TOPICS FOR THE COUNCIL
TKE agenda in the hands of the Council Fathers is marked "sub secreto", but a rough outline can be traced from the statements issued throughout the preparatory stages by official sources. The final agenda was thrashed out by the Central Preparatory Commission in seven gruelling sessions, and some of its main topics may be summarised thus:
A proposal has been put up for a new formula for the profession of faith, combining the existing formula with the antimodernist oath. There is no question of a change or addition to the dogmas in the existing text, but simply of a new mode of expression.
The problem is to meet the needs of regions desperately short of priests, and the Sacred Congregation of Seminaries and Universities has issued figures showing that the 1,100 dioceses in contact with that congregation have only 228,653 priests for a Catholic population of 418,000,000 (in a total population of 692,000,000).
To achieve a homogeneous distribution of one priest per 1,000 Catholics, the Church must find 190,000 more priests. To achieve the same proportion in regard to the entire population of the world, 470,000 more priests would have to be found.
As matters stand, distribution is uneven. One area has a priest for every 500 Catholics. Another has one priest for as many as 11,000 Catholics.
One of the factors to be considered in adjusting this imbalance is that as Canon Law now stands, there must be no priests who have no clearly determined superiors, and who are not in the service of a particular diocese. A priest is "incardinated" into a diocese, and there can be no "excardination" without immediate incardination into another diocese.
This does to some extent militate against an appropriate reshuffle.
The functioning of the parish has been subjected to great strains and stresses since urbanisation, the development of transport, and the general breaking down of the geographical parish as a compact social unity have made the traditional structure far less effective than it once was.
It is not likely that the concept of the parish, which dates from the sixth century, will be
abolished. But questions of structural adaptation will arise, such as the possible division of large parishes and the union of smaller ones. Questions of parochial social action, and the interaction of parochial and diocesan projects, are posed by some of the fascinating experiments which have been tried in France.
Basically, the difficulty is that the parish priest has to deal with a group of people who all sleep in the same area, but do not necessarily work, play or even eat there.
Parochial problems are bound up with the sanctification of the priestly life, so that the priest will not be distracted by administrative overwork from living in true community with his people, and from the prayer and meditation essential to his own growth in holiness if he is to radiate the Christ-life in the district.
His efforts in the field of social action need greater integration with the entire "commune" in which the parish resides, but at the same time it is recognised that his activity is going to be reduced in value if he is not enabled to live a full spiritual life.
Where it obtains, the ecclesiastical benefice—which is designed to relieve the priest of material worries — raises the difficulty of state interference in ecclesiastical responsibilities. This is a matter which is constantly being re-examined.
Originally, Confirmation was the second sacrament received by a Christian. In the Latin Church, especially since the 13th century, it has been separated from Baptism and conferred much later. (In Spanish-speaking countries, and in the Greek and Eastern Rites, Confirmation is still conferred on infants.) In recent years there has been much discussion on this question. Some would prefer Confirmation to be administered before First Communion as a logical completion of the child's entry into the Church. The age of seven is suggested. Others would prefer to see it administered at the age of, say, 12, as a kind of accolade to the young Squire entering on the crucial period or adolescence.
Some pastors feel that if
adolescence were to be given a positive, apostolic character, many of its inherent difficulties would lose much of their tension and turbulence. quite apart from the fact that the missionary character of the Christian life should burgeon as soon as possible.
As regards Confession, it may be thought necessary to facilitate the granting of faculties to priests, in view of the rush and hurry of modern life, and the speed of communications and transport. Priests and people may find themselves out of one diocese and into another in a matter of minutes, and easy access to the sacrament is disturbed by the restriction of faculties to a particular area.
The Council will be well aware of suggestions made over the past few years that priests could be freed for their primary duties if some of their secondary tasks could be undertaken by properly trained laymen. One way of bringing this about would be to establish the diaconate as a state of life. At present, it is merely a step to the priesthood.
The three main functions of the diaconate — to distribute Holy Communion, to baptise and to preach—can thus only be performed today by men about to be ordained priests, bound to daily recitation of the Office, and to celibacy (except in the Eastern Rites). Could they be transferred to married men, who are in no way on the road to the priesthood?
In 1957, Pope Pius XII said that the idea was not yet mature. The Council may consider whether it has developed enough over the past five years.
