Sunday, 8 January 2012

Year of Faith: putting VII in its place?

The Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith (CDF) has now released its recommendations on activities for the Year of Faith starting in October 2012 (not to be confused with the Oz Year of Grace starting this Pentecost!).

The basic thrust of it seems to be correcting the reception of Vatican II by adopting the 'hermaneutic of continuty': a strong focus on the actual documents of Vatican II read in the light "under the sure guidance of the Magisterium and in continuity with the whole Tradition".

What to do about Vatican II!

There are, essentially three positions about on what needs to be done about Vatican II:
  • the liberal view that the true 'spirit of the Council' hasn't really been fully implemented yet because of resistance from evil conservatives, and what is needed is a further push to truly implement the (spirit of) the Council, including abandoning rules like clerical celibacy and more and rethinking theological objections to the ordination of women;
  • the 'all's well' view of many conservatives, who are broadly comfortable with where liturgy and practise are now given the signs of revival around; and
  • those who are concerned about the errors that have taken root in the Church in recent decades.
Promoting the correct reception of the Council?

The Pope, of course, sits in the latter group.  But while this group is agreed to greater and lesser extent on the existence of the problem, they are deeply divided on solutions. 

The SSPX and many other traditionalists, of course, would like to see some of its teachings rejected altogether.  That's unlikely to happen any time soon, and the ongoing stalemate in negotiations between them and the Vatican reflect this.

Some would like to try and move on, effectively consigning much of Vatican II to the dustbin of history like some other less than successful Councils - indeed the Pope himself seemed to hint that he held this position to some extent at least, in some of his theological writings some years ago!  While this view has considerable merit from an intellectual point of view - it is after all just one Council among many, and it is now almost fifty years on, and some of the pastoral prescriptions, born from false premises and reeking of pelagianism and worse in places, have clearly been a failure - from a practical, pastoral point of view it is probably not tenable.

The third position then, and the one this document promotes, is to focus on the correct reception of the Council.  In particular, to place its teachings more firmly within the broader context of the faith. 

The CDF argues that the Catechism of the Catholic Church is the primary tool for doing this:

"The Catechism of the Catholic Church, in this same vein, is both an “authentic fruit of Vatican Council II” and a tool for aiding in its reception...The Catechism includes “the new and the old (cfr. Mt 13:52), because the faith is always the same yet the source of ever new light...Here, in fact, we see the wealth of teaching that the Church has received, safeguarded and proposed in her two thousand years of history. From Sacred Scripture to the Fathers of the Church, from theological masters to the saints across the centuries, the Catechism provides a permanent record of the many ways in which the Church has meditated on the faith and made progress in doctrine so as to offer certitude to believers in their lives of faith.”

Time for some corrections?

The note sees the Catechism as a starting point though, not an end point, and it wouldn't be altogether surprising if the Pope were to respond to calls, during the Year of Faith, for a Syllabus of Errors on the misinterpretation of Vatican II.

Indeed the note itself contains some interesting language that points to some of the areas where corrective action is needed. 

Consider for example that old hoary 'active participation' in the liturgy, which has consistently been misinterpreted to mean lots of activity rather than genuine engagement.  The CDF note talks about promoting instead participation in the Eucharist "actively, fruitfully and with awareness".  It is a subtle shift, but an important one, and one that better reflects what the relevant document of Vatican II actually says, rather than how it has been reinterpreted in the spirit of the Council!

Initiatives for the Year of Faith

The CDF note includes suggestions for activities at the level of the universal Church, bishops conferences, dioceses, parishes/communities/movements.

Some one's worth highlighting, to get the flavour of the thing, include:
  • "...more attentive reception of the homilies, catechesis, addresses and other speeches and documents of the Holy Father. Pastors, consecrated persons and the lay faithful are invited to renew their efforts in effective and heart-felt adherence to the teaching of the Successor of Peter.";
  • "It would be useful [for episcopal conferences] to arrange for the preparation of pamphlets and leaflets of an apologetic nature (cfr. 1 Pt 3:15), which should be done with the help of theologians and authors. Every member of the faithful would then be enabled to respond better to the questions which arise in difficult contexts – whether to do with sects, or the problems related to secularism and relativism, or to questions “arising from a changed mentality which, especially today, limits the field of rational certainties to that of scientific and technological discoveries,”[26] or to other specific issues.";
  • dioceses are to have events marking the opening and closing of the year; a study day on the Catechism for priests, religious and catechists; bishops are to put out pastoral letters on the faith; activities for the ongoing education of priests on the Catechism; dioceses are to review their own activities; and a fresh focus on better catechesis in schools...;
  • at the parish level, priests are to offer cycles of homilies on the faith or on topics such as “the encounter with Christ”, “the fundamental contents of the Creed”, and “faith and the Church".
There is a lot more in this document, which also invites the faithful to meditate on the Pope's Apostolic Letter introducing the year, Porta Fidei.


A Canberra Observer said...

Over at Rorate caeli (perhaps predictably) they are rending their garments that this is shaping up as a year devoted to V2.

And if they are right, I suppose I have some trepidation as well. Frankly the less I hear about that 'pastoral' council the better.

As I have got older my image of 'pastoral' tends more and more to a stern shepherd stopping his sheep, sometimes with some force, from eating crap they shouldn't eat. Sadly, the implementation and wooly language of V2 (though not the council itself) has meant many of the sheep have tried eating stuff that hitherto was considered harmful.

Kate said...

Yes well Rorate's reaction is indeed entirely predictable!

That said, it could clearly go both ways. The aim is clearly to counter some of the worst nonsense by pointing out what the documents actually say, and how they should be interpreted properly.

Like last year's Assisi event, it's an attempt to take back control and in the process, reduce its status to what it deserves.

But can that agenda be managed sufficiently, or will someone(s) manage to do a Mark Anthony on us...friends, romans, countrymen?!

JohnD said...

Kate, in responding to A Canberra Observer you said that the aim is clearly to counter some of the worst nonsense by pointing out what the documents actually say. For well-intentioned, reasonably intelligent and reasonably well instructed clergy and laity, that should be enough, in my view. Tolle lege. Consequently, when you try that with people whom you know, because of their age, to have had the uniformly good religious instruction available in Catholic schools in the 40s and 50s, and who seem tolerably intelligent, and it doesn’t work, it seems to me that you must begin to suspect the purity of their intentions. I have tried the technique with one of the documents, namely, the document on the Liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium, and been told that I am taking just one of the many possible interpretations, and that they prefer their own. As a way of getting them to see the clear intent of the documents, you can talk hermaneutic of continuity to them ‘til you are blue in the face to no avail. In particular, when you mention to a priest article 22, point 3, namely: “3. Therefore no other person, even if he be a priest, may add, remove, or change anything in the liturgy on his own authority,” and they simply shrug you off, you really have to wonder about their intentions. “The spirit of Vatican II” begins to look simply like code for: “I’m going to do what I like and call it the spirit of Vativcan II.”

It all comes down to the heart. If the heart is in the right place, error is unlikely to creep in. If the heart is not right, error cannot be kept out. The Pope is on the right tack, but it will cause a lot of defections, of which he has warned us in his talk of a smaller, purer Church. People have grown so used to the soft Catholicism of “the spirit of Vatican II” that getting them to accept the letter, and true spirit, of Vatican II is going to require a radical change of heart, which few seem to be prepared to do. It is going to require prayer for them from those whose hearts are already in the right place.