We had a Year of Faith that was supposed to be dedicated, at least in large part, to a rediscovery and re-reading of the documents of the last Council. Granted, Benedict XVI dropped a bombshell during this Year and pretty much tore everyone’s minds off of his original intention. Still, even if he had never abdicated the chair of Peter, wouldn’t many people be dragging their feet when it comes to re-reading those sixteen documents? Wasn’t the great upheaval of the election of Pope Francis and his megaton interviews a worthy excuse for quietly filing away Benedict’s original script for this special Year? At least many people acted that way. A period of time in which we are ticking off many half-century conciliar milestones appears to be unfolding in an atmosphere of surprising indifference.
I have often wondered what is the root cause of this Vatican II malaise. Some traditionalists would say the cause is the very muddledness and problematic pastorality of the Council itself; but that, of course, is a begging of the question, since people would have to read and study the Council first in order to reach a fair judgment that it’s muddled and problematic—and that’s what we don’t see happening on a large scale. Your typical liberal might just as well appeal or not appeal to Vatican II, whether he has read a single sentence of it or not.
My theory is that it is precisely those who have abused Vatican II by continually ignoring or even counterfeiting its teaching who have produced a situation in which the same Council is becoming increasingly distant, wearisome, vexed, and irrelevant. For example, had there been a clear and humble acceptance of the teaching of Sacrosanctum Concilium, and, therefore, had the Church been free from widespread liturgical abuses and the hermeneutic of rupture that is still the modus operandi of most parish communities, there can be no question that the traditionalist movement would have spent far less of its time critiquing Vatican II as such. Put simply: it was not inherently necessary that the Council become a lightning-rod of discontent. It was made to be that by the purveyors of its "spirit."
If Vatican II dies the death of an irrecoverable failure, it will be solely the fault of the progressives who thought they could ride the horse of Vatican II all the way home to a “new Church,” and who met with considerable success in persuading the world to believe the same lie. As there is one Body of Christ planned from all eternity, sojourning on earth in the unity of faith and charity, and destined to live forever, there cannot ever be a “new Church.” Those who were content to remain in the one and only Church there is can hardly be blamed for turning a deaf ear to so much tiresome twaddle about the Council. Over time, the historical Council insensibly merged with the virtual or media Council, and as a result, the real teaching, the authentic documents, have become marginalized.
Imagine with me a counterfactual situation in which, because the Council had been judiciously received and faithfully implemented, traditionalists of 2014 would be shoring up their spiritual counsels and pastoral plans with frequent citations of the Council, even if they might be uncomfortable with some of the ambiguous language or the novel directions taken in certain documents. But we are now radically polarized, and Vatican II has become a source of dismay because of the liberals and the modernists who insisted on selfishly abusing it for their own agendas back in the 60s and 70s and up to the present. It will be their ignominy in the annals of the Church to be the ones who defeated the hopes of John XXIII by dropping the atomic bomb on the new springtime and leading us into a nuclear winter.
It is no wonder that Pope Francis spoke so highly of Archbishop Marchetto and his correct hermeneutic of the Council. If there is ever to be a future fruitful reception and application of the Second Vatican Council, it will be purchased by that hermeneutic and by no other.