It is a big day for the priests and people in the Diocese of Sioux City.
His Excellency Most Reverend R. Walker Nickless, Bishop of Sioux City, four years as bishop, during this year for Priests, has issued a pastoral letter Ecclesia Semper Reformanda (The Church is Always in Need of Renewal).
This is "A Pastoral Letter on the Future of the Church in the Diocese of Sioux City, Iowa".
I can’t reproduce the whole letter here, but here are the headings and some points I find especially interesting. As you go on, keep this in mind:
Raising our worship is like raising the tide: all the boats rise at the same time and without it, no boat rises.
In the Introduction Bp. Nickless tackles the implementation of the Second Vatican Council and the New Evangelization.
He asks in II. The Second Vatican Council and the New Evangelization:
We now find ourselves forty-four years since the close of the Council. Many questions still need to be asked and answered. Have we understood the Council within the context of the entire history of the Church? Have we understood the documents well? Have we truly appropriated and implemented them? Is the current state of the Church what the Council intended? What went right? What went wrong? Where is the promised “New Pentecost”?
And then immediately goes on to quote Pope Benedict XVI’s pivotal address to the Curia in December of 2005 about the hermeneutic of discontinuity and rupture versus a hermeneutic of reform in continuity with the past. Bp. Nickless also identifies a false "spirit of Vatican II".
In III. The Current Context Bp. Nickless speaks of a dualism at work. People are either this or that in every sphere of Catholic life, along progressivist or traditional lines. He returns to the problem of a hermeneutic of discontinuity and rupture.
In a passage that could have been straight from this blog. Note the ad intra/ad extra paring, the emphases on identity and then mission. If we don’t know who we are as Catholics, then we have nothing to contribute to the wider world or the smaller spheres of our influence.
My brothers and sisters, let me say this clearly: The “hermeneutic of discontinuity” is a false interpretation and implementation of the Council and the Catholic Faith. It emphasizes the “engagement with the world” to the exclusion of the deposit of faith. This has wreaked havoc on the Church, systematically dismantling the Catholic Faith to please the world, watering down what is distinctively Catholic, and ironically becoming completely irrelevant and impotent for the mission of the Church in the world. The Church that seeks simply what works or is “useful” in the end becomes useless.
Our urgent need at this time is to reclaim and strengthen our understanding of the deposit of faith. We must have a distinctive identity and culture as Catholics, if we would effectively communicate the Gospel to the people of this day and Diocese. This is our mission. Notice that this mission is two-fold, like the Second Vatican Council’s purpose. It is toward ourselves within the Church (ad intra), and it is to the world (ad extra). The first is primary and necessary for the second; the second flows from the first. This is why we have not been as successful as we should be in bringing the world to Jesus Christ and Jesus Christ to the world. We cannot give what we do not have; we cannot fulfill our mission to evangelize, if we ourselves are not evangelized.
With this in place, Bp. Nickless goes on to IV. Pastoral Priorities for the Diocese of Sioux City:
1. We must renew our reverence, love, adoration and devotion to the Most Blessed Sacrament, within and outside of Mass. A renewal of Eucharistic Spirituality necessarily entails an ongoing implementation of the Second Vatican Council’s reform of the liturgy as authoritatively taught by the Church’s Magisterium, the promotion of Eucharistic Adoration outside of Mass, regular reception of the Sacrament of Reconciliation and devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of the Eucharist and our Mother.
He is absolutely correct to start here, of course. He opens this part reminding his people that the Eucharist is the source and summit of Christian life.
"All that we are and do should flow from our participation in the Eucharist and lead back to it. It is absolutely central to our identity and faith as Catholics. It enables us to engage in our mission. Without a proper reverence, love, adoration and devotion to the Eucharist and the liturgy, we are lost."
So, for Bishop Nickless, proper worship is the first priority. "When we worship God in this way, He sanctifies us, that is, He makes us holy. This is the second purpose of the Liturgy."
Since, in the Church’s liturgy, we meet God in a unique way, how we worship – the external rites, gestures, vessels, music, indeed, the building itself – should reflect the grandeur of the Heavenly liturgy. Liturgy is mystical; it is our mysterious encounter with the transcendent God, who comes to sanctify us through the sacrifice of Christ made present in the Eucharist and received in Holy Communion. It should radiate Heavenly truth and goodness. This radiance, the splendor of truth, is called beauty. Our liturgy should radiate true beauty, reflecting the beauty of God Himself and what He does for us in Christ Jesus. It should lift up our soul—first through our intellect and will, but also through our senses and emotions—to adore God as we share already in Heaven’s eternal worship. In this vale of tears, the liturgy should be a lodestar, a transcending place of wonder and comfort in the midst of our day-to-day lives, a place of light and high beauty beyond the reach of worldly shadows. So many people only connect with the Church, and sometimes with prayer and God, through Sunday Mass. Should we not offer an experience of beauty and transcendence, compellingly different from our day-to-day lives? Should not every facet of our offering be proportionate to the divine reality?
