Ecclesiology Is the Issue

Massimo Faggioli is writing a book about Sacrosanctum Concilium and the ecclesiology of Vatican II.  The first chapter appeared in the June issue of Theological Studies, and has been made available on line through

Faggioli’s contention is that SC is more important to the ecclesiological debate than the oft-cited battleground passages of Lumen Gentium. This promises to be a thought-provoking work.

According to the chapter, almost all of those who are engaged in the current Vatican II debate have lost sight of the deep ecclesiological significance of SC for the whole of Vatican II. The debate centers instead on what he calls “technical-liturgical,” “political-ideological” or “aesthetic” approaches. I think he is onto something here. Ecclesiology is the more fundamental issue. His critique applies both to those who defend the reform and to those who attack it.

Ressourcement, eucharistic ecclesiology, and rapprochement are the categories he uses to discuss the change in ecclesiological outlook represented by the Council. The book will offer further exposition of SC’s role in “resetting the relationship between Christian liturgy, spiritual needs of the faithful, and Catholic theological reading of the modern world in its historical and social dimensions.”—something that should be well worth reading.

The book: Reforming the Liturgy – Reforming the Church at Vatican II: The Deep Implications of Sacrosanctum Concilium (projected press date, 2013). The author: Massimo Faggioli (PhD Turin; asst. prof. University of Saint Thomas, St. Paul, MN).

Read more here:

N.B. The web text appears to have been scanned, with some resulting typographical bloopers which can hardly have passed the eagle eyes of the editors of Theological Studies (or the author himself)! Readers of PrayTell will have to use their skills to decipher these misspelled words, or else get access to a copy of that issue of Theological Studies. Enjoy!


  1. Thanks, Rita. Going to order as soon as I can. Ecclesiology – that is the issue at hand.

    He footnotes you. On another note, hope some day that the Vincentian community will publish the notes, letters, and memos of their brother, Bugnini, who was so instrumental in seeing the value of SC. He’s pilgrim journey before, during, and after the council ending in Iran has to be fascinating.

  2. I often share the story of the first question at my oral comps: “How would Sacrosanctum Concilium have been written differently if it had come last instead of first?” (the memory still gives me a sinking feeling in my stomach). I think it was an excellent question, because – aside from forcing me to show something of a knowledge of the whole of the council’s work – it made me think ecclesially about liturgy, liturgically about revelation, and so on. It is the work of scholars and academicians to plumb into the specialized depths of the individual works of the council, but to hear of this cross-pollinization going on in Faggioli’s upcoming book is very exciting! I also recommend Ormond Rush’s book “Still Interpreting Vatican II” which does a concise and very accessible cross-hermeneutic of the four major constitutions.
    Thanks very much, Rita!

  3. Alan – great opening question. Would not envy you in that position. So, if you don’t mind me asking – where were the oral comps at? Rush’s book is very good and thought provoking.

    BTW – in Chicago, my opening oral comps in American History werre: define the contribution of each of these remarkable women to US history? The four profs then named women – you would begin to answer; if they knew you knew the answer; they stopped you and moved to another name. At one point, I answered “don’t know” five times in a row and started to kiss my degree good bye.

  4. Thank you for drawing this to attention. I have long puzzled over why the ecclesiological dimension of SC seems to have been neglected: perhaps because those whose field it is have regarded SC as something for liturgists only. I would suggest that SC41 provides a fundamental starting point: “the pre-eminent manifestation of the Church consists in the full active participation of all God’s holy people in these liturgical celebrations, especially in the same eucharist, in a single prayer, at one altar, at which there presides the bishop surrounded by his college of priests and by his ministers”. If this description is privileged then quite a different vision of the church emerges. Why isn’t the foremost model of the church the ecclesia orans?

