Thursday, March 06, 2008

Truth About “Spirit of Vatican II” Finally Revealed!

It’s the twin brother of
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.

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
The Shrinking Catholic Tent
Libertas Ecclesiae
What it Means to Be Catholic
Thoughts on Authority and Fidelity
Authentic Catholicism: The Antidote to Clericalism
Choosing to Stay
The “Underground Church”


kevin57 said...

Balance. When the Church is at her best that's a trait she champions, as in the disputes over the nature of Christ. Some saw Christ as man without being divine; others negated his divinity. What orthodoxy proclaims is, yes, a 'compromise,' but more it embraces this reality with mystery. No simplistic formulations.

What is troublesome about what went on with the GIRM is that episcopal conferences were basically steamrolled into accepting it. Just on a theological basis, why would a bishop or group of bishops in Rome (namely in the Curia) have more authority than the assembled bishops of the U.S. and/or the other conferences?

And folks, if you think the GIRM is unduly 'top-down,' just wait, there's more to come, maybe by 2009even. The Vatican wants a 'literal' translation of the texts from the Latin. Now, one can argue that point back and forth, but I have it on just about the best authority that, again, bishop conferences are basically being steamrolled on one issue after another.

Question to all those raising the banner for complete, unquestioning adherence to the GIRM: do you and did you have the same indignation with the Levfebre schism over the Mass? Let's not have double standards.

CDE said...

My observation is that the efforts at reform at St. Stephen's takes its cue from Hegel, rather than from Christ. See my post Disciples of Christ, or of Hegel? for more details.

Anonymous said...

I think the question, simply put (its not necessarily a simple question is) "Who authoritatively interprets the conciliar documents for the whole community in a binding way?" And is reception by the laity the required for a) an interpretation to have authority and b) for an interpretation to be enacted?

CDE said...


You're asking about the sensus fidelium; that is, the authority of something due to the agreement of the faithful about a given matter.

The thing to remember -- the "faithful" does not simply include a given population of people in the here and now, but includes the communion of saints and all those who have been faithful to the tradition. Any other sense of sensus fidelium would lead to all kinds of contradictory diversity in what the Church teaches.

Anonymous said...

My understanding of sensus fidelium, with respect to the teaching of the pastors of the Church, is that the Holy Spirit that teaches through our pastors is the same Holy Spirit that gives the Communion of Saints "ears to hear" - insofar as one is properly disposed to listen.

Often appeals are made the the primacy of conscience, not only in moral decision making, but any and all aspects of the Christian life. But the part that's left out is proper formation.

The Church has a definition of proper formation, which for the life of me I can't remember...all my books are at home, and I don't have time for web search.

Doubtless we'll see more than one idea of "proper formation" operative offered here on The Wild Reed.

Michael J. Bayly said...


I discuss "The Question of an Informed Catholic Conscience" here.



Anonymous said...

Hmmm...I don't know...I read "The Question of an Informed Catholic Conscience." My first question about it is "What prevents the inclusion of 'personal experience and insight' from becoming an elaborate exercise in self-justification?" Human beings have an apparently infinite capacity for delusion and self-deception. One of the benefits of authoritative teaching external to the self is to challenge individual delusion and self-deception. Put another way, the role of the hierarchy is not to tell me what to do, its to help me make a decision when "what to do" is not clear based on, among many other things, personal experience, insight, education and intellect. Rather than damn the pastors of the Church for authoritative teaching, its better to value them for their very narrow and particular ministry of decision support when decisions are difficult to make.

Anonymous said...

Dialog in this context is only genuine and sincere if we laypeople enter into it with an understanding that the answers to all of our questions and requests may not be ones we like. A collegial dialog does not mean there is equivalency of roles; a collegial society has distinct roles and functions and authorities. Regulation of the liturgy is not a lay role or function or authority. Electioneering is not a clerical or prelatial role or function or authority.

