Catholic Prayers for the New Evangelization

"Catholic Prayers for the New Evangelization"

Check out the revised edition of this exciting and unique prayer book, filled with prayers that are sure to nourish the soul as we undertake the New Evangelization.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Second Vatican Council

In my brief experience of the priesthood, I have discovered that a formidable obstacle to priestly ministry – indeed in spreading the Gospel of Jesus at all – is dealing with misunderstandings. Secondarily, and to my surprise, I have discovered that one of the more contentious themes in the Church is the meaning and interpretation of the Second Vatican Council. “Vatican II” has become, in my experience, a dividing line in the history of the Church and among her members. A pharisaical trap is set by those who ask “Do you believe in Vatican II?” and who make of the answer a litmus test for judging whether or not one is a good Catholic. Ironically, this historic and significant event in the life of the Church, which was meant to be a moment of unity as the bishops of the world – whose common ministry with the pope manifests the unity of the Church in a profound way – gathered in Rome, has become a source of discord as conflicting interpretations of the Council arise.
Pope Benedict XVI captured these conflicting interpretations, and the precise path through the mire, in his 2005 Christmas Address to the Roman Curia. Reflecting on the 40th Anniversary of the closing of Vatican II, the Holy Father addressed important questions: how the Church throughout the world has received the Council; what has been its result; and why the years since the Council have been so difficult. He explains that problems have arisen in the Church in recent years because different people have interpreted the same things differently. The Pope said, “The problems of reception derived from the fact that two contrasting hermeneutics [or ‘interpretations’] found themselves face to face and battled it out.” The “hermeneutics of discontinuity and rupture” suggests a “fracture between the pre-Council and post-Council Church,” and perceives the council in terms of “impulses toward the new” and contemporary. On the contrary, the “hermeneutics of reform” sees a continuity of doctrine and Tradition in the Church before, during, and after the Council.
As the Pope explains, the problem caused by the “hermeneutics of discontinuity” is that this approach “asserts that…it would be necessary to follow not the Council texts, but its spirit. In this way, of course, a huge margin remains for the question of how then to define this spirit and, as a result, room is made for any whimsicality.” As the Pope explains, this “spirit” is given various meanings by those who claim its support. So, as we have seen in the last 40 years, doctrines based on divine revelation (e.g. the priesthood, transubstantiation, mortal sin) and long-standing practices which flow from the Church’s faith (fasting, the Rosary, Eucharistic Devotion) have been called into question in certain circles because the “spirit of Vatican II” allegedly no longer allows for them. On the other hand, the “hermeneutics of reform” properly places the Council in the context of the whole Tradition, as the manifestation in our time of the unchanging reality of the Church. Appreciating the incredible blessings that have come upon the Church because of the Council – e.g. ecumenical advancements, the wider use of Scripture in the vernacular in the celebration of the Sacred Liturgy, and a clearer, more human and personal explanation of moral teachings – ought not to mean disdaining other teachings and practices which remain valid and essential to the whole Church.
The question remains: how do we really know what Vatican II was supposed to be? The best place to find the answer is Pope John XXIII’s Address at the Opening of the Second Vatican Council on 11 October 1962. While he could not have predicted the entire work of the Council, we find in his words the foundational purpose and the scope of the Council:
“The present Council is a special, worldwide manifestation by the Church of her teaching office, exercised in taking account of the errors, needs, and opportunities of our day. […] The major interest of the Ecumenical Council is this: that the sacred heritage of Christian truth be safeguarded with greater efficacy. […] If this doctrine is to make an impact on the various spheres of human activity...then it is absolutely vital that the Church shall never for an instant lose sight of that sacred patrimony of truth inherited from the Fathers. But it is equally necessary for her to keep up to date with the changing conditions of the modern world….”
The Holy Father intended that the Council transmit the truth of the Catholic faith unstained, and, with renewed enthusiasm and pastoral concern, make that truth come alive for the modern world. In order to truly capture and live Vatican II, we must all read with the eyes of faith the 16 documents the Council published.
Finally, we must ask: what are we to do fifty years later, as we mark this milestone anniversary of the calling of Vatican II – 25 January 1959? In paragraph 72 of his encyclical Ad Petri Cathedram, under the heading “Religious Controversy,” Pope John XXIII points to the significance of “the common saying, expressed in various ways and attributed to various authors, [which] must be recalled with approval: in essentials, unity; in doubtful matters, liberty; in all things, charity.” Regarding things essential, it is vital that we remain unified in the Truth revealed by God, in the unchanging doctrines and laws of the Church, for in these are found the path to fulfillment and holiness. In all things non-essential, such as devotions, and choosing among legitimate liturgical options, the health of the Body of Christ depends on all her members being allowed the freedom to embrace approved possibilities. Above all, charity must reign! No good can come from disdaining the way others pray or the experiences of previous generations of Catholics, or demonizing others for their heartfelt fidelity to the Church. By lovingly embracing the Truth, and working to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ, we will bring to fruition the vision of Vatican II.

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