context. Just two days ago, I read this: "There are not two churches, one pre- and the other post-[Vatican II]. There is and there will continue to be until the End Time, one Church, of which the Second Vatican Council is very much a part." [11] That is very much the message of the Holy Father who declared that the Second Vatican Council 'stands in continuity with the faith of all times.' What has been believed by 'everyone, always and everywhere' is the authentic newness that enables every era to perceive the light that comes from the word of God's Revelation in Jesus Christ.' [12] Notes [1] Pope John Paul II, Address to the Conference studying the Implementation of the Second Vatican Council, 27 February 2000 [2] Joseph, Cardinal Ratzinger, Salt of the Earth, Ignatius Press, (San Francisco, 1997) [3] Lumen Gentium, 22 [4] John XXIII, Opening Address to the Second Vatican Council, 11 October 1962 [5] ibid. [6] ibid. [7] ibid. [8] Pope John Paul II, op. cit. [9] ibid. [10] Gaudium et spes, 83 [11] Richard Neuhaus, "Notes from across the Atlantic, Faith, Vol. 34, No. 6, p. 39 [12] John Paul II, op. cit.
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