    1. Francois, I think you are right. And the paragraph you cite is crucial. It is especially so because the gathering of the baptized around the bishop, with his ministers, is preeminently Eucharistic. So much is packed into that “sign”; indeed it carries perhaps all that we rightly associate with Vatican II: collegiality, the dignity of the baptized, communio, and the renewed relationship between church and world. Ecumenism and interfaith relations also can be patterned according to this model, or at least it seems that way to me.

      Dulles’ famous “models of the church” (of which he was later critical, I understand) did not include “ecclesia orans” as a model, did it? I confess, I don’t remember them well.

  5. Let me start out that I believe that Sacrosanctum Concilium is worth debating. However, at times the argument becomes more like children fighting over the will of a rich deceased parent, letting all sorts of old wounds influence their actions. Families become torn up over such things; the last will and testament, and quite frequently, the parent’s unexpressed will, become fixations more important than the unity and welfare of the family that was probably the parent’s overriding desire.

    I’m not sure that the article will do anything to diffuse this situation. To begin with, calling “new liturgical movement” folks “anti-Vatican II”, calling pro-minority camp members “nostalgic”, and saying that reform-of-the-reform folks are uninterested in the “deep theological implications and ecclesiological depth of the constitution” might be thought of by some as non-starters.

    Here are a few things that I found problematic:
    1. I’m open to believing that the 1983 Code of Canon Law did not fully take Vatican II into account. Simply looking at the recent ways that liturgical translations are vetted is an obvious example. But it seems that the author takes it as axiomatic that the progressive reforms following Vatican II were fully in keeping with Vatican II. That this is inaccurate is one of the contentions of groups such as Adoremus.

    1. (cont’d)
      He seems not even to entertain this as a possibility. Such groups are said to have given up “the effort for a direct reinterpretation of the council and its ecclesiology.” (I’ve essentially been told that I don’t really care about what Dad wanted; I’m just out for his inheritance.) Perhaps later in the text he will take specific arguments by influential Catholics to task.

      2. I think I’d like to avoid calling Vatican II as a whole a type of “constitution” for the church, especially one that is the litmus test for what is constitutional and unconstitutional. How is that different from what is anathema and not? Isn’t that mindset what Pope John XXIII was trying to avoid? Moreover, not everything central to the faith was discussed. I would say that Vatican II is more like additional ammendments to the already existing consitution, not ammendments in the sense or replacements but of increasingly sophisticated clarifications.

      3. The author talks about the “ultimate meaning of Vatican II”. That such a thing exists is not at all clear to me. I don’t talk about the ultimate meaning of Nicea or Chalcedon or Trent. It’s not clear why Vatican II should be any different. I’m vigorously interested in what the documents say, how previous documents can be better understood and clarified through their lens and vice versa.

    2. (cont’d)
      However, that later conciliar documents should be read as saying more than they do based on an earlier one seems problematic, and I think that that is where the author is headed if I’m not mistaken. That this may and should take place because of internal coherence is confusing as well; I should be able to expect internal coherence at such a council, shouldn’t I? Moreover, telling me that I’m impeding the full implementation of Vatican II because I don’t embrace the reforms after Vatican II in their entirety (he seems not to make room for exceptions) is a breach of charity if not reason.

    3. Johannes, your image of the family fighting over an inheritance may be quite apt, and is certainly regrettable. I have also at times thought about the baby in Solomon’s court!

      I’d like to attempt to clarify one point, however. The question of how the constitution was implemented is, if I understand Faggioli correctly, actually a secondary question. It is moreover one which has sometimes kept us from clarity about primary questions. In this, I agree with him.

      The primary questions about ecclesiology are being fought by proxy. Sometimes their existence is denied or deemed unimportant (by saying nothing really was changed by the Council) or else completely fogged (by, for example, concentrating on the politics of the curia or the aesthetics of new liturgical music, or ideology). The point being that we need to uncover and be clear about what’s at stake ecclesiologically in the liturgical reform.

