I think that it is fair to say that the second Vatican Council is fairly important.
I am not a master of understatement and so let me tell you exactly what I mean by that.
Primarily I mean that the aftermath of the second Vatican Council has changed the ordinary experience of the Church for her faithful, brought about a crisis of identity in her priests and fundamentally rewritten her theology of episcopacy (what it means to be a Bishop).
Exactly what that means for each group I will try to look at over the next few weeks. Of course it is a moot point what the relationship between the Council and the effects is. I used to think that the relationship between the two was that the time after the Council had been hijacked and that the Council had said and done nothing much. I don’t really think that anymore. I think that the Council brought about a mindset which is reflected in the Documents and also is writ large on the history and practice of the Church afterwards. The mindset is the dangerous thing.
|Consecration of a Bishop|
Let’s be honest, Councils come and go… but the Word of the Lord (and the Magisterium of the Church) continues forever.
In theology there is a current debate as to what happened at the second Vatican Council, if there was a break with previous belief or not. On one level I don’t think that this matters much as the Church will right herself – she always does.
No, what I am more worried about is the belief of the faithful (the second Vatican Council has changed the ordinary experience of the Church for her faithful), the position of the priest (it has brought about a crisis of identity in her priests) and, most worrying of all the position of the successors of the Apostles (for it has fundamentally rewritten her theology of episcopacy: what it means to be a Bishop).
But a word of comfort before we get too despondent. When I was in my first parish as a newly ordained priest, the Permanent Deacon there was very protective of his position and of his very existence in Holy Orders. It took me a while to realise that what was going on was that he was fighting a battle which he had had to wage twenty years ago. The world had moved on. No matter the rights and wrongs of the resurrection of the Permanent Diaconate, it existed for me in a normal way.
The world has moved on after the second Vatican Council. It is history. We live its effects but that is all. Wait another ten or twenty years and no one will have a lived experience of it.
There are certain battles which are history and need to be buried. So take comfort that we can move forward sensibly.
Much more interesting is what effect it has had, and continues have on us now…
Last time I said that the Church regularly changes bits of Councils or modifies them or even ignores them. This shouldn’t come a great surprise, but I suspect that it will do because we have fallen into the trap of poring over every line, meaning and nuance of the Documents. They are infinitely important because we have given them an infinite importance.
So we need to put that aside and move on.
I’m going to go for Marxist ideology, Original Sin, and Modern Theology. (You may start booing now).
Before talking about the Council, perhaps we should put Councils in their context. We have to avoid polemic on either side. Some will say that Councils are or were the way that the Church was run until the rise of the middle ages when the Papacy took over. Others claim that Councils have no real place in the running of the Church and are a minor inconvenience every now and again.
Neither of these in wholly right. They couldn’t be. So what is a Council?
Well, there have been 21 of them. They have often been called to sort out a disputed point of theology (but not just for academic purposes). So, for example, the Council of Ephesus in 431AD decreed that Our Lady could rightly be called ‘Mother of God’ thus stating an eternal truth about the divinity and humanity of her Son. Others settled political questions of the relationship between Church and state, such as the First Lateran Council of 1123AD. Still others condemned heretics and heresies, such as those of Wycliffe and Hus by the Council of Constance in 1414-1418AD.
In truth we have to say that Councils did seem to have a role in the periodic life of the Church. However the last great Council which in practice changed this was the Council of Trent (1545-1563AD). Why do I say that this changed it all? Simply because after that Councils no longer had that same role in the life of the Church.
Now you can argue back and forth about what you think should happen, but the simple reality is that Councils disappeared off the agenda for a good 300 years until the First Vatican Council in 1869. This seemed to seal the fate of the Councils by defining the long believed Dogma of Papal Infallibility. The Pope could teach in ways different from Councils.
Councils really had changed dramatically from a periodically used arm of the Church.
It does not follow, of course that just because we used to do things, like have Councils, that we should have them again all the time. If someone suggests this then I offer them the ancient practice of public confession of sin. They then see the point. Indeed when we resurrect things, we usually change them into something that we like, modifying the original to make it more palatable. A good case in point was the newly written Eucharistic Prayer Two. Said to be based on Hippolytus (though in reality Hippolytus never wrote it) all the nasty references to Hell were cut out.
Just because something happened in the past does not mean that we must revive it. A man dies for a reason – it is foolish to dig up his rotten, mouldering flesh.