Some of the minor orders might also be reinstated as independent states, as in the early Church, so that well trained laymen could assist priests in giving spiritual and liturgical assistance to the faithful, in material administration, and in performing the ancient function of Lector at Mass.
This matter has special interest in view of a recent decision in Madras to open a seminary for the training of full time, lay catechists, some of whom are married.
The main Eastern Rites in communion with the Holy See are: the Alexandrian (including Coptic and Ethiopian), the Antiochian (including Syrian Catholic, M'aronite and Malankars). the Armenian, the Byzantine (including Greek Catholic, Melkite, Russian Catholic, etc.), and the Chaldean.
The various languages used in the Eastern Rite liturgies and the powers allowed to the Eastern Patriarchs and Bishops to judge on liturgical changes are likely to receive more solemn formulation and even extension as a result of the Council.
Eastern Churches in communion with Rome (and thus subordinate to the Holy Father) are the most natural agents to work for the return of the separated Eastern Church (e.g. the Orthodox) to the Holy See. This is because the Eastern Catholic Rites have a liturgical form and traditional character in cultural and psychological harmony with those of the schismatic bodies, The underlying fear of many separated Eastern Christians that reunion with Rome would mean "latinisation" is counteracted to some extent by the knowledge that within the Catholic Church are special Rites with an Eastern character.
(A current grievance within the Catholic Church itself, by the way, is the resentment of Eastern Rite Catholics with regard to the re-establishment and maintenance of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem.)
DEPOSIT OF FAITH
Faith is never in conflict with reason, but illuminates and completes it with truths that could
not have been known without Revelation. The Church has always taught that man can attain knowledge of God through reason, and philosophical systems denying the existence of lasting truths and universal principles have been condemned.
St. Thomas's five ways of knowing the existence of God are always valid, but to them may be added proofs that can be called psychological. They are based on man's need for happiness, love, justice and truth—needs which cannot be eternally frustrated.
Recent errors about Revelation will be in the minds of the Council Fathers as they fulfil their duty to safeguard the Deposit of Faith. In particular, there are those systems of thought which, in the form of rationalism and modernism, reject the manifestation of truths that are above reason, and reduce it to a progressive, natural ;1 nd historical knowledge of divine things.
(This is not to be confused with the Development of Doctrine, i.e. the gradual unfolding and exposition through time of the revealed truth initially deposited with the first Apostles by our Lord.) Other errors relevant to the current age are evolutionary systems which are purely materialistic. or pantheistic.
Those outside the Church who have an extremist and deformed idea of the "Roman hegemony"
may be greatly helped if, as is expected, the Council will add precision to the authority of the Bishop in his diocese and of the episcopal college in the universal Church.
Fr. Yves Congar, 0.P., says: "The Bishops are successors of the Apostles, not in the sense that each Bishop succeeds a determined Apostle, but in the sense that the College of Bishops
as such succeeds the College of Apostles as such. This is important, because the Apostles had a universal jurisdiction: thus, the college of Bishops has in itself a universal jurisdiction in the Church . . .
"The Council is the perfect realisation of the episcopal college
"For a diocese to be truly Catholic, its Bishop must govern it, not as an independent unit, but rather as a portion of the Universal Church. This implies that the Bishop actualises in his diocese all the great causes of the Universal Church."
None of this cuts across the Primacy of Peter and the power of the Pope to define infallibly "alone". It does mean, however. that the participation of all the Bishops in the government and teaching of the Church has yet to be illumined for the majority of mankind in all its depth and glory. This is a natural result to expect from the Council.
It will help non-Catholics to see that the teaching of the Supreme Pontiff is not just a harsh imposition from above, but gives depth and precision, and the seal of careful formulation, to developments in the Church's mind which involve the thought and practice of all the Bishops, clergy and laity. And in this process, the Bishops have a special role to play.
In considering the topic of lay participation in the liturgy, the Council may discuss a more careful choice of scriptural texts for the essentially doctrinal and didactic Mass of the Catechumens, to help the congregation unite itself more intimately with the celebrant in the second part of the Mass, that of the Eucharistic Sacrifice.
Special attention will no doubt be given to the use of the vernacular in mission territories, especially in places where the I.atin liturgy suggests an exaggerated European influence, so repugnant to the nationalist spirit of the age, and so easily confused with political pressure in the minds of the emerging nations.
