I am in the midst of Xavier Rynne’s Vatican Council II, an insider’s description of the four sessions of the Council, in the autumnal seasons of 1962-through 1965. There are countless books of analysis of the various documents that came forth from the Council, and in the last decade another raft of books attempting to define Vatican II’s place in history. The view of Benedict XVI would hold that as impressive as it was, Vatican II is just one of twenty-one Councils in the Church’s history and must be seen against the lights of all those councils which preceded it. A second school would hold that Vatican II was a true “game changer;” that the Church can never go back to its ways of governance and thinking, particularly in matters of freedom of conscience, ecumenism, the nature of the Church itself (Ecclesiology), Scripture study, and a multitude of other critical matters regarding the nature of the Church’s relations with the world.
The Council came into being by the call of the newly elected Pope John XXIII, 78, in 1959. Pope John established an opening date as the fall of 1962, but he also decreed that a Synod of the Diocese of Rome be held first. This Roman Synod proved to be useful in several ways: it gave the pope the opportunity to place emphasis on one point he hoped to advance at the Council, the apostolic authority of bishops and dioceses, much of whose powers of actions had gradually been absorbed by the Roman Curia since the Middle Ages. (Vatican II would in fact approve the concept of collegiality, the joint authority of popes and bishops working in tandem.) Second, the Synod was something of a dry run for administrators, since the last Church Council had been held in 1870. But given the concentration of Roman curial officers in this Synod, the pope was able to assess the strength of opposition to an agenda of change and reform, which proved to be formidable.
As one might expect, the amount of preliminary paperwork, such as position papers and rough drafts of schemas or theme presentations on all areas of Church life, was immense. All 2500 of the world’s bishops were permitted to bring a peritus or expert theologian for advice and speech-writing purposes. The advice would be offered in the bishop’s own language, of course, but the speeches had to be drafted and delivered in Latin. This was less a problem for the periti, many of whom were seminary professors and taught in Latin, than it was for bishops such as Cardinal Cushing of Boston, who went home for a time out of sheer frustration during the second session.
And so it was that Father Francis X. Murphy, presently teaching moral theology at Rome’s Redemptorist seminary, was drafted by the Bishop of Monterey-Fresno, California, (a fellow Redemptorist), to serve as his peritus for the duration of the Council. Murphy was a talented man: a fine theologian with a strong sense of history and political operations. And, he was “connected” as the Romans say. In his work before the Council he began to take copious notes of “the intrigues and secretive manipulations by a number of prominent prelates as the agenda for the Council was being formed.” Seeing the great interest of the world’s secular press, not to mention Catholics in the United States, he decided to write a regular update for New Yorker Magazine, a secular publication, under the name of Xavier Rynne, a combination of his middle name and his mother’s maiden name.
Did he break Church rules of secrecy? Participants had been warned that secrecy was expected of them, but apparently no oath was administered as in the election of a pope. Murphy reasoned, quite rightly as it turned out, that the Vatican’s organs of information would be inadequate for the crush of inquiries about the progress of the Council. In the first sessions of the Council the official press release of the day came out at 8 AM, before the day’s session had even begun! Looking back years later, Murphy would write that his first New Yorker report introduced his readers to matters that the Roman Curia hoped would never find its way into print: that is, the operations and identities of the Curial officials themselves, especially their leader, Cardinal Alfredo Ottaviani. Ottaviani, the leading voice of the Curia, was opposed to the Council from the start. A religious man who considered himself the stalwart of orthodoxy in the Church, Ottaviani was also in a position to use his power as head of the Holy Office to use numerous parliamentary tactics in directing the Council, such as rewriting drafts of schemas coming from the various subcommittees, appointing floor managers, scheduling debates, lobbying, and generally doing all in his power to “kill the clock” till impatient bishops gave up and went home.