So… in a nutshell, Councils did lots of different things at different times in history but hadn’t for quite a long time.
The important thing about them is, of course, that the Church ignored chunks of them and sometimes simply overturned them.
Last time I said that the Church regularly changes bits of Councils or modifies them or even ignores them. This shouldn’t come a great surprise, but I suspect that it will do because we have fallen into the trap of poring over every line, meaning and nuance of the Documents. They are infinitely important because we have given them an infinite importance.
But even that is not really true. Both sides can quote Councils! On one side “Actual/active participation in the Mass” on the other “retention of Latin and Gregorian Chant having pride of place”.
We bang on about what the Documents say but selectively read them. Who could forget that sweet Document “Inter Mirifica” a Decree of the second Vatican Council. Well, actually almost every one. No one really looks at it any more. Of course it is not a Dogmatic Constitution so is not up there with the big four – but it has the same authority as the one which changed our relations with the Jewish people, Nostra Aetate, or the Decree Christus Dominus the reading and interpretation of which rewrote the theology of being a Bishop.
Now all I want to say is that before we start trading texts and Documents, we have to realise that these are to a large extent dependent on the authority we give them and are not set in stone. Certain things within them will be, but a lot will not. Already we ignore parts of them and we selectively read others.
They are not the be all and end all. Nor should they be. Nor will they be.
But this is not to say that their effects have not been extraordinarily important. But that is different from the Documents themselves. It is the effects that I’m interested in.
So let us look at the period before the Council, again being very aware of the dangers of reading into history what we want or expect to find.
You often hear that the Church before the Council was high bound, formal, authoritarian, hierarchical, out of touch, distant from the people. God was believed in almost in spite of, rather than because of and nourished by the Church.
I simply do not believe it. And yes I know that I am too young to remember the Church before the Council. But then again, so are you. Probably.
I would say, from my own experience, that I remember not necessarily specific instances, but the tone, the feel, the je ne sais quoi of the Church when I was about 13 or 14 years old. So to remember the Church before 1962 (to pick a convenient date) you would have to have been born at least in 1948-1949. And I would further suggest that if your memories begin to be reliable at that time them you would have to be a few years older than that. So by now (I know this is plodding but I teach Maths as well as religion) in the year 2012 you would have to be at the bare minimum 63 or 64. To have a solid set of experiences let’s say you were 20 when the Council opened. By now you’re 70.
Lots of 70 year olds out there, I know. But it probably does not include you.
I remember sitting on a train going to London – in clericals. And a rather nice woman told me that although she had been brought up as a Catholic she no longer went to Mass and definitely didn’t go to Confession anymore. The reason was, she said, that the Church used to be so starchy and oppressive, which oppressed and grey and lifeless. Tosh – she was the same age as me!!! She knew nothing about the Church before the Council!
What she had done, I guess, was that she had used a mishmash of half-truths to justify her turning away from the Church. And the sad thing was that she didn’t have to make in up herself, this nonsense is spoken of so often that people simply believe it.
But the reality was that the Churches were full, converts were thriving, seminaries and religious houses were expanding and the number of instructional pamphlets, religious tracts, pious devotions were legion. This does not speak of a distant Church out of touch with the world and in desperate need of reform!
It is like saying that a champion runner, at the top of his sport, winning trophy after trophy doing what he was designed for is in fact a complete and utter failure. ‘Absolute Piffle’ you cry! And I do the same for the position of the Church before the Council.
I not want to get into ‘did anything need to be changed or reformed’ I want to make the bold but obvious assertion that the vast majority of what was said about the Church before the Council simply could not have been true.
There was a world wide consultation of Bishops before the initial preparation of the Council began.
I think of it as the beginning of one of my exams:
Answer the following question in ink using only one side of the paper provided.
“What do you think the coming Vatican Council should discuss?”
*In case of confusion, put your Diocese.
It has to be said, that the response was not rip roaring excitement. After all, once you have the Pope being able to solve the problems, why do you need a Council? You can’t second guess what was in someone’s mind or heart, but could Blessed John XXIII really have meant to call a Council like the ones in the past? I very much doubt it.
So in a spirit of enthusiasm and exuberance Blessed John asked them all what they wanted to talk about.
And what do you think the answer was? Liturgical reform? Religious liberty? The theology of being a Bishop?