Moreover, the Church has pledged herself to baptise indigneous cultures and draw out of them whatever will most spontaneously conduce to the worship and service of God from the depths of the heart.
The reading of the instruc tional parts of the Mass in the vernacular, and the widespread use of offertory processions and certain painliturgies during the holy sacrifice will be discussed with reference to the whole Church.
(Eastern Rite liturgies already includes what are, in effect, sung dialogue Masses in languages which are at least affiliated to the modern tongue of the faithful.)
From the sacrificial altar of
the Mass, with the faithful gathered round at the Meal of the Lord, should radiate a vast, evangelical, missionary activity,
carried orr by the faithful as individuals and in groups.
There is a personal and social aspect of the Church's missionary drive, just as there are both contemplative and liturgical aspects to our prayer.
This is the age of laity's coming of age. Just as Pope, Bishops, priests and people all play their respective parts in the Church Teaching, so they all have their roles to play in the Church as she seeks to incarnate Christ Himself in the secular society.
The protective aspects of the post-Tridentine world, the defensive attitude of preserving the faith, must now give place to an outward movement on the part of the entire Church, as she ceases to be the Church Static and becomes instead the Church Dynamic.
It is no longer enough to leave the missionary work to the missionary clergy, whether at home or abroad. The whole Church must be on the job.
Matters which may have to be solved by the Council include the relationship of ecclesiastical authority and the Catholic Actionist and lay apostle: of Bishops and Secular Institutes; of Church and State. Questions of "toleration" of religious minority groups will remind the Fathers—as Cardinal Bea recently put it—that the State must recognise the rigbt of all men to follow their conscience, and this is as pertinent to a Catholic, as to a non-Catholic, State.
Integration of Catholic parochial effort in the social order with the work of non-denominational and secular bodies; contribution to the social welfare and co-operative development of regional and local communities; and the detailed application of Mater et Magistra in the context of Church-State "partnership" are among the many vital topics which may exercise the mind of the Council.
As Patriarch Athenagoras recently said, if all Christians work together in unity—of fellowship, of action, of theological discussion—then the day will come when union will fall into our hands like an over-ripe plum. This distinction between unity and union, as the Eastern Churches, Catholic and Orthodox, like to make it, sums up the mind of Pope John.
Growth in fellowship has already made great headway. Theological conversations have already resulted in a narrowing of the gap. Working together progresses more slowly, but is receiving more and more emphasis.
Pope John has captivated the hearts of hundreds of thousands of non-Catholics. The invitation to the separated brethren to send their observers to the Vatican Council has been warmly received.
These observers know that this is not a Council of Reunion, and that it would he naive in the extreme to expect immediate and dramatic developments in the ecumenical field. But, while reunion is only one of the many topics for the Council, it is certainly among the "top ten" in everyone's mind.
The main advantage of allowing observers to come is that they will have a chance, for the first time, to see the Church visibly at work in a universal and closely-knit context. They will see her leaders gathered from every corner of the world thrashing out the shape of things to come in a way that may dispel many non-Catholic illusions about the Church's nature.
They will feel the interdependence, the cohesion, and the integrity of the Church Militant as the voices of five continents unite in one doctrinal
acclamation of the Deposit Truth and in obedience to o discipline.
They will watch the Bisho frankly facing the weakness in the human aspects of tI Church, unafraid of disintegt lion, confident in the Lorc guarantee, ready to be stern critical, They will see the falsity of tl image of a flock of sheep beii lashed into order by a tyrai which has so misrepresented t Catholic Church in the age liberalism. And vital new cc tacts for the future will made.
On our side, the non-Cathol mind will be far better undt stood. and Fathers of the Cou cil will bring back to thi diocesan people a new spirit ecumenism drawn from t many conversations certain take place informally on t Council sidelines.
Many other questions w certainly be discussed during t next vital months, includi new pastoral methods, the trai ing of the clergy, convent ed cation, and moral problen Prominent among these will birth control and the nude bomb.
A catchpoint at whi ecumenism and the bomb cor into relationship is outlined Cardinal Bea in these words:
"Imagine, if you will, and t to estimate what it would me to humanity if all Christia acted completely united in t matter of nuclear weapons, disarmament and of peace. stating this, I (intend) simply underline an important fact ai an important possibility whi is open to the council inasmu as it intends to prepare for eventual union of Christians."