It is to Murphy’s great credit that be brought such practices to light—not just for the New Yorker subscribers, but for the bishops themselves, who particularly in the early going of the Council were somewhat unsure of themselves. His reporting was a risky business, and the cry of “Who the hell is Xavier Rynne?” was heard from many sources. But as the Council progressed, more participants felt comfortable enough to grant interviews, and by the end of the Council many bishops were sending weekly or regular reports for their diocesan newspapers. It is hard today to accurately report the incredible interest in such things as what the Council would say about the Jews, for example, or a married diaconate, or national conferences of bishops.
Murphy admits that his reports sometimes included conjecture. That he was personally offended by the tactics of the Curia is a theme that runs through his one volume text. He is not always able to elaborate on the finer points of theological debate due to lack of space. However, I have rarely if ever seen his work and his interpretations contradicted. His reporting deflates a popular misconception by some in the Curia even to this day that Vatican II was “hijacked” by liberal periti from northern Europe. Many of the Council’s most significant reforms did not originate from European prelates. “Freedom of conscience” was an American contribution. The input of Asian and African bishops is much more significant than I could have imagined.
So, for the next few weeks (probably Mondays and Saturdays) we will walk through the Council with Rynne, er, Murphy, an event which has impacted everything we do in Catholic ministry today.
I am a little late today because I spent the morning dismantling a considerably sized portion of a tree that fell into our yard during a windy thunderstorm a few weeks ago. I have been sitting on my back porch hoping that beavers might chew it apart for a dam somewhere, or that ants and beetles might bring it all to useful fertilizer, but none of those things seem to be happening. So this AM I stripped the main branches of all foliage, leaving me now with the job of sawing up the bare limbs for pickup on Tuesday. The problem with working in the yard is that you see all sorts of things that need to be done, and an equal amount that could be done.
I understand why monks include manual labor in their daily regimen, because you do have time to think in the relative peace and quiet of nature. This morning I couldn’t help but think back to 1972 or 1973, when I spent a semester researching a master’s paper on the Assumption of the Virgin Mary. Why I chose this subject I honestly can’t remember, and why the morality/spirituality department of my theology school accepted my topic is a real mystery. I have come to think that college faculties sometimes pass proposals to satisfy their own curiosities from the safety of their offices—if a young graduate school student gets mired in heresy, they have plausible deniability.
So I started off and worked on my own for several weeks before checking in with my supervisor/reader, and I came to know the writings of Hilda Graef, one of the most published mariologists of that time. Her Mary: A History of Doctrine and Devotion was a standard text in mid-century; a new hard cover copy of this work today runs to $419 on Amazon, though an updated and (relatively) cheaper edition appeared in 2009. The work was available to me back then in part because after Vatican II Marian studies was falling into disfavor for reasons I was beginning to comprehend. To the point, I was discovering that recently declared Marian Doctrines such as the Immaculate Conception (1854) and the Assumption (1950) had tenuous, almost invisible, links to the Apostolic Era. Following sources from Graef, primarily, I found that the Assumption as we would understand it today was the product of devotional works of piety from about the fifth century forward. One of the factors of Church life in the first millennium was the failure to find a tomb. The Church established a feast called the Dormition or Sleep of Mary, though no one could say whether or not this “sleep” was actually an “expectant death” (and Pius XII in 1950 never stated if Mary actually died.)
I presented my initial findings to my reader, a Franciscan from another branch of the Order, and suffice to say he was not pleased, and strongly intimated that I had not researched deeply enough. He also noted that I was then living with the present chairman of the U.S. Mariological Society of Marian scholars, and he wondered what my superior/Marian scholar would have to say about my work. I had not told my superior anything about this, because of the political as well as the academic problems that would create. (He could have expelled me for heresy or my impudence, I guess.) Besides, my superior was always right about everything, whether he was or not. I pointed out to the reader that I had used Mrs. Graef’s sources extensively. Still rather unhappy with me, he suggested I move away from historical emphases toward theological ones.
