Every so often, one sees an old photo or reads an old news clip and is struck by just how different life was back then, more than one had realized.
I recently had such a moment when Pray Tell colleague Rita Ferrone sent me this quotation from the 1985 extraordinary Synod of Bishops in Rome:
Unanimously we celebrate the Second Vatican Council as a grace of God and a gift of the Holy Spirit from which many spiritual fruits in the universal churches, in the particular church and also in all people of our day have gone forth. Unanimously and with joy we also verify the Second Vatican Council as a legitimate and solid expression and interpretation of the deposit of faith, as it is contained in scripture and in the lived tradition of the Church. We are determined to proceed further in the way which the Council has indicated to us. There is full consensus among us on the further necessity of promoting an understanding and an application of the Council – both as to its letter and as to its spirit.
I had almost forgotten: there was a time when acceptance of the ecumenical council was a no-brainer for Catholics. Affirmation of Vatican II was unanimous for these bishops, and this both in letter and in spirit.
There was a time, not so very long ago, when there was no internet. There was a time when Catholic social media were not full of anguished wrangling about whether to reject all of Vatican II, or most of it, or only some of it. There was a time when the Roman rite had one form of the liturgy – the one issuing from Vatican II – and it was clear to everyone that the Catholic Church’s agenda was learning ever more how to celebrate that form of the liturgy well.
To be sure, there was a pre-Vatican II liturgy, and small groups were permitted to celebrate it as a concession, but it was obvious to most people that Vatican II had decreed that the old liturgy be replaced with a reformed one. The question on everyone’s mind was not how two liturgical forms, one approved by the most recent ecumenical council and the other not, could mutally influence each other. The question, rather, was how to implement the Council, and how to understand why the Council decreed the transition from one thing to another.
There was a time when the entire final report of a synod of bishops would be reprinted in … wait for it … the New York Times!
There was a time, before Summorum Pontificum, when a Pope could write the following. This is Paul VI, responding to Jean Guitton’s query as to why he wouldn’t concede the 1962 to breakaway Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre and his followers:
“Never. This Mass … becomes the symbol of the condemnation of the council. I will not accept, under any circumstances, the condemnation of the council through a symbol. Should this exception to the liturgy of Vatican II have its way, the entire council would be shaken. And, as a consequence, the apostolic authority of the council would be shaken.”
Oh how far we’ve come!
I suppose most of the Catholic people in the pews (yea, pandemic, but you know what I mean) are blessedly oblivious to the liturgical conversations on Catholic social media. But many of the most committed clergy and lay people are very much affected by all that.
Tensions and divisions are a reality of our time, but they are not inevitable. In her journey through time, the church rides many waves of history and sails through many controversies and difficulties. We’ll navigate the present difficulties too, with the Lord’s assistance.