Yves Congar, My Journal of the Council, Part VII

11 October 1962

I have just come back from the opening ceremony. Left here at 7 am with Fr. Camelot. We entered by the Bronze Door and the great staircase, then in front of the Pauline Chapel, we wandered by mistake into the places reserved for the bishops (saw Msgr. Guerry, who is entirely in favor of the idea of a Message to the World); we were ejected from there by a huge gendarme in a bearskin, like an ogre in a puppet show: one would hardly know how to invent such a complete bogeyman. We wandered about in search of somewhere where we would be admitted. … In the end, we were admitted to a tribune, on condition that we eventually moved back from the front rows in favor of the Council Fathers (they would be the Superiors of Congregations). I tried to absorb the genius loci [spirit of the place]. St. Peter’s was made for this kind of thing. It is an enchanting display of colors, in which gold and red predominate. The nave is entirely filled with 2,500 tiered seats: in front of the Altar of the Confession, and actually on the Confession, stood the papal throne: Petrus ipse [Peter himself]. On the right-hand side, the statue of St. Peter dressed as though Boniface VIII; right beside it, like a barrel, the ambo for the speakers. The nearest places, draped in red, are for the cardinals; the others, draped in green, for the archbishops and bishops, stretching as far as the eye can see. The tribunes are draped in red velvet and tapestries. It all gleams, shines, sings under the spotlights. Solemnity, but with a rather cold air about it all. A decorative scheme inspired, as it were, by the theater of the Baroque. Between the tribunes, the huge statues of the founders of Orders, in their niches. I could only identify St. Ignatius of Loyola, throwing impiety to the ground. I wish these statues could speak! What would they say? I imagine what they might say as men of God, consumed by the fire of the Gospel.

At 8.35 am we heard over the loudspeaker the far-away sound of a sort of military march. Then the Credo was sung. I have come here IN ORDER TO PRAY, to pray WITH, to pray IN. I did in fact pray a lot. However, in order to pass the time, a choir sang in succession anything and everything. The best known chants: Credo, Magnificat, Adoro Te, Salve Regina, Veni Sancte Spiritus, Inviolata, Benedictus . . . To begin with, one sang with them, but then got tired.

The most curious pushed to the front and stood up on the chairs. We were overwhelmed by young clerics of all colors. I refused to give way to this unrestrained and ill-mannered behavior, with the result that I was pushed to the back of the tribune and did not even see the Pope. Little by little, but very slowly, the bishops came in, in cope and miter, from the lower end of their tribunes. They seemed dead with fatigue and overcome with heat. They removed their miters and mopped their foreheads. The superiors of the Congregations arrived and took up their seats in the front rows of the tribune. Hoary ecclesiastical heads, their appearance etched by the regularity of their pious exercises and their prudent and edifying behavior. Some were trembling and seemed ready to collapse. Others were fine and strong.

My God, who have brought me here by ways that I did not choose, I offer myself to you to be, if you will, the instrument of your Gospel in this event in the life of the Church, which I love, but would like to be less ‘Renaissance’! less Constantinian . . .

We heard clapping in St. Peter’s Square. The Pope must be coming. He must have come in. I saw nothing, behind six or seven rows of soutanes standing up on chairs. From time to time, there was clapping in the Basilica, but no shouting and no words.

The Veni Creator was sung, alternately with the Sistine Choir, which is nothing but an opera chorus. DELENDA [to be suppressed]. The Pope sang the versicles and the prayers in a firm voice.

The Mass began, sung entirely by the Sistine choir: a few bits of Gregorian (?) and some polyphony. The liturgical movement has not yet reached the Roman Curia. This immense assembly says nothing, sings nothing.

It is said that the Jews are the people of hearing, the Greeks of sight. There is nothing here except for the eye and the musical ear: no liturgy of the Word. No spiritual word. I know that in a few minutes a Bible will be placed on a throne in order to preside over the Council. BUT WILL IT SPEAK? Will it be listened to? Will there be a moment for the Word of God?

After the epistle, I left the tribune. In any case, I could not take any more. And then, I was overcome by this seigneurial, Renaissance set-up. I paused for a moment underneath our tribune. From directly behind the bishops and above their tiers of seats, one could see the whole of the immense white assembly of copes and miters, in which the Eastern bishops stood out on account of their multi-colored costumes and headgear. Five or ten minutes later I was ejected by a gendarme in a bearskin.

I tried to get out of the basilica. It was not easy. The unused side aisles and the ends of the transepts were crammed with crowds of young clerics moving around, endeavoring to squeeze into somewhere where they could SEE. All people want is to SEE.

I got out through the Vatican. In St. Peter’s Square, under the colonnades, crowds of people. The loudspeakers were transmitting the rest of the Mass. From the Square and from the street I thus heard the Preface, the Sanctus, the Pater Noster and the Agnus Dei. I returned, exhausted, by bus to the Angelicum. After about half an hour during which my hand was unable to hold a pen, I wrote these notes. I unfortunately saw far too little of the wonderful sight of the senate of bishops in session. I only saw them for the five or ten minutes during which I was able to stand in the doorway leading downwards, and above the tiers of bishops. The whole Church was there, embodied in its pastors. But I regret that a style of celebration was employed that was so alien to the reality of things. What would it have been if those 2,500 voices had together sung at least the Credo, if not all the chants of the Mass, instead of that elegant crooning by paid professionals? I returned with an immensely stronger desire: 1) to be evangelical, to aim at being a homo plene evangelicus [human being fully dedicated to the Gospel]; 2) to WORK. THAT produces results. THAT remains. That will prepare, for the next Council, a state of things where what is missing today will be taken for granted.

