Not all Catholics take an optimistic approach to the Vatican II Decree Sacrosanctum Concilium on the sacred liturgy. As I am on the road today I am linking to a blog from "the loyal opposition" that you may enjoy reading in place of our usual study of SC. I will be posting in Saturday sequence again on December 2.
I am off to the cold north for Thanksgiving. I left a link for both Saturdays I will be away. Today's link brings you to Commonwealth Magazine, and an essay by the contemporary Church historian Massimo Faggioli, titled "Was It Better Back Then?" Faggioli addresses the argument, promoted by some, that the Church would be healthier if it returned to the Medieval Model, or the time of the Council of Trent. The Golden Ages, it seems, were not as Golden as we would like to believe.
ON THE SACRED LITURGY
SOLEMNLY PROMULGATED BY
POPE PAUL VI
ON DECEMBER 4, 1963
42. But because it is impossible for the bishop always and everywhere to preside over the whole flock in his Church, he cannot do other than establish lesser groupings of the faithful. Among these the parishes, set up locally under a pastor who takes the place of the bishop, are the most important: for in some manner they represent the visible Church constituted throughout the world.
And therefore the liturgical life of the parish and its relationship to the bishop must be fostered theoretically and practically among the faithful and clergy; efforts also must be made to encourage a sense of community within the parish, above all in the common celebration of the Sunday Mass.
Paragraph 42 confirms a practice dating back to Apostolic times, the local gatherings of the baptized to celebrate the Eucharist and share a common life to some degree. The prototype of a “local church” is found in the Acts of the Apostles by St. Luke, though scholars have questioned whether Luke’s description of common life is idealized. The letters of Paul, notably 1 Corinthians, do not reflect the same degree of fraternal bliss, but Paul and Luke agree that Christians gathered regularly as an identifiable group. As the Church grew in the post-Apostolic era, the structure we recognize today came into clearer focus: a mother church guided by a bishop, and sub-churches in network with the bishop. Para. 42’s translation “lesser groupings of the faithful” to describe parishes leaves a bit to be desired, since these “lesser groupings” are the one outward sign of church reality that most believers will experience.
Para. 42 directs that a parish must foster a healthy liturgical life and encourage a sense of community within the parish centering around the Sunday Mass. This Vatican II directive was very influential in the development of the new rite of the Mass—the 1970 rite of Pope Paul VI we use today. The new rite incorporates antiphonal prayer involving the entire congregation, congregational singing, the Kiss of Peace, the sharing of the cup, interactional architecture with better sightlines of the rites, etc. example, in the instruction on the distribution of the
Vatican II makes itself very clear on the need for a communal dimension to the sacraments. The theological reasons for this are so obvious that I won’t belabor them except to say that unity among participants on the practical level is a much higher priority in the Mass of Pope Paul VI. However, the term “community” is one of the most pliable phrases in the post-Conciliar Church; every time I hear it I think of Justice Potter Stewart’s observation during a Supreme Court free-speech/obscenity trial: “I can’t define pornography, but I know it when I see it.”
One thing we can safely say: no two people in the same parish define community in the same way. The largest parish in the United States is reported to be St. Matthew’s in Charlotte, North Carolina, at 10,000 registered households. (The national median is 761 households.) America Magazine interviewed staff and members for a cover piece a few weeks ago. What emerges is the story of an energetic and visionary team of priests, religious, and lay leaders, energized by a demographic anomaly [the abnormally sudden growth of the Catholic community immigrating from northern states], the decreasing number of priests, and the sheer challenge of engaging 25,000 people with “a sense of community” as para. 42 defines.
By the 761-household median, St. Matthew’s constitutes 13 average-sized parishes. There is considerable debate in recent times about Catholic mega-parishes like St. Matthew’s in Catholic journals, periodicals, and blogs—including an interesting piece here from the Catholic blog of Texas A&M. It is possible that with consolidation of parishes a common strategy for priest-strapped dioceses, there is the flicker of hope that the revitalization of Catholicism in the United States might come about by realignment to fewer but larger parishes.
There is no shortage of hard-cover analyses of parish life and structure, either. While it cannot be denied that the future of the parish is intimately tied to the men who will lead them and their availability, Sacrosanctum Concilium has had a great deal to do with our thinking about what constitutes a “healthy parish” in terms of engagement. At some point in early Church history, experience led its leaders to extend mother churches with satellite communities, a movement toward our present-day structure. It would be very interesting albeit impossible to ascertain the social reasons for this development from the vantage point of, say, 250 A.D. Certainly the image of the Last Supper and the experience of breaking bread together on the day of the Lord’s Resurrection exerted a wholesome “pressure toward the center” that influenced the theology and the structuring of the parish.
