Talk: Vatican Two - Success or Failure?

 This final talk in the Vatican Two - 40 Years on, Advent series, was given by Fr Philip Miller at Holy Apostles Church, Pimlico, on 19 December. As we've had so many requests, Fr Philip kindly sent us the following text which is partly in note form. Promise of the Spirit I want to begin with the Lord Jesus' own promise to His Church: If anyone loves me he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we shall come to him and make our home with him. Those who do not love me do not keep my words. And my word is not my own: it is the word of the one who sent me. I have said these things to you while still with you; but the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all I have said to you. Peace I bequeath to you, my own peace I give you, a peace the world cannot give, this is my gift to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid. (Jn 14: 2327) Surely, it was under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, "the one who will teach you everything," that John XXIII opened the Second Vatican Council. And yet, it is said that at the Council, John xxiii opened the windows of the Church for the Spirit to blow in afresh, and was unable to close them again! What is the truth of this? Did the Council actually set in motion something which God would not have willed, and has taken the Church away from its mission to bring Christ to the whole world? . Well, what do the facts point us towards? Success or failure? Success and failure, surely! We've talked a lot about the changes to the Mass. Certainly there has been success and failure. FAILURES: Fewer at Mass; loss of reverence: genuflection; loss of faith in the Real Presence in Holy Communion; talking in Church. Loss of pieties and devotions: 40 hours, Benediction, processions; none lost, but diminished. Loss of sacred for gain in community? SUCCESSES: Ability of people to understand Mass immediately; new richness of Scripture (Mass and all sacramental rites), music (lots more singing, which is generally welcomed, and can be excellent for enriching the liturgy), new revised rites (prefaces, choice of texts, BVM missal etc., funeral rites etc.) Recently a devout elderly man said to me how much he loved the Mass, and that he said, while he had loved the Tridentine Mass, he was so much happier now that he could appreciate the prayers and reading better. My grandmother, for example, was a member of the vernacular society which called for English in the liturgy, and yet, when the conciliar changes came into effect she struggled to cope with what she saw as an incessant series of changes: "everything keeps changing." Change in the 'feel' of parish. FAILURES: Fewer sodalities; parish groups; less community for social things (outings etc.). SUCCESSES: BUT a lot of lay involvement in parish life; new movements, often fostering many vocations. Many have sprung up very quickly, and have centred themselves on time-honoured aspects of Church life - for example: Youth 2000, Eucharistic adoration; Faith movement, reasoned argument and orthodox teaching. And RCIA brings people together in a new catechumenal community. Ideas of small communities which are at basis of the 'Renew' programme which is to be introduced into this diocese for renewal in the coming year. Change in ecumenism: relationships with other Christians. SUCCESSES: Shared events "success where can come together in genuine prayer, unheard of before, while being sure to respect differences (e.g. Diane van H. to Mass, no expectation of HC). Can actually pray with one another. Once one could not go into a non-Catholic service even for a wedding or funeral without a dispensation. (Along with the Jewish girls, my Mother did not go at all to any Anglican services in school; she could not even pray when she was at Guides.) FAILURES: failure where ecumenism is being seen as "we're all 'Catholics' but you are Roman Catholics." Widespread confusion here. Lack of conviction about what makes us Catholics, lack of clear identity " often a failure to understand the English Reformation and of its mistakes and errors. Some Catholic contemporaries feel that sometimes its OK to replace Sunday Mass with attendance at a non-Catholic service, which is absolutely not true. I hear all too often even from Catholics, "Well, we're all the same, Father " there's only one God." (Obviously! The same God we worship along with the Jews and the Moslems, but that doesn't make us the same, or even equivalent.) OK, so there's a loss of the penal-times mentality (of the oppressed minority), the holding out against anti-Catholic sentiment. Perhaps it is harder to hold out against indifference, especially when compounded by ignorance of the truth of our own faith. Have Catholics stopped knowing their faith well? Did they ever? Did people pre-Council really know their faith as well as all that? Were sermons more didactic, more informative? More fear-instilling? More confident in preaching especially the moral law? " nowadays is anything ever said to inform the laity of sexual morals? Preaching emphasizes more the love and forgiveness of God, but sometimes at the expense of any clear teaching on the faith. FAILURES: But as a result there is certainly confusion with regard to doctrine. "Everything has changed," I hear it said. Some Catholics believe therefore that cohabitation and sex before marriage are acceptable; that re-marriage after divorce is permitted; that IVF is morally licit; that artificial contraception is OK. BUT one of the great fruits of the Council is a complete Catechism of the Catholic Church " with its clarity and comprehensiveness of teaching. Almost nothing has changed in content. Nothing once considered sinful is any the less sinful " but the Catholic people are often ignorant of the clear teachings of the Church, and adopt the attitudes prevalent in society, as transmitted to them unceasingly through the mass media. Principles " how do we analyze the situation? What is the result of the Council & what is not? Can,t simply say that all post-conciliar woes are the result of the Council. Simplistic "but before the Council, such-and-such was true, but just look at it now." That is not a valid argument. For a start, society would still have changed. Latin would have gone out in school and university even so. The so-called