The following are excerpts from the recent homily of Papal Preacher Capuchin Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa which you can read in its entirety HERE.
THE SECOND VATICAN COUNCIL: 50 YEARS LATER
A KEY TO ITS INTERPRETATION
[Blessed John XXII said at the opening of Vatican II:] “The twenty-first Ecumenical Council […] wishes to transmit the Catholic doctrine, pure and integral, without any attenuation or distortion […]. However, our duty is not only to guard this precious treasure, as if we were concerned only with antiquity, but also to dedicate ourselves promptly and without fear to that work which our era demands of us, pursuing the path which the Church has travelled for almost twenty centuries […]. It is necessary that this certain and unchanging doctrine, to which our faithful assent is due, be studied and expounded in the manner required by our times”.
Gradually, however, as the Council’s work and sessions progressed, two opposing fronts formed, depending on whether, of the two purposes mentioned, the first or the second was being emphasized: i.e., continuity with the past or innovation with respect thereto. For the latter front, the word ‘aggiornamento’ came to be replaced by the word ‘rupture’, but it bore within it a very different spirit and very different intentions. For the so-called progressivists, it was an achievement to be greeted with enthusiasm. For the opposing front, it was a tragedy for the entire Church.
Standing between these two fronts – which agreed on the statement of the fact but were opposed in their judgment regarding it – we find the position of the papal Magisterium, which speaks of “renewal in continuity”. In Ecclesiam suam, Paul VI returns to John XXIII’s word “aggiornamento” and states that he wishes it to be regarded as a “guiding principle”. John Paul II reiterated the judgment of his predecessor at the beginning of his pontificate, and on several occasions he expressed himself in the same vein. Above all, however, it has been the current Supreme Pontiff Benedict XVI who has explained what the Magisterium of the Church means by “renewal in continuity”. He did so a few months after his election, in the address delivered to the Roman Curia on December 22, 2005. Let us listen to several passages:
“The question arises: Why has the implementation of the Council, in large parts of the Church, thus far been so difficult? Well, it all depends on the correct interpretation of the Council or - as we would say today - on its proper hermeneutic, the correct key to its interpretation and application. The problems in its implementation arose from the fact that two contrary hermeneutics came face-to-face and quarreled with each other. One caused confusion, the other, silently but more and more visibly, bore and is bearing fruit. On the one hand, there is an interpretation that I would call "a hermeneutic of discontinuity and rupture"; it has frequently availed itself of the sympathies of the mass media, and also one trend of modern theology. On the other, there is the "hermeneutic of reform".
The Pope acknowledges that a certain discontinuity and rupture did in fact occur. However, it did not pertain to the basic principles and truths of the Christian faith but rather to several historical decisions. Numbered among them was the conflict that had arisen between the Church and the modern world, culminating in the wholesale condemnation of modernism under Pius IX. However, it also regarded more recent situations, such as that created by developments in science and by the new relationship among religions, with the implications this holds for the problem of freedom of conscience. Not last was the tragedy of the Holocaust, which required a rethinking of attitudes toward the Jewish people. The Pope writes:
“It is clear that in all these sectors, which all together form a single problem, some kind of discontinuity might emerge. Indeed, a discontinuity had been revealed but in which, after the various distinctions between concrete historical situations and their requirements had been made, the continuity of principles proved not to have been abandoned. It is easy to miss this fact at a first glance. It is precisely in this combination of continuity and discontinuity at different levels that the very nature of true reform consists”.
The insufficient attention paid to the role of the Holy Spirit explains many of the difficulties that arose in the reception of the Second Vatican Council. The Tradition in whose name some have rejected the Council was a Tradition wherein the Holy Spirit played no role at all. It was a collection of beliefs and practices fixed once and for all, not the wave of apostolic preaching, which advances and sweeps through the centuries and, like every wave, cannot be grasped except in movement. To freeze the Tradition by making it begin, or end, at a certain fixed moment means making it a dead tradition, unlike that which St. Irenaeus describes as a “living Tradition”. Charles Péguy explained this great theological truth with a poet’s pen:
“Jesus didn’t give us dead words either
For us to seal up into little boxes
(Or even big ones.)
And for us to preserve in rancid oil …
Like the Egyptian mummies.
Jesus Christ, my child, didn’t give us canned words
Rather, he gave us living words
To nourish …
He depends on us, weak and carnal,
To bring to life and to nourish and to keep alive in time
These words pronounced alive in time”.
However, it must immediately be said that, on the opposing front of extremism, things were not going any better. Here there was willing talk of the “spirit of the Council”, but unfortunately it was not the Holy Spirit. “Spirit of the Council” denoted that greater impulse toward the new, that greater innovative courage that wasn’t able to be part of the Council texts due to the resistance of some, and to the compromises it was necessary to make between parties to reach unanimity.
All this sheds a unique light on the post-conciliar era. Perhaps here, too, the true realizations of the Council lay in places other than where we were looking. We were looking at changes in structures and institutions, at a different distribution of power, at the language that was to be used in the liturgy, while we failed to realize how small these changes were compared to the work that the Holy Spirit was accomplishing. We imagined we would break the old wineskins with our own hands, while God was offering us his own method of breaking old wineskins, by filling them with the new wine.
When asked whether there was a new Pentecost, we should respond without hesitation: Yes! What is the most convincing sign of this? The renewal of the quality of Christian life wherever this Pentecost was received. The key doctrinal event of Vatican II can be found in the first two chapters of Lumen Gentium, in which the Church is defined as a sacrament and as the people of God journeying under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, animated by his charisms, under the guidance of the hierarchy. In short, the Church as mystery and institution; as koinonia before gerarchia. John Paul II reinforced this vision and made its implementation a priority as the Church entered into the new millennium.
We wonder: where has this image of the Church passed from the documents to life? Where has it assumed “flesh and blood”? Where is the Christian life being lived out according to the “law of the Spirit” with joy and conviction, by attraction and not by constraint? Where is God’s Word held in highest honor? Where is it that the charisms are being manifest? Where is the eager concern for a new evangelization and for the unity of Christians being felt?
Since we are dealing with an interior reality that takes place in human hearts, the ultimate answer to these questions is known to God alone. Concerning the new Pentecost, we should repeat what Jesus said about the Kingdom of God: “No one will say: ‘Lo it is here!’ or ‘Lo it is there!’ for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you” (Lk 17:21). And yet, we can perceive some of the signs, also with the help of religious sociology, which deals in these matters. From this point of view, the answer given in many quarters to this question is: in the ecclesial movements!
One thing however should immediately be pointed out. Belonging to the ecclesial movements are also those renewed parishes, associations of the faithful and new communities in which the same koinonia and the same quality of Christian life are being lived out. From this perspective, movements and parishes should not be seen in opposition to or in competition with each other, but united in the realization, in different ways, of the same model of Christian life. Some of the so-called "basic communities” are also to be numbered among these realities; those at least, in which the political element has not taken precedence over the religious.