Had I more experience in the field of theology then, I would have known that in my imperfect way I was finding common ground with theologians around the world, not least of which was Cardinal Newman, who as a younger theologian in the 1800’s was wrestling not just with Marian doctrines, but with the overarching doctrine of papal infallibility itself. Newman wrote that while the Church’s doctrines are timeless and eternal, the ability of the hearers to discern and understand them is gradual. The phrase “development of doctrine” would be attributed to him, but alas, I was unaware of his writing at that juncture. But sometimes research is 75% luck, and I came upon an essay by perhaps the greatest theologian of the twentieth century, Karl Rahner, in the first volume of his theological studies. (When I talk about luck, I’m not kidding, his series runs to about twenty-five volumes!) A few years ago, I reviewed his volume one; it was the least I could do.
As best I can explain it, and I have the text right here, Rahner argues that to approach this doctrine from a historical point alone misses its richness (and avoids a number of pitfalls, as I mentioned.) He begins with the Nicene Creed, specifically the statements involving the Incarnation of Jesus, and his birth of the Virgin Mary. He then proceeds to Jesus’ own death and descent into the ground. These are at the heart of the Church’s treasury of belief, Rahner observes, and thus it would be an error to hold that Mary was exempt from a universal reality that Jesus himself embraced. Jesus’ resurrection and glory is the first fruits of his cross and death, and in the Creed we profess that there will be a resurrection of the just at the end of time. Rahner, noting the unique role played by the human Mary in the mystery of redemption, makes the point that if all of the articles of the Creed just cited are true, and we believe they are, then there is a logic to pronouncing with certainty that Mary would win resurrection of the body and eternal glory.
In a sense, then, the Assumption is a doctrine which has “unfolded” from those acknowledged before it. There are elements of Newman, here, to be sure. I noted in my paper that the exact time of the Assumption has never been declared. Conceivably it is a future event, as is the Second Coming. Thus the Assumption as a doctrine stands as a beacon of hope for those of us who, like Mary, bear Christ through our baptismal consecration.
I got an A. My boss never found out.
I was looking about my sources this morning while trying to find documentation on the ritual of receiving Holy Communion in the process of intinction. This is the process whereby the priest or minister of Holy Communion dips a consecrated host into the chalice and places to moistened host on the tongue of the communicant. I was asked last night if this was permitted in the Roman Catholic Church. I replied that from the best I knew such a format was no longer permitted today, though to my knowledge there was a window of time after Vatican II when the practice was utilized and a special cup/paten vessel was marketed and sold for the purpose. When I assumed my first pastorate in 1978, the previous pastor had such a vessel.
Several of the folks told me that they had been expressly told that intinction was forbidden at church sponsored training workshops. This made me think that it might be wise to check the law, and thus I embarked on a clerk’s research to get to the bottom of this. The official document from Rome on the celebration of Eucharist is the General Introduction to the Roman Missal, or GIRM. This is the preface to the red missal you see on the altar from which the celebrant draws the prayers and rubrics for each day’s Mass. The GIRM is available in its entirety on-line; I wouldn’t recommend you drop what you are doing and start reading it from the beginning, but I would book mark this as an invaluable resources tool, particularly if you need to teach or explain various parts of the Mass, or if you suspect there are some rather significant liturgical deviations going on in your parish.
The GIRM is occasionally revised; this copy I am using was issued by the Vatican in 2003 for dioceses and publishers in the United States. I am not aware of major changes since then. I went to the section on the Communion rite and picked up the text after the priest/celebrant receives communion, along with other pertinent texts from the GIRM:
After the celebrant receives communion,
160. The priest then takes the paten or ciborium and goes to the communicants, who, as a rule, approach in a procession.
The faithful are not permitted to take the consecrated bread or the sacred chalice by themselves and, still less, to hand them from one to another. The norm for reception of Holy Communion in the dioceses of the United States is standing. Communicants should not be denied Holy Communion because they kneel. Rather, such instances should be addressed pastorally, by providing the faithful with proper catechesis on the reasons for this.
The key point here is that we receive Eucharist from the priest. However, with our large American congregations and the offering of the bread and the cup, the GIRM lays out careful instruction on precisely who may participate in the distribution of communion. Also, note the instruction on kneeling.