The staff of St. Matthew’s acknowledges the question of whether a mega-parish exerts enough charisma to draw one closer to the Eucharistic altar. One of the parish’s strengths is attention to its statistics and questionnaires, carefully tallying attendance at every Mass and looking for gaps in its age demographics. Moreover, the parish owns responsibility for “gaps” and inadequacies, a refreshing change from the typical administrative response that symptoms such as low Mass attendance is the sole fault of secularism and/or laziness of the laity. Even so, the parish is still searching for ways to provide better small faith group experiences, and has studied Rick Warren’s famous Saddleback Evangelical Church for models of mid-week faith-sustaining group experience and spiritual/catechetical guidance.
St. Matthew’s staff believes its mega-model is the template of the future of American Catholic parishes. I am not quite as sanguine about that. As I hinted earlier, Charlotte, NC, is something of a demographic anomaly in terms of regional growth, numbers of immigrating Catholics, and—a key point—ecclesiastical vision, most notably at the pastoral level. Otherwise, one would expect to see the St. Matthew model replicated across the South. There are large parishes in my own diocese, but they are simply expanded versions of the “761-median model.” The amount of administrative demand in a St. Matthew’s model is greater than most priests are trained for, and many clergy would not want such a position anyway. (Consider that St. Matthew’s recruits over 500 catechists for its religious education program and owns a lift fork to move its on-site supplies of goods for the needy.)
Consolidation of parishes into a mega-parish does not always translate into a stronger mother parish. St. Matthew’s offers Sunday Eucharist at a separate local campus and a neighborhood Episcopal Church, because there is a finite distance that most families will drive to attend Mass. Geography comes into play, particularly in the “flyover states,” as they say. Moreover, a mega parish begins from strength, not as a last resort. In my home diocese of Buffalo, N.Y., consolidations seem to occur among a large cluster of parishes in financial and attendance difficulties. Moreover, the surviving central church is often saddled with the cost of upkeep a closed parish churches no longer in use. In some cases, consolidations have staunched the bleeding, but the process is not manufacturing mega churches, either.
Taking the idea of parish life into the mega church model overlooks another sociological reality. CARA research indicates that the average weekly offering from a Catholic household tends to be higher in smaller churches than in the large ones. It may be that the bigger the church, the less sense that “my contribution counts.” Does this spill over into other areas of church life—even attendance? These are important questions, at least in the United States. I might add here that the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops is holding its annual November meeting this week. One wonders if such questions of parish life come up there?
ON THE SACRED LITURGY
SOLEMNLY PROMULGATED BY
POPE PAUL VI
ON DECEMBER 4, 1963
41. The bishop is to be considered as the high priest of his flock, from whom the life in Christ of his faithful is in some way derived and dependent.
Therefore all should hold in great esteem the liturgical life of the diocese centered around the bishop, especially in his cathedral church; they must be convinced that the pre-eminent manifestation of the Church consists in the full active participation of all God's holy people in these liturgical celebrations, especially in the same eucharist, in a single prayer, at one altar, at which there presides the bishop surrounded by his college of priests and by his ministers .
I had to do some scurrying about the library and the internet for follow-up to Paragraph 41 on the identity and function of bishops. The best summary for further reading is Chapter XII of our old friend Joseph Martos’ Doors to the Sacred (2014) which hopefully you own or have read. Martos provides an excellent bibliography for those undertaking deeper research or analysis. Martos notes in his work (pp. 528-31) that the Catechism, with its emphasis on the powers of Holy Orders, does not do full justice to the Council’s teachings on the service involved in episcopal and priestly ministry, something for catechists and teachers to bear in mind.
Given the nature of this stream as an introduction to Sacrosanctum Concilium, I will contain myself to the debate and the document which is supposed to be guiding the apostolic governance of the Church today. Every objective study of the Council takes note of the matter of “unfinished business” dating back to 1870, when the Council Vatican I declared the infallibility of the papacy. Pius IX had hoped to reconvene the Council; it was abruptly halted due to the Franco-Prussian War and the seizure of Rome by the King of Italy. There is, in fact, documentation that Otto von Bismarck entertained the idea of continuing Vatican I in the relative safety of Germany, but Pius IX never reconvened it. The “unfinished business” was a document on the nature of the Church, including the exercise of episcopal ministry.
