03 October 2013

How Do We "Get on with it?"

[[Dear Sister, I quite enjoyed your post on Vatican II. I was wondering though as to how we "get on with it" when the documents are not only ambiguous but purposefully written that way. As such, we need a hermeneutic in order to interpret them. . . .For my part, a hermeneutic of continuity with the previous 1960 years of Catholic theology, piety and practice is the only way to understand the Council. Otherwise it becomes an oddity. 

You said that no serious theologian saw a rupture. This might be the case, but in the everyday life of the Church the missive "that's so pre-Vatican II" is repeated almost in a knee jerk manner. In my graduate studies that term was often bandied about.  So when you say "get on with it", what do you mean? Do you mean the restoration of the  pride of place of both Latin and Gregorian chant in the liturgy that the Council document on the liturgy asked for? It seems that people who say this don't mean all of the Council but only the parts they like (that includes conservatives).  I would welcome your thoughts on how we "get on with it" when the Council documents propose no new dogma (as they say quite clearly) but only a matter of approach (which is 50 years old). They are also ambiguous. You can read almost anything into them. Ambiguous documents result in ambiguous implementation which we have clearly seen in the last 50 years. As a person born long after the Council I would like to put this Council in a much broader context of Church history. ]]

Pre and Post Vatican II Churches?

Thanks for your questions. When I say "get on with it" I mean what I heard Francis say: Vatican II and the way it approaches reality in light of the Gospel of an unconditionally merciful God is irreversible. Proclaim and live that out in all the ways Vatican II set forth and perhaps too, ways Vatican II did not imagine or foresee.  Proclaim the Gospel of God's unconditional love and mercy in word and deed. That is the openness and mission we are called to as Christ's own Church. Be that! Thus we must ask ourselves what Vatican II sought to achieve, what were its overarching values and aims, what did it teach us about ourselves and the Church as such? What did it say about the Church in the modern world and the way in which the Church was to approach this world? While Benedict XVI taught rightly that there was only one Church, which was both pre and post Vatican II, if his comments are taken as suggesting there was nothing significantly new with regard to Vatican II or that one cannot rightly distinguish between the counter-reformational incarnation of that church and the post Vatican II incarnation, those comments are being significantly misunderstood. In the case of those asserting what has come to be called "a hermeneutic of continuity" it will be by those who refuse to hear these comments in its various and rich contexts.

Remember that the entire Council was meant to chart a course by which the Church could move away from the counter reformation, anti-modern world stance or perspective which had led to a fortress mentality in every dimension of her life. It was meant to achieve a move away from a highly centralized Church of ecclesiastical princes and effectively disenfranchised peasants which reflected the world and rule of Constantine more than it reflected Christ or the Kingdom of God --- even as it also forgot it was NOT the Kingdom of God but its servant. This was connected with a tendency to harshly assert truth in terms of anathemas, to approach moral theology in terms of manuals which were sin-oriented rather than focused on PERSONS and God's love for them, or in terms of their need for a grace always given gratuitously. It was linked to a notion of a hierarchy of vocations which failed to make clear (or even appreciate) the universal call to holiness, to clericalism, and to a liturgy which was in the main so far from being "the work of the People" as to be a scandalous parody of that term. It was a Church which lived from the catechism rather than the Scriptures and which often forbade or condoned and encouraged those in authority to forbid the laity to read the Bible. It was a Church which was defensive, condemnatory, and even frightened of change or modernity while it treated Divine truth as a possession delimited in dogma rather than as an illimitable gift God bestowed in the Spirit; it forgot that this truth was one which the Church was called not only to discover afresh day by day and submit to humbly, but which it was entrusted to mediate freely to everyone as the Master's steward.

The Significance and Power of "Approach":

Yes, as you say, the Council demanded a new approach. But this is no small matter any more than those symbolic gestures of Francis (bowing and asking for our prayers before blessing us as he first stepped out on the loggia, climbing aboard the bus with the rest of the cardinals, eating daily with everyday people and priests, renouncing the papal palace, making his own phone calls, arranging his own interviews, etc etc) have been small matters in his approach to the papacy. Speaking in terms of something as "only a matter of approach" is similar to saying it is "just a matter of semantics" or "only a symbol." It clearly indicates one has not adequately appreciated the power or significance of these things. If I were to ask you what is most powerful and memorable about Francis' papacy thus far I would bet you would answer in terms of his approach to this office. Further, his approach is consistent with his message and this too was true of Vatican II.

