History of the The Church of Vatican II Part 2

 

II. The More or Less Unforeseen Results of the Council
A. The Voices of yesterday–episcopal conferences of bishops were formed all over the world and began meeting regularly. The first session of the synod of the bishops met with the pope for the first time in 1967 and this program was fairly vague; the evils threatening the faith, atheism, mixed marriages, the reform of seminaries and canon law. Councils of priests were formed in dioceses. Religious orders updated their constitutions and lifestyles in accordance with the Decree on the Renewal and Adaptation of the Religious Life. The Constitution on the Liturgy began liturgical reform, use of the vernacular, communion in both species, liturgy of the word and concelebration of priests at mass. In 1967 the entire mass could be celebrated in the vernacular and for those who wanted the Latin to remain launched their first attacks on the church. Pope Paul VI had to defend the Cardinal who was responsible for this reform.
B. A Church speaking to the World–the church took a serious look at the major problems of the world. Paul’s travels around the world won him over with great esteem in the eyes of Catholics and Non-Catholics alike. He made the Curia of the Vatican international for the first time and Italian Cardinals became the minority. He called attention to the Third World and how the First World countries were oppressing them, by plundering their natural resources.
C. The tensions of 1968–the unrest in universities around the world extended into factories and finally reached into the whole of society including the church. Church institutions were put into question. Christians began to speak out in churches. For some the changes from the Council were not being implemented fast enough. Priests and nuns left their religious life behind in droves. Priests began having communal celebrations of eucharist with Non-Catholics in order to hasten the ecumenical movement. And many thought that the Church really wanted to keep the established order in place and were blocking what the Council truly wanted to happen over night.
D The encyclical Humanae Vitae–the Council did not address birth control. Pope Paul had postponed the question. When the majority of the commission recommended that the Church alter its stance on the issue of birth control Pope Paul VI rejected their recommendation and promulgated his encyclical Humane Vitae. This document rejected all forms of unnatural birth control. It was badly received by the world Catholics and Non-Catholics alike. Many Catholics did not feel themselves bound by the encyclical and this marked a backwards step in papal authority. Priests thought it was a slap in the face of collegiality. Some people even questioned the right of “old celibates” to speak about something that did not condemn them.
1. Medellin and the birth of liberation theology-in August of 1968 Pope Paul went to South America and met with the Conference of Latin American Bishops. He proclaimed that development of these countries must be done peacefully. He rejected the violence of the liberation movement. He was viewed as favoring the established military and capitalistic empires controlling the continent. Liberation theology believes that Christians should take part in fighting to bring justice to the most deprived of peoples. The conservatives and those in established positions of authority in the Church accused the Council of fomenting this unrest. Paul responded by saying “Renewal–Yes; Change–no!” The clouds and storms from the Council had only begun to be seen.
III Disillusionment and Hope
A. The decline of religion and the return of the religious–one would have thought that the Council would have made the Church more attractive, but in fact just the opposite occurred. People stopped coming to church. There was a general decline in Christian influence in behavior. Men coming into the priesthood dropped dramatically. The general decline in baptisms and those undergoing catechesis became alarming. The practice of couples living together without marriage marked the disappearance of traditional Christian customs.
1. Conflict of interpretation-secularization seemed to become the in thing. Several factors seemed to have played a part in this decline, but some traced it back to the Council itself and the 1960’s era. Those who thought they were enlightened became the influential vocal minority at the Council and they were heard; i.e., theologians, liturgists, and lay people from Catholic Action. The ordinary people in the pews had lost confidence in a church which complicated access to the sacraments, which suppressed solemn communion, which replaced time honored liturgy of the past with the imaginings of intellectuals. And in turn the enlightened intellectuals condemned these reactions from the ordinary, good people. It was concluded that the masses of Catholics that did not move into the reforms with the intellectuals envisioned the Church should be going were dubbed ex-Christians or they were just excluded from the Church as unimportant. ┬áThen there were those who flatly rejected anything that came out of the Council such as Mgr. Lefebvre. There was an unprecedented crisis concerning the allowing of free speech within the church and the church had no idea on how to deal with it.