Afternoon. Fr. De la Brosse, who saw it all on TV (until 12.30 pm), told me that it was splendid, very well photographed, transmitted and explained. And to think that with Telstar, the whole world could see it all, at the very moment at which things were happening . . . ! (No: the direct link was restricted to Europe only). 

I thought more about this morning’s ceremony. Its pomp implies two things: in addition to the fact, not only inevitable, but normal and good, that there must be order, solemnity and beauty; that it is impossible to have an inauguration involving more than 3,000 people without organizing some kind of display, a certain ceremonial. That is entirely good and noble. Over and above this state of things, I see how Eastern the Church is. The Reformation was not at all such at its birth: it may win members in the East, but it was not in any way or to any degree Eastern in its creators, in its origins, in its native and formative shape. On top of that, I see the weight, that has never been renounced, of the period when the Church behaved as a feudal lord, when it had temporal power, when popes and bishops were lords who had a court, gave patronage to artists and sought a pomp equal to that of the Caesars. That, the Church has never repudiated in Rome. To emerge from the Constantinian era has never been part of its program.

Poor Pius IX, who understood nothing about the movement of history, who buried French Catholicism in a sterile attitude of opposition, of conservatism, of Restorationist sentiment . . . was called by God to listen to the lesson of events, those masters which he gives us with his own hands, and to free the Church from the wretched logic of the ‘Donation of Constantine’, and convert it to an evangelical attitude which would have enabled it to be less OF the world and more FOR the world. He did exactly the opposite. A catastrophic man who did not know what the ECCLESIA was, nor yet what Tradition was; he oriented the Church to be always OF the world and not yet FOR the world, which nevertheless stood in need of it.

And Pius IX still reigns. Boniface VIII still reigns; he has been superimposed on Simon Peter, the humble fisher of men!

As they left this morning’s ceremony, each of the bishops was given a folder containing the voting papers for them to elect sixteen bishops from among themselves for each of the ten Commissions; a booklet containing a complete and fully up-to-date list of the bishops of the Church; a list, for each Commission, and in the format of a voting paper, of the bishops who were already members of the various Preparatory Commissions. It amounted to an invitation to elect these . . . Yet, a certain continuity between the work of the Council and that of the Preparatory Commissions is desirable. But it is also desirable to do now something both different and better than what has been prepared: something pastoral, less scholastic. Nearly all the bishops that I have spoken to and whose opinion I have been told about, deemed the four dogmatic schemata much too academic and philosophical. A Council, they say, does not need to argue by syllogisms, to speak of the principle of sufficient reason, etc.

Basically, scholasticism has penetrated the government of the Roman Curia. The Preparatory Commissions reflected this state of affairs, both because they wanted to produce a summa of papal addresses and utterances, and also because most of them (at any rate almost all those who drafted the schemata) were made up of professors in the Roman colleges. But scholasticism hardly has a place in the pastoral government of dioceses, and it is this that now has the floor.

Yves Congar, My Journal of the Council, pp. 85-89. The 1100-page book can be purchased from Liturgical Press. Pray Tell ran the previous (sixth) installment of the journal of Yves Congar on Wednesday.


  1. What a wondrous read that gives much to ponder.

    This sentence, in particular, really spoke to my heart: “We wandered about in search of somewhere where we would be admitted.” For that is exactly what I — as the song goes — wonder as I wander out under the sky pretty much every day.

    As an aside, stoked by this series, I checked out the 1100-page book. I imagined the book would be fat, er I mean, big, and I was right. It really is a mighty tome. It also pleasantly reminded me of the Norton Anthology series from those college days. Anyway, hopefully, I’ll get to finish it before God calls me home. 🙂

  2. ” I returned with an immensely stronger desire: 1) to be evangelical, to aim at being a homo plene evangelicus [human being fully dedicated to the Gospel]; 2) to WORK. THAT produces results. THAT remains.”

    It would be interesting to see the French verb (“rester”?) that Srs. Ronayne and Boulding rendered as “remains.” Reading this passage, it struck me that “endures” might be closer to the meaning that Fr. Congar intended.

    As so often noted on this blog, the translation of any document is a very difficult task. I suppose that we can be grateful that if “rester” was indeed the verb Congar used, it wasn’t translated as “rests” in the spirit of Liturgiam Authenticam. 🙂

    I read the entire book about a year ago. It was WELL worth the time invested, and I came away more than ever convinced of the working of the Holy Spirit in our time, a conviction that the election of Francis last March reinforced.

    1. @George Hayhoe – comment #2:

      I think the final sentence that you did not include gives the clue:

      “I returned with an immensely stronger desire: 1) to be evangelical, to aim at being a homo plene evangelicus [human being fully dedicated to the Gospel]; 2) to WORK. THAT produces results. THAT remains. That will prepare, for the next Council, a state of things where what is missing today will be taken for granted.”

      Rather more simply, I read Congar as saying (1) Work gets things done. (2) Work is always there to be done (even when all else fails). (3) Work is what will produce Vatican III, which will be in a different context from the lamentable context at the beginning of Vatican II. I don’t think work enduring is what he means here.

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