 John XXIII spoke clearly of the medicine of mercy and desired a return to the sources (Scripture and the Church Fathers) of our faith. He was clear that the Church was to be OPEN to the modern world, rooted and trusting in the power of God and his Gospel, and reform itself in continuity with the early Church to be a community of true disciples, a Pilgrim People of God rather than an entrenched triumphalistic and self-satisfied island in the middle of a yearning, needy world. John desired a catholicity which meant a Church which served as leaven within  the dough (the more Greek sense of the term katholicos) instead of a huge circle which still excluded some --- the more Latin meaning of the term "universalis". In short, he desired a listening and loving Church which could engage the contemporary world as ecclesia docens et discens (a teaching AND learning church) and in every way proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Unfortunately, this shift in mindsets was resisted by some (a minority) in the hierarchy who in some cases were the same men who set the draft schemas for the Council which were generally rejected by the Bishops as a whole. This resistance hardened in some ways and this is a significant reason there are ambiguities in the documents.

Thus the struggle to implement this new pastoral "approach" did lead to tensions and ambiguity in the documents themselves. Thus too however, the documents themselves point immediately to their originating linguistic, historical, and theological contexts for keys to interpreting them.  And this is tremendously significant for it points to the fact that the documents cannot be read or understood without reference to the very Council or conciliar event in which they were composed. They cannot be taken out of that context and read fundamentalistically without due regard to the history and struggle (or the overarching Spirit!!) which created them, the language they used, the ways in which they were redacted, the schemas which were rejected and which they replaced, nor even without regard to one another. (In some cases one document will change the way we read another.) They are indeed unlike the documents produced by prior councils in language and tone and they differ significantly from former Councils' preponderance of dogmatic formulas and lists of anathema but I would argue their tensions and ambiguity do not allow us to read anything and everything into them. Instead it demands we read them historically and critically just as we do any significant ecclesiastical documents --- not least as we do with the Sacred Scriptures themselves.

Not a Hermeneutics of Continuity or Discontinuity but one of Reform:

Your own either/or approach to reading these documents, it seems to me, is precisely what Francis was setting aside in his interview. What Benedict XVI himself spoke of as well as these two rather divisive alternatives was a hermeneutic of reform. It is a hermeneutic which is continuous with the deepest and truest impulses and Tradition of the Church but which allows for the change Vatican II called for in so many ways and which the Gospel will always make necessary and empower. It is a hermeneutic which calls the Church to "ressourcement" (return to the sources) and "aggiornamento" (updating in dialogue with the contemporary world) at the same time, just as the Council did. This polarity of Gospel (or sources) and contemporary situation is always what draws the Church forward allowing both newness and faithfulness to the past.

With regard to the accusation that some don't want "the whole Council" I would argue that is not precisely true. Often what some seem to want when they focus on the matters your mentioned is the Council of the minority bent on the post-Tridentine status quo, and what others want is the Council of the majority which desired real reform --- the Reform Council John called for. Some try to diminish the authority of the Council by calling it "merely pastoral" and decrying the fact that it created no new dogmas and was not framed in dogmatic terms. Others recognize that pastoral impulses and needs are more demanding than any dogmatic statement, but also that Vatican II is the highest level of teaching in the Church. PERIOD. One cannot want or work for both of these approaches at the same time.

In the issue you raise re Gregorian Chant and Latin, the simple fact is the Council's emphasis on full, active, and conscious participation of the entire People of God in the liturgy trumps continued use of Latin by clerics and choirs any day. The Council called for parts of the liturgy in the vernacular and quickly found that translation of the whole liturgy into the vernacular was preferable precisely because of the Council's higher aim of full and conscious participation by the WHOLE People of God as well as because of its stress on the universal call to holiness and a rejection of clericalism. Not only is it the case that very few in the Church ever sang Gregorian chant and were made auditors at Mass through its exclusive usage by choirs and clerics, but merely reading the liturgy from a page of translation (for those who acually did so!), much less reciting Latin syllables (not words and certainly not thoughts!) in a rushed, mush-mouth approach (which is what some clergy certainly did) is NOT full, active, and conscious participation in it.

