Page 5, 13th December 1985

13th December 1985
Page 5
Page 5, 13th December 1985 — Wholehearted response to the Council

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Locations: Rome


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Wholehearted response to the Council

Cardinal Basil Hume, President of the Bishops' Conference of England and Wales, gives a personal assessment of the Extraordinary Synod and anticipates the 1987 Synod on the Laity.

ON MONDAY December 2, 1 was in the Chapel of the English College in Rome with the students preparing for the priesthood. We were celebrating the feast of St Ralph Sherwin and the priest martyrs of the College. We sang the Te Deum before the picture known to generations of students as the Martyrs' Picture.

It was very moving to be surrounded by priests• of tomorrow at a ceremony begun four centuries ago to mark the news from England of yet another execution of a former student. These students of today will minister to the Church in England for the next halfcentury and will carry on tradition handed down to them by men not much different from themselves.

That ceremony came at an important moment for me. We were half way through the Extraordinary Synod of Bishops which I was attending on behalf of the bishops of England and Wales.

It reminded me of truths for which men and women had died and which are precious to Catholics in our day as in every age. It told me of the unity of faith and charity which binds us together in one Church; of the place of the Pope as Peter in that Church; of the sacred mystery of the Sacrifice of the Mass and all that this means; of the precious heritage of Faith and our responsibility to hand it on to others; of the call to suffer in the service of others and in witness to the truth.

Before the Martyrs' picture I felt close to the heart both of our religious history and of the urgent concerns of the Church today. And I knew that those students would witness in their priestly lives to the same values for which the martyrs had died. The Synod of Bishops in Rome might seem a long way from Sunday Mass in the parish church. There will be no immediate changes next week because of the fortnight of discussion by the bishops in the presence of the Pope.

But there is a message that is important for Catholics in their parishes; there is a road mapped out for the future; there is an indication of how we are to move closer to other Christian churches.

Assembled in Rome were the Presidents of all the Bishops' Conferences in the world. That gave this Synod a particular weight and authority. Their views can be seen as expressing the judgements and attitudes of their fellow bishops.

Throughout the fortnight the atmosphere within the Synod was remarkably calm and unfailingly friendly. In fact we were very much at one in mind and heart. There was much more unanimity than I had expected, given the range of topics and the history of the two decades we were reviewing.

I experienced a remarkable unity among the bishops and a sense of our closeness to the Pope. Between him and us there was an evident and mutual sympathy and this quite apart from the respect due to him as the Successor of Peter. In that atmosphere there was freedom of debate and expression. Not surprisingly there were no great achievements from a fortnight's work, but there was much encouragement and definite signs of hope.

The most important thing about the Synod is that, 20 years after the end of the second Vatican Council, bishops from all over the world emphatically and unanimously endorsed the teachings of the Council and the directions it marked out for the Church.

They said Yes to the Council and its reforms. There could never be any question of turning back.

The students who sang the Te Deum with me will minister in the third millenium to a Church indelibly sealed with the imprint of the second Vatican Council. And in so doing they will be true to a faith and a Church which though essentially the same in every century, yet, is responsive to the needs of each generation.

The bishops in Rome admitted realistically that there is still a long way to go before the teachings of the Council enter fully into our Catholic blood-stream.

They acknowledge gratefully all those who have made great efforts over the past 20 years to master the teachings of the Council, to explain them and apply them. Yet they had to admit that many people are still not sufficiently aware of what the Council taught.

They have frequently only a selective or superficial acquaintance with the Conciliar texts. Priests and teachers have a particular responsibility to read and digest at least the key documents of the Council.

People learn in different ways. A great deal of imagination, skill and energy has still to be applied to the task of communicating the heart of the message to the Catholic people as a whole. There is no substitute for systematic teaching from the pulpit but other ways will have to be found as well.

Like the Synod, we might best focus our efforts on absorbing the four fundamental documents of the Council: about what the Church is and its role in today's world (Lumen Gentium and Gaudium et Spes) and about how the Church prays and worships and how it receives the Word of God (Sacrosanctum Concilium and Dei Verbum).

