By Maureen Vincent
ten years after his arrival at Westminster, ten years after Vatican II, His Eminence .Cardinal John Carmel Heenan is looking extremely fit and feeling definitely optimistic.
1 asked him what. In fact, he thought about the state of things in the Church, now that a decade has pissed since the Second Vatican Council, with all the upheavals it brought in its train.
"In the firs) place", he said, "I think that most Catholics are growing very tired of the two extreme parties in the Church—the one fur whom the Second Vatican Council and its
liturgical reform are sheer disaster, and the others who talk as if the Church is only ten years old.
"l'hey talk as if, until the Council, the Church really didn't know why it had been founded, and as if all the great Councils and encyclicals and the whole inheritance of the Church's doctrines went for nothing: "'these are the two parties, and they are the ones who make most of the noise. l'he ordinary Catholic—if there Is such a thing—accepts now, as always, that Cod is guiding His Church, assumes the goodness both of Pope John and Pope Paul, and In general of those in authority in the Church."
Cardinal Heenan feels that it is the changes in the liturgy which have made the greatest impact on the layman in the Church. "But the one essential is the changing of the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of ('hrist, the offering of Our Lord and the acceptance of his Body as the food of our souls.
"This is what really matteLs. The rest is a question of setting [Or the jewel, a matter of the background to the drama but not the essence of the holy sacrifice of the Mass.
"This is why people grow tired of the arguments abuul the vermicular, about how Holy Communion is to be
received. 'I'hese constant, nagging arguments not only bore the priests and faithful, but they do harm to the devotional fife of the Church."
The Cardinal thinks that it would be hard to decide which of the two extreme groups does more harm—the modernists who want to throw over hoard all the cherished doctrines and traditions, or the so-called
iraditienalkts who want to make the Church not the living Body of Christ but a corpse with no development and nothing new to offer. "It is only ten years since the Council. in the life of the Church, which looks at everything sub specie
aeternitatis, ten years is negligibly short.
"When we are as far away in time from the Second Vatican Council as we are from the Council of Trent, it will be possible to see it in perspective. We shall then be much better able to see which of the documents are of
lasting value and which are merely a reflection of the times in which we live.
"Thus, the documents on Catholic Education, Communlcatlons, Revelation, the Church and the Priesthood had little, if anything, to offer which was not already contained In the practice of the Church.
"The new developments were con tained in such decrees as the Church in the Modern World, the Liturgy and Ecumenism. How they will stand the test of time nobody can possibly tell.
"Obviously, the world of (973 will be a matter of history in 2073. The ecumenical movement will either have transformed Christianity or will have become meaningless. It can be safely assumed that once liturgical change is
introduced nothing can possibly stop it.
"Folk Masses, which today seem daringly new, may give way to an entirely different kind of liturgy. it is not beyond the range of possibility that before the end of the century people will be yearning for Muted and Beethoven.
"It is even possible that some darIng innovator will try the experiment of an old-fashioned Latin Mass which could become as popular with young people in the next century as transcendental meditation is in this!"
Cardinal Heenan pointed out that all this was not meant to be prophecy, but merely a reflection on the fact that we are still far too close to the Council to be able to define the limits of its influence on the Church.
"One of the least attractive of human weaknesses is lack of
gratitude," he went on to say. "We thank Cod for our life and our Faith,, but we rarely thank God for the gifts which come to us thr ueh the Faith. If our faith is living an strong, we have to thank Cod for all the good things which have come to us in recent years.
"In my lifetime the changes in the Church which have yielded the richest dividends are the rules about Mass and Holy Communion. SinceI have been a prie,A, t have seen the numbers at the altar rails double and redouble. The evolution of the fasting laws has been steady and enlightened.
"The Church first thought of nurses and the sick, of night workers and nursing mothers, then of the
whole body of the faithful. For cen
turies Eucharistic fasting was from midnight. As a priest. I have seen this reduced to three hours, two hours, and then to only one hour. "In other words, the 'Eucharistic fast has been virtually abolished, with no diminution of reverence to the Blessed Sacrament but with an overwhelming increase in the number who come to the Table of the Lord.
"Mass, which used to he said in the morning only, when the vast majority of people couldn't attend on weekdays, is now offered at any time
of the day or night.
"We may regret the virtual dis appearance of Benediction and even ing devotions, but only the blind fail to see the entusiasm for Holy Mass and the sacraments which Is a major development in the spiritual life of Catholics in the twentieth century."
What about the numbers leaving the Church since the Council? "It is true 4hat many Catholics have lapsed and that there are fewer attending Mass on Sundays. But nobody is
suggesting that convinced Catholics have been driven away by the Council. "The fact is that the Council has been a convenient excuse for many who had already lost enthusiasm for giving up the practice of the Faith.
"There may be fewer at Mass on Sunday, but they are nearly all fre quent communicants. This is no small gain for the Church of God.
"The lesson of all I have said Is simply that we should not be one-sided in our view either of the world or the Church."
Cardinal Heenan also feels keenly optimistic about the younger generation. "When we complain of the decadence of youth, we ought to acknowledge also the undoubted generosity and self-sacrifice which is characteristic of modern youth, but not of the youth of my own time.
"it is right in other words, to take the good with the bad. So in the Church we should not allow the zealots who talk in cliches about
aggiornamenlo, dialogue, renewal, involvement and commitment so to
depress us that we are unable to see the glory of the modern Church.
"Peter Nichols, The Times cor-' respondent In Rome, `who regarded by many as the intellectual doyen of foreign correspondents, considers that Pope Paul is one of the greatest Popes of modern times. If this is true—and i sincerely believe
that it is—it should give pause to the extremists of whom I have already spoken.
"Of the extremists, some have such a contempt for Pope Paul that they
openly deny the teaching of his en
cyclicals. At the other extreme are those who allege that Pope Paul should reject all the reforms of Pope John, denounce the Vatican Council, and declare that the history of the Catholic Church stopped after the Council of Trent."
The Cardinal then suggested a final and fundamental reflection on the Second Vatican Council: "Very few Catholics, either priests or laymen, have read, much less studied, the documents of the Council.
"They are therefore unable to see the differnence between the teachin of the Second Vatican Council an
the often wild theories to which they have given rise in the writings of popular theologians, "Those who know what the Council really taught are convinced that, if we follow the guidance of the Holy Spirit speaking through the Council, we and the whole Church would he renewed and strengthened.
"Rightly understood, the Council is one of God's greatest gifts to the Church of the twentieth century."