Why has the reception given to the Council (Vatican II) so far, in large sectors of the Church, been so difficult? Well, all depends on the correct interpretation of the Council or -- as we would say today -- on its correct hermeneutic, on the right key to interpretation and application. The problems of reception derived from the fact that two contrasting hermeneutics found themselves face to face and battled it out. One caused confusion, the other, silently but more and more visibly, bore and is bearing fruit. On one hand, there is an interpretation that I would like to call "hermeneutics of discontinuity and rupture"; it was frequently able to find favour among mass media, and also a certain sector of modern theology. On the other hand, there is the "hermeneutics of reform", of the renewal of the continuity of the single Church-subject, which the Lord has given us: it is a subject that grows in time and develops, remaining however always the same, the one subject of the People of God on their way. Hermeneutics of discontinuity risk leading to a fracture between the pre-Council and post-Council Church. It asserts that the Council texts as such would still not be the true expression of the spirit of the Council. They would be the result of compromises within which, to reach unanimity, many old and ultimately useless things had to be dragged along and reconfirmed. It is, however, not in these compromises that the true spirit of the Council would be revealed, but instead in the drive toward newness that underpin the texts: only this would represent the true spirit of the Council, and starting from it and in conformity with it, it would be necessary to go forward. Precisely because the texts would reflect only imperfectly the true spirit of the Council and its novelty, it would be necessary to go courageously beyond the texts, making room for the new, in which the more profound, even though still indistinct, intention of the Council would express itself. In short: it would be necessary to follow not the Council texts, but its spirit. In this way, of course, a huge margin remains for the question of how then to define this spirit and, as a result, room is made for any whimsicality. With this, however, there is a basic misunderstanding of the nature of a Council as such.
read full speech
As the pope brings the Second Vatican Council into focus for its 40th anniversary, it's becoming increasingly clear that big changes are on the way. The pope contrasted what he called the hermeneutics of reform with the hermeneutics of discontinuity and rupture. By this he describes the problems associated with Catholicism in the United States and other western nations. According to Wikipedia the term hermeneutics is defined as a "theory of interpretation and understanding of a text through empirical means." When it comes to the Second Vatican Council, two forms of hermeneutics were used to implement its changes in the Church -- the right kind (reform) and the wrong kind (discontinuity and rupture). In western nations, like the United States, it would seem that the latter has become the norm.
No sooner than the Council had finished its work, American Church leaders went to work interpreting its meaning. Some of this interpretation was reform, but a good deal of it was discontinuity and rupture. For decades now, American Catholics have been under the impression (a false impression) that Vatican II radically changed the Church, creating a new kind of Catholicism that is all together different than the old. In America, these changes were made under the banner of the "Spirit of Vatican II," because the letter of Vatican II had not directly mandated them. All the while, more conservatively minded Catholics protested, quite correctly pointing out that if the Holy Spirit of God speaks to us through the ecumenical council of bishops (as Catholic doctrine tells us), than indeed the "Spirit of Vatican II" IS the letter of Vatican II. Anything more than that is just human innovation. So it seems the implementation of Vatican II in the United States has been largely dominated by human innovation, rather than actual conciliar reforms. I believe the pope is telling us what he's been consistently hinting at for a long time. The Catholic Church we are familiar with in the United States IS NOT the ideal of what Vatican II intended to accomplish. The Catholic Church many Americans are familiar with is actually one made more by human innovation than actual conciliar reform. This American Church, dominated by human innovation, has created more discontinuity and rupture than reform. The recent sex-abuse scandal of 2002 is just the tip of the iceberg, so to speak, because the problems go much deeper than that. They are liturgical in some areas, procedural in others, and in some cases even doctrinal in nature. These innovations have even gone so far as to create conditions ripe for schism. In the case of traditional Catholic liturgy and procedure, some of our most pious adherents have gone out from us, creating their own communions where they feel more free to express the traditional Catholicism they have known and cherished since childhood. In the case of doctrine, many of our most trusting and amiable have been deceived by the lure of Evangelicalism, which offers them the illusion of simplicity at the cost of accurately interpreting the word of God. Finally, in the case of those who have blindly put their faith in American interpretation of the Council, it has created a circumstance where human innovation is loved more than the Church itself, giving the false impression that the Church is conceding to the trends of the modern world, and sin is relative to the eyes of the beholder. Because of all this, it is the opinion of this blogger that the days of "discontinuity and rupture" are coming to an end in the American Church, and the Vatican will see to it. No longer will human innovation be the rule of the day. For once in American Catholicism's post-conciliar history, the spirit of Vatican II WILL BE the letter of Vatican II.
What does this mean for the laity? I cannot say with absolute certainty, but I would surmise we should look for something like the following in the years ahead...
- Changes in the English liturgy of the contemporary Novus Ordo mass to reflect a more accurate translation from the official Latin Novus Ordo text.
- More use of Latin in the contemporary English Novus Ordo mass.
- More use of the actual Latin Novus Ordo mass text itself.
- Greater accessibility to the traditional Tridentine Latin mass for all who miss it and want to see its revival.
- A newly revised translation of the New American Bible, which more closely reflects the English lectionary reforms recently approved by the Vatican.
- Stronger ecclesiastical control by the Vatican over internal matters within the American Church in particular.
- Greater obedience expected among the clergy.
- The absolute rejection of homosexual men to the priesthood (already underway).
- Greater continuity of teaching among the bishops, especially regarding the "tyranny of relativism," especially the evil it imposes on the Church and the world.
- Greater accountability of Catholic public figures, especially politicians, who espouse teachings the Church considers immoral.
- Stronger catechesis of the laity on social and moral issues. (look for the Church to get more involved in political issues)
- A greater emphasis on traditional (pre-Vatican II) Catholicism and the continuity between it and contemporary Catholicism.
- A general swing back to traditional (pre-Vatican II) Catholicism on everything from Church architecture to customary practices.