Archive for lumen gentium

The Church as (Un)equal Society

Posted in Uncategorized, Vatican II with tags , , , , , , on January 14, 2013 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

MEETING DURING SECOND VATICAN COUNCIL FILE PHOTOYesterday I had the privilege of giving a lecture on “Vatican II and the Laity” at a parish on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. Those in attendance were wonderful, attentive, engaged, and lively in discussion afterward. One of the themes that came up in several different ways was the meaning of the shift from a pre-conciliar notion of the church as “unequal society” to the church as “the People of God” as presented in the constitutions and decrees of the Second Vatican Council. While the language of the conciliar texts, both theologically grounded and pastorally sensitive, was a vast improvement over the discursive approach to defining the church prior to the council, there was a specter of Pope Pius X’s “essentially unequal society” that continued to haunt the actual experience various people, especially women, had of the church today.

Everyone could more or less trace the practical differences in the understanding of the laity’s relationship to the church by virtue of baptism and as the constitutive element of the church, which is the Body of Christ, prior to and after the council. Many of the folks at the lecture and who participated in the discussion are liturgical ministers, theologians and other educators, leaders in their local communities, and so on. These sorts of opportunities were essentially unavailable or outright prohibited according to the pre-conciliar understanding of who/what constitutes “the church,” as well as according to the pre-1983 Code of Canon Law (generally, the CIC of 1917).

Yet, many people felt that what Pope Pius X says in his 1906 text Vehementer Nos continues to prevail, if not “officially” then practically, in the ordinary experience of the laity.

[The Church is an] essentially unequal society, that is, a society comprising two categories of person, the Pastors and the flock, those who occupy a rank in the different degrees of the hierarchy and the multitude of the faithful.  So distinct are these categories that with the pastoral body only rests the necessary right and authority for promoting the end of the society and directing all its members towards that end; the one duty of the multitude is to allow themselves to be led, and, like a docile flock, to follow the Pastors (Pope Pius X, Vehementer Nos, no. 8).

One gentleman, while not explicitly coming to the defense of Pius X’s turn-of-the-last-century vision, suggested that in all organizations and facets of life there are necessarily those who “make the decisions” and those who, by and large, “follow.”

I suppose that is true and, as the Council documents aptly note, to talk about the church as the People of God and inclusive of all women and men by virtue of Baptism, is not to suggest that everybody should or ought to do the same thing. Just like not everybody should have the right to practice medicine or law, not everybody should have the right to every position of ministry or leadership.

But what is to be made of the seemingly accidental (in the Aristotelian sense of qualities verses substance or nature) distinctions that prohibit certain members of the People of God, the Body of Christ, from per se participation in certain forms of leadership or participation in ministry? This was a difficult discussion to have, but an honest and very good topic still in need of further discussion.

This is particularly the case when the Second Vatican Council documents discuss the “vocation of the laity,” attributing the vocational call (vocare) to Christ alone and that all the faithful have a “right and duty” to participate in the liturgy and in the life of the church.

Mother Church earnestly desires that all the faithful should be led to that fully conscious, and active participation in liturgical celebrations which is demanded by the very nature of the liturgy.  Such participation by the Christian people as a “chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a redeemed people” (1 Peter 2:9), is their right and duty by reason of their Baptism (Sacrosanctum Concilium, no. 14).

I made clear in my presentation that one of the most overlooked dimensions of the Council’s teaching, especially concerning the liturgy, is that the assembly is participating, is — quite literally — concelebrating with the presider. So to suggest that everybody should necessarily be the presider or lector or some other particular ministry within the assembly doesn’t really hold if one believes in the teaching of the church that the community gathered also makes Christ present (see Sacrosanctum Concilium no. 7).

Yet, the real question, and a difficult one to be sure, that continues to loom over all these great discussions is the matter of discernment.

