Monday, 1 October 2012

The essence of the Council: good and bad attempts at definition

Faith Today is a magazine published by Alive Publishing, a kind of development of that apostolate's core publication Bible Alive. When it was first launched, it represented a collaboration with the Bishops Conference of England and Wales, including documents relating to the Bishops Conference. That is no longer the case, but Faith Today does try to address broader issues of Catholic life than do articles in Bible Alive. One such article in the October 2012 issue is entitled "Vatican II: A sure compass for the Church today", and is written to mark the start of the Year of Faith.

Fr Adrian Graffy begins the fourth paragraph of his article:
The essence of Vatican II was a change of attitude.
The formulation is problematical for a number of reasons. It begs the question as to whether or not one can rightly think of there being a uniform "attitude" in the Church before the Council, and, similarly, whether or not the life of the Church since the Council can be characterised by any one single "attitude". And that is before we ask the question of a change from "what attitude" to "what attitude". The generation that will celebrate the Year of Faith without having experienced life before the Council is also going to be unable to relate to its being characterised as in essence a change from a "before" to an "after", making this characterisation irrelevant to them.

To be fair to Fr Graffy, he does go on to indicate some of the new attitudes indicated by the teaching of the Council, but in a manner that is spectacularly selective, even making allowance for the challenge presented by generalising to express things in a short article.
We were members of the "people of God", that wonderful new way of referring to Christian believers....

At the same time the status of every Catholic changed. We recognised the priesthood of all believers, that all of us have a dignity which arises from baptism, that all of us are called to serve according to a God-given vocation ...

Those of us who are old enough will remember how the liturgy was opened up to us. I remember the thrill of hearing the readings and prayers in our own language. Liturgy became once again a catechetical tool.
To respond in turn to each of these ... Lumen Gentium includes a chapter on the hierarchical nature of the Church .... I have correspondence from a friend of my mother, referring to times well before the Council, which demonstrate my mother's evangelising influence in a most striking way (inspired by Cardinal Cardijn's YCW) .... and, so far as I can tell, lack of any real understanding of the nature of the liturgy is far more common on a Sunday morning than the opposite.

Fr Graffy's reference to attitudes, though, reminded me of Karol Wojtyla's book Sources of Renewal, first published in Polish on the occasion of the 10th anniversary of the opening of the Council. The book represents a kind of plan, or orientation, for the post-Conciliar renewal in the Church or, to use another phrase adopted by its author, for the implementation of the Council. It would make a very good read for the Year of Faith. In the first chapter of his book, the future Pope John Paul II very clearly identifies what he believes to be of the essence as far as Vatican II is concerned:
The enrichment of faith is nothing else than increasingly full participation in divine truth. This is the fundamental viewpoint from which we must judge the reality of Vatican II and seek ways of putting it into practice. This is the most adequate criterion and corresponds as well as possible to the reality of the Council, which, as an act of the supreme magisterium, sets out to show our age the way leading to the fulfilment of God's word in the Church. All other formulations seem, by comparison, to present partial and secondary aspects instead of the essential one....

To sum up, the enrichment of faith which we regard as the fundamental pre-requisite for the realization of Vatican II is to be understood in two ways: as an enrichment of the content of faith in accordance with the Council's teaching, but also, originating from that content, an enrichment of the whole existence of the believing member of the Church.
In the second chapter, the author goes on to consider the enrichment of faith as development of what he terms "the religious attitude":
The postulate of conscious faith, as a postulate of the enrichment of faith on the subject's part, is nothing but a constant concern on man's part to respond to God who reveals himself.
It is surely not coincidental that Pope Benedict XVI has chosen to mark the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Council by celebrating a Year of Faith which picks up very much the idea of his predecessor about what constitutes the essence of the Council.

Fr Adrian Graffy is the Director of the Commission for Evangelisation and Formation in my diocese. That someone in such a position can write an article with a woeful grasp of what Vatican II was about is worrying.

[As he articulates the range of different attitudes that the Council calls for in the third part of his book, John Paul II starts by presenting the dual attitudes of "mission and testimony":
Everyone in the Church is in a "state of mission", as is the whole Church - by which we do not as yet mean any particular function of specific task ... It is a question simply, and above all, of the attitude which is the proper response to Revelation.... This attitude is closely linked with that of bearing witness, and is to some extent identical with it. The human being who commits himself entirely to God accepts with his whole self the divine testimony made known in Jesus Christ, and is thus prepared to bear witness to Christ and to God. In this attitude we recognise the whole existential dynamic of faith and the profession of faith.
It is from this basis that he goes on to develop an account of a range of different attitudes arising from the teaching of the Council. The resonance to the public profession of faith to which Pope Benedict has invited the faithful as part of their celebration of the Year of Faith is apparent.]

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