No. They wanted a tighter adherence to the rules and discipline of the Church and a new Marian Dogma. That’s right - more Our Lady and more obedience. Think of what happened in the aftermath and then again at what the collective mind of the Council Fathers was on the eve after the consultation.
We can ask ourselves whether or not the Bishops were so deluded as to be sitting in the middle of a Church which was hopelessly out of touch and in such terrible need of reform (as those who reread history will have us believe) and not to notice what was going on. I spring to the defence of these Bishops. If nothing else, at that time in the Church we were involved in every social enterprise going. They did not live in ivory towers, and Christ’s Priests and lay faithful were at the coal face – not on some ‘liturgical committee’ which seems to have replaced actually 'being in the world' as the activity of choice for your average professional Catholic nowadays.
So how did all this change? What caused it to go so very much off course?
Now let me first say that I am not a specialist on Marxism (actually I am not a specialist on much) but that has never stopped me having a strongly held opinion.
But I want to place the second Vatican Council in not only its theological context but also its political and societal context.
We have to remember that the men who were Bishops at the time of the second Vatican Council were imbued with a strong belief and a horrible reality. The belief was that the love of God would triumph all things and that we, His creation, were flawed but able to rise out of the mess that we had created. The horrible reality was the Second World War. They had seen untold horrors. Whole generations destroyed, weapons which could wipe out whole cities in one blow. They had seen the degradation that man could impose upon another with seeming little human conscience.
And when they put these two things together they fell for the post-war seductive lie that these things would never be allowed to happen again and that we could do something about it. The binding together of nations in a common good, striving to make amends, to learn from mistakes.
How is this Marxist? Well because there is a march of history and it gets better. Yes there are mega- supra-national influences, but there are also micro influences. We can make a difference, we can make the world a better place. We need to roll up our sleeves and get stuck in.
And this was the error. With this mind set the Church had to be radically involved in this re-building, re-shaping the brave new world. If not then it would be Godless. It makes sense. You can see that the most important thing that the Church can be involved in is social action, the re-creation of the nations of the world.
But it is not right.
History does not get ‘better’, it just gets ‘different’. We didn’t make a better society, in fact we didn’t make a ‘better’ anything. How could we? Man did not become more heroic. It was a false start, a false basis of action. The Church wedded herself to the idealism of the age (an idealism that soon grew up and became cynicism) and became a widow over night.
The only people who believe this clap trap any more are aged lefty hippies and ‘Christians’ (and I willingly include Catholics in it, though it is not limited to us). And if you want to identify a ‘Spirit of Vatican II’ then I would say that you wouldn’t be far off with this.
They were men of their times imbued with an adolescent idealism brought about by a glittering new dawn after the horrors of the war before, and they fell for it. I might have done so too. But they were the helmsmen of the Barque of Peter and so the consequences had real repercussions.
And into all of this was the Satanic influence of Original Sin…
So where does Original Sin fit into the second Vatican Council story?
And one level it is everywhere, of course, because the effects can be seen in all actions – or most of them anywhere. But I think that we can see it in the actions of the Council Fathers in a particular way.
The story goes like this:
With increasing centralisation, the Roman Curia had become a little heavy handed in the way it dealt with the Local Church. Translation: head Office did not always remember that the guys on the front line needed their support and not what sometimes seemed like rules that made life more difficult.
When the Council Fathers arrived at the fated Council the preliminary documents had been prepared by the Curia (the Vatican’s Civil Service). The Curia was headed by Cardinal Ottaviani (who became a bit of a bug bear). His name had been on the documents which the Bishops had received in the years before, and as it is easy to blame one man for anything and everything. Then I suspect that when the Bishops came face to face (or mitre to mitre) with him, then the relationship was cool. Translation: the branch managers from Hicksville and Dogsbreath-in-the-Marsh came to head office in the Capital, but instead of being dazzled by the lights and smart suits of the Company’s management Team, rather resented the whole thing.
So then what?
Let’s think about Original sin and let me tell you what I think one of the main results of it is – that we think that the world revolves around us. I am the only really important person there is, and nothing should happen which effects me that I do not have a casting vote in. I am the centre of my own universe and that is just as it should be. If I give away power then I do so on my own terms and I am still really in charge.
