Wednesday, January 28, 2009

A Brief Consideration of the Decree Lifting the Excommunications

Now that the initial flurry of activity has subsided with regard to the lifting of the excommunications on the four bishops of the Society of Saint Pius X, it seems an appropriate time to share some very brief considerations as to what the impact of these events might be and how we should approach them.

Some will no doubt ask themselves how this news affects them. Some might even wonder why it should matter to them. Perhaps it is only a matter of concern to the SSPX and at best a footnote for the majority.

The (true and substantial) unity of Christendom should be the concern of each of us. It was, after all, the prayer of Our Lord Jesus Christ that we would be one (John 17:21-22) and we should never desire to see anyone separated from or outside the normal communion of the Church. Such a desire would be fundamentally contrary to our evangelical mission and if we adopt this disposition, we are in danger of acting like the elder brother in the parable of the prodigal son. This is all the more pressing in times when we see ideologies gaining strength in the world which would attack Christ, the Church and the Gospel. Anything that can be done, therefore -- and of course, we are not speaking of unity at any and all costs, but real unity in essentials, with liberty where it may be given -- to increase the Body of Christ will be of benefit and will further help strengthen the Church Militant so that it might bear more effective witness to the world. In this particular matter, the work of reconciliation is evidently not yet complete, but a significant step has been taken, and so we should be both encouraged by and encouraging of this process.

Beyond this matter though, there is another consideration.

It is no great secret that the past decades have seen some intense struggles, particularly as some came to interpret the Council in the light of rupture. They saw it as establishing a "new Church" in distinction from the "old pre-conciliar Church" and they promoted and acted upon their vision accordingly. Thus, a spirit, or hermeneutic of rupture came to characterize so much of the approach of life within our churches and dioceses following the Council. This manifested itself liturgically, it manifested itself by talk of "the spirit of Vatican II" rather than consideration of the letter of Vatican II and it manifested itself in the overall approach to our tradition and the teaching of the Church. (This subject has been more formally and academically treated in a book, set to be released in English this year by Archbishop Agostino Marchetto, The Second Vatican Ecumenical Council: A Counterpoint for the History of the Council. A good summary of the basic argument can be found in this article by Marchetto.)

Of course, Pope Benedict has been steadfastly working to introduce the proper hermeneutic by which any ecclesial reforms or documents must be understood, that is, through the lens of continuity with our Tradition. He has initiated this process both in his practice and in his discourses.

These present events may well provide a further spark of opportunity for this hermeneutic to be advanced to the fore, either as a tangible consequence or even simply in consciousness. If so, it would be something of great benefit, for re-emphasizing the fact that reform must always be understood, interpreted and enacted in continuity is something that is beneficial to all alike.

Whatever the case, each of us should do what we can to foster a climate that will be condusive to the healing of this wound.

May I also recommend that we each take this matter up as a part of our daily prayer intentions.

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