Casper the Friendly Ghost!
Well, that’s how I interpret the opinion of one recent visitor to The Wild Reed. Here’s more precisely what this anonymous visitor had to say:
I find it interesting that [Michael Bayly] cites Sacrosanctum Concilium [when discussing the liturgy that has developed at St. Stephen’s Catholic Church]. It appears that, like so many before him, he uses the documents of the Second Vatican Council without actually having read them. Instead, he interprets the documents with something called the “Spirit of Vatican II”. This “Spirit” allows it proponents the license to interpret the documents, not for what they actually say, but instead in ways that support what they want them to say. The reason for thinking [that he has not read it] is that right in the middle of Sacrosanctum Concilium, under the heading “General Norms,” are these clear and unequivocal statements:
1. Regulation of the sacred liturgy depends solely on the authority of the Church, that is, on the Apostolic See and, as laws may determine, on the bishop.
2. In virtue of power conceded by the law, the regulation of the liturgy within certain defined limits belongs also to various kinds of competent territorial bodies of bishops legitimately established.
3. Therefore no other person, even if he be a priest, may add, remove, or change anything in the liturgy on his own authority.
Interestingly, those who advocate the “Spirit of Vatican II” seem to also forget the following from Lumen Gentium, Chapter III: “On the Hierarchical Structure of the Church and in Particular on the Episcopate”:
And in order that the episcopate itself might be one and undivided, He placed Blessed Peter over the other apostles, and instituted in him a permanent and visible source and foundation of unity of faith and communion. And all this teaching about the institution, the perpetuity, the meaning and reason for the sacred primacy of the Roman Pontiff and of his infallible magisterium, this Sacred Council again proposes to be firmly believed by all the faithful. Continuing in that same undertaking, this Council is resolved to declare and proclaim before all men the doctrine concerning bishops, the successors of the apostles, who together with the successor of Peter, the Vicar of Christ, the visible Head of the whole Church, govern the house of the living God.
I encourage [Michael Bayly] to remember that the “Spirit of Vatican II” is as much fiction as that other spirit, Casper the Friendly Ghost.
Oh, dang! You mean Casper isn’t really real? I’m devastated!
But seriously, I appreciate the perspective shared by this visitor and consider the issues he/she raises to be very important. Accordingly, I asked my theologian friend William Hunt to share his thoughts on this matter. Here’s what he had to say:
The commentator has a valid point. The Vatican II documents in many places are compromise documents that smooth over some of the major conflicts without resolving them. Thus the decree on the Church talks about collegiality on the one hand but absolute papal authority on the other. The decree on the Liturgy says: “Lingua Latina est lingua Ecclesiae” (variously translated as “Latin is the language of the Church.” “Latin is a church language.” “A Latin language [Italian?] is a language of the Church.” etc.) but at the same time opens the way for the widespread use of the vernacular.
One response to this responder to The Wild Reed would be to turn his/her argument around. One can’t absolutize church authority to the point that there is no room for the active participation of the laity in the liturgy. Similarly, one cannot stress the hierarchical nature of the Church to the point where the Church becomes identified with the Bishops and Pope with no place for the laity or to the point where it negates the notion of the Church as the people of God.
These ideas have to be held in creative tension as the Church adapts to the needs of the time. As such they form the basis for sisterly and brotherly dialog as to where the contemporary Church should fall within the extremes. For example, we need to address the question: How should hierarchical oversight be exercised so as to encourage the active participation of the faithful.
Liturgical rules are not absolute. Over the centuries the Roman Rite has developed and changed due to the influence of local customs that were incorporated into the liturgy. A good example is the lighting of the fire at the beginning of the Easter Vigil Service, as far as I recall an influence of the Gallican (French) church.
The crucial thing is to enter into dialog. I’m not so sure that your interlocutor is willing to do that.
Perhaps the willingness to hold this “creative tension” when reading and interpreting the documents of Vatican II is a big part of what is meant by “the Spirit of Vatican II.”
That being said, I guess this spirit isn’t related to little ol’ Casper after all!
My thanks to my anonymous visitor and to William Hunt for sharing their thoughts. Oh, and stay tuned for more writings on Vatican II.
Above: William Hunt (back row, left) with myself and members of The Progressive Catholic Voice editorial team and Connie Aligada (front row, second from right) of Call to Action Minnesota – February 19, 2008.
Back row (from left): William Hunt, Michal Bayly, and Rick Notch. Front row (from left): Mary Beckfeld, Mary Lynn Murphy, Connie Aligada, and David McCaffrey.
To read William Hunt’s October 2006 Pioneer Press commentary, “On Civil Unions and Christian Tradition,” click here.
William’s review of John T. Noonan, Jr.’s book, A Church That Can and Cannot Change: The Development of Catholic Moral Teaching, will be published in the March issue of The Progressive Catholic Voice – scheduled to be posted online on Tuesday, March 11.
See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
The Shrinking Catholic Tent
What it Means to Be Catholic
Thoughts on Authority and Fidelity
Authentic Catholicism: The Antidote to Clericalism
Choosing to Stay
The “Underground Church”