  6. Some of your points are well made. The fist point on canon law – well, even canon experts such as Ladislas Orsy of CUA have researched and posited that the reformers from Vatican II did not focus their efforts on canon law – instead this was left to curial and special groups e.g. Opus Dei who pushed through a canon law revision that is based on less than comprehensive understanding of the Vatican II documents.

    Orsoy’s book, “Receiving the Council”, begins with the statement that the council was a living event. It demands conversion of heart/mind to move to a new horizon; it is to move out of the Tridentine environment. That conversion is the context required to interpret the council. Many interpret the council; many also miss the living event.

    Faggioli is also trying to show that SC led the way and changed ecclesiology and the manner in which you interpret not only following documents of VII but the complete context and frame of interpretation – your last two points do not begin with that starting point.

    Even a very traditional historian, Peter Jeffery, in his “Translating Tradition” questions LIturgiam Authenticam as a document on par with SC.

  7. Rita,
    Thank you for this. I very much look forward to Faggioli’s book.
    I was struck by many things in his article, for example the attention to the long history of the liturgical movement, the interconnections and coherent reality of the documents, and his final comment that attempts to undermine the liturgical reform reveals a reductionist view of the council.

    In my experience it seems many loose sight of the interplay between liturgy and ecclesiology because they read and interpret documents in isolation. And, they are not aware of the long history of the liturgical movement. In my teaching people are always surprised by this. To understand where we are going we have to remember the history.
    Those of us who love Vatican II are often seen as radical or too liberal. Maybe we are “deeply conservative.”

    1. Thanks for your comments, Donna. I agree.
      It also always surprises me that ressourcement is generally so poorly understood. The concepts of innovation and tradition in most people’s minds are almost cartoonish. Because going “back to the sources” means asking new questions of old sources, it is both very traditional and contemporary. One of my favorite sayings (the provenance of which I’ve never been able to pin down) is this: “Tradition isn’t wearing your grandfather’s hat. It’s having a baby.”

  8. Rita or anyone that might have any ideas about this,

    I like the idea that Vatican II has a “theological integrity” and should be “seen not as a collection of documents but as a coherent reality” and “minimizing one document minimizes all the documents.”

    The idea of starting with one document and viewing the “integrity” and “coherent reality” of the whole collection from that perspective sounds interesting.

    Has anyone done this, for example from the perspective of Lumen Gentium starting with its eccelesiology, or from Gaudium and Spes perhaps using a “ad intra & ad extra” interpretative scheme.

    The author might not have made the methodology explicit. I’m not interested in any “X” greatest ideas of Vatican II approach, or even the greatest idea of each document. It has to start with one document as a way to viewing the whole and emphasize the whole coherent reality.

    1. Jack, you ask a good question. Perhaps others have run across examples of this approach. I have not.

      The output of the Council was so voluminous, and the scholarship concerning it has been so marked by the compartmentalization typical of academe, that collections about Vatican II are usually just that: collections of disparate authors with multiple viewpoints. Nobody undertakes to read the whole thing through one lens.

      It will be interesting to see what Faggioli comes up with. As you saw, he referred several times to the priority of the liturgy debate, placed as it was at the head of the Council, as grounds for looking at the liturgical reform as a hermeneutic key to the other documents. This seems reasonable to me.

      If this is true, however, Alan Hommerding’s examination question is perhaps a trick question. That is, the other documents would not have been what they were, had Liturgy not been placed first. Therefore, to read Liturgy through the lens of subsequent documents won’t work because the subsequent documents presume the earlier ones.

    2. +JMJ+

      The “ad intra” / “ad extra” scheme sounds very appropriate to me, thinking back to what I’ve read in the documents. (G.S. happens to be the only document I haven’t completely read…) Bishop Nickless if Sioux City, Iowa, had a pastoral letter that looked at church renewal through that dual lens.

      I don’t think every document works as a starting point, although I’d happily be proven wrong. I think the four constitutions are good starting points.

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