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'The Sky is Not Falling, the Church is awakening!'

“The Sky is Not Falling, the Church is awakening!” Reflections on Recent Letters from the Holy See

By: Deacon Keith A Fournier
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Catholic Online


On Tuesday July 10, 2007 the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith released its long expected document reaffirming Catholic Ecclesiology entitled "Responses to some questions regarding certain aspects of the doctrine on the Church". It is a very succinct, well written three page document containing an introduction followed by five questions with five answers. In essence, it simply reaffirms the teaching of the Second Vatican Council regarding the theology of the Church (ecclesiology), as well as modern encyclicals and magisterial documents which have so beautiful expounded upon it.

This clarification of the Congregation reaffirmed the very communion ecclesiology which has produced such a great flowering of authentic and honest ecumenism and informed so many great pastoral, catechetical and pedagogical advances since the Council. It is this kind of ecclesiology which has opened such doors as the Catholic Church has reached out to the Orthodox Church and to other Christian communities which trace their roots to the Protestant Reformation in the West in response to the Prayer of Jesus “May they Be One” (John 17:21).

However, when one reads some Press reports and the wrangling even of certain Catholics concerning this document, one would presume that the forward momentum of that Council will soon come to an end, and that this Pope somehow wants to undo the teaching of Vatican II. Nothing could be further from the truth. This document is the teaching of Vatican II, properly understood and applied. If my analysis is correct then why is there such clamor?

The “Chicken Littles” are wrong

In some instances, the concern over this document arises because people believe the hype and have not personally read the pronouncement. In others, it may be a sincere fear that the advances in authentic Christian cooperation may suffer. However, in others, I sadly suggest it is because the beautiful teaching of the Second Vatican Council has too often been hi-jacked by some with theological and liturgical agendas which are at odds with the teaching office of the Catholic Church. They now cry out that the sky is falling” because the Holy See has, as they say, served notice.

First, there is the “co-incidence” of timing; which I believe is no coincidence at all. This release from the Congregation came three days after the release of the Motu Proprio of Pope Benedict XVI entitled Summorum Pontificum which liberalized the use of the Liturgy of Pius V, the Mass often called Tridentine because of its connection to the Liturgical reform of the Council of Trent. Yet, the Congregations “Questions and Answers” document is dated and signed on June 29, 2007, the Solemnity of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul, a day on which the unity and universality of the one Church of Christ is celebrated. It was intentionally delayed until after the release of Pope Benedicts Motu Proprio on the Liturgy. On the heels of just recovering from the liberalizing of the so-called “Latin Mass”, some who perhaps may have hoped that their efforts to remake the Church liturgically were succeeding, have another clear and strong correction to deal with.

The alarmism of which I speak is evident across the media concerning both documents. I will mention only one example. In its July 10th edition, the Boston Globe ran a piece by Frank Flinn entitled “Vaticanum IIum, vale!”(roughly “Good Bye, Vatican II) which began:

“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…”

This piece, and others like it, reminds me of the old children’s fable about one “Chicken Little”, the pessimistic chicken who insisted that the sky was falling. The positions such writers present are absolutely inaccurate and intended to alarm. Summorum Pontificum, the document which Mr. Flinn lambastes, reaffirmed the beauty and centrality of the Sacred Liturgy, the Mass within the worship of the Catholic Church. It did not abrogate the so called Novus Ordo or “new order” Mass which has become the prevalent rite since the liturgical reform of the Second Vatican Council. It reaffirmed the beauty of the Sacred Liturgy when it is properly and faithfully celebrated within the legitimate diversity of expressions within the one Catholic Church. Yes, it extended the permission to celebrate the older rite beyond so called “indult” parishes, to any priest who chooses to offer it and ...

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