Thus, for about a century the centralizing of Church governance from Rome on all matters—juridical and doctrinal—went forward with no formal theology or organizational participation of the local churches around the world. Bishops may have enjoyed prestige in their home dioceses, but there was not widespread contentment with their individual dealings with Rome. There was distress that the theology in play prior to Vatican II placed all Apostolic power in the hands of the pope, and that bishops enjoyed their authority purely at the pleasure of the pope. Many bishops and theologians at Vatican II noted correctly that the “great commissioning[TB1] ” to preach the Gospel to the whole world had been conferred upon all the apostles, not just Peter. Their argument rested on the premise that ordination brought to the bishop a share in the Apostolic authority of the Church by ordination itself, and not simply by papal designation.
There was a human component of tension among the bishops as well, specifically their treatment by the Curia. The centralization of papal power at Vatican I led, not surprisingly, to the enhancement of the Vatican bureaucracy. The Curia outlasted its popes and became something of an entity of governance almost exclusive of the sitting pope, and certainly independent of the universal college of bishops. One need only remember the 1959 day when Pope John XXIII announced the calling of the Second Vatican Council to his curial cardinals, who responded in the dead silence of disapproval. Local bishops depended upon the Curia for a wide range of matters, and in the minutes of the Council we see complaints about what Americans would call “red tape.” The response to such complaints was the standard answer that the Curia was updating its technology, i.e., adding phones.
Aside from the fact that the Curia had no demonstrable standing in Scripture or Tradition, the fathers of Vatican II turned to the roots of Church history. Paragraph 41 of SC cites St. Ignatius of Antioch (footnote 35) as its primary source here. St. Ignatius (d. 107 A.D.), one of the most authoritative and revered leaders of the early post-apostolic era, is credited by many as the primary advocate of the “monarchical episcopate,” the idea of a local urban church governed by a bishop, true successor of the apostles, in the fashion that para. 41 describes here.
The Encyclopedia Britannica summarizes Ignatius’ theology of episcopal call: “On this earth the bishop represents to his church the true bishop, Christ. Union with the bishop in belief and worship means union with Christ. Those who in a spirit of pride break away from the bishop destroy that union. The unity of the church with its monarchical structure is for Ignatius a concrete realization already on earth of the future life in Christ; authority within the church has not yet become for him a principle of institutional discipline. Ignatius used, for the first time in Christian literature, the expression “catholic church,” meaning the whole church that is one and the same wherever there is a Christian congregation.” During Vatican II there was considerable discussion about how much weight should be afforded Ignatius, given that the Catholic Church’s authority structure had grown considerably more centralized after the Reformation. Ignatius is given preeminence here in SC as a counterbalance to extreme centralization.
SC makes the point that a local church (what we would call a diocese today) finds its center at the Eucharistic banquet presided over by the bishop, “the high priest of his flock.” There is considerable emphasis upon the “wholeness” of the local church. A diocese is a self-sustaining entity in which all the necessary components of the Apostolic mission and the means of redemption are present. This is not congregationalism, because all local bishops exercise their ministries in communion with fellow bishops around the world, in union with the bishop of the Mother See of the Church, the Bishop of Rome. Para. 41 places emphasis upon the sacramental sign of the bishop as a successor to the apostles gathering his ministers and people about him in a true unity of faith.
Unfortunately, multiple factors make the episcopal sacrament of orders a difficult one to visibly manifest. In the fourteen years of growing up in Buffalo, I never laid eyes on Bishop Burke, and I lived in the city limits. (I was confirmed by a visiting missionary bishop raising funds to buy a new jeep; my pastor paid him $5/head.) My catechesis emphasized the priesthood, not the episcopacy. This was not unusual for the time; the bishop’s public dealings were limited to Confirmations (which in Buffalo could be celebrated by auxiliaries or “sub-contractors), major fund campaigns, and perhaps most of all, transfers of pastors and associates. It is literally true that the nexus of bishop and clergy is the stuff of novels, from The Edge of Loneliness to The Cardinal Sins.
At the time of Vatican II priests defined themselves in part by their relationship with their bishops. As an impressionable altar boy, I can recall one associate telling me he was not going to repay his seminary student loan to the sitting bishop; another, sadly, told me he was now the oldest assistant pastor in the diocese [i.e., passed over for promotion by the bishop.] Clearly the symbol of para. 41—the bishop sharing the Body of Christ with his priests and ministers—is intended to convey the model of episcopal leadership as intimate and fraternal, and at the time of its promulgation in 1963 indicated a sea change in the episcopal model from administrator to servant. The bibliography of Martos’ book includes a wide variety of assessments as to how para. 41 has changed or not changed the atmosphere of diocesan life. In the United States, I think, a good number of bishops exercise a warm and pastoral approach to ministry; there are a fair number, too, who approach their responsibilities with varying degrees of narcissism.
I can add this postscript: this coming week I will be on retreat with the senior and retired priests of this diocese, by invitation of my bishop. So, in case he’s reading, “You’re one of the good guys!” And he is.