162. The priest may be assisted in the distribution of Communion by other priests who happen to be present. If such priests are not present and there is a very large number of communicants, the priest may call upon extraordinary ministers to assist him, i.e., duly instituted acolytes or even other faithful who have been deputed for this purpose. In case of necessity, the priest may depute suitable faithful for this single occasion.
These ministers should not approach the altar before the priest has received Communion, and they are always to receive from the hands of the priest celebrant the vessel containing either species of the Most Holy Eucharist for distribution to the faithful.
The exercise of ministry by lay extraordinary Eucharistic ministers causes the Vatican some discomfort, as seen in para. 162. The regular exercise of this ministry by the laity is not universally accepted in significant parts of the world. John Paul II wished that nothing would distract from the holiness and significance of the priest, even (or especially) in matters of distributing the Eucharist. “Priests who happen to be present” includes those who have not concelebrated at this Mass, or have not played a part in the Mass but have come over to the church only at communion time; this is the only time in this missal where a non-participant steps into the celebration, and in truth it is a rather clumsy intrusion into the unity of the Mass.
321. The meaning of the sign demands that the material for the Eucharistic celebration truly have the appearance of food. It is therefore expedient that the Eucharistic bread, even though unleavened and baked in the traditional shape, be made in such a way that the priest at Mass with a congregation is able in practice to break it into parts for distribution to at least some of the faithful. Small hosts are, however, in no way ruled out when the number of those receiving Holy Communion or other pastoral needs require it. The action of the fraction or breaking of bread, which gave its name to the Eucharist in apostolic times, will bring out more clearly the force and importance of the sign of unity of all in the one bread, and of the sign of charity by the fact that the one bread is distributed among
As you might expect, the ideal sacramental symbol is that of the priest, in the persona of Christ, breaking the one loaf and sharing pieces of that loaf with all the faithful. The regulations do make provision that given large congregations, receiving from the one loaf or large piece of consecrated bread would be difficult or impractical. Curiously, the little manufactured wafer we are accustomed to receiving is a concession to numbers, less preferable in sacramental respect to one broken loaf.
In my home parish, there is a custom of longstanding to remove a ciborium of hosts from the tabernacle and put several of those hosts in each ciborium of newly consecrated hosts before distributing communion. This practice is contrary to para. 321; each Catholic receives communion from the bread consecrated at his Mass. I have no idea how our local custom arose.
245. The Blood of the Lord may be received either by drinking from the chalice directly, or by intinction, or by means of a tube or a spoon.
285. For Communion under both kinds the following should be prepared:
287. If Communion from the chalice is carried out by intinction, each communicant, holding a communion-plate under the chin, approaches the priest who holds a vessel with the sacred particles, a minister standing at his side and holding the chalice. The priest takes a host, dips it partly into the chalice and, showing it, says, Corpus et Sanguis Christi (The Body and Blood of Christ). The communicant responds, Amen, receives the Sacrament in the mouth from the priest, and then withdraws.
The GIRM says nothing about the inventive vessels that came into use in the 1970’s for this purpose, as you can see at the opening of today's entry.
Impulsive and undisciplined as I am, I have several books in several mediums open at any one time. I don’t quite remember how I connected last week with Xavier Rynne and his history of Vatican II, first published in 1968 and reissued in 1999 with a captivating new introduction by Rynne’s alter ego, Father Francis X. Murphy, a noted mortal theologian of the Redemptorist Order teaching at his order’s seminary in Rome. (By coincidence, today is the Feast of St. Alphonsus Ligouri, founder of the Redemptorists and declared patron saint of moral theologians by Pope Pius XII in 1950). Father Murphy was drafted to serve on one of the many committees preparing working papers for the first session of the Council in the fall of 1962. He had an eye for the human dynamics of the major players, and he was early to see that a significant battle was shaping up for the first session in 1962, where he would be present as a peritus or expert.
