Thursday, March 12, 2009

Reform in Continuity: Re-approaching the Second Vatican Council

As the decades have passed, we have entered a time when there is an increasing consideration of the proper and improper interpretation (and, by correspondence, implementation) of the Second Vatican Council.

Recently, we have seen the question directly addressed amongst scholars of the likes of Dr. Alcuin Reid (see here) and Archbishop Agostino Marchetto (see here). The matter has again recently arisen in the writings of Archbishop Malcolm Ranjith, Secretary to the Congregation for Divine Worship (see here), and in the comments of Antonio Cardinal Cañizares, Prefect of the same congregation (see here). Of course, this is by no means a complete listing.

It has been further propelled to the fore by reason of the discussions and debates surrounding the Society of Saint Pius X and the Second Vatican Council. This has perhaps positively accelerated broader considerations of how the Council is to be approached in all its varying aspects.

This discussion is, slowly but surely, taking on an ever-growing audience, having long moved beyond the earlier polemical discourses, into more substantive discourses, and now into the mainstream (both academically and ecclesially) as a point of significant discussion and inquiry. (Which is further evidenced by the fact that this discussion is beginning to be bi-directional, with some, such as Fr. John Baldovin, S.J. “critiquing the critique” so to speak -- see here.) Further, while it is yet happening more slowly, the matter has also begun to penetrate certain curial circles.

The project we are speaking of is not one rooted in a simplistic rejection of the Council itself (which itself would simply be another form of rupture) but precisely intends to give a consideration, interpretation and proffer an implementation of the Council in the light of continuity: the only proper light by which the Second Vatican Council, any Council for that matter, can be properly approached and implemented.

This was again highlighted in the recent letter of the Holy Father to the bishops of the world on the matter of the revocation of the excommunications of the four bishops of the Society of Saint Pius X. While speaking against a type of rupture which would see the Church and Magisterium frozen at its pre-conciliar state, he also continued, noting the problem of a rupture which would approach the Council as a break with what came before:

...some of those who put themselves forward as great defenders of the Council also need to be reminded that Vatican II embraces the entire doctrinal history of the Church. Anyone who wishes to be obedient to the Council has to accept the faith professed over the centuries, and cannot sever the roots from which the tree draws its life.

(Three Councils: Trent, Vatican I, Vatican II)

The Pope's statement is a poignant reminder of the importance -- no, the necessity -- of approaching the Second Vatican Council in the light of continuity with our whole tradition.

True understanding of, and fidelity and obedience to the Second Vatican Council can only come about when it is taken with fidelity and obedience to Nicaea, Chalcedon, Trent, Vatican I and all the other Councils of the Church as well.

Of course, we would be remiss to not recall that this need for continuity and the dangers of severing the roots which the Pope has warned of, these all have applications for the sacred liturgy as well.

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