Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Concilium Vaticanum IIum, vale!

This is also not about celibacy but about the dangerously regressive slide our Church seems to be in right now, also characterized by the latest document from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith which dealt a blow to interdenominational dialogue by reasserting that Christian communities born of the Reformation (i.e. Protestant churches) "do not enjoy apostolic succession in the sacrament of Orders, and are, therefore, deprived of a constitutive element of the Church. These ecclesial Communities which, specifically because of the absence of the sacramental priesthood, have not preserved the genuine and integral substance of the Eucharistic Mystery cannot, according to Catholic doctrine, be called "Churches" in the proper sense." Oh, really??? Statements like this are what inspire people like Nobel laureate and author José Saramago to remark that "Si todos fueran ateos el mundo sería mucho más pacífico." ("If everyone were atheist, the world would be much more peaceful", interview with El Tiempo, 7/10/2007)

By Frank K. Flinn
The Boston Globe
July 10, 2007

Catholics around the world should now have no illusions. Pope Benedict XVI's recent decision to encourage wider use of the traditional Tridentine Mass in Latin is the latest move in his long campaign to undo liberal reforms in church practices popular with Catholics since the 1960s.

The move may well trigger liturgical schisms in dioceses throughout the world.

The form of the Mass was promulgated by Pope Paul V in the Roman Missal in 1570. In this rite the priest stands on an elevated altar, facing away from the people and mumbling the most sacred parts of the liturgy in Latin.

The Tridentine Mass lasted until the new form promulgated in 1969 by Pope Paul VI at Vatican Council II (1962-65). While drawing on some of the most ancient Christian forms of worship, the new Eucharist was translated into local languages. The priest now faced the congregation. Around the world liturgical music expanded to include gospel music, African chants and drumming, Mexican mariachi bands, folk music, and even pop rhythms. Immediately conservative Catholics attacked the new rite, but Paul VI warned that the gospel would be lost to the modern world if it were not addressed to people in their language and their customs.

Criticism continued unabated by a traditionalist minority. In 1988 former French Archbishop Marcel LeFebvre led a small minority of Catholics into schism over what he and his followers labeled the heretical "Mass of Paul VI." The Lefebvrists not only rejected the new liturgy, they rejected key doctrines of Vatican II on ecumenism, religious liberty, and collegiality. Collegiality was the central ecclesiastical concept that shaped Vatican II. The depth of the traditionalists' hatred of Vatican II teachings was and remains astounding.

On the other edge of the church, progressives wanted to advance the openings begun at Vatican II, not only in the liturgy but also in ecumenism, lay involvement, Christian social action (liberation theology, feminism, ecology), and ethical theory (priestly celibacy, birth control). Paul VI started to apply the brakes, but Pope John Paul II and Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, his new prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith , went in for a whole new brake job.

They set out to thwart the progressive side of the church. In the 1980s they silenced the liberation theologian Leonardo Boff, removed Swiss Hans Küng and American Charles Curran from their teaching posts, and unscrupulously oversaw the unlawful excommunication of the Indian Tissa Balasuriya. (That act was reversed.) Just this year the pope censured Salvadoran Jesuit liberation theologian Jon Sobrino by using the old Vatican tactic of stringing together quotations out of context.

In contrast, the papacy remained inexplicably lenient toward the schismatic Lefebvrists despite the scorn they continued to heap in the direction of the Vatican itself. Indeed, in the 1980s Cardinal Ratzinger gave them free ammunition. In the preface to a liturgical treatise he accused modern Masses of being faddish "showpieces" and "fabrications." He went on to praise the Eastern Catholic and Orthodox Eucharist as exemplars of an "eternal liturgy." One can detect a Eurocentric prejudice in his remarks.

The pope has not been evenhanded in his dealings with the many branches of the Catholic church. He has simply capitulated to the Lefebvrists, who continue to look down contemptuously on average Catholic parishioners who like to worship in their own tongue and see their priest face-to-face. The appeal to an "eternal liturgy" is false. The liturgies of the earliest churches were both multiform and multilingual within the first generation going from Aramaic to Greek and Syriac in short order. The earliest known church, recently excavated at Megiddo in Israel, has the altar not elevated and apart but at the very center of the worshiping community. A true traditionalist would gladly embrace the many languages and cultures of the world as did the early church.

Why do I say farewell to Vatican II? One of the roots of that council was the liturgical movement that preceded it by half a century. The liturgical reformers were convinced that the liturgy was of, by, and for the whole people of God, clergy, and lay alike. The very word liturgia in Greek means "the work of the people." This notion embodies at its fullest the principle of collegiality, the key theological idea that shaped Vatican II. The Tridentine Mass is the work of the priest. By turning back the liturgical clock not to the creative multiplicity of the early Christian communities but to the heyday of the Inquisition and papal monarchism at Trent, Pope Benedict XVI is abandoning the principle of collegiality that embraces all bishops, all priests, all deacons, and all lay people as the worshiping community of the beloved faithful. That says to Vatican II, "Farewell!"

Frank K. Flinn, adjunct professor of religious studies at Washington University in St. Louis, is author of "Encyclopedia of Catholicism."

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