I believe what happened in the council was this. Certain Bishops realised that actually in this situation they had the power. The Curia could only put forward and propose Documents and the good Cardinal Ottaviani was only one voice among many. And the perfect way to get back at the well oiled, well dressed Vatican machine was to take all its work and rip it up in front of its face. Now if this were a child you would smack its legs and send it back to its room and tell it ‘to think very hard about what it had just done’. But neither Mummy nor Daddy was there, because the Pope was absent from the Council (as was right and just) and there was no one to tell the Bishops to think about their motives. So the Bishops stretched the boundaries further and further. It was their show. These were their toys and no one was going to tell them what to do. They were Bishops for goodness sake. (And the snake was the subtlest of creatures in the garden…)
But what could be put in the place of the Documents which the Bishops had ripped up?
Bless them, they wrote them themselves. But they were not cool tactician civil servants with the eye on 2000 years of theology and the responsibility of the world wide vision of the Universal Church of Almighty God. They were men who had drunk at the well of this nonsense of man’s ability to change the world.
They replaced the proposed Documents with the ones we have now – full, not of sound and fury, but of kittens and flowers, happiness and joy, hope and peace. I know, I know – that is good and worthy, noble and just and the Christian message – I know. And if they had stayed on the shelf then they would have remained as interesting Documents in the Church’s rich tapestry. But we know that they were written in such a loose way that the role of the Church in the past 50 years has been to ‘interpret’ them to keep them Catholic and to try to stop the grass roots from becoming in their theology and practice functionally Protestants.
The regional manager found out that by Company Law he and the other regional managers had the casting vote, and so they took the ten year world wide marketing strategy which the men in the flash suits in head office had spent ages writing, and voted it down. What a rush of power and excitement! Then they wrote some stuff themselves culled from ‘market-speak monthly’ and voted that through instead.
And just before they went back to their own offices they passed a motion giving themselves a much bigger part in the life of the Company in such a way as to make it almost impossible to keep their limited voices quiet again…
This really is a bit of a misnomer. It is not so much ‘modern theology’ that I want to mention but the strange phenomenon that it was entwined with… archaeologism.
First, however, a word about the strange series of phenomena which influenced it and which shouldn’t have been good bed fellows but which brought about such disastrous results.
For shorthand I’ll call this ‘functionalism’ – a movement in architecture on the rise in the early twentieth century which tried to reconcile individual artistic endeavour with mass production. Rationality and minimalism triumphed in style. It flourished especially in the Soviet Union and in Germany but its influence was widespread.
Why is this important? Well it played down symbolism and radically broke away from what had happened before. I remember it being described to me in the following terms “a door is just a door”. For Catholics, indeed for all right thinking human beings, a door is never just a door.
For us this should just have meant that we were left with some minimalist, dull ‘modern’ Churches, but the spirit wormed its way into everyday thinking. The ‘new’ became everything – and this was readily understandable to everyone. Clean lines, pure shapes, no hidden meaning
I’ve written about this anti-incarnational theology before (here, here and here) so I won’t go over old ground. But this sense of ‘stripping away’ of things that had been added to get at the central, core, easily understood sense of things was taken to the extreme by the practices following the second Vatican Council, and it must be said had started before.
‘Archaeologism’ – trying to return to a pristine version of what had gone before – had, of course, rightly been condemned by Venerable Pius XII in Mediator Dei. But the two drives – towards the clear and accessible on the one hand and the original and best on the other were other elements at play in the background to the second Vatican Council.
Why did we want to go back to this ideal age? It does not make sense. Things change for a reason and it was not as if the test of time had shown that it had been a bad mistake. Perhaps it was a part of this thinking that if we went back to the early Church then we would spread the faith as they did. To be brutally honest I have no idea what drove them. I assume that the motives were good, but the intentions are beyond me.
Anyway, when this was added to the idea that we should engage with the brave new world to bring about great things, then you can see what a potent mixture there was.
- The modern world was aching for the ‘new things’.
- The ‘new things’ where clean, pure, easily understood, but most of all NEW.
- The new aim was to evangelise the world at all costs, primarily by engaging in the hubris (the proud) belief that we can do it all.
- Nothing could get in the way. Old things could be got rid of and the new thinking showed that the original was best.
And then we had the Council.
So moving from perhaps what before the second Vatican Council and what happened during it, what have the results been?
I have read enough vicious attacks on the internet about ‘that’s not my experience’ to approach this subject with trepidation so first I have to say that what follows is my experience and ideas that flow from it and also a reflection on my time as a Priest and what this time has meant to my parishioners.