As other conciliar texts, like the “Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity” (Apostolicam Actuositatem) and Gaudium et Spes make clear, the call or vocation of each member of the Body of Christ, which is the church, comes from Christ alone. How, then, do we understand who and how and for what Christ calls any individual person within the assembly of believers, from among the People of God?

Furthermore, how is it that we understand the shift from Pius X’s notion of “unequal society” to the renewed understanding of the church that we have today? What does it mean to talk about an “equal” society? Can we or should we talk this way? What does that look like?

Photo: Stock

Thomas Merton and Everybody’s Christian Vocation

Posted in Thomas Merton with tags , , , on November 10, 2011 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

As I find myself working with some of Merton’s thought on the subject of vocation, I thought I’d share with you this brief selection from his book Life and Holiness (1963). Ahead of his time, years before the Second Vatican Council’s “universal call to holiness” articulated in chapter five of Lumen Gentium, Merton addresses the broadness of Christian life and discipleship in terms of vocation not being limited to the clergy and consecrated religious.

The way of Christian perfection begins with a personal summons, addressed to the individual Christian by Christ the Lord, through the Holy Spirit.  This summons is a call, a “vocation.”  Every Christian in one way or other receives this vocation from Christ – the call to follow him.  Sometimes we imagine that vocation is the prerogative of priests and of religious.  It is true that they receive a special call to perfection.  They dedicate themselves to the quest for Christian perfection by the use of certain definite means.  Yet every Christian is called to follow Christ, to imitate Christ as perfectly as the circumstances of [his or her] life permit[s], and thereby to become a saint (34).

Vatican II: Too Early to Tell?

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , on October 13, 2011 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

I’ve read a couple of things recently that have got me thinking a lot about the state of the Roman Catholic church in light of its most recent ecumenical council: Vatican II. The first comes from Hendrik Hertzberg’s The Talk of the Town piece in the current issue of The New Yorker about the “Occupy Wall Street” events in Manhattan and around the country. In an effort to illustrate the as-of-yet unknown impact and future of these ostensibly grass-roots happenings, Hertzberg recollection of what Zhou Enlai supposedly said in response to then-president Richard Nixon when the president “asked him to assess the impact of the French Revolution: it’s too early to tell.”

The second comes from the renowned systematic theologian and Franciscan friar, Kenan Osborne, who, in his book Priesthood: A History of Ordained Ministry in the Roman Catholic Church (Wipf & Stock), wrote: “The Second Vatican Council presented the Roman Catholic Church with a theological understanding of ministry which [sic] will continue to exert an influence for decades, perhaps even centuries to come.”

Both of these remarks got me thinking about the Church and the way in which people continue to respond to the theological and pragmatic shifts brought about by the Council. We recently observed the 49th anniversary of Bl. Pope John XXIII’s calling of a new ecumenical council, a perfect time to pause and look at where we’ve come and where we are going, especially as major half-century milestones of the event approach.

There have been some trends in the Church of late that rightly give pause to those concerned about seeing the prophetic and practical dimensions of the Council implemented and lived within the life of the Body of Christ. Recently, I was thinking about the understanding of the threefold understanding of the priesthood as it is presented in the Council’s theology of ministry (particularly in the texts Lumen Gentium and Presbyterorum Ordines). The notion that the members of the Body of Christ, which is the Church, share in Christ’s ministry of teacher, sanctifier and leader is not limited to those in holy orders (deacons, priests, bishops), but also includes, in very explicit terms (Lumen Gentium art. 34-38), the fact the laity too share this mission and responsibility.

It should come as no surprise given the recent discussions on and elsewhere about the policy changes in Phoenix and Madison that the role — liturgically and ecclesiastically — of the laity and the role of the ordained would be a matter of timely concern. There are indeed ways in which the Second Vatican Council seems to be curbed by such behaviors, if not in the letter of the documents (although one might argue that is indeed true), then in the spirit of the texts.

