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

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"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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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 to the faithful who wish to participate. And, it rightly clarified that this older Liturgy, loved by so many, was never abrogated.

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I am a deacon, a member of the Clergy of the Catholic Church. I love the Novus Ordo Mass, when it is celebrated in fidelity to the General Instructions of the Roman Missal which the faithful deserve. Sadly, too often hiding under the mantra of "the spirit of Vatican II", are many liturgical abuses and novelties which have gone uncorrected. This document sends a clear signal that the days of lone ranger liturgies are coming to an end. The Sacred Liturgy is not the possession even of the priest celebrant, it belongs to the Church, the Body of Christ, and the faithful have a right to attend a Mass which is properly celebrated.

In addition to serving as a deacon in the Roman rite, I also serve in the Melkite Greek Catholic Church with permission. I love the Divine Liturgy of the East. This is the ancient liturgy of all Eastern Christians, Orthodox and Catholic. It would be a good experience for many Roman Catholics to attend an eastern Divine Liturgy. It is significantly different than the Mass of the West and reflects the true diversity of Liturgy within the one Catholic Church. Those, like the writer of this article, who attempt to frighten the faithful are not being honest. This document does NOT attempt to undo anything except the stranglehold that some have had on the Church's Liturgy. Ironically, the very Council which is credited with the liturgical reform the author argues is now threatened, celebrated the Mass daily throughout the years of their Conciliar gathering. The Mass which they celebrated was the Tridentine Liturgy.

Contrary to the assertions of the alarmists, the Mass as we have known it since shortly after the Council will not disappear. It will be the "Ordinary" Mass of the faithful. I hope, that with the liberalizing of the use of the what will now be called the "Extraordinary" rite, (the tridentine Mass) it will improve in its grandeur and beauty through fidelity of celebration and that the misguided mantra of "the spirit of Vatican II" will be exposed as cover for at best sloppy liturgy and at worst improper liturgical deviations.

Similarly, the document on the ecclesiology of the Catholic Church released by the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith on Tuesday, July 12th , is not anything new either. It simply reaffirms what the Second Vatican Council taught and exposes errant attempts to teach. These efforts have also have attempted to clothe themselves with apparent credibility by a similar misguided appeal to the "spirit of Vatican II". This document also reaffirms the wonderful developments of the post Conciliar writings which have moved authentic ecumenism forward contrary to the claims of the "chicken littles" claims. Let's look to the text itself to see that.

In the introduction we read:

"The Second Vatican Council, with its Dogmatic Constitution Lumen Gentium, and its Decrees on Ecumenism (Unitatis Redintegratio) and the Oriental Churches (Orientalium Ecclesiarum), has contributed in a decisive way to the renewal of Catholic ecclesiology. The Supreme Pontiffs have also contributed to this renewal by offering their own insights and orientations for praxis: Paul VI in his Encyclical Letter Ecclesiam Ssuam (1964) and John Paul II in his Encyclical Letter Ut unum sint (1995).

The consequent duty of theologians to expound with greater clarity the diverse aspects of ecclesiology has resulted in a flowering of writing in this field. In fact it has become evident that this theme is a most fruitful one which, however, has also at times required clarification by way of precise definition and correction, for instance in the declaration Mysterium Ecclesiae (1973), the Letter addressed to the Bishops of the Catholic Church Communionis Notio (1992), and the declaration Dominus Iesus (2000), all published by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

The vastness of the subject matter and the novelty of many of the themes involved continue to provoke theological reflection. Among the many new contributions to the field, some are not immune from erroneous interpretation, which in turn give rise to confusion and doubt. A number of these interpretations have been referred to the attention of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Given the universality of Catholic doctrine on the Church, the Congregation wishes to respond to these questions by clarifying the authentic meaning of some ecclesiological expressions used by the magisterium which are open to misunderstanding in the theological debate"

I recommend that every Catholic read the "Questions and the Answers" which follow this clear introduction. This document is a great example of the gift which is the teaching office of the Catholic Church. That teaching office protects and promotes the continuing work of the Holy Spirit, in guiding all of Christ's faithful. Jesus promised he would not leave us orphans. He has been faithful to that promise. The Church is a mother and a teacher. What that mother and teacher is doing in this directive from the Congregation charged with protecting doctrine is exposing bad theology and clearing up the confusion in practice which it precipitated. In so doing, the ecumenical work of the Church will not only continue but, I believe, it will increase. It will be rooted in a solid and honest ecclesiology which affirms what the Catholic Church has always taught. It was the Lords' intention to found one Church. Our divisions as a Christian people grieve the heart of God.

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The title of this article asserts a claim that not only is the sky not falling but the Catholic Church is awakening. These recent teachings affirm that claim.

If the fullness of truth subsists within the Catholic Church, then we who bear the name Catholic, among all Christians, have the greatest responsibility. As the Master said in another context "...To those to whom much is given, much more will be required". The language of ecclesiology which has developed since the Council is the language of communion. It is important to note that when a Christian from another community comes into the fullness of the Catholic Church, if they have already been validly baptized, we do not baptize them again. We recognize that there is one Baptism because we affirm that there is one Church, which is sadly broken. (See, Eph. 4:5)

As they embrace the creed and receive the other sacraments of initiation we rightly say claim that they have "come into full communion". This ecclesiology of communion is rooted in the affirmation that Christ founded one Church and that all Christians in some sense, even if not fully, participate in that one Church. It is the Lord's prayer that the full communion of that Church be restored " that the world may believe." (John 17) Sloppy ecumenism will not help to bring that about. The document of the Congregation is a welcome clarification of the subject.

Similarly, the Mass, the Divine Liturgy, is the Liturgy of the Church. The Eucharist, in the words of the Catechism and the Council, is the "source and summit" of the Churches worship. The Motu Proprio of Pope Benedict XVI entitled Summorum Pontificum presents a marvelous teaching moment for the Church. The old adage Lex orandi, lex Credendi,Lex Vivendi (loosely translated: the law of worship is the law of belief and the law of life) is as true today as it has been throughout Christian history. In other words, how we worship effects what we believe and informs how we live our lives. The call to fidelity in Liturgy is to the whole Church, no matter which legitimate Liturgy is being celebrated.

Rather than fan the flames of fear as the "chicken littles" have done, we need more Catholics to write articles affirming both of these documents. Even more importantly, we need to resist the negativity of the "chicken littles" and thank the Lord that the Catholic Church is awakening. The Third Millennium awaits the witness of a Church passionately in love with the Lord who founded her and ready to go into a world that is still waiting to be born.

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Deacon Keith Fournier Hi readers, it seems you use Catholic Online a lot; that's great! It's a little awkward to ask, but we need your help. If you have already donated, we sincerely thank you. We're not salespeople, but we depend on donations averaging $14.76 and fewer than 1% of readers give. If you donate just $5.00, the price of your coffee, Catholic Online School could keep thriving. Thank you. Help Now >

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