The main point however, is that Vatican II, which is authoritative Church teaching, led in certain directions and created certain overarching trajectories which are identifiable and must guide our reform of the Church and our ministry in and to the world. The Church Fathers did not always foresee these, nor could they have. Pursuing the aims and values of the Council may well have unintended consequences which no one truly or completely anticipated. Liturgy in the vernacular and the demand for full, active, and conscious participation led further than people supposed they might. Calling for the renewal of religious life in light of the charism and spirit of the institute's founders along with the mandate to simplify habits was another area in which this occurred. The brakes which the minority tried to put on some things were insufficient to stop the momentum of the Spirit or the larger aims of the Council. Were mistakes made and missteps taken in implementing Vatican II? Undoubtedly. But when Francis speaks of desiring a Church that allows for accidents rather than one which is closed in on itself and grows sick because of this, this is one of the risks he is speaking of.

Getting on With it:

 So how, indeed, do we get on with it? In fact, Vatican II gave us a good deal to implement. Francis has mentioned several of them and also pointed to a couple we have gotten no where at all on yet. We begin, however, with a clear admission to ourselves and others that the Church is ALWAYS in need of reform, and the post-Tridentine Church undoubtedly had strayed far from its evangelical and spiritual roots. We reject the Church of Constantine and accept that this is to be the Church of Christ, not a Church of worldly power and prestige, but a Church living from and mediating the love and mercy of God to all, a humble Church which spends herself for others and only lives from the continually renewing Spirit of God. We accept in a whole-hearted way that Vatican II is the teaching of the Church, not grudgingly, not looking in small-minded ways for tensions and ambiguities which are of relatively less import than the Council's surpassing aims and trajectories and that can become excuses for refusing, even subtly, to accept the Council. We accept as our own call to mission that "openness to modernity is our obligation" as Francis has affirmed --- not to proselytize but to evangelize!!

For most in the Church this will require renewing our sense of what Vatican II was, what it said and why. It will require renewed study of the documents from a historical and critical perspective. There will be a need for lectures and workshops and study sessions in parishes. It will mean reading up on the work being done today by ecclesiologists like O"Malley, Faggioli, Sullivan, Orsy, and Gaillardetz among others. Pastors will need to be able to provide a way for folks to share a sense of the conciliar background that has made Francis the Pope he is. During this 50th anniversary year it really is time for a fresh commitment to Vatican II --- something which will be very much harder for those disillusioned by the past years of some curial attempts to move back behind it or for those who have built their lives on resisting it whether overtly or covertly by the "ideologization" of the Liturgy, and taking refuge in a "hermeneutic of continuity" which denied VII brought ANYTHING really new. Francis has called the Church to LIVE Vatican II out, but that will assuredly also entail resources allowing folks to identify and reclaim once again the very real SPIRIT of Vatican II as a source of vision and empowerment.

At the same time we must move onto the specific elements mentioned by Francis and others. Among these, collegiality and the multiple levels of reform that requires, a non-political church with a preferential option for the poor,  meaningful roles for women in ministry and in the leadership of the Church, an end to clericalism, ecumenism as a way of living our faith, an approach to morality which is rooted in the mercy and love of God before it is anything else, and an approach to truth which sees it as a Divine gift to be discovered and celebrated WITH others rather than a weapon to be wielded against them. As, and only as we remove the beam from our own ecclesiastical eye and exorcise the demons from our own house, we will be able to minister effectively to the world. We will set aside the "culture wars" and transcend them in the Gospel we proclaim with integrity in season and out. Some will listen, others will not, but we will be a Pilgrim People which trusts that God's mercy is stronger even than death and that the love of God is the ONLY thing which has ever overcome sin and lead to true reconciliation. Idealistic? You better believe it! Demanding? More so than any form of "battle" we might engage in in more typically worldly terms!

I hope this is helpful, at least as a start.