During the Synod it became obvious that there is everywhere a concern about preaching and teaching the faith. We were reminded repeatedly that we have a mission to bring to the world of our day the fulness of Christ's revelation. We have to be bearers of the Gospel message to those who have never heard it or who have forgotten its meaning. People like that are part of everybody's world.

Furthermore we ourselves have to explore as far as we can all that the Church teaches and take care to hand it on in its fulness to our young people. That is a task for .families, parishes and schools.

The second Vatican Council in no sense contradicted past Councils; it complemented and developed them. Today it is important for us to see once again the coherence of Catholic doctrine, to interpret the richness of the past in the light of the second Vatican Council. That is why many at the Synod asked for an official compendium of Christian doctrine — similar to that produced after the Council of Trent — from which Conferences of Bishops could produce their own teaching documents.

The Synod was also remarkable because it soon became obvious that a common mind is emerging about what the Church is and its role in the world.

We spoke of the Church as communio, meaning a communion, a community, a fellowship and much more. The first communio is the divine Trinity, the proto-type of unity and diversity, the perfect relationships of love given and received.

It is this reality which is lived and shared by those who are baptised. Though they are many, they are members of the one Body of Christ in whom dwells and acts the Holy Spirit. This has consequences. It means that structures in the Church and relationships should reflect and express this comptnio. They should protect the unity of faith and charity, while at the same time promoting the diversity which arises from the richness and profusion of the gifts of the Holy Spirit to the baptised.

Unity and diversity should characterise every level of the Church's life and activity. This profound concept of the Church gives a new impetus and meaning to the college of bishops, and to structures like parish councils, diocesan pastoral councils and senates of priests.

We know from experience that the concept of communio has helped our search for Christian unity, especially in dialogue with the Anglican Communion.

The Synod recognised that ecumenism is not only a high priority of the Church but must influence every aspect of its life and mission. The real but imperfect communio which already exists in virtue of a common baptism has still to be brought to the fulfilment for which Christ prayed.

It is important to understand unity among Christians as a gift which is being given to us by God. It is a growing together, admittedly slow and, at times, difficult, but I believe that the way the Synod thought and spoke about the Church will make it possible for our separated brethren to see the need of Peter as necessary for unity of faith and charity.

Even more importantly this concept of the Church as communio gives a richer significance to the Eucharist.

In the Eucharist, at every Mass, the many are gathered into one, are nourished by the Body and Blood of the Lord having, with him and in him, offered to the Father the one eternal sacrifice of Calvary. The Eucharist lies at the heart of the communio which is the Church.

The Cross, indeed the whole paschal mystery of Christ's death, resurrection and ascension, must mark the religious experience of the Church and each Christian. Here we begin to make sense of the continuing agony of life, but it is a meaning that can be reached only by faith and through prayer.

How often we listened at the Synod to bishops whose Churches are being persecuted or suffering from some great catastrophe. They experience in a special way the mystery of the Cross. They endure because of their faith and their hope in Christ.

The Synod has reaffirmed for me the central importance of prayer and the Eucharist. It reminds us all of the reverence, devotion and care with which we should approach every celebration of Mass and the sacraments. It lays stress on the Significance of lively faith and constant prayer. Here too is a responsibility and task for us all.

The Synod reconvenes in two years' time to discuss the vocation and role in the Church of the laity. Inevitably the bishops will return yet again to consider the nature of the Church and how every one of the baptised shares some responsibility for the mission and ministry of the Church.

The Extraordinary Synod has provided us with the right theological context in which to prepare for the Synod on the Laity. The two Synods are closely linked.

Some exercise responsibilities in parish life, for parish organisations, in building up the local Church; all have the task of bringing the light and life of Christ into their daily dealings in the world, in their families, work and leisure. Wherever they go, their lives should on occasions help and sustain others and point the way to God.

Already in England and Wales, through Called to Serve and the National Forum, the bishops have begun to consult the laity in their preparation for the next Synod. So the process continues of absorbing the true meaning of the Council and of putting it into practice. The National Pastoral Congress and the Pope's visit in 1982 were two earlier stages in the same process.

At all times, to each of us are addressed those words of Our Lord: "The appointed time has come . . . and the Kingdom of God is near at hand; repent, and believe the gospel." (Mark 1.15).

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