The last few days have been have been amazing for the Church in America. I spent the last few days watching events and reading speeches. With all the hoopla surrounding the papal visit, I wondered if there might be some stories that you and I have missed. After the mass at Yankee stadium, I have spent the last few hours trying catching up. With papal speeches still clinging to my brain, slowly completing the osmosis process, I saw a thread in some of this other news that I might have missed otherwise.
Prior to the Pope’s election three years ago, our lovable Pontiff was know as the ‘panzer kardinal’. Much of the punditry at the time couldn’t have told you much, but the would probably have largely agreed that Joseph Ratzinger was not a fan of Vatican II.
A year ago, in the run-up to and subsequent to the release of Summorum Pontificum there was a blizzard of articles with loudly proclaimed that the Pope was in effect rolling back Vatican II.
During his trip to America, the Pope made several mentions of Vatican II. While acknowledging the disappointments that followed the Council, the Pope repeatedly made mentions the outpouring of the Holy Spirit during the Council calling clergy and laity alike to fulfill its calls.
[Homily at St. Patrick’s Cathedral]For all of us, I think, one of the great disappointments which followed the Second Vatican Council, with its call for a greater engagement in the Church’s mission to the world, has been the experience of division between different groups, different generations, different members of the same religious family. We can only move forward if we turn our gaze together to Christ! In the light of faith, we will then discover the wisdom and strength needed to open ourselves to points of view which may not necessarily conform to our own ideas or assumptions.
Thus we can value the perspectives of others, be they younger or older than ourselves, and ultimately hear “what the Spirit is saying” to us and to the Church (cf. Rev 2:7). In this way, we will move together towards that true spiritual renewal desired by the Council, a renewal which can only strengthen the Church in that holiness and unity indispensable for the effective proclamation of the Gospel in today’s world.
Here is the thing about Pope Benedict and the Council, these words in his speeches are not mere lip service, he means it.
Pope Benedict has often spoken that the Council, properly viewed, should be interpreted through a hermeneutic of continuity. The Council needs to be viewed in continuity with all that came before. Through this lens, the real Spirit of the council can be discerned.
This brings me to the first of two other stories of the last few days. NLM reported the other day about a response from the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei about the potential use of the vernacular for the readings in the Extraordinary form. This question is based on article 6 of the motu proprio which states:
Art. 6. In Masses celebrated in the presence of the people in accordance with the Missal of Bl. John XXIII, the readings may be given in the vernacular, using editions recognised by the Apostolic See.
The response of the PCED to a question that essentially asked “Does this mean what it seems to mean?” Answer, yes.
1. Article 6 of the Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum foresees the possibility of proclaiming the readings in the vernacular without having to proclaim the first in Latin.
2. The Readings may be proclaimed in English according to the translations approved for liturgical use by the Holy See and the Bishops of the United States.
It was unsurprising that some reacted quite negatively to this clarification of the obvious. A sampling of the negative reaction I have seen ranged from “What a disaster!” to “Latin only, no exceptions!” to “Now they are monkeying with the EF!”
These reactions, it seems to me, all proceed from a hermeneutic of rupture. The premise is that any and all reform of the liturgy is bad. This counterfeit orthodoxy claims that Vatican II must be rejected and the liturgy must preserved as a fly in amber. Back to 1955 (or pick your favorite year) or bust! Obviously, Pope Benedict thinks quite differently.
This article of the motu proprio is clear evidence that Pope Bendict does not only not reject the Council, he takes it very seriously indeed. So seriously, in fact, he is actually trying to implement it — properly. Sacrosanctum Concilium, the Council’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, calls for just such a reform.
36. 1. Particular law remaining in force, the use of the Latin language is to be preserved in the Latin rites.
2. But since the use of the mother tongue, whether in the Mass, the administration of the sacraments, or other parts of the liturgy, frequently may be of great advantage to the people, the limits of its employment may be extended. This will apply in the first place to the readings and directives, and to some of the prayers and chants, according to the regulations on this matter to be laid down separately in subsequent chapters.
The Pope is doing exactly what the Council called for. This is not the Bugnini baby out with the bathwater reform that followed the council, but reform based on a hermeneutic of continuity. This is the work of the Holy Spirit, the fruits of the council.
This brings me to the the other story of the past few days. Rorate Caeli reported on a statement by the Superior-General of the Priestly Fraternity of Saint Pius X (FSSPX / SSPX), Bishop Bernard Fellay, Bishop Fellay. In the statement, Fellay rejects any accord with the the Vatican because the Pope has yet to reject Vatican II:
The Motu Proprio which introduced a hope of change for the better at the liturgical level is not accompanied by logically co-related measures in the other areas of the life of the Church. All changes introduced at the Council and in the post-Conciliar reforms which we denounce, because the Church has already condemned them, are confirmed. With the difference that, from now on, it is said, at the same time, that the Church does not change…[sic], which means that these changes are perfectly in the line of Catholic Tradition…The disruption at the level of concepts, together with the reminder that the Church must remain faithful to her Tradition, may trouble some. Since facts do not corroborate the new attitude [lit.: affirmation], it is necessary to conclude that nothing [sic] has changed in the will of Rome to follow the Conciliar orientations
This view of the faith and of the Church is textbook hermeneutic of discontinuity. The SSPX will not find it opportune to reach accord with the Holy See until the Holy See rejects the Council. The words and, more importantly, the actions of Pope Benedict clearly show that this sought after rejection will not be forthcoming.
If the SSPX is waiting for this rejection, they will be waiting a long long time. This Pope, and likely all of his successors, will never reject the council in the way that the SSPX seeks. In fact, it is possible, that Pope Benedict might very well be remembered as the Pope who finally implemented the Council. I would not be surprised if a future history would show that after forty years in the desert for our unfaithfulness to the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the real fruits of the council began to appear under Pope Benedict XVI, the Pope of the Council.