I am increasingly convinced that few people, including those whose responsibilities are to shepherd local churches, have a competent grasp of these Church documents from Vatican II, which are still very new at under fifty-years old each. It doesn’t take long, having read only the primary constitutions and decrees from the Council to realize that the vision of Church and the heuristic model laid out by the Council Fathers continues to be treated only in the most superficial ways, if not ignored in some places entirely.

I used to think — and still do to some extent — that this was largely do to a willed ignorance of the texts and a disregard for the change that necessarily comes with a substantial effort to return to a more authentically Christian way of living as Church. But I also wonder, in light of Hertzberg and Osborne’s remarks, if part of the problem isn’t just the small amount of time that has passed since the closing of the Council. How long does it take for the vision of an ecumenical council to take hold? How long should it?

This is not to suggest that certain liturgical and ecclesiastical shifts haven’t already taken hold and for the better, but read Lumen Gentium, Gaudium et Spes and Sacrosanctum Concilium — if only those three constitutions — and tell me that we’re living that understanding of Church today! I don’t think you could, whether you like it or not. I am concerned that we are not more consciously imbuing ourselves with the texts of the Council, saturating our thinking and vision with this liturgical and ecclesiastical worldview. Instead, we hear of the silly-to-absurd actions of certain local churches (prohibiting girl altar servers, restricting communion under both kinds, limiting the involvement of the faithful in the ecclesiastical and liturgical life of the community in several ways, and so on). I’m not sure what is behind these sorts of things, but I know that nowhere in the Council documents does one find justification for such behavior. Sure, there may be juridical authority to do these things, but that doesn’t make it right.

So, I’m left to continue thinking about Vatican II and whether or not it might indeed be too early to tell if things will change and work out for the best. To return to Hendrik Hertzberg’s article again, I think the closing line of his piece rings true here too: “It’s too early to tell, but not too late to hope.” Amen.

Photo: CNS

For All The Saints

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on November 1, 2010 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

Today and tomorrow are two of my favorite days in the Church calendar.  But, for some reason, I’ve never been able to understand why they are two separate days.

The feasts (well, technically, the solemnity and the feast respectively) of All Saints and All Souls are two celebrations that reflect Christian faith in the idea of the “communion of saints.”   This, as expressed in Vatican II’s Lumen Gentium 13, can be stated in this world as “All the faithful, scattered though they be throughout the world, are in communion with each other in the Holy Spirit.”  But this communion, this relationship is not limited to the living.  We believe that we are united with all the baptized, living and deceased, and that this is what is meant by the communion of saints.

Curiously, today’s celebration should be called the “solemnity of the cult of saints,” for it is really that, a day to celebrate those women and men of exemplary holiness that have been publicly recognized by the Church as worthy of veneration and emulation in Gospel life.  One way to speak about this distinction (between the cult of saints and all saints) is, as so many already do, talk about capital “S” Saints and lower-case “s” saints.  The Saints are the ones who have days on the Church calendar and are canonized (literally, included in the approved book/cult of holy women and men). The saints are all the rest of the baptized.

St. Paul was fond of using the term “saints” to refer to his sisters and brothers in Christ.  Frequently we read in his letter the address, “to the saints in _______.”  It is a designation that is very inclusive and bespeaks both a current state of striving to live a holy life and the hope of one day being counted among the women and men who have modeled Christian living and a particularly notable way.

The communion of saints, the connection we have to all those who have come before us, all those living and all those yet to come, is  — for me — one of the most powerful and relevant features of the Gospel — indeed, the Good News.  It is one of the many ways that Christianity offers us a hopeful outlook on life and death, announcing that death is not  the end nor is it something to be feared, but instead is simply part of this pilgrimage of life.  This is something that I’ve written about elsewhere (see “Embracing Sister Death“).  

May today not only be an opportunity to reflect on the exemplary life and example of the women and men in the cult of saints, but also provide us with a chance to pause and consider our connection to all of those who have gone before us, live now and will come after us.  In this way we might really celebrate the Feast of All Saints!

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