Benedict XVI on Vatican II

At long last, the English translation of Pope Benedict’s December 22 speech to the Roman Curia has been posted online. In it, His Holiness reflects on four important items from the past year. First, the passing of his predecessor, John Paul II; secondly, World Youth Day in Cologne; thirdly, the Synod on the Eucharist and lastly the 40th anniversary of the conclusion of the Second Vatican Council.

Before turning my focus to the last section of the Pope’s talk, I think it’s interesting to point out that, in speaking of the conclusion of the Year of the Eucharist and the Synod, the Pope praises the proliferation of Eucharistic adoration in our day. He castigates the statement, “the Eucharistic Bread has not been given to us to be contemplated, but to be eaten,” often cited by those who espoused the “hermeneutic of discontinuity and rupture,” which he takes apart in succeeding paragraphs. Benedict calls the use of such a statement or sentiment “nonsensical.” I can’t say I’ve ever seen that word used in a papal allocution. The Pope actually called a belief held by Richard McBrien nonsense.

But, to dwell on that too long would be to gloat intemperately, and Fr. McBrien is increasingly a figure to be pitied, rather than argued with.

What’s received the most attention from blogdom has been Benedict’s statements regarding Vatican II and the proper interpretation and implementation of the Council. He decries the fact that the Council has not been implemented fully nor easily in large parts of the Church, and attempts to understand why. In his exploration, he identifies two interpretations of the Council: “the hermeneutic of discontinuity and rupture” and “the hermeneutic of reform.” Spurning those who, for the past 40 years, have invoked the amorphous “Spirit of Vatican II” to justify every liturgical and theological innovation, Benedict put the full weight of papal authority behind those who see in Vatican II not a reinvention of the Church, but a call for re-energizing; not a casting off of the past, but a refocused energy on the truth. The impetus of the Council was not to turn the Church from the past and towards the modern world, but to explore new ways in which the Church could present the timeless truths of the Gospel to a world that no longer spoke the same language of the past.

Which brings us to a powerful theme of this pontificate: Truth. Truth is the bulwark against the “culture of relativism.” Benedict, who as Cardinal Ratzinger was quoted as saying “truth is not determined by majority vote,” whose very motto calls us to be cooperators of the truth, is standing firm in a truthful, honest assessment of Vatican II. There is objective truth. There is an objectively true interpretation of the most recent ecumenical Council.

This one speech is full of insight – insight into the mind of the Pope, insight into the place of Vatican II in the history of the Church, insight into the beauty, truth and goodness of God. Faithful sons and daughters of the Church could do much worse than read, reread, contemplate and integrate this speech.

“In these days of Christmas, let us go to meet him full of trust, like the shepherds, like the Wise Men of the East. Let us ask Mary to lead us to the Lord. Let us ask him himself to make his face shine upon us. Let us ask him also to defeat the violence in the world and to make us experience the power of his goodness.”

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About Tim Ferguson

A canonist and judge on a marriage tribunal, student of Latin, history and theology with a particular interest in liturgy, the Middle Ages, penguins and the Green Bay Packers
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