The Ecumenical Vatican Council II
A Much Needed Discussion
by Msgr. Brunero Gherardini
Casa Mariana Editrice
The author of this very important work was a distinguished theologian of the Roman School. The book's introduction is written by Archbishop Malcolm Ranjith. The work cannot be dismissed as the ravings of some radical traditionalist from the peripheries. The author is not dismissive of the Council. Indeed, the author refers to the Second Vatican Council as a "great Council." "Much of the teachings of the Council are completely orthodox," he says, "thanks to its open profession of faith in the Trinity, the Incarnation...along with its deep conviction about the universal calling to sanctity..." The Council is the first pastoral council in the history of the Church. But what does that word "pastoral"mean? Like many of us, the author was appalled by what occured in the name of the Council. But because of its pastoral nature, he suggests that certain ambiguities are found in the documents themselves.
Did a Modernist spirit enter into the very fabric of the documents? Yes and no, says the author. There is much that is wholly orthodox. But there was also a certain spirit within the Council itself, an unbridled optimism about the world, about man and about other religions. We can think of the document Gaudiem et Spes especially. The Church needed to open itself to the world. Also, there was a belief that union with non-Catholic denominations was likely to happen. The kindest thing one can say about Msgr. Bugnini, the great architect of the new Mass, was that he wanted to create a liturgy that was acceptable to Protestants. As the author puts it:
"The new rite of the Holy Mass practically silenced the nature of sacrifice, making of it an occasion for gathering together the people of God, and it reduced the role of the celebrant to that of a president."
It could be argued that there was nothing in the document on the liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium, to suggest any of this. But there are sufficient ambiguities to allow for a certain horrizontalism to creep in. The warnings of Pope Pius XII as found in Mediator Dei were ignored. This led to a hermeneutic of rupture in the liturgy. In certain circles, it is widely believed that it is impossible to have a pre-conciliar liturgy in a post-conciliar Church.
The glories of man as put forward by the council thus led to a man-centred liturgy. We moved from "repent and believe in the Gospel" to "take note of your greatness." The idea was also put forward that we are all going to heaven and there is no need to convert to the Catholic Church. The author discusses the role the experts played in the Council, especially Karl Rahner.
His notion of anonymous Christians led to the collapse of the missions. In the eighties, elderly Jesuits who had given their lives to mission work told me about their dismay with what happened in the Church in general and the Jesuits in particular following the Council.
The author notes that Marian co-redemption was not promoted after the Council because of a widespread belief that it was prejudicial to ecumenical dialogue.
What is the author telling us? The Second Vatican Council was most certainly a valid council. It had many valid things to say. But it is also one Council among many. It was never intended to be a super-Council, a point of departure. What was doctrine before the Council remained doctrine after. The Council did not change anything as far as doctrine and morals are concerned. The Council was an event which was very optimistic about closer union with other denominations and religions. Things have changed since then. The Protestants have moved further away from the Church.
Liberal Catholics have moved even further away. The author of this work is surely right to ask the Holy Father to clarify in an authoritative manner to the question about the Council's continuity with other Councils. And "about its fidelity to the ever vigorous Tradition of the Church."