I think that I want to put this under three headings:
- change in liturgy
- failure in catechesis (i.e. what the faith means)
- a spirit of freedom
Actually the second and third are related, but never mind.
We have to remember that for the vast percentage of Catholics their only real contact with the Church is and was Holy Mass.
And so to begin. In most people’s minds the Council brought about the liturgy (the Mass) as we have it. And let’s just put a few discussions to one side.
I know that our present Ordinary Form of Mass was not what the Council wanted and was not mandated by it.
I know that the Ordinary Form can be celebrated in Latin and with Gregorian Chant and the Priest facing God – and I know as well that in most places this is not the case. Here in Chavagnes I celebrate Mass in Latin with chant, facing God, communion on the tongue and kneeling, and for the boys it may as well be another rite of Mass. Generally it is not what they get in their home parishes.
So all that being said, let’s not doubt that for most people the Council changed the Mass into English/French/whatever and made the Priest face the people… and it’s much better than it was. And all three of those statements are false of course – but they are believed.
And it meant that this Mass was different and better than what had gone before - what was old had to be changed. The Mass was more accessible. The old way was just about the Priest and the people where just onlookers. If you wanted to get more people to Mass then you should adapt the Mass for what the people wanted. After all that’s what the second Vatican Council had done.
I don’t even know where to begin with these lies. For lies they are, have no doubt about it. But the people believed them… and why would they not? After all it was their Priests who were telling them these falsehoods. But fundamentally I want to say that if the Mass could change, then everything that went along with it could change. And at the same time they were being taught nonsense.
If you want to be depressed then look at a book from the early sixties about what someone leaving school should know about the faith. The rot had not yet set in and the faith is clear and exact. Of course not all would know that much, but now it would not even be hoped for.
So the Mass changed and at the same time Catechesis collapsed. They were clearly connected. You could not use the old teaching books because they referred to the Mass and the Mass was now radically different. And the world… well the world was going down the ‘there’s no real right or wrong – it’s just how it affects you’ route. And don’t forget that we had the engage with the morals of the time and not condemn them because otherwise we would not be allowed to play in the big experiment of making the world a better place.
And anyway, if the one unchangeable star in the Church’s firmament, namely the Mass – the holy and august, bloodless sacrifice of God to God – was now not only unrecognisable from what had gone before, but the old Mass was forbidden, mocked and lied about by Catholics then was there actually anything that was timeless and true? And the new books never even mentioned the subject of eternal truth. Indeed was the idea of ‘teaching’ the faith, and not living it and allowing it to form you and be formed by you, even valid anymore?
And a spirit of freedom? Well no one, including the Church, was telling you what was right and wrong! The sense of obedience, even as a notion, was seriously damaged. And what could you be obedient to? One priest told the people one thing another told them something else. Priests and even Bishops snubbed and ignored one of the most important documents in modern times, Humanæ Vitæ, condemning the use of artificial contraception. Even now to mention it brings clerical death.
And the people left. What was there left to die for in the faith? Our English and Welsh martyrs died a Mass that was now open to scorn. What could you point to if you wanted to identify yourself as a Catholic? Fidelity to Rome – not when you ignore her teachings. And if you won’t die for it, then you won’t live for it. Well perhaps as a social club, but not if it actually makes some demands from your life. So they stopped the thing that Catholics did, i.e. going to Mass (or even thinking that they should be there when they weren’t).
All of this led to the collapse in the fidelity and fervour of Catholics, who ended up with no idea of what the faith was and a vague feeling that you could do more or less what you liked. But all the time they had a sneeking suspicion that this stuff that they were being fed was a pile of tosh and that Catholicism was really about something more solid.
Well I hope that’s what they believed. And continue to believe.
If the time after the second Vatican Council changed the experience of the laity, it brought about a deep rift in the heart of the Priesthood.
We know that something happened because the numbers of men entering seminary collapsed and men left the Priesthood in unprecedented numbers.
So what influences were there?
Some were the same as the laity. Why would a young man enter the Priesthood when he no longer knew what it stood for? A Priest offers Mass – but now Mass was goodness knows what and some even denied the need for the Priesthood anyway.