2. The return of the religious–with the church now in what appeared to be chaos other forms of religious events replaced it; i.e., clairvoyance, astrology, occultism and numerous sects. A huge Jesus movement occurred that had no connection with any church and Jesus slogans appeared on the back bumpers of cars. In 1967 Pentecostalism appeared in the Catholic Church under the name of charismatic movement. Extraordinary phenomena like speaking in tongues, healings, the presence of Satan, all returned in full force. Surprisingly the monastic orders flourished.
B. Along the paths marked out by the Council
1. Openness to the world–Pope Paul VI called himself an expert in humanity. Through his travels he defended human rights and justice. He visited the communist blocks countries including Russia and China. This resulted in the improvement in the fate of Catholics in these countries in a very limited way.
2. Ecumenism–Paul met with the Patriarch of Constantinople, the Coptic Pope, and the Archbishop of Canterbury. Catholic legislation on mixed marriages was relaxed. In Non-Catholic religions attempts have been made to re-unite the Methodists with the Anglicans in England, the Presbyterians of Scotland with the Anglicans and the Anglicans with the Catholics in England, but none of them have been very successful. There remains a generalized fear among all of the groups that has still not dissipated. Perhaps we were expecting too much from the Council too soon. Now all churches may have learned something very important about themselves as a result of these failures.
3. Evangelization–in 1975 Paul VI published his encyclical Evangleii Nuntiandi, to proclaim the gospel to contemporary men and women’. In this encyclical he addressed the topic of evangelization in the modem world; our failing to respect freedom of religion and taking into account indigenous peoples and their enculturation into Christianity. He proclaimed that evangelization had to done in joy even if it meant sowing the Word in tears.
C. The Church universal, the local church and the Roman Church–the crisis and the hopes of the church today are inexhaustible. There is the constant tension between the Roman Church and the local church. With the speed of communications one would think that the church would become more universal but in fact this is a double edged sword. There occurs local features which assert themselves rather forcefully especially when there is a suspicion that the universal church and language is coming from the dominant West.
1. The geographical displacement of the church–the focus of the dominant faction in the church is no longer the Western church, but as the twentieth century draws to a close the shift in focus is shifting to the south, the east and west. Africa is increasingly becoming important and more importantly 50% of all Catholics are found in South America. In the East, Poland and the present pope is playing an ever more increasing role in Church politics.
2. The renewal of the central government of the church–asmentioned earlier the Roman Curia is now controlled by Cardinals from all over the world and they hold some of the highest responsibilities of the Church. Words have been changed that are more politically correct; i.e., the Inquisition Congregation is now called the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith. Age limits have been placed on Cardinals holding high office and voting capabilities. The exercise of collegiality by episcopal conferences which have time limits and balances Roman centralization. With the election of Pope John Paul I, it seemed as if the curia were returning to an Italian run church, but with the election of John Paul II the Church distanced itself from Italian politics and entered into the Third World.
3. A course of twenty centuries–there is no final point in church history. What began at Pentecost almost 2000 years ago continues to this day. We have witnessed the courage of some and the compromises of others. We have looked at the drama of certain situations. Fidelity to the gospel of Jesus Christ, the work of the Holy Spirit and Christians today still grasp the living tradition and the heritage that they have received from the Church. Christians of old faced the problems of their day and we will face ours. There is a renewal in the church that hasn’t been seen since the first churches were established. Catholics today are Catholics who want to be in church and who want to be involved in church. There are unprecedented numbers of adults converting from other churches into the Catholic church in staggering numbers through the RCIA programs in each local church. When so many became disillusioned with the changes in the renewed Catholic Church, so many more were becoming enchanted with a heritage that has outlasted their parents own bigotry and hatred towards us. We live in exciting times in our church and the crisis and tensions will continue today just like they did when Paul was out there preaching. As Christians we hold to Jesus’ promise that he would be with us until the end of the world. We believe it and so it is.