That footnote #13? That’s J.R.R. Tolkien, by the way.
Bp. Nickless has gotten all this exactly right.
A reform of our worship has logical priority.
In this section the Bishop quotes important passage from Papa Ratzinger’s book Feast of Faith. He is placing his own vision within that of Benedict XVI.
"It is imperative that we recover this wonder, awe, reverence and love for the liturgy and the Eucharist. To do this, we must feel and think with the whole Church in “reforming the reform” of the Second Vatican Council. We must accept and implement the current stream of magisterial liturgical documents coming from the Holy See: Liturgiam Authenticam (2001), the Third Typical Edition of the Roman Missal, and its new General Instruction on the Roman Missal (2002), Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy (2002), Ecclesia de Eucharistia (2003), Spiritus et Sponsa (2003), Redemptionis Sacramentum (2004), Sacramentum Caritatis (2007), and Summorum Pontificum (2007).
It seems that all is not well with the Liturgy, and the Church is trying to help us. The pendulum swings, the hermeneutic of discontinuity, and the divisions within our Church have been seen and felt in the Liturgy more than anywhere."
At this point you must see the important of his mentioning Summorum Pontificum in his list of documents pertaining to the liturgy: Summorum Pontificum (2007). It is unfathomable that he wouldn’t mention this tool of continuity and reform. And there it is. Bp. Nickless sees Summorum Pontificum as a tool – one among several in the tool box – for the number one priority in his diocese within this Benedictine vision. Another important tool for executing that Benedictine "Marshall Plan" is Sacramentum caritatis.
The Bishop goes one to speak of "active participation" and "clericalizing" the laity and "laicizing" the priesthood. I liked this comparison: "The liturgy, like the Church, is intended to be hierarchical and polyphonic, respecting the different roles assigned by Christ and allowing all the different voices to blend in one great hymn of praise."
Does this part sound familiar to WDTPRS readers?
"Yet active participation does not preclude the active passivity of silence, stillness and listening: indeed, it demands it. Worshippers are not passive, for instance, when listening to the readings or the homily, or following the prayers of the celebrant, and the chants and music of the liturgy. These are experiences of silence and stillness, but they are in their own way profoundly active."
"Conscious participation calls for the entire community to be properly instructed in the mysteries of the liturgy, lest the experience of worship degenerate into a form of ritualism. But it does not mean a constant attempt within the liturgy itself to make the implicit explicit, since this often leads to a verbosity and informality which are alien to the Roman Rite and end by trivializing the act of worship. Nor does it mean the suppression of all subconscious experience, which is vital in a liturgy which thrives on symbols that speak to the subconscious just as they speak to the conscious. The use of the vernacular has certainly opened up the treasures of the liturgy to all who take part, but this does not mean that the Latin language, and especially the chants which are so superbly adapted to the genius of the Roman Rite, should be wholly abandoned. If subconscious experience is ignored in worship, an affective and devotional vacuum is created and the liturgy can become not only too verbal but also too cerebral."
A bit of understatement there about Latin chants, since they are the official music of Holy Church and should always have priority over every other choice.
This has been our push for a long time here. It is nice to see that those far above my pay grade are moving in the same stream of thought.
HEre is a nice bit that concerns, inherently, the correct understanding of inculturation: "It is time to dig deeper, “to put out into the deep,”19 into a new and authentic liturgical spirituality that is both old and new, active and contemplative, historical and mystical, Roman and Iowan, familiar and challenging."
He goes on to address Adoration and the Sacrament of Penance/Reconciliation and Marian Devotion.
His next priorities:
2. We must strengthen catechesis on every level, beginning with and focusing on adults. If we, who are supposed to be mature in faith, do not know the Catholic Faith well, how can we live it and impart it to our children and future generations of Catholics?
3. The first two pastoral priorities, renewal in Eucharistic Spirituality and Catechesis, will foster faithful families that are the foundation of the Church and the society. We are called to protect, build up and foster holy families in our midst, without whom the Church and the world perish.
4. If we renew the Eucharistic, catechetical, and family life of our diocese, we will simultaneously foster a culture where young people can more readily respond to the radical calls of ministerial priesthood and the consecrated life.
5. We must acknowledge and embrace the missionary character of the Catholic Faith and the vocation of all Catholics to be, not only disciples, but also apostles.
Folks, this is an outstanding letter.
Bishop Nickness places a reform of the liturgy according to a Benedictine hermeneutic as the number one priority for the life of the diocese. Of course all the other priorities are worked on contemporaneously. But liturgy must have a logical priority even if chronologically we are working on everything simultaneously.
He is working within the thought stream and vision of Pope Benedict.
If we don’t know who we are as Catholics, then we have nothing to contribute to the wider world or the smaller spheres of our influence. Reform of our worship as Catholics, in continuity, is the key to this Benedictine "Marshall Plan". To use another image, liturgy is the tip of the spear.
Massive WDTPRS kudos to Bishop Nickless!