Saturday, 29 May 2010

Our Church

Vatican II - Voice of the Church is a site to which I have a link in my side bar headed "Implementing the Second Vatican Council". A strength of this site is that it posts and links to original documentation relating to the Council and to participants in the Council.

An article entitled "Our Church" has been added to the site. This appears, so far as I can tell, to be the text of a pamphlet published around 1970. The author is Cardinal Suenens. The majority of the text, though not the last three sections, is taken more or less verbatim from Cardinal Suenens book "Co-Responsibility in the Church", published in 1968. A scanned copy of the this book can be downloaded from the site of the Cardinal Suenens Center. The article is made up of several sections from the book, with the concluding three sections either written specially or drawn from another of Cardinal Suenens' writings.

I do think that Cardinal Suenens' article is worth reading, but it is not really possible to read it "in parts". You need to read the whole to gain a fair understanding of what the Cardinal wishes to say.

I know that some will find it unexpected in a writer such as Cardinal Suenens, but I believe that the first section of "Our Church" can be understood as an articulation of what would now be known as a "hermeneutic of continuity". The Second Vatican Council exists both in a relation to its past and in a relation to its future, and whilst present day advocates of the "hermeneutic of continuity" might feel that the implications of this differ from those that Cardinal Suenens might see, he nevertheless recognises an importance in this mutual relation:
However, to grasp the full meaning of the Council, it is not enough to view it only in relation to a past which it concludes. We must also consider it in the light of those forces of the future which it contains. It is, in its own turn, a point of departure, as Pope Paul VI forcefully reminds us: "The conciliar decrees are not so much a destination as a point of departure toward new goals. The renewing power and spirit of the council must continue to penetrate to the very depths of the Church’s life. The seeds of life planted by the Council in the soil of the Church must grow and achieve full maturity".
The identification of the importance of Baptism for a common equality of all the faithful, and of their calling to different vocations and apostolates in the life of the Church, is now a commonplace in the Church. It underpins such experiences of Catholic life as consecration to Mary (cf the spirituality of Louis Marie de Montfort as lived by the Legion of Mary and the Foyers of Charity) and "baptism in the Spirit" as lived out in the Charismatic Renewal; it is the basis of understanding different vocations in the Church as different specifications or ways of living out the original baptismal consecration of all the faithful.

I think that Cardinal Suenens discussion under the heading "Is the Church a democracy?" is particularly interesting. He notes the ambiguity and need for clarification of the criticism that the un-democratic nature of the Church's structures put it out of step with the atmosphere of our time.
To wish to catalogue the Church under the label of monarchy, oligarchy or democracy is a futile task. The Church’s reality is too rich and too complex to fit within human categories. There are within the Church elements which are monarchical, others which are oligarchical, and others which are democratic. The papacy, the bishops, and the laity could be invoked as illustrative of these elements. Within the Church there is at one and the same time one principle of unity (monarchy), a pluralism of hierarchical responsibilities (oligarchy), and a fundamental equality of all in the communion of the people of God (democracy). All of these must mutually integrate with one another since they are all essential to the truth of the Church.
An interesting observation towards the end of this discussion:
Every bishop accomplishes his mission in a partnership of shared responsibility with the whole body of bishops united to its head. Doubtless, the magisterium must take account of the common belief of the faithful before making a pronouncement. But the body of bishops has not only the mission of recording this faith as it is lived, it must also discern the elements of this faith and pass judgment on them. And this judgment is binding on the consciences of the bishops as well as upon the faithful.
In the next section, where Cardinal Suenens makes a short practical observation on the contribution of the lay faithful, particularly in the context of diocesan pastoral councils, it is interesting to see his emphasis on the professional skills and experience that the laity bring to such bodies. One wonders how the idea of commissioned parish ministers would fit in to this framework.

And to take a couple of paragraphs from the concluding section:

The younger generation have a profound sense of man, and this is a great asset. However, they could be tempted to be not quite so open to a sense of God....If an apostle does not realize the value of a silence filled with God, his activities will be philanthropic, noble social work, but they will not be a Christian apostolate, the extension of the unique priesthood of Christ.

Our younger people must also have a living and affectionate love for the Church. Too often one hears ruthless criticism.... Sad to say, there are Christians who have left the Church because they were too bruised by its structures. The Church seemed to them too human to be a sacrament of God. But has not the Church from the very beginnings of its history been made of men of flesh and blood, beset with weakness and mystery just like the rest of us?...No amount of disappointment can be a legitimate excuse for leaving our mother, the Church. It is to this mother even today that humanity owes what is best in itself. The Church and those who remain faithful to her have, through the centuries, carried the torch of the gospel, thus enabling others at times to see better than we do by its light.
These last words do, of course, today have a different reference than that intended by Cardinal Suenens when he wrote them. Now we see all to clearly the damage that is done to the mission of the Church when those in positions of leadership and ministry do not remain faithful to their calling.

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