Other reasons were to do with a change in how the Priesthood was viewed: no longer a man of cultic sacrifice, but now an enabler, a facilitator, a counsellor in the religious realm. Frankly, and I mean this in no way against the laity, anyone can do all that – why give your life to the Priesthood and so give up your chance to have a family and earn money to serve the Church when you can do it all of that as a member of the laity and have it all? All theology of the Priesthood was bound up with his celebration of Mass. This theology of Priesthood no longer existed because the theology of Mass no longer existed.
Now this was bad enough, but how must these changes have affected the heart and soul of a Priest who now had to turn his back on the Mass and faith which had been his only identity and have to say not only that it had all changed, but that what had sustained and nourished his religious life, channelled his vocation and fed his soul was in some way defective. And that in the only logical conclusion. If what we have now is ‘new and improved, the best ever’ then what we had before was not the best ever and was in need of improvement. And these good Priests did it for the best of reasons and through the best of motives: namely Holy Obedience. But this obedience would lead to the shift in his very identity – even, I would say, the betrayal of his very identity.
And let’s be honest, it was probably the last time that the Bishops could wield the cudgel of obedience, because at that moment it died for a generation of Priests. Not all, of course. And probably for the vast majority tried to continue as they always had. But as time went on, they did not obey the rubrics at Mass. They did not promote the teaching of the Church against artificial contraception. Some publically, others privately, approved of the ordination of women, married clergy, abortion in certain circumstances, gay rights etc., etc., etc.
The ‘habit’ of obedience had been broken. It was broken for the laity and it was betrayed for the Priest. And the true place where the Priest found his identity, in Mass, was no longer there to bring him back to faithfulness. And, let’s be honest, the New Mass just was not capable of doing it.
The Priesthood had been chopped off from its roots and we cannot be surprised when it began to sway when the storms came. The Bishops said that it had new roots, that the Priesthood would find its strength and defence in the Episcopacy.
Well that really worked, didn’t it!
As I have tried to put forward in these few articles, in my opinion the second Vatican Council was a Council for neither the laity nor the Priests, but rather for the Bishops. They took the agenda and ran with it, but were guided more by the world and by bad theology than the eternal truths of the faith. Perhaps they just took them for granted. Bit of a mistake that.
So what do I mean by the rise of the Episcopacy?
If you look at the picture above then you see that in the time before the Council there were seven orders in the Church: Porter, Lector, Exorcist, Acolyte, Sub-Deacon, Deacon and Priest. We have very early documents talking about them. They contained within them a theology of the Priesthood. Note, quite importantly, that Bishops are not mentioned anywhere. Strange that.
When I was in seminary we were taught that there were not seven orders in the Church but three: Deacon, Priest and Bishop.
In very bald terms five were ditched and one was added. Say goodbye to Porter, Exorcist, Acolyte and Sub-Deacon and say hello – a big Hi There, Howdy and Hello – to Episcopacy.
The minor orders were supressed after the Council, and it seems to have been a needless, petty act of destruction of the tradition of the Church, but the theology of the Bishops was not just added as an after thought. No, it was the reason that all of these new Council Documents could be written, and the theology of the Episcopacy subsumed within itself all of the other orders.
If you like, in the past the minor Orders were added one on top of another and the highest was the Priesthood. But after the Council the theology was inversed, turned upside down. Deacons and Priests found their identity in the Bishops. Suddenly, from being the pinnacle built atop of the other orders, each order (and there were only Deacons and Priests left) – and thinking especially of the Priesthood – could no longer stand on its own dignity and authority. Priests could only be thought of as defective Bishops. Bishops had the ‘fullness of Orders’ and Deacons and Priests only found their full expression in relation to them.
Bishops had annexed both the Priesthood and the Diaconate to themselves. Now, that’s not bad going, from not existing in the list of Orders at all to being the sun around which the remaining ones must revolve to have meaning.
And then, having made the Priesthood essentially subservient to them (and with the laity always in their place!), they began to look at their relationship with the Pope. Once you have elevated your position so much, what is to stop you going all the way and putting the Holy Father in his place? Why should you follow diktats from Rome? After all you are a Bishop, a Successor of the Apostles, the one in whom all Priests find their identity?
And if you think I’m being melodramatic, then why do Bishops ignore simple clear instructions? Read Redemptionis Sacramentum and see how many liturgical abuses are going on. And what was some Bishops’ response? “That is not applicable in England and Wales”. So then when a Priest sees such obvious dissent in their Bishop (Bishop: “Behold Jesus, the Crucified and Risen One who came among us as a man – blessed are those who come to the Supper of the Lamb”: No that is not what it says and we must obey the Liturgy and not be masters of it), and please also remember that the Priest now basks in the reflected glory of his master the Bishop, then are you really surprised when those same Priests sit so lightly to the Church and her teaching. I am my master’s man, and if he ignores bits, so will I.