Father Murphy took copious notes and compiled his first article, but without a publisher. As luck would have it, he connected Robert Giroux, senior editor of Farrar, Strauss and Cudahy (later Giroux.) Giroux himself was a major player in Catholic publishing, long remembered for his years of work with the famous Trappist monk Thomas Merton. Father Murphy was firm with Giroux that his series be placed in New Yorker Magazine, a decidedly secular publication. Giroux demurred, observing that “I think there’s too much religion for the New Yorker.” But in fact New Yorker attracted precisely the audience Murphy was looking to serve—the thoughtful Catholic, the college graduates of the GI Bill era, the libraries of every university and (surreptitiously in most cases) the reading rooms of rectories and seminaries.
New Yorker raised with the author the need for a nom de plume or pseudonym. The Council’s rules called for secrecy, though not to the same degree as the election of the pope. The bigger worry would be detection of the author’s identity by the Curia, which hoped to manage (and spin) the Council’s deliberations. Such were the times, Murphy would later recall, that the American Catholic journal Triumph would carry a letter from a reader in 1967: “The efforts of ‘Xavier Rynne,’ I’m afraid, must be condemned, derided and dismissed by any well-informed reader. Besides, the books…are a positive danger to the soul. I have seen very many learned and pious Christians led into mortal sin by them.”
Thus, the first installment went forward from New Yorker under the name of Xavier Rynne, the author’s real middle name and his mother’s maiden name. Today this collection, now edited into a single and eminently readable narrative (as well as four more detailed volumes), stands as the template for the processes that produced the blueprint of Catholicism for the last half-century. While there are thousands of books analyzing and interpreting the documents themselves, Rynne describes the men and the processes by which the work got done. He introduces the reader to the giants of the worldwide episcopacy, including bishops from six continents and wide degrees of affluence and poverty. Some of the bishop speakers sound remarkably like Pope Francis in their moral assessments of the economic status quo.
Rynne’s assessment of the politics of the event should ease the concerns of those who have read or come to believe that Vatican II was a “liberal vs. conservative” affair. It is true that there were sharp divisions on the philosophical question of whether the Church should shore up its recent tradition of centralized authority to a greater extent, or whether the Church should give serious examination to its present modus operandi and “open up the windows” in Pope John’s memorable phrase. But another, possibly equal, division was that of recent popes from their curias. (Those who observe the present day exertions of Pope Francis to reform the Curia will appreciate the problems of Pius XII and John XXIII.) Pope Pius XII (1939-1958) was an advocate of greater scripture study, liturgical renewal, and general theological scholarship; yet countless scholars were censured or silenced by the Holy Office, often quite independently of the popes. Moreover, the paternal attitude of many Vatican departments had alienated many of the sitting bishops, leading to a definitive backlash in the first session (1962).
Rynne noted all of this for his many readers in the United States and elsewhere. Americans became familiar with giants in the worldwide body of bishops, and equally so with the theologians who served as periti. While few American bishops produced lasting impressions on the Council floor, several worked behind the scenes, most notably Cardinal Spellman of New York. He invited the Curia-silenced Jesuit John Courtney Murray to his staff, and may possibly have pulled the author’s chestnuts from the fire as well. Spellman and others had come to suspect that Francis Murphy was the true Xavier Rynne and hinted as much to him, indicating that he (the Cardinal) would have his back. (xi.)
Murphy was eventually summoned to the Holy Office under pain of excommunication and ordered to take a “blind oath,” the equivalent of a blank check which the Holy Office would no doubt complete to its satisfaction. He was ordered to kneel before Archbishop Pietro Parente to take the oath. Murphy evaded Parente’s questions until Parente produced an article from New Yorker reporting that Parente himself had been thrown out of Rome by Pius XI two decades earlier. By now red faced, Parente exclaimed, “Listen, you understand that Pius XI was a little sick in the head.” Murphy turned to the recording secretaries and said, “Write that down!” Parente stormed off and no future confrontations followed. (xii.)
Twenty years after the Council Murphy finally made public that he was indeed the mysterious Xavier Rynne. He admitted this to the American Apostolic Nuncio, Pio Laghi, who asked why Murphy was “coming out of the catacombs.” He replied “If I died tomorrow the Jesuits would claim him (Rynne) and the Redemptorists would be delighted to be rid of him.” (x.)