American Catholics labor under two misimpressions about liturgical law:

1. That its like moral law, in the consideration of subjective criteria. Actually, outside of Matrimony, subjective criteria are relatively irrelevant to liturgical law. It's fairly black-and-white compared to moral theology. This is an inheritance from the resolution of the Donatist heresy, among other things. It is is the hierarchy that determines liturgical law; our preferences regarding it are beside the point.

2. Roman liturgical law is very different from the legal traditions of the Anglosphere. The attitudes about what rules are and how exceptions are handled is very different. Ad hoc exceptions are not made to rules in the Roman system - rather, there may happen to occur occasional (not chronic) non-compliance for serious pastoral reasons (not preferences), so long as valid matter and form of sacraments are stringently adhered to - but the rule remains untouched in its splendor or lack thereof, and the non-compliance cannot be invoked as a sub-rule of its own, et cet. It is my experience that Americans who agitate over liturgical issue (traditionalist or radical) often have a hard time grasping this cultural difference. And, when it comes to the regulation of the Roman liturgy, the American legal culture has zero bearing on interpretation.

Another problem is that many tinkerings with liturgy amount to a privatization of the liturgy, and seriously undermine the liturgical reforms of Vatican II (the real one, not the one preferred by some). One may ask how a community could be engaged in privatization: because a parish or oratory is *not* a "local church" in Catholic parlance. The "local church" is the diocese under the headship of its ordinary. Innovations at the parish level that are apart from the diocese and ordinary are essentially privatization from a Catholic perspective. If you truly value Vatican II's liturgical reforms - as I do - that can be a bitter pill to swallow. But, in the end, it's where real growth is, not solipsistic wallowing in our wonderfulness.

Another issue: if you think the Pope/bishop is wrong, you must concede that you are at least as likely to be wrong too. That is another bitter pill that many people strain to ignore. It's not a relationship of equivalency; the charisms of the roles and offices differ, significantly at time.

I write this as someone who spent about 15 years in very progressive Catholic intentional communities, and witnessed these misunderstandings over and over again. So many people who could not let go of their preferred way of doing liturgy were most commonly the ones who got stuck and lost. It's very sad. If a rule is not important enough to obey, it's usually not important enough to break - the tension is often a sign that God is calling us to let go of the plow we're so intent on working.

The idea of finding a liturgical "home" is often a distraction - a desire for consolations that may keep from where God is challenging us to go. If we let go, we can be in solidarity with the countless more people who don't even have a choice. *That's* far more radical (but very non-American).

Michael J. Bayly said...

Clayton, you wrote that:

The thing to remember -- the 'faithful' does not simply include a given population of people in the here and now, but includes the communion of saints and all those who have been faithful to the tradition.

This is true, but what you seem to be referring to is the "sense of tradition," not the "sense of the faithful." After all, are not the experiences, insights, and example of the departed now part of our tradition? The departed cannot actively participate in the processes of dialogue and discernment that are essential to the pilgrim Church?

Also, when discussing the "sense of the faithful," Lumen gentium does not refer to the "faithful departed," but rather to those who allow the Gospel message to shine forth through their "daily family and social life." That seems very much in the "here and now."

[Christ] fulfills this prophetic office, not only through the hierarchy who teach in his name and by his power but also through the laity. He accordingly both establishes them as witnesses and provides them with an appreciation of the faith (sensus fidei) and the grace of the word so that the power of the Gospel my shine out in daily family and social life.

Reflecting on this understanding, theologian Richard R. Gaillardetz in his book By What Authority? A Primer on Scripture, the Magisterium, and the Sense of the Faithful writes:

The 'sense of the faithful' includes the whole faithful, cleric and lay . . .[It] emerges with full vitality when the whole church dares to embrace that eschatological modesty most becoming of a pilgrim Church, a Church that believes that it abides in the truth but does not possess it in its entirety. This pilgrim Church will be faithful to its truest identity when all the baptized - pope, bishop, and layperson - acknowledge the wisdom of listening before speaking, of learning before teaching, of praying before pronouncing. (p.118)