I have already set forth many of the reasons why Pope Benedict's impending resignation saddens me. In the context of this series, another reason I am sad that the pope is resigning is that he will be the last pontiff who actually participated in the Second Vatican Council -- assuming the next pope is 70 years old or younger, the oldest he could have been in 1965 when the Council concluded was 22.
It makes me very hopeful for the future that Pope Benedict has devoted so much of his pontificate to educating us on what the Council did and did not do. I do think that there is more that needs to be said (hence my apprehensiveness about his resignation) -- unfortunately, the prevailing view in the secular sphere (and in many Catholic circles) is that the Council somehow did away with the previous 1,900 years of Church history in terms of theology, liturgy, and the like. Both the ultra-orthodox and the ultra-progressive camps see the Council as a complete break with the past -- the ultra-orthodox see it as the point at which the Church fell into heresy, while the ultra-progressive see it as a watershed moment in Church history when the Church finally emerged from all those hundreds of years of backward thinking. This is what Pope Benedict has called on many occasions the hermeneutic of rupture -- as opposed to the hermeneutic of continuity, which is how the Council should be viewed. The hermeneutic of continuity views the Council as completely in line with Catholic tradition, given the same weight as other Councils of the Church -- not as the start of Church history, as many of a liberal persuasion would believe.
We can see just how much this sort of education means to our Holy Father when we consider the fact that he dedicated what could turn out to be his final address in any sort of public setting to the Council and its various interpretations. The whole thing is certainly worth a read (he even cracks some jokes!), but his closing was especially telling:
[T]here was the Council of the Fathers - the true Council - but there was also the Council of the media. It was almost a Council in and of itself, and the world perceived the Council through them, through the media. So the immediately efficiently Council that got thorough to the people, was that of the media, not that of the Fathers. And while the Council of the Fathers evolved within the faith, it was a Council of the faith that sought the intellectus, that sought to understand and try to understand the signs of God at that moment, that tried to meet the challenge of God in this time to find the words for today and tomorrow. So while the whole council - as I said - moved within the faith, as fides quaerens intellectum, the Council of journalists did not, naturally, take place within the world of faith but within the categories of the media of today, that is outside of the faith, with different hermeneutics. It was a hermeneutic of politics. The media saw the Council as a political struggle, a struggle for power between different currents within the Church. It was obvious that the media would take the side of whatever faction best suited their world. There were those who sought a decentralization of the Church, power for the bishops and then, through the Word for the "people of God", the power of the people, the laity. There was this triple issue: the power of the Pope, then transferred to the power of the bishops and then the power of all ... popular sovereignty. Naturally they saw this as the part to be approved, to promulgate, to help. This was the case for the liturgy: there was no interest in the liturgy as an act of faith, but as a something to be made understandable, similar to a community activity, something profane. And we know that there was a trend, which was also historically based, that said: "Sacredness is a pagan thing, possibly even from the Old Testament. In the New Testament the only important thing is that Christ died outside: that is, outside the gates, that is, in the secular world". Sacredness ended up as profanity even in worship: worship is not worship but an act that brings people together, communal participation and thus participation as activity. And these translations, trivializing the idea of the Council, were virulent in the practice of implementing the liturgical reform, born in a vision of the Council outside of its own key vision of faith. And it was so, also in the matter of Scripture: Scripture is a book, historical, to treat historically and nothing else, and so on.
And we know that this Council of the media was accessible to all. So, dominant, more efficient, this Council created many calamities, so many problems, so much misery, in reality: seminaries closed, convents closed liturgy trivialized ... and the true Council has struggled to materialize, to be realized: the virtual Council was stronger than the real Council. But the real strength of the Council was present and slowly it has emerged and is becoming the real power which is also true reform, true renewal of the Church. It seems to me that 50 years after the Council, we see how this Virtual Council is breaking down, getting lost and the true Council is emerging with all its spiritual strength. And it is our task, in this Year of Faith, starting from this Year of Faith, to work so that the true Council with the power of the Holy Spirit is realized and Church is really renewed. We hope that the Lord will help us. I, retired in prayer, will always be with you, and together we will move ahead with the Lord in certainty. The Lord is victorious. Thank you.His closing hits the nail on the head -- it has taken some time, but the true Spirit of the Council is finally coming to the forefront as more people are actually reading the documents and reflecting on them in light of authentic Catholic tradition. It turns out that the Council documents don't actually call for hideously ugly churches, ripping out altar rails, the abandonment of sacred music, or lay participation in Holy Mass taken to the extreme -- who'd have thunk!?
With these issues in mind, I begin this series on Vatican II. My first stop will be Sacrosanctum Concilium (unsurprising for those who know my affinity for liturgical matters...). The number of posts I devote to each of the four major constitutions will depend on how quickly I read them and how many points I find striking in each document. I can warn you already, there will be quite a few on Sacrosanctum Concilium :-). I also may intersperse other posts among this series.
My goal in this series is to offer my reflections, such as they are, on the documents and highlight what the texts actually say as opposed to what people want them to say or what the oft-touted "Spirit of Vatican II" says (hint: it's almost never what the Council actually said). Off we go!