sexual revolution would still have taken place; the rapid growth in TV and other home-grown entertainment would still have occurred; the rise in wealth and possessions the breakdown of family life in parts of society. So, what if there had been no Council? Would the Church without the Council have been less able to engage with the modern world? The Church will never be in accord with secular desires, and will always be in conflict with these things - but if the Council had never taken place, would it have been disregarded totally, as irrelevant? For example, much as many love the use of Latin in the Mass (I hear it all the time! " "I wish they had never changed the Latin Mass") where would the Church have been left if we were still using only Latin in the liturgy? Surely it may well be that far fewer Catholics would be coming to Mass than at present. Most of all, we must appreciate that we are still living out the unpacking of the Council. The Church does not move in a hurry, since nor does God. We ponder the sacred mysteries and in the light of the Holy Spirit we discern what is right and good. The working-out of the reforms put in place by the Council of Trent took decades, if not centuries. (There was no Council of the Church from mid-16th c. until the end of the 19th c.!) So, we need not be frightened that there is some degree of turmoil in these decades after Vatican II. Surely in many regards, the pendulum has swung a long way one way and is now swinging back. (For example, the horrors of some liturgical music of immediate post-council, much of which is already quite unheard in our churches now.) Cardinal Avery Dulles, a well-known theologian, certainly believes this. (And Ratzinger, a Council 'progressive.') That in the immediate decades after the Council there was a great misunderstanding of the Council, both by defenders and detractors, so it was seen to be radical and revolutionary, instead of being continuous with the whole tradition of Christ and His Church. Therefore often hijacked the mood, to effect an agenda not in keeping with the Council. Pope John Paul II quotes Vatican II all the time. This Pontificate builds on the Council every day. This Pope rarely opens his mouth without mentioning Vatican II. His encyclicals are littered with references to Vatican II. (E.g. Tertio Millennio Ineunte has 19/45 references to Vatican II.) He sees the Church not as having to think what to do after Vatican II, but to still get to work to implement it! Lots of current work is building on a more authentic 'spirit of the council'. Catechism; new movements; authentic translation of the Mass etc. " again, the pendulum swinging back to somewhere near where it should be. Therefore, keep studying Vatican ii " the authentic voice of the Church, and interpreted by the voice of Pope and bishops-in-communion. There is never an easy time for the Church. (No pre-conciliar golden age!) The Church has always had hard times in which Councils too generated argument and fierce debate. Think of the disagreements between Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians even in the writings of St Paul; of the debate which Peter and Paul had over circumcision; of the need for a Council at Jerusalem. Think of the bitter debates in the 5th Century between the Councils at Ephesus and Chalcedon: mutual recrimination amongst bishops. We've never descended to that! The Holy Spirit guides the Church through all things, and blows "where it will: no one knows from where it comes or where it goes. This is how it is with all those who are born of the Spirit." Yes " Vatican ii is a success - because it is the work of the Holy Spirit - but it is still ongoing, purifying, pondering. The Spirit certainly moved the Second Vatican Council. We must pray that as we live out the Council, we too are immersed in the Spirit, and so be holy enough to bring about the genuine reform Christ would want. (The Church is semper reformanda.) And this means the unity of faith in Jesus Christ, holding firm to the whole of the faith, even those teachings which it is fashionable to disregard, in strong and visible adherence to the Holy Father, in faithfulness to the Mass, in communion with the local Church, and in prayer with each other. Closing quotation - Catholic Herald letter, 11th October 2002 Sir, the Catholic Church gets a lot of bad press nowadays. It is being rocked by scandals and damaged by the fact that many Catholics are openly challenging its discipline and teachings. Disloyalty to the Magisterium is seen as "progressive," while declining Mass attendance among the younger generation is wrongly presented as proof that the monolithic Church is losing relevance by its intransigence on moral and doctrinal issues. However, on the 40th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council, we, as 115 young Catholics in our 20s, living in different parts of Britain and engaged in a variety of careers, would like to take this opportunity to express our deep pride in our Church and our loyalty to all of its doctrinal and moral precepts. We are united in our firm belief that God, in His love, has given us the Catholic Church to be our rock and guide as we make our pilgrimage through life. We regard the Catholic faith as something beautiful and perfect " a precious jewel of infinite value. It is a rallying cry to our generation and to our world, and it represents the only authentic way to fulfilment and truth. We affirm our acceptance of all the teachings of our Church in the areas of faith and morals, which we see not as a set of rules, but rather a holistic world-view, enlightening the very meaning and purpose of creation and life. In the light of this, teachings on abortion, contraception and the nature of marriage are integral parts of one beautiful seamless garment and cannot be torn away from the whole. Vatican ii demonstrated the dynamism and continuing inspiration of the Catholic Church, which seeks to make Jesus Christ known to every generation while remaining firmly based on the unchanging rock of Truth and apostolic foundation. We, who are both the future and the present of the Catholic Church in our land, thank God for our faith and for our Church, which we resolve to build up throughout our lives. Yours faithfully (115 signatories.)

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