In the year-end flurry of looking back at the past century, the pivotal event of the Catholic Church in the 20th century, the Second Vatican Council, has gotten a lot of attention in the secular media.
This is entirely appropriate. As the Jubilee approaches, the fruits of the council are showing themselves more clearly than ever before, in a Church that is being re-energized by a previously underused treasure: the laity.
The council's chief goal, however, is often wildly misstated by these reports as “making the Church more democratic.” This would surprise Dominican Father Austin Flannery, general editor of Vatican II: The Conciliar and Post Conciliar Documents, who somehow found that this “chief goal” did not merit so much as a place in the index.
The documents themselves show the same neglect: None of the 16 constitutions, decrees and declarations claimed to be about democracy. It's not even mentioned in the 49 subheadings. But Vatican II documents do reiterate the great authority given to the Church's individual bishops. In the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium (The Light of Humanity), we find: “The individual bishops are the visible source and foundation of unity in their own particular Churches” (No. 23), and “[they] exercise their pastoral office over the portion of the People of God assigned to them” (No. 23).
And though together the bishops have “supreme and full authority over the universal Church,” the council tells us that nonetheless “the college or body of bishops has no authority unless united with the Roman Pontiff, Peter's successor, as its head” (No. 22). The document explains, “For the Roman Pontiff, by reason of his office as Vicar of Christ, and as pastor of the entire Church, has full, supreme and universal power over the whole Church, a power which he can also exercise unhindered” (No. 22).
The Church, according to Vatican II, is a mystery of God. It is his initiative, the way he has chosen to see his truth dwell with men and women through time.
The problem with a “democratic church” is that it would put the Church in men's hands instead. And, as the last quarter of the 20th century suggests, when young people are told that they can decide what the Church is, they very logically conclude that they can decide that they don't need a church at all.
On the other hand, when young people encounter the richness of the faith in its fullness, they respond enthusiastically. This is what we saw at the National Catholic Youth Conference in St. Louis last month, where 23,000 young people rallied at a conference emphasizing the sacrament of reconciliation. It is also shown in a new study of the St. Louis-based Aquinas Institute of Theology. It found that Generation X Catholics are more open to vocations then the two generations that preceded them.
Young people are voting for the real Vatican II Church.
The use of the Catechism of the Catholic Church in religious education received a boost Nov. 15 at the U.S. bishops meeting when Archbishop Daniel Buechlein reported on behalf of the ad hoc committee overseeing the Catechism's use.
Archbishop Buechlein of Indianapolis gave four guidelines for religious education texts that draw on the Catechism. They are worth quoting in full.
The first one addresses materials that avoid calling God “he.” Reported Archbishop Buechlein: “[W]e notified publishers that we would not give a declaration of conformity to materials that reflected a systematic avoidance of personal pronouns in reference to God. The practice of avoiding personal pronouns for God often led to an artificial and awkward repetition of the word God in sentences or to circumlocutions that tended to depersonalize him. We informed the publishers that this requirement will help to assure that as much as possible a Trinitarian theology permeates all catechetical materials.
“Second, publishers were requested to avoid the use of the term Hebrew Scriptures when referring to the Old Testament. We reminded catechetical publishers that from a Christian perspective there are two testaments, which have been traditionally referred to as Old and New. As in the catechism, the use of the term ‘Old Testament’ is preserved as part of the common language of our faith.
“Third, when citing dates, publisher were asked to use B.C. [Before Christ] and A.D. [Anno Domine, Year of Our Lord] instead of the designations B.C.E. [Before the Common Era] and C.E. [Common Era]. Since the materials involved are catechetical in nature, they should reflect that — for followers of Jesus — even time has a Christological significance. The use of the designations B.C. and A.D. is part of the common language of faith.
“Finally, in accord with the Code of Canon Law as cited in the catechism, we notified the publishers that texts which deal with preparation for first reconciliation and first Eucharist should clearly teach that first reconciliation is to be received before first Eucharist.”
Archbishop Buechlein has another idea that he told Register Radio News: “My own opinion is that it ought to be in every home, right next to the Bible.”
For last-minute Christmas shoppers, the Catechism can be found in most bookstores.