And it is no use a Bishop demanding the obedience which he thinks is his due, for this new theology of Episcopacy called the Bishops to a life of exemplary obedience, which the practice of the new theology tempted them away from. Priests had to see radical obedience to reflect it in their own lives, “My Priesthood finds its meaning in my Bishop, my obedience reflects the obedience of my Bishop”, while at the same time the new theology (and the principles of ‘modern theology’) seemed to liberate the Bishops from any external authority at all. The Bishops thought they could do what they wanted, so I will do the same.
The Bishops found their identity by getting together for a Council and deciding things for themselves without much reference to anyone or anything else.
Of course the tensions were going to show and stress lines and fractures were going to make an appearance.
Already the competency of Bishops Councils is being reined in and Bishops are being called to account. Diocese are seeing the results of this ‘freedom’ of Bishops which the Priests thought was freedom for themselves but which never in reality existed for either. Priests are again called back to fidelity to the Church, by the Church and for the good of the Church.
But none of this was helped by a re-writing of the Episcopacy. In fact if anything it materially contributed to the dissent and disinterest in the faith by, now, two generations.
To complete this series on the second Vatican Council I think that we must address the question of what happens now. To an extent of course this is a redundant question because things have already started to happen and as time passes, the ‘reception’ of the Council will change and develop.
We can throw into this mix the hoped for reconciliation with the Society of Saint Pius X which must necessarily change the nature of the Church after the Council. Already with the Extra-ordinary Form the worst excesses of post Vatican II Liturgy can begin to be addressed – and let’s not kid ourselves that the Ordinary Form is going to stay as it is. At best it is a committee Rite, written by liturgists, and at worst… well, even after celebrating it for eight years, for me it has no real liturgical ‘feel’ to it.
And the fact that I feel that I can actually write such a view is an important element to the times that we find ourselves in. Until a few years ago, to say such things would have put me out of the pale, so strong was the monolithic stranglehold of the understanding of the Church after the Council. The straight jacket of liberalism meant that a particular interpretation was all that was allowed – and God help you if you dared to say anything else. You could not criticise this narrow interpretation, nor indeed could you say that the Council was of a limited importance and essentially should not have had the impact on the life of the Church that it did.
All of these things now become possible.
50 years after Vatican II we can begin to breathe a little easier – not because we can now do what we like and there are no moral absolutes (thinly disguised liberal agenda) but because we can dare to be Catholic again. The club of “that’s not Vatican II” can no longer be wielded.
What is Vatican II? A Council of the Church… of the Church… the Catholic Church. And the nonsense that damaged the lives of the faithful and the Priesthood can be put to rest. Well we can begin anyway.
We need to look at the Church and see what she is, what she was and what she will always be. And if you want this in Vatican II speak, then she is ‘The Sacrament of Salvation’. She is the mystical body of Christ who exists to offer fitting praise to God and get us to Heaven. This cannot be changed by a Council. It can be damaged by the results of a Council, but it cannot be changed by one.
The easy answer to the question ‘where now’ is ‘nowhere in particular’. The Ordinary Magisterium will continue slowly to rein in the power that the Bishops think that they have. It will correct error and define teaching where heresy and dangers occur. And hopefully the pendulum will gravitate towards the centre and not swing too far out of kilter after the horrors we have witnessed and lies that we have heard.
But it is not all cut and dried. We know that the Church will triumph because she is the Bride of Christ, but many will be lost on the way. We have a number of Priests around the world crying out to create their own religion (married priests women priests etc.), certain Bishops who still think that they do not have to listen to either the Pope or the Catechism. And a section of the laity who are basically Protestant.
This will all rumble on. But as the Liturgy is corrected, doctrine reinforced, clerical voices of dissent become hoarse and a generation of free love/ free thinking 60s go to sing the Missa de Angelis in the sky we in times to come will look back on this era will a mixture of sadness and bemusement.
And they will ask…
“Did they really think that the Holy Spirit gave the truth of God to men to pervert and change it? Did they really think that they could just make things up and say that it was